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Jazz have point problem

Right knee rehab will keep Lopez off the court

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Raul Lopez

Raul Lopez

The Jazz are back to the drawing board with backup point guard Raul Lopez, and it isn't a pretty picture.

At the start of the NBA club's second week of training camp, and with its regular-season opener just more than three weeks away, Lopez has been shelved — so he can strengthen muscle groups surrounding his twice surgically reconstructed right knee.

"Due to the weakening of the muscles in Raul's right leg," Jazz trainer Gary Briggs said, "he's going to be concentrating on rehab for a period of time."

Just how long is uncertain, but fears are it could be 3-to-4 weeks before the 24-year-old Spaniard returns.

"I don't think there is a definite timetable," said Jazz basketball operations senior vice president Kevin O'Connor, who stressed there is no structural damage in the knee. "It's just going to depend on how quickly he recovers.

"The quadricep and hamstrings muscles just aren't strong enough," O'Connor added Monday night, "so we want to shut him down and put him in what I'd call full-fledged rehab."

That means Lopez will engage in weight-training and pool work, along with some shooting, but for now he is not permitted to play or practice.

Meanwhile, the Jazz will keep eyes open for potential veteran help at the point.

"Our plan is going to be to sit tight, and keep checking the waiver wires," said O'Connor, who also must decide by Oct. 31 if the Jazz will pick up the 2005-06 option season on Lopez's rookie contract. "I don't think there's a veteran out there (currently) that makes you say, 'Hey, we have to bring somebody in right now.' "

Carlos Arroyo returns as the Jazz's starting point guard. Backup duties for the time being fall to Keith McLeod or Jason Miskiri, two offseason free agents who are the only other two points in camp.

McLeod, who played 33 games as a Minnesota rookie before being waived last January, has a leg up.

The 24-year-old Bowling Green product has $250,000 of a one-year, $750,000 contract guaranteed, and that fact combined with his camp play so far should help.

Miskiri does not have a guaranteed contract.

The 29-year-old has never played in the NBA, instead taking part in a couple of camps (including the ex-Charlotte Hornets' in 1999, and Boston's in 2000) and bouncing around minor leagues (the CBA, IBL, ABA and most recently the NBDL) since leaving George Mason in '99.

O'Connor said it's possible Lopez will be ready for the Jazz's Nov. 3 opener against the Los Angeles Lakers. If not, and if the Jazz do not find a point they like via waivers, they would not rule out starting the season with McLeod as Arroyo's backup.

"We could look at that," O'Connor said.

The Jazz had planned to carry three points on their 13-man roster anyway, in part because of health concerns.

Lopez did not miss a game as an NBA rookie last season, but that was little consolation to a man who has severely torn his right knee twice, once shortly after being selected by the Jazz in the 2001 NBA Draft and again while playing with the Spanish National Team in advance of the 2002 World Championships.

"It made me feel good, but I know in some games I feel I didn't play well," he said of going all 82 in 2003-04. "I played, but I didn't play well."

At the conclusion of last season, the Jazz essentially told Lopez to take a lengthy summer break from basketball.

He did play on the Jazz's Rocky Mountain Revue team in July, but the self-described gym rat skipped playing for Spain in last August's 2004 Summer Olympics.

"I played basketball, but not (organized) basketball," Lopez said. "I played pickup games, but that's kind of different than practice with coaches telling you to do the right thing all the time."

As a result of his relative inactivity, Lopez reported for training camp in less-than-ideal shape.

He missed last week's first two days of camp, because of what the Jazz said was right-knee swelling stemming from a "sprained joint capsule" sustained during pickup play in Utah.

An MRI exam showed no ligament damage, and Lopez did participate in most camp drills and scrimmages Thursday and Friday.

But he exited last Saturday's scrimmage at halftime due to what was initially described as a bump to his right knee, prompting Jazz coach Jerry Sloan to grumble that with a key player out, "You throw the whole program out of synch, and we have to play around it."

E-mail: tbuckley@desnews.com