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Jazz eye Amaechi, Doleac, even Miller

SHARE Jazz eye Amaechi, Doleac, even Miller

Orlando Magic center John Amaechi is high on the Jazz's offseason priority list, but they expect to know little about his availability until after the Magic complete their pursuit of high-priced free agents Tim Duncan and Grant Hill or Tracy McGrady.

If Orlando spends big bucks on the big names, Amaechi — a big forward who can play center against smaller pivots — may become available. If that happens, enter the Jazz, who believe they can lure him by offering one of two salary-cap exception slots ($2.25 million or $1.2 million).

"I really covet him, personally," Larry H. Miller said of Amaechi, who would be an upgrade on Armen Gilliam, a free agent vet the Jazz do not plan to re-sign.

The Jazz also like Magic big man Michael Doleac, a University of Utah product. Doleac is not a free agent but is said to be on the trade block. The last time the Jazz inquired about him, Orlando countered with plans to build around Doleac. But that has since changed, and if he remains available the Jazz may pursue him.

The Jazz also have discussed Sacramento's Utah-born forward/center Scot Pollard, who is testing the market. Jazz interest in Pollard, however, is not incredibly high.

As for the Jazz's own big men, Miller plans on Greg Ostertag returning as backup to starter Olden Polynice. The Jazz want much-more consistent play from Ostertag, who they believe still has potential, but whom Sloan benched for the last two games of the playoffs. The Jazz learned over the past year that trade interest in Ostertag is nil, Miller said, primarily because of a hefty contract (six years, $39-million) with four seasons remaining.

SHOOTING GUARDS: Adequately filling the hole left by shooting guard Jeff Hornacek's retirement is the Jazz's top priority going into next season, Miller said.

The Jazz will look first to Quincy Lewis, a rookie last season, to assume Hornacek's starting job. They do not expect California high school star DeShawn Stevenson, the Jazz's first-round choice in last Wednesday's NBA draft, to contend right away for starting work, but he may be in the mix.

"(Lewis) has been told flat-put he's our 2 guy, and now it's OK for DeShawn to push him," Miller said. "I think this year is going to be a critical year for Quincy."

Yet the Jazz still may pursue a veteran big guard — primarily because they felt too small with Eisley stepping over from the point to help out at the 2 spot, especially with the backcourts of better Western Conference clubs getting so much bigger.

Whom that may be remains to be seen.

Much has been made of Denver free agent Tariq Abdul-Wahad, a reported focus of Jazz trade interest last season. Utah's current thoughts on Abdul-Wahad are lukewarm, however, in part because the Nuggets plan to re-sign him.

Vet Chris Mullin, another subject of Jazz trade talks last season, is under contract for one more season in Indiana. He has said he is intrigued by Utah's situation. The Jazz like his savvy but aren't certain how much he has left — leaving potential pursuit of him in question.

Then there is Pacers star Reggie Miller, who has made it known — however clandestinely — that he might like coming to Utah. Miller is fully expected to re-sign with Indiana, for the maximum allowable. The Jazz, though, still plan to inquire about his availability — even though they know they probably can't come close to affording him.

"Absolutely," Larry Miller said when asked if he expects O'Connor to check in on Reggie Miller. "But, the only thing we can pay him is the ($2.25-million) exception."

Larry Miller also went out of his way to discount the rumor, which was reportedly fanned by a Salt Lake TV station, that Reggie Miller was in town over the weekend to meet with Jazz officials.

STOCKTON: Miller addressed the future of Stockton, who is under contract for one more season. Whether it will be his last, Miller said, is not sure. That much was determined when the two met recently.

"What we decided both of us would say, when asked, is that John is under contract for one more year," Miller said. "After then we'll meet, look at it and decide if he wants to come back for one more."

Deciding factors, Miller said, will be Stockton's physical health, and the Jazz's competitiveness. The Jazz owner puts odds at "60-40" that Stockton will play beyond next season. "And he told me," Miller added, "that he feels better now than he did a year ago."

SLOAN: Miller squashed speculation spread by Malone last week that next season will be the last for Sloan, too. "I personally would be surprised if he doesn't coach beyond next year," Miller said, adding that even Sloan's wife Bobbye is a "proponent of him staying."

AND, FINALLY, MALONE: Miller planned to meet today with Malone, who is less-than-thrilled with the idea of playing for the Jazz when they are rebuilding to overcome retirements — whenever they may be — of Stockton and Sloan. Miller continues to believe Malone will finish his career with Utah, his only NBA team, and he has no plans to trade Malone just to maximize his current value.

Malone expressed distress last week over the selection of Stevenson, a sign he interpreted as meaning the Jazz is more interested in preparing for the future than fighting for the present. Miller said he would assure Malone that is not the case, though the future is part of their planning.

"What happened is the reality of the rebuilding has begun to settle in for (Malone)," Miller said. "Now he has to look at life without Jeff (Hornacek), and then without John (Stockton)."

The Jazz are preparing for the inevitability of an era without not only those two, but also without Sloan and Malone. They do not want to fall to pieces, Miller said, like Boston and the Los Angeles Lakers when their stars called it quits. Taking Stevenson 23rd overall in the draft, however, does not stem from any lack of desire by the Jazz to make yet another run at a still-elusive NBA title.

"Let me tell you: There was nobody at 23," Miller said, "who could make an (immediate) impact — DeShawn (Stevenson), or anybody else."


E-mail: tbuckley@desnews.com