The story goes that when a Utah official picked up Jeff Hornacek at the Salt Lake airport shortly after he was traded from Phoenix to Utah, the future Jazz star acted as if he had just been paroled.

"There was no hello or anything; he just said, 'Thanks for getting me out of jail,' " says the official.

That was 10 years ago, and the Jazz haven't made such a worthwhile trip to the airport since then — until, possibly, last month.

To listen to those close to the Jazz, they might have pulled off the biggest (and most lopsided) trade since the Hornacek deal when they landed another shooting guard with -cek on the end of his name Gordan Giricek (let's practice saying the name right because it appears he's going to be here a while Gor-DAWN GEAR-a-check.)

He's been in a Jazz uniform for only 10 games, but already the Jazz are acting as if they just pulled a fast one on the Orlando Magic after acquiring Giricek for one-trick player DeShawn Stevenson and a future second-round draft pick.

"The fact that we got anyone for DeShawn, and then to get a player who could be here for years," says a Jazz team official. "This trade was a steal. The last time we made a trade this good is when we got Hornacek for Jeff Malone."

Since making the trade that brought Giricek to the Jazz (as well as Tom Gugliotta in a separate deal), the Jazz are 8-3, and Giricek missed two of the losses to be with his wife in Orlando for the birth of their baby.

The new guy hasn't been shy about attacking the basket. He had a team-high 21 points and eight rebounds in a win over the Lakers, a team-high 33 points in a win over Phoenix, a team-high 24 points in 32 minutes in a win over Detroit. Bottom line: The new guy's got serious game. He can flat out ball.

"He gives us an outside threat that we haven't had since Jeff retired," says owner Larry Miller.

Like Hornacek, Giricek bounced around the league before coming to the Jazz.

The 40th pick of the 1999 draft, Giricek, a 6-foot-5 Croatian, has been traded from Dallas to San Antonio to Memphis to Orlando the last time for first- and second-round draft picks and two players before coming to Utah. He averaged 11.5 points per game in a spotty career, but all along it was suspected his talents weren't being used right. He closed with a flurry last season and expected to be a starter this season but wound up in a reserve role.

"He was trapped with one-on-one players in Orlando," says the Jazz official. "He'd come off a screen and nobody would pass him the ball."

Sitting in front of his locker the other night, Giricek sounded like Hornacek years earlier, happy to come to a team that plays together.

"The atmosphere is different," he says. "Guys are supportive. They move the ball and share the ball and win and lose as a team. I know if someone sees you open, he'll hit you with the ball."

Not that everything has been easy since he arrived. In his third game with the Jazz, he whiffed on all 10 shots from the field and against Golden State last week, in his first start for the Jazz, he made 3 of 11 shots and got his first grilling from Jerry Sloan. On a fast break, he pulled up at the 3-point line instead of running through the basket. "Run the floor!" Sloan screamed.

"He's right; he's the coach," says Giricek. "I don't mind. If I do something stupid, I think he should say something."

It's still too early to say that Giricek will be another Hornacek, but this has all the signs of being an impact trade for the Jazz franchise.

Giricek will be a free agent this summer, but it's difficult to imagine at this early stage why Giricek wouldn't remain in Utah. After all, he's been looking for the right team for five years.


E-mail: drob@desnews.com