MILWAUKEE — If there truly is to be a Kobe Bryant sweepstakes, count Utah in.
That seems to be the safe read for those interpreting smoke signals from the Jazz, who — for fear of being accused of tampering with another team's player — aren't about to publicly acknowledge their interest in the apparently available Los Angeles Lakers superstar.
Make no mistake, though.
The Jazz, no matter what odds may be stacked against them, would like to be considered serious suitors.
Beyond standing interest that most NBA teams would have in someone widely regarded as one of the league's top five players, no one from Utah has directly shared the franchise's feelings with anyone in the Lakers front office.
No offer has been made for Bryant, who asked to be moved at the end of the past season.
No conversations have been held.
But after Lakers owner Jerry Buss went public late last week with his feelings about a potential deal involving Bryant — telling reporters from three Los Angeles-area newspapers, according to the Associated Press, that he "would certainly listen" to trade proposals for the two-time NBA scoring champ — the Jazz have quietly contemplated formally joining what is bound to be a rather long line, with Dallas and Chicago both supposedly near the front.
There are ample reasons to suspect they'll do just that.
And there are just as many to make them feel not only that they should be considered a bona fide contender, but also that they can convince Bryant he'd enjoy joining a small-market, low-profile club like Utah.
One is that the Jazz have bait, including 2004 All-Star Andrei Kirilenko — who just last month made known his desire to be traded. Another is that they have developed into a legitimate NBA playoff team, advancing to last season's Western Conference finals. Then there is the presence of point guard Deron Williams, a Team USA member with superstar potential.
It doesn't stop there.
Power forward Carlos Boozer, the Jazz's leading scorer last season, just happens to employ the same agent as Bryant — no inconsequential circumstance in NBA circles.
Moreover, Jazz owner Larry H. Miller is a risk-taker — and perhaps no move, even if it would cost the club dearly in terms of what it would have give up, has more potential reward than making a run for Bryant.
Or so the smoke seems to signal.
BOOZER UPDATE: On Saturday, Boozer did not dress for a second straight game since re-joining the team from Miami, where he was tending to a young son who is battling sickle cell anemia.
Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said he intends to have Boozer take part in a 3-on-3 workout today in Phoenix but suggested it was unlikely he'd play Monday night against the Suns.
MISC.: The Jazz are in the midst of playing four exhibition games over six nights — in four different time zones (at home, Detroit, Saturday's win at Milwaukee and Phoenix) ... Recent reports have suggested that the Jazz turned down an offseason trade that would have sent Phoenix forward Shawn Marion to Utah straight up for Kirilenko, but a Jazz source on Saturday suggested the rejected overture was much more complicated than that ... As expected, forward Matt Harpring (knee and ankle rehab), shooting guard C.J. Miles (grandmother's funeral) and free-agent forward Donnell Harvey (intestinal flu) all did not play Saturday. Harpring and Harvey both worked out before the game; Miles plans to re-join the team in Phoenix ... Former Jazz guard Mo Williams didn't play (sore shoulder) when Milwaukee visited Utah last Wednesday, but he scored a team-high 22 points Saturday ... Ex-Jazz big man Michael Ruffin played just seven minutes, but appears en route to securing a roster spot with the Bucks ... Former University of Utah star Andrew Bogut had seven rebounds and 10 points, including a game-opening dunk, in 22 minutes for Milwaukee.