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Agent’s giving Jazz grief, again

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Pardon Larry H. Miller if he feels like he's been here before.

But he just can't help it.

The Jazz owner remembers back to what happened last summer with Shandon Anderson, sees what is happening this summer with Howard Eisley, and senses the similarities.

Frustration. Gamesmanship. Lack of communication.

The common thread in the Jazz's contract talks with both Anderson, who left Utah as a free agent last year to sign instead with the Houston Rockets, and Eisley, the backup Jazz point guard who is a free agent this year, is one Dan Fegan, the agent who represents both NBA players.

So while the Jazz continue to woo veteran free agents John Starks, who apparently has an offer on the table from Utah, and Danny Manning, the fact that Fegan is involved in yet another protracted, unpleasant negotiating affair is not lost on Miller. He feels the Jazz's offer to Eisley — believed to be for up to five seasons at at least $4-million per season — is just as fair as the big-bucks offer spurned by Anderson.

"My personal opinion is that Fegan over-promises (salary expectations) to his clients, (and) can't deliver," Miller said. "So then he tries to make us be the bad-guy. I believe he's done it in both cases."

Fegan's negotiating tactics don't seem to sit well with Miller, either.

"I'll tell you," he said, "what's disappointing about it is Dan Fegan, right after Shandon signed (with Houston) last year, called (Jazz basketball operations vice president) Kevin O'Connor and said, 'Look, that wasn't me; that was Shandon. And I want to prove to you that I'm an OK-guy, so we can go ahead right now and make another deal with Howard (Eisley).'

"Well," Miller added, "we couldn't make another deal (then) with Howard, because of (NBA salary-cap) rules. He said, 'Well, when the time comes, we'll be easy to get along with and make an equitable deal, as long as you guys were fair in your offer.' I certainly feel we've been fair in our offer, and . . . yes, it does feel like deja vu."

Fegan has very publicly shopped Eisley around the league, including visits to Toronto and Atlanta. In the meantime, Eisley is apparently holding out for more money from the Jazz — money that the franchise has no plans to offer.

Still, not all hope for an Eisley return to the Jazz is lost.

Though talks seem to be at an impasse for now, O'Connor is confident there will be a break as Tuesday — the first day NBA free agents can sign with new teams, or re-sign with their old ones — approaches.

"It's not Aug. 1 yet," said O'Connor, who joined at the organization at the tail end of Anderson talks last summer. "I think everyone's kind of got a feeling from last year like, 'Here we go again.' (But) I think we're much further along in the negotiation process than we were a year ago (with Anderson)."

O'Connor, though, can understand Miller's frustrations.

"But my responsibility," O'Connor said, "is to try to get a good deal — a fair and equitable deal — for the Jazz."

The Jazz seem to think a deal can get done before training camp opens in early October — assuming Eisley does not sign elsewhere before then. But they won't wait around forever to see that it happens.

"We'll see," Miller said. "We think we've made a more-than-fair offer for Howard. We want Howard to be here. And if he wants to respond affirmatively, great. If not, he knows what his options are."

The Jazz have other backcourt options to consider, too, both at the point and at shooting guard.

Their No. 1 priority is acquiring veteran help at the 2 spot, and it is believed John Starks — the long-time New York Knicks off-guard who last played in Chicago — has been offered Utah's mid-level, $2.25-million salary-cap exception slot.

The Jazz also seem quite high on Troy Hudson, the ex-Jazz reserve point man who last played for the Los Angeles Clippers.

There are other guards they like, too, including Alvin Sims and Kiwane Garris, both of whom played on Utah's Rocky Mountain Revue summer-league team, and John Celestand, a second-round draft choice rookie with the Los Angeles Lakers last season who played for Sacramento in the just-concluded Revue.

The possibility of re-signing Jacque Vaughn, the Jazz's No. 3 point guard last season, is unlikely but has not totally been ruled out. O'Connor confirmed the Jazz did make preliminary contact with the agent for veteran Atlanta Hawks free agent Bimbo Coles, but Coles is apparently out of their price range for now. The Jazz also think highly of Chicago guard Hersey Hawkins, but he is under contract for more one more season with the Bulls.

Decisions on just about anyone except Starks and Manning, though, seem to hinge on what happens with Eisley.

"We're just going about our business, and we've got 12 roster spots to fill," Miller said. "We'd like Howard to be one of them. And if he is, great. If he's not, we'll go to plan B or C."

NOTES: The Jazz closed the Rocky Mountain Revue with an 82-76 loss to Phoenix on Saturday at the Delta Center, leaving Utah 2-4 in the nine-day, nine-team summer league for rookies, youngsters and free agents . . . First-round draft choice DeShawn Stevenson finished a team-high 18 points for the Jazz, and — with an average of 11.8 per game — wound up as the team's leading scorer in the Revue. . . . O'Connor said decisions on invitations to training camp in the fall for the Jazz's summer-league free agents, including former Jazz forward David Benoit, will be made at a later date . . . O'Connor did say it is doubtful the Jazz will bring back injury-plagued Gheorghe Muresan, the 7-foot-7 center from Romania who missed all six Revue games due to ankle tendinitis. "I'm afraid he breaks down too much," O'Connor said . . . Scott Padgett, a Jazz rookie last season, finished with a 16-point, 13-rebound double-double against the Suns. It was easily the best Revue game for Padgett, who struggled in his first four and missed the fifth due to a strained medial collateral ligament in his left knee. A MRI exam on the knee proved negative . . . Daniel Santiago had a game-high 21 points and undrafted Weber State product Eddie Gill, whom the Jazz might consider inviting to training camp in the fall, added seven assists for the Suns on Saturday.


E-mail: tbuckley@desnews.com