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Traveling man: Ex-Ute Van Horn hopes he's finally found a home in Dallas

Keith Van Horn, in the early summer of 2002, helped Jason Kidd and the New Jersey Nets reach the NBA Finals.

Now, barely three years later, the former University of Utah all-American is playing for the Dallas Mavericks.

In between, he played for the Philadelphia 76ers.

And the New York Knicks.

Oh yeah, and the Milwaukee Bucks.

That's right. The former No. 2 overall pick in the NBA draft, who entered this season averaging nearly 17 points per game during his eight-year career, was treated like a hot potato — or a journeyman scrub trying to make a team, any team — for three years.

He played for five — count 'em — five franchises in less than three years time.

"It was difficult to adjust to every team," said Van Horn when he was back in Salt Lake City to play the Jazz 10 days ago as a member of the Mavs. "But it was more difficult on my family, having to move them around so much . . . You don't like to see basketball affect your children or your family."

Van Horn and his wife, Amy, who he met and married while at the U., have four children — Sabrina, Nicholas, Noelle and Haley. He feels his family might finally be able to put down some roots in Dallas.

"We're kind of settling into a home and the kids will be going to the same school for awhile, and that's my biggest concern — their stability and their happiness," he said.

As far as basketball is concerned, Van Horn likes where he's at too. A starting forward on each of his previous teams, he's now coming off the bench as a sixth man for the Mavericks — who start Dirk Nowitzki and Josh Howard at forward.

Van Horn is still seeing plenty of action, averaging more than 31 minutes per game — which is fourth on the team — as well as 13.5 points and a team-high 8.8 rebounds. "This definitely feels like a good situation," said Van Horn. "We are an up-tempo team. We have coaches who understand how to get shooters the ball and we're trying to step it up on the defensive end this year."

Van Horn's NBA career wasn't always as nomadic as it's been the past few seasons. After being drafted by the 76ers in 1997 — behind only San Antonio's Tim Duncan — he was traded immediately to the Nets. He played in New Jersey for five years, culminating in that NBA Finals appearance against Duncan and the Spurs in 2002.

The Spurs won the series 4-2 and many Net fans — and even some of the players, most notably Kenyon Martin — blamed a lack of toughness by Van Horn as a major reason for the setback, fairly or unfairly.

That started the period of time when Van Horn came to know movers on a first-name basis. He played one season, 2002-03, for the 76ers, helping them to the second round of the playoffs. Current Jazz assistant coach Scott Layden — then the general manager of the New York Knicks — traded for him to start the 2003-04 season. He put up decent number for the Knicks — 16.4 points, 7.4 rebounds in 47 games, all as a starter — but was shipped off to Milwaukee by season's end anyway.

He began last year as a Buck but was sent to Dallas midseason for Alan Henderson, Calvin Booth and cash considerations.

Van Horn was contributing to the Mavericks' playoff run last spring, but his season was cut short early in the first round when he sprained his ankle after landing on Dikembe Mutombo's foot.

"It was tough to get hurt in the second game of the playoffs," said Van Horn. "But Dikembe had size-22 feet. The odds of landing on them are a little bit higher than everybody else's."

For whatever reason, Van Horn has been a more productive regular-season player than he has been in the postseason. Entering the current season he's averaged 16.7 points and 7.1 boards in regular season games, but 11.4 points and 6.1 rebounds in his 43 playoff games. Despite being a No. 2 overall pick, Van Horn has never been chosen for an All-Star Game. Still, Van Horn, the all-time leading scorer in Utah history, isn't about to apologize for his accomplishments as a pro.

"I feel like I've been productive," said Van Horn. "I've played on some very good teams and I've helped teams win and I'm going to continue to do so."

Certainly fans in Utah still have a soft spot for the three-time WAC player of the year who has his retired No. 44 jersey hanging from the rafters of the Huntsman Center. Now nine seasons removed from being a Ute, he is still greeted with cheers when he first enters a game in the Delta Center.

"It's nice fans appreciate what I did here," he said. "I still have a deep respect for the people of Utah. I'm still pretty active in this community with charitable things and what not, and I still have a lot of friends and family here. This is obviously a special place for me to come play."

For now, though, Van Horn is committed to helping the Mavericks become an NBA title contender.

"We have a chance to be really good," he said. "A lot of it depends on if we are going to be able to put things together consistently on the defense end."

A comment like that would be music to former coach Rick Majerus' ears.

And while Van Horn is happy with the Mavericks, he knows all-to-well from experience that he may be playing for another team — or a few other teams — before his NBA career is through.

"In the grand scheme of things, basketball is still basketball," he said.

"No matter what team you are playing for, it's still the game of basketball."


E-mail: lojo@desnews.com