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Vaughn stays with Jazz family

Backup point guard re-signs with the Jazz

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Just a few days after the NBA's free-agent negotiating period opened in July, Jazz owner Larry H. Miller prioritized the team's summer plans.

Re-signing Howard Eisley was high on the list. Re-signing Jacque Vaughn was not.

"If there are (offers to Vaughn from other teams)," Miller said at the time, "more power to him. We're not losing sleep over it."

After some tossing and turning, however, the Jazz woke up to the reality that their desire to re-sign Vaughn apparently was much stronger than Miller initially suggested.

They addressed that fact Tuesday, calling a press conference to announce Vaughn would be back.

The reserve point guard will return for at least one more year and maybe more; even after proclaiming Vaughn has been re-signed for the 2000-2001 season, the two sides were still negotiating a potential second year on the deal, one which would bring the total value of the contract, it is believed, to slightly more than $2 million.

That is a far cry from the Jazz's five-year, $20-million offer to Eisley, a proposal that Jazz basketball operations vice president Kevin O'Connor pulled off the table when the Jazz-imposed deadline for Eisley to accept the deal passed on Monday.

It is, though, a raise from the $2.075 million earned over the last three years by Vaughn, the Jazz's first-round selection in the 1997 NBA Draft.

And while the money matters seem to clearly define the Jazz's views on their two backups behind starting point guard John Stockton last season — Eisley the clear No. 2, and Vaughn the No. 3 — there was no masking the satisfaction of those present Tuesday.

"I can tell you that Larry totally endorses this signing today, and backs it 110 percent," Jazz president Dennis Haslam said on behalf of Miller, who did not attend the news conference.

"We always said we wanted Jacque back," O'Connor added. "I don't think anything's been ever stated from me that's ever been any different."

Vaughn has other backers, too, most notably an influential contingent of teammates headed by Karl Malone, who earlier this summer expressed how disappointed he would be if the Jazz did not at least make an honest effort to re-sign the 25-year-old Los Angeles native from the University of Kansas.

"Utah has been a definite home-away-from-home for me," said Vaughn, who also worked out for Boston and was rumored to have had interest from Orlando before deciding to return to Salt Lake. "I talked to numerous teammates of mine throughout the course of the summer, and not only did they personally want me back, but they wanted what was best for me.

"When you have guys like that that are around you, that's a special feeling. . . . It's a good feeling to have a guy such as (Malone's) caliber to say comments of that nature."

Vaughn is anxious to resume playing with Malone, and hopeful he will be playing for the Jazz even after both he and fellow future Hall-of-Famer Stockton retire.

"I think it's definitely . . . a stepping-stone for the future, in the sense that I am a young player, (and) I think I have a tremendous amount of upside," he said. "And I wouldn't mind that upside being shared with the Utah Jazz."

Vaughn's return was not influenced, he said, by the status of stalled contract talks between the Jazz and Eisley, who is seeking a six-year deal worth nearly $30-million. Vaughn does want to play more, but doesn't want the opportunity handed to him by default, either.

"It's no secret — I said at the end of (last season) that I wanted to contribute on a more consistent basis, and help the team out more consistently," he said. "So hopefully I can earn some more minutes this year."

But, Vaughn added, "I wouldn't want a promise. I wouldn't want a guarantee."

O'Connor's vow Tuesday was that the Jazz will continue to pursue a third point guard to play with Stockton and Vaughn.

It could still be Eisley, whom the Jazz would consider trading if they cannot re-sign him. Or it could also be any of a number of point players in whom Utah has expressed interest previously, including ex-Jazz guard Troy Hudson, who last played for the Los Angeles Clippers and is now said to the subject of interest from Orlando.

Whomever it is must now compete for backup minutes at the point with Vaughn, who says he will put what Miller had to say behind him.

"If I have a son one day," Vaughn joked, "I'll tell him to own a team, so he can say the things he wants to."

Seriously, Vaughn understands that what the Jazz owner said — including the suggestion that Vaughn's high-energy game is not ideally suited to the Jazz's methodical style - was not meant to be taken personally.

"I guess, owning the team, Larry definitely had the (prerogative) to say the things he felt," Vaughn said.

That said, this blip on the squabble screen seems to have passed.

"I've definitely said some things about my brothers, and family members, in the past," Vaughn said. "That doesn't mean I don't like, or love, them today.

"Larry knows I'm going to do the best things that I can do in order to represent his team," he added. "And I think that as long as we're on the same page as that, then I'm happy to be here."


E-mal: tbuckley@desnews.com