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Jazz are more versatile now

New additions give Utah some extra athleticism

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Even with visions of Donyell Marshall dancing in his head, Kevin O'Connor should keep an aspirin bottle handy.

The guy's noggin must be knockin' these days.

His headache, though, stems from something well beyond the complicated nine-player, four-team, one-draft-pick and one-boatload-of-cash trade that the Jazz completed Wednesday just to be able to grab Marshall.

Rather, it seems, the throbbing between O'Connor's temples is caused by what two NBA Western Conference powers did to the Jazz last season: The Los Angeles Lakers won the NBA championship, and the Portland Trail Blazers eliminated Utah from the playoffs.

Everything O'Connor has done this off-season — drafting California high school shooting guard sensation DeShawn Stevenson; signing veterans John Starks, Danny Manning and John Crotty; re-signing guard Jacque Vaughn; trading for Marshall; brushing his teeth after every meal — has been designed to combat the nuisance that the Lakers and Blazers have become for the Jazz.

That is perhaps best personified in the acquisition of Marshall, a 6-foot-9 University of Connecticut product who was drafted fourth overall in 1994 by Minnesota and has played most of his six NBA seasons with Golden State.

"It was time to move on. It was time to change a little bit," O'Connor, the Jazz's vice president of basketball operations, said with reference to the mega-

swap that, in part, sent Jazz guard Howard Eisley to Dallas on a sign-and-trade and sent Jazz forward Adam Keefe to Golden State. "Hopefully our change has become a benefit.

"You know, when I look at it, and you look at the teams that we've got to compete against, I think we've helped ourselves. I think we've added some length, I think we've added some athleticism.

"We were commissioned early on to get a little bit younger, a little bit more athletic. I think Donyell Marshall fits both of those bills."

What the Jazz like most about the 27-year-old Marshall, though, may be the added versatility they now have because of him.

A starter with the Warriors, Marshall will primarily come off the bench to back up Bryon Russell at small forward. He can help free agent signee Danny Manning back up Karl Malone at power forward. And he can play small forward while Russell moves to shooting guard, an option the Jazz can employ either when they need a big lineup (imagine Russell, Marshall and Malone at the 2-3-4 spots) and/or when they need to spell projected starting shooting guard John Starks.

"He gives us awfully good rebounding from a couple of different spots. He gives us the ability to shift some players," O'Connor said of Marshall, who averaged 14.2 points and a career-high 10 rebounds per game as a go-to guy for the Warriors last season. "Coach (Jerry) Sloan does an incredible job of being able to force matchups, and I think (Marshall) is going to be the kind of player who is going to be able to do that for us.

"I think he brings for us the ability to (adapt) to different ways of playing. Certainly, when you play the Portlands and the L.A.s of the world, you need big centers. Sometimes if you're playing the Phoenixes of the world, you need quicker, smaller, more athletic players. I think he gives us the versatility, maybe, to move Bryon (Russell) back to play some (shooting guard), until (2000 first-round draft choice) DeShawn (Stevenson) is ready to play some major minutes."

The depth of the Jazz's bench is improved with Marshall's arrival, a potentially important factor come playoff time.

"If you stop and think about it, we lost 48 minutes at two (shooting guard)," said O'Connor, whose club has been redesigned to compensate for the loss of Eisley and retired starting shooting guard Jeff Hornacek. "You know, we had Howard (Eisley) as the backup at two a little bit, and Jeff playing two, and that's gone.

"You can't ask John Starks, certainly, at his age (35), to come in and play that many minutes at two. So we look for DeShawn (Stevenson) to have a growth spurt, but we also know if we're playing a Portland or an L.A. that Bryon Russell can certainly go in and defend some people at two, and now I think . . . we can throw some people at you."

That alone doesn't make the headache of the Lakers or Blazers go away.

But at least it helps you rest a little easier at night. And don't forget to floss.

E-mail: tbuckley@desnews.com