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Hart may be ahead of Price by a nose now

Utah Jazz's Andrei Kirilenko (47) attempts a reverse layup in front of Sacramento Kings' Kenny Thomas Thursday in Albuquerque.
Utah Jazz's Andrei Kirilenko (47) attempts a reverse layup in front of Sacramento Kings' Kenny Thomas Thursday in Albuquerque.
Jake Schoellkopf, Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE — If only Ronnie Price's grandmother had had a different premonition, he might be much further along in knowing the Jazz offense.

He might already be the Jazz's backup point guard, not someone fighting an uphill battle against Jason Hart for the job.

He might not have had to be diving on the floor to make a favorable impression like he did in Utah's 105-91 exhibition loss to Sacramento on Thursday night at The Pit, when all the thanks he got for the effort was a bloody and possibly broken nose.

But on draft night back in 2005, Grandma predicted Price would start his NBA career in Sacramento.

And he did just that, going undrafted — but later accepting an invitation to summer-league play from the Kings over one from the Jazz and a couple other teams.

Flash forward two years later.

After two seasons in Sacramento, Price is an offseason free agent fighting with Hart for minutes behind Jazz starter Deron Williams.

His bid to do that was clouded a bit Thursday when he collided face-first with the knee of rock-solid ex-Kings teammate Ron Artest, forcing him to exit for the night after logging just eight minutes.

Despite that, however, much is becoming clearer now about the Jazz's muddied backup point situation.

One issue of reconfirmed clarity is that when they signed journeyman Hart this past summer to a two-year, $4.8 million contract — the second season is at his option, something not at all known until Thursday — the Jazz indeed did so fully intending for him to back Williams' backup.

They also fended off the Los Angeles Clippers — one of Hart's multiple former teams, along with the Kings — in order to get him.

Another is that Jazz brass see Price, who was signed to a two-year deal now believed to be worth $2.3 million, as a project worth developing — and not at all a finished product.

"He's the third guard," Jazz general manager Kevin O'Connor said Thursday of Price, who plans to undergo X-rays today to determine if his much-swollen nose indeed is broken.

"So what does your third guard consist of? We'd like to think it's a guy who has a chance to be better, that's willing to work, and who would be a good teammate, and who if he doesn't play is still going to show up the next day to practice and bust his tail."

The Jazz seem to have just that in Price and remain steadfastly quite fond of Hart as well.

Thursday's most-telling revelation, however, is that the two still are struggling with the Jazz offense.

Price missed all three of his shots from the field before exiting early with a nose that still was bleeding a bit even after the game, making him 6-for-29 in the preseason. And Hart started 0-for-6 before finishing 1-of-7 with two turnovers and no assists against the more-physical Kings, dropping him to 9-for-30 from the field in exhibition play.

What concerns Jazz coach Jerry Sloan even more than the misses, though, is something that cuts deeper.

"I'm not worried about the shots. I'm worried about getting into our offense," said Sloan, who plans use both a bit at shooting guard as well as the season progresses. "They'll get better at making shots — if they stay with it and don't panic."

Hart, for his part, remains confident things will soon fall into place — and, beyond his shooting woes, appears more interested in improving an assist count that was stuck on one through Utah's first four exhibitions.

"It's not a tough system," Hart said. "But you've got to know where everybody has to be. And it's not easy."

Price, meanwhile, seems sure his grasp of the offense will continue to evolve — especially now that he's moved on from where Grandma suspected he'd start.

"My goal each year is just to grow as a player and be in this league as long as possible and continue to have success," he said. "And I figured the Utah Jazz was best opportunity for (that)."

Answers like that leave Jazz bosses largely unconcerned, at least for now.

"(The) experience of being in the offense every day and seeing some of the little nuances that are in there — that takes time to adjust to that," said Sloan, who on Thursday still would not say for sure that he'll bring Hart first off the bench behind Williams when the regular season opens Oct. 30 at Golden State.

"They're Coach Sloan's kind of guys," O'Connor added. "They don't talk a lot, they like to be out on the floor, they like to work, they listen, they try to be good teammates. Off the court we've been thrilled with them. (But) it's going to take a little while to get them assimilated into what we're trying to do."