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Don’t expect Manning to bring the Jazz a title

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His best days are behind him. He's 34 and the wheels aren't what they used to be.

It has been a good career — appearances in All-Star Games, double-digit scoring most nights. He can play backup forward and even center in certain lineups. Best of all, the Jazz can get him for a summer-savings-closeout price.

Naturally, he'll be the player that puts the Jazz back in the race for the championship.

Or not.

If Danny Manning ends up in Salt Lake, it's good news for the Jazz. But not the kind of news they need to beat Portland or Los Angeles in the playoffs. It would merely improve them, not transform them.

How do I know this?

They've been here before.

The fact that the Jazz are courting free agent Manning has an eerily familiar ring. Does the name Tom Chambers summon any memories?

In a previous life, the Jazz lived this scenario, signing Chambers as a free agent in August, 1993. Faced with fading hopes, they acquired Chambers for what they felt was a reasonable fee of $605,000 — the amount left available by not re-signing Larry Krystkowiak — combined with $700,000 from Chambers' buyout of his previous contract. He played two seasons for the Jazz.

This is where the comparisons between Manning and Chambers get weird. Both are 6-foot-10, around 230 pounds, and were 34 years old when the Jazz came calling. Both had 12 years' experience and played for four teams, prior to considering Utah. Each is a former All-Star — Chambers was chosen four times, Manning twice. Both made a reputation on scoring ability.

Both used buyout money from their previous team to make signing with the Jazz feasible.

In two seasons with the Jazz, Chambers averaged 19 minutes. Last year with Milwaukee, Manning averaged nearly 17 minutes for the Bucks.

And in both cases, their intention was to finish their career with a contender.

If the Jazz do acquire Manning, it will be a fine move, all things considered. Though his career has been slowed by a pair of argumentative knees, he played in 72 games last year. The year before, a lockout-shortened season, he played in all 50 games. He hasn't missed significant time since 1995-96, when he played in just 33 games for Phoenix.

The Jazz have $1.2 million and $2.25 million salary cap exceptions to offer Manning, though they can't be combined. For that sort of money, Manning is a bargain. He may be on the downhill swing, but he's a clear improvement over at least two free agents they signed last year — Armen Gilliam and Pete Chilcutt.

If Manning arrives with some baggage, that's the nature of the modern-era free agent. Only three or four teams are under the salary cap enough to sign fail-safe free agents. The others can offer basically the same figures as the Jazz and are, likewise, sorting through the bargain rack.

For $1.2 million or $2.25 million, you don't get Grant Hill or Tim Duncan, you get a player with some blemishes. Either he has a history of injuries, he's older, or he's an unproven younger player. Perhaps he's a low-impact journeyman or a chronic problem child. Often the gamble doesn't work. Case in point: LaPhonso Ellis. The injury-prone forward chose Atlanta over Utah last year and ended up playing in just 58 of 82 games, averaging 8.4 points.

It was a risk both teams were willing to take.

When Chambers came to Utah, he did what could be expected at that stage of his career. He had some good moments but wasn't close to being the All-Star he was in mid-career. In 161 Jazz games, he started only four times, shot .446 from the field and averaged 8.7 points.

But he didn't change the Jazz into a champion.

Spare yourself the angst of expecting Manning to do it.

The plan to sign Manning is a good one. The Jazz would be getting the most for what the cap rules will allow. But the best way to view Manning is to take him for what he is — a good player near the end of his career, who will moderately improve the team. If you don't expect more, you'll find him an interesting acquisition. If you expect him to deliver a title, consider how far they went with Chambers.


E-MAIL: rock@desnews.com