ST. GEORGE — Watching Matt Harpring and Andrei Kirilenko battle like they did during an otherwise innocuous training-camp scrimmage earlier this week, one is prompted to suspect more may be at stake than learning how to play together.
For good reason, too.
How to work small forward Harpring into a lineup already likely to feature All-Star Kirilenko at that very same 3 spot has been a task high on the Jazz's to-do list since training camp opened Tuesday.
"That's how I think all the trade rumors got started (last season)," Harpring said. "But talking to Kevin (O'Connor, the Jazz's senior vice president for basketball operations), talking to (coach) Jerry (Sloan), talking to the Jazz, it's like, 'We like you guys playing together, also.' "
Since the notion of the Jazz considering shipping Harpring away evidently is an aged rumor sorely lacking in foundation, then, the question remains:
How do they make it all work?
Everyone has a thought, including Harpring, who is on the rebound from last January's season-ending knee surgery.
"I know that two years ago, Andrei and I played a lot at the 2 (shooting guard) and 3 . . . We could go back to that," said Harpring, the Jazz's captain last season. "Last year, I played a lot of the 3 and 4 (power forward). And Andrei can, too.
"So, there are minutes out there, there are spots out there. It's just finding the right combination. That's not my job. My job is to just come out here and play, and Jerry (Sloan's) job is to coach. That's what he's gonna do."
Make that "what he is doing."
Since Sloan learned he'd have offseason free-agent acquisitions Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur at the 4 and 5, respectively, not to mention returnees Gordan Giricek and Raja Bell at the 2 spot both Harpring and Kirilenko can also play, the Jazz head coach has tinkered with more different combination possibilities than a high school freshman desperate to open his locker.
"I like the idea of being able to move players around, and put them in different situations in a certain set," Sloan said. "But that takes a little time. It takes time to understand the set first.
"Our biggest thing, looking at the whole thing right now," he added, "is just trying to get guys comfortable with what we're trying to do on each play, then go from there and expand on it a little bit as we go along."
Determining who plays where and when is a work in progress, and will probably continue well after the Jazz open their regular season Nov. 3.
"There's gonna be some decisions to make. There's no question about it," Sloan said. "But instead of making them now — what if somebody gets hurt? I've spent all that time worrying about something I have no control over. That's kind of where we are, and that's kind of the approach I've always taken."
Still, contemplating the possibilities can be fun folly for inquiring minds.
If Sloan were to open games with, say, returning starter Giricek at the 2, Kirilenko at the 3, Boozer at the 4 and Okur at the 5, that means Harpring — who started all 31 games he played last season — becomes a sub.
It's a potential scenario for which Harpring admits he is prepared.
"If everyone's comfortable with myself coming off the bench, then that's what I have to do," he said. "That's what you do as a teammate.
"But if they're more comfortable with me starting, then I start," Harpring added. "It depends on how this plays out. You know, we have a long training camp, a long preseason. We're gonna try a lot of different lineups."
The one with Harpring and Kirilenko going 2-3 may be one.
"That's something that we did two years ago in the playoffs, when you had (power forward) Karl (Malone) and (center) Greg (Ostertag) and Stock (point guard John Stockton) and me and Andrei," Harpring said. "Even though Andrei didn't start, that fourth-quarter team was the team that we always went with. It's a tough matchup when you have Andrei and myself at the 2 and 3, because we both can post, and we both can guard."
There is one flaw, however, in the history example Harpring cites.
Back then, the 2 and 3 positions were essentially interchangeable within confines of the offensive system Utah used.
Now that Stockton is retired, however, the Jazz have gone to a two-guard front designed to take pressure off the point by putting more of a ball-handling burden on others, including most notably the shooting guard.
Now, it's the 1 and 2 that are most-interchangeable, not the 2 and 3.
Another possibility is that Harpring (or Kirilenko, for that matter) swings up to the 4 in relief of Boozer — or alongside Boozer, when he spells Okur.
Reserve big men Jarron Collins, Curtis Borchardt and Kris Humphries all are horses in the same race, but don't discount the possibility.
"You've got to have depth at your big positions, and I think, in this league, the 4 position is one of the most-important positions," Harpring said. "You know, we've got Carlos (Boozer), which is obviously a big help, but I think Andrei and myself, you'll see us playing some 4.
"No one can play 48 minutes."
Just like no one, at least not now, can know the combination to unlocking what's really in Sloan's mind.
NOTES: The Jazz broke training camp after a Friday-morning workout in St. George and returned to Salt Lake City . . . The Jazz will hold a shootaround this morning, then hold a free, open-to-the-public practice and scrimmage that begins at 6 tonight in the Delta Center . . . Both Harpring, who is limited because of his knee to one camp workout a day, and backup point Raul Lopez, who has been slowed by swelling in his reconstructed knee, should scrimmage tonight, Jazz trainer Gary Briggs said Friday.