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Jazz trying to close deal with Starks

It could take some time to work out contract wrinkles

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As the NBA's summer free-agency market opened Tuesday, the Jazz took a giant step toward filling one hole, then turned their attention toward plugging a couple of others.

Though he had not formally been signed as of late Tuesday night, the Jazz did come to an agreement in principle with veteran shooting guard John Starks on a two-year, mid-level salary-cap exception contract worth $2.25 million next season.

A hang-up over verbiage of the deal and NBA/NBA Players Association Collective Bargaining Agreement rules regarding an option year on the contract, however, prevented the pact from receiving immediate league approval.

"It's not anything unusual, but it's something that can take time," said Kevin O'Connor, the Jazz's vice president of basketball operations.

As attorneys from both sides worked to iron out the wrinkles, O'Connor was playing it safe, refusing to say the signing of Starks was sealed.

"(When) you think it's done and it's not," O'Connor said Tuesday night, "the only thing that can happen is it gets screwed up."

Starks, however, has said he fully expects to join the Jazz and fill the starting 2-guard spot vacated by retired Jeff Hornacek.

The presence of Starks will help ease the transition to the NBA for DeShawn Stevenson, the California high school star whom the Jazz drafted 23rd overall in the first round of this year's draft.

It also allows the Jazz to perhaps depend less on Quincy Lewis, who came out of last season — his rookie year in the league — as the heir-apparent to the shooting guard's starting job. Instead, Lewis may see time off the bench at both the 2 spot and as a reserve small forward behind starter Bryon Russell, who could also slide over to the 2 on occasion.

With that backcourt position seemingly solidified, O'Connor said the Jazz's remaining priorities are to fill the need for bench help at both point guard and power forward.

O'Connor said he will get back soon with the agent for veteran forward Danny Manning, who is taking a few days to determine if anyone else besides the Jazz is willing to extend a contract offer.

The Jazz also continue to try to re-sign Howard Eisley, John Stockton's backup at the point last season. Eisley did not immediately sign with another team Tuesday, the first day NBA free agents could do so this summer.

Jazz officials remain hopeful they can bring back Eisley, who — if Manning were to be signed — would become the 12th player under contract with the franchise. But they do not rule out the possibility, either, of re-signing Jacque Vaughn, their No. 3 point guard last season and a player who, like Eisley, didn't sign with anyone Tuesday.

O'Connor said the Jazz's decision on whether or not to offer a new contract to Vaughn is unrelated to their negotiations with Eisley. He did, however, indicate Vaughn is concerned with playing time, making it more likely Vaughn would consider rejoining the Jazz if Eisley does not, and less likely he would return if Eisley does.

Another possibility: bring back both Eisley and Vaughn, even if Manning is signed and the Starks deal is finalized.

That would give the Jazz 13 players with guaranteed contracts in training camp, one more than they are allowed to carry on their active roster (unless one is moved to the injured list). O'Connor did not discount the notion of bringing 13 guaranteeds to camp, including the same two reserve point guards as the last three seasons.

"We could (do that)," he said. "You never know."


E-mail: tbuckley@desnews.com