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Maybe Jazz can be like Magic

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These are precarious times for sports fans. Cheering for a favorite team can be downright demoralizing, particularly if that team is in a small market. The big guys seem to always end up with the big stars. All too often, the smaller teams end up with the table scraps.

If you're in a big market, with lots of cash and flash, you can plan on top players eventually showing up on your doorstep. Otherwise, you can expect the top players to treat you like a case of whooping cough.

Then there's the problem of coaches. Once upon a time, a contract meant both parties were bound to the terms. You could plan on a coach staying until his contract expired — or he got himself fired. But nowadays, a coach's contract only guarantees he gets paid, not that he stays.

Coaching contracts are like the warning tag on a mattress: DO NOT REMOVE UNDER PENALTY OF LAW!


But two situations this week have taken sports in a different direction. The first is the news that Tracy McGrady and Grant Hill are going to Orlando to play basketball. The second is that Roy Williams is staying as basketball coach at Kansas University.

In the first scenario, the Orlando Magic is on the verge of becoming an overnight 900-pound gorilla in the Eastern Conference. This week, Toronto guard/forward Tracy McGrady and Detroit forward Grant Hill said they will sign as free agents with the Magic. The not-so-subtle message: Tim Duncan, come on down!

McGrady didn't exactly downplay the implications. "It will be unfair to the league if all three of us come here," he gleefully said.

Orlando has made no secret of its plans. It has been dumping players, making deals and clearing salary cap room for a couple of years, angling toward signing Duncan. Now it seems likely to get all three.

It's like owning a Neiman-Marcus credit card — so many beautiful items, so much available credit.

Then there's the case of Williams. He spent the last week ago-

nizing over whether to take the head coaching job at North Carolina — arguably the best college coaching job in the world. But he walked the Kansas campus Thursday and saw the banners and signs pleading for him to stay, so he did. He said loyalty to his players was greater than his desire to coach at North Carolina.

He snubbed the ultimate college basketball blue-bloods.

What makes these scenarios interesting is that they both bucked a trend. In the case of the Magic, a team in a small market, with limited endorsement opportunities, has attracted one rising star and one superstar, and another could be on the way. All the talk of elite players only wanting to play in huge media markets such as L.A., Chicago and New York meant little when it came down to putting together a killer lineup.

Orlando, like Utah, is among the league's smallest markets. Yet it is quietly putting together a team that could win a handful of championships. Ironically, Orlando already was a powerhouse in the making several years ago, until Penny Hardaway and Shaquille O'Neal both left for bigger markets and more opportunity.

In the Williams situation, a highly sought-after coach had every reason to leave for North Carolina. He had the pedigree of having grown up in the state and served as an assistant at the school. He had already taken Kansas to two Final Fours and seven conference championships. He even had sympathy working for him. (Even diehard Kansas fans would have had a hard time blaming Williams for bolting.)

Instead, he stayed with the school that got him where he is.

What does all this mean for Utahns?

It could happen here.

Maybe someday, after Karl Malone and John Stockton retire — along with their substantial contracts — the Jazz will do some wrangling and end up with a great team again. Small market? Lack of exposure?

It didn't stop Orlando.

And maybe the Utes will actually be able to keep Rick Majerus. Maybe another coach who loves his players will actually decide that's where he wants to stay.

I know, it's unlikely.

But as the Magic and Williams have shown, strange happens.

E-mail: rock@desnews.com