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Jazz want Manning, but will it work out?

Forward would have to play for less money to come to Utah

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Scouring the free-agent market for veteran help, the Jazz have come up with a name you won't see on most free-agent lists floating around for public consumption: Danny Manning.

By most accounts, Manning has one year remaining on the mega-deal he signed back in 1995. The veteran big man, however, apparently has bought himself out of the final season of his multi-year contract with the Milwaukee Bucks, leaving him free to negotiate with interested teams.

Like the Jazz.

They have interest. Oh, do they ever.

"We have a lot of interest in him," Kevin O'Connor, the Jazz's vice president of basketball operations, said Tuesday. "He's a kid we like a lot."

The Jazz do like Manning. Oh, do they ever.

But he's no kid.

Manning, a member of the University of Kansas's 1988 NCAA championship team and of the bronze-medal-winning 1988 U.S. Olympic Team, turned 34 last May. And with a pair of surgically repaired knees that may or may not be up to a few more seasons of hard pounding, he plays every bit of those 34 years, too.

But the Jazz like Manning's experience, and hope to convince him it will blend on a well-aged Utah club looking for one more run to the NBA Finals before John Stockton and Karl Malone join guard Jeff Hornacek in retirement.

If he were to come to Utah, Manning might assume the roster spot of reserve forward Armen Gilliam — a veteran free agent the Jazz do not anticipate re-signing.

The 6-foot-10, 234-pound Manning can provide veteran help off the bench just about anywhere along the front line, and apparently hopes to do it for a franchise that still has a chance to do what his previous teams (the Los Angeles Clippers, who drafted him first overall in '88, Atlanta, Phoenix and Milwaukee) could not: win it all.

"I think he'd like to go to a situation that fits his criteria," O'Connor said, "and we're one of them."

The Jazz have $1.2- and $2.25-million exceptions slots available to perhaps offer to Manning, who according to O'Connor has negotiated a buyout of the year that remains on his current deal. The six-year pact, valued at $38-million

when he initially signed it with the Suns, was worth $6.83-million this past season.

Whether either exception is enough to entice Manning to Utah remains to be seen — free agents cannot sign contract until next Tuesday — but O'Connor seems confident the Jazz can offer this vet what he is seeking.

"We'd have to be creative," O'Connor said, "but it might be something that can work out."

Meanwhile, Utah has sustained interest in guard Troy Hudson, who last played for the Clippers.

Jazz brass had hoped Hudson would play for them in the Rocky Mountain Revue, a nine-team summer league for rookies and free agents that is ongoing this week at Salt Lake Community College. Hudson, however, wanted Utah to offer him a guaranteed contract for next season before he'd agree to play in the summer — something the Jazz was unwilling to do, since their backcourt situation is so muddled.

The Jazz still hope to re-sign their own backup point guard, Howard Eisley, whose agent, Dan Fegan, so far refuses to even discuss Utah's offer of a five-year deal at what O'Conner has dubbed "starter's pay."

While Eisley tries to shop his services elsewhere, or squeeze another year and much more money from the Jazz, the fate of Jacque Vaughn, another reserve point guard, remains unsettled. The Jazz do not seem to want Vaughn if Eisley does return, and may not have him back even if Eisley departs.

Enter Hudson, who becomes a much-more plausible part of the picture if neither Eisley nor Vaughn is re-signed. The Jazz really seem to like Hudson, too, so much so that O'Connor was not put off by his summer-league demands.

"That's the way he feels, and he should," O'Connor said of Hudson, a Southern Illinois product and ex-CBAer who played briefly for the Jazz as an NBA rookie in 1997. "He's a veteran and a pro, and he's proven himself already."

NOTES: Guard Dante Calabria, who had eight points in the Jazz's 73-63 Rocky Mountain Revue loss to Houston on Thursday, is said to be close to signing a deal with a team in Greece. The Jazz like Calabria, and are interested in bringing him to training camp in the fall, but O'Connor said he'd understand if the University of North Carolina product opts to return overseas. "That's big bucks for him," O'Connor said. Calabria has played in Italy and France since leaving North Carolina in 1996. . . . With 12 points, University of Illinois product Kiwane Garris led the Jazz in scoring for a second-straight night. Scott Padgett and DeShawn Stevenson added 10 points each for Utah, now 1-3 in Revue play. Dan Langhi led the Rockets with 23. . . . In other games Tuesday: Ruben Garces had 19 points and 16 rebounds for Denver in its 75-71 win over Sacramento, which got 12 from ex-Jazz camper Bakari Hendrix; Mavericks regular Dirk Nowitzki had 33 points in Dallas' 91-77 victory over Cleveland; and Raptors first-round draft choice Morris Peterson had 23 points, including the game-winner with .8-seconds remaining after Bulls first-rounder Marcus Fizer missed two free throws, as Toronto beat Chicago 78-76. . . . Veteran center Gheorghe Muresan, who is on the Jazz's roster, missed his fourth straight game due to ankle tendinitis. . . . The Jazz continue play tonight with a 6 p.m. game against Chicago that, like Tuesday's vs. Houston, will be televised nationally by ESPN. Play at Salt Lake Community College's Redwood Road campus begins at 4 p.m., when Vancouver faces Houston. Day passes costing $5 are sold at the door.

E-mail: tbuckley@desnews.com