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Jazz, 3 other teams affiliated with NBDL Albuquerque club

If the Utah Jazz decide to make use of the "D-League" option now available to them, their players would toil for the new Albuquerque Thunderbirds under 12-year NBA veteran player Michael Cooper, named T-bird coach last month.

The NBA announced its assignments for the eight NBA Development League teams on Monday, with most of them kept in the general geographic area. The Jazz were grouped with Phoenix, Sacramento and Seattle in Albuquerque.

Jazz senior vice president of basketball operations Kevin O'Connor said he was pleased with the announcement because of Cooper's experience and because of the group that owns Albuquerque and three other D-League franchises.

Southwest Basketball LLC is headed by former Indiana Pacers executive David Kahn, a long-time friend of O'Connor's. They spoke by phone Monday morning, and O'Connor likes having someone of Kahn's experience in ownership of the team. Kahn, who was on Donnie Walsh's staff at Indiana, includes tennis player Andre Agassi in his group of investors. Southwest will also operate teams in Tulsa, Austin and Fort Worth.

Of getting an affiliated team with Cooper as coach, O'Connor said he is "thrilled about that. He has a lot of experience." The former Los Angeles Laker known for his defense, Cooper has been a head coach in the WNBA and was most recently an assistant coach for the NBA Denver Nuggets. He played collegiately in Albuquerque for New Mexico.

Just how much the Jazz will use the D-League isn't even good speculation at the moment. "It depends on circumstances," said O'Connor, with a roster that now includes four players who would be eligible for the league, which will allow NBA teams to send players in their first or second professional years of experience.

NBA teams can put up to two players on a D-League affiliate. Those players would earn their regular NBA salaries, per diems and the like. No one player may be sent down more than three times in a season, and that player would be placed on his NBA team's inactive list.

Eligible for Jazz D-League reassignment would be second-year Jazzman Kris Humphries and rookies Deron Williams, C.J. Miles and Robert Whaley. O'Connor talked more in terms of using the D-League for return from possible injury for a young player than using it for their pure learning purposes, but those are decisions that will be made much later.

Albuquerque opens its first season Nov. 18 hosting Tulsa, coached by former DePaul figure Joey Meyer, a veteran NBDL head man.

Former Jazz players Jeff Malone (Florida Flame) and Mike Brown (Fayetteville, N.C., Patriots) are also veteran coaches in the league.

Williams, Miles and Whaley are at the NBA's five-day rookie transition meetings in New Jersey this week learning how best to cope with what goes into being professional players, like dealing with fans, media and money.

TRAINING CAMP: O'Connor said the Jazz's 2005-06 training-camp roster will likely be announced sometime next week. "It's pretty close. We're still formalizing it," O'Connor said, adding that some invitees have said they'll come if they don't get better European offers, and the Jazz want to wait on their roster announcement until players "are totally committed" to Jazz camp.

Former Utah State University small forward Spencer Nelson is the one name O'Connor would confirm as being on the roster. Nelson played well in the Rocky Mountain Revue. "He's got a chance," O'Connor said about Nelson's ability to make the regular-season team.

K-MAC: Talks are ongoing with Jazz restricted free agent point guard Keith McLeod, whose representative has yet to present the Jazz with an offer sheet from another team. The Jazz signed him to a qualifying offer during the summer and will retain his rights unless another team signs him to an offer sheet that the Jazz don't care to match. Utah would likely match any reasonable amount.

2005-06 NBA DEVELOPMENT LEAGUE TEAM AFFILIATIONS

Albuquerque Thunderbirds — Phoenix Suns, Sacramento Kings, Seattle SuperSonics, Utah Jazz

Florida Flame — Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, Minnesota Timberwolves, Orlando Magic

Arkansas RimRockers — Atlanta Hawks, Cleveland Cavaliers, Memphis Grizzles, Toronto Raptors

Fort Worth Flyers — Dallas Mavericks, Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Lakers, Portland Trail Blazers

Austin Toros — Denver Nuggets, Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Clippers, San Antonio Spurs

Roanoke Dazzle — New Jersey Nets, Philadelphia 76ers, Washington Wizards

Fayetteville Patriots— Charlotte Bobcats, Detroit Pistons, New York Knicks

Tulsa 66ers — Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers, Milwaukee Bucks, New Orleans Hornets


E-mail: lham@desnews.com