Facebook Twitter

Utah Jazz have some big problems

SHARE Utah Jazz have some big problems

PHILADELPHIA — Jazz point guard Deron Williams practiced Monday but — after missing the season's first six games with a sprained left ankle — isn't sure if he'll play tonight in Philadelphia.

Beyond their still-uncertain point guard situation, however, the 5-1 Jazz have even bigger concerns.

Or at least some issues with their bigs.

Starting center Mehmet Okur has been excused by the team to tend to a family illness in his native Turkey.

He left for home on Monday, leaving behind a team that went just 2-5 when he missed seven straight games last December due to a trapezoid-muscle strain.

After their practice Monday afternoon, the Jazz weren't sure when Okur would return — though there seemed to be some doubt that he'll make it back before the conclusion of a five-game trip that has four stops left, including tonight's.

"I just close my eyes and see him when he shows up," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. "That's about all we can do with anybody, whether it be injury, sickness or whatever."

Through six games — including Sunday's 107-99 loss at New York — the 2007 NBA All-Star is averaging 15.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and a team-high 36.8 minutes per game.

The strong-shooting big man's absence could have quite an adverse impact.

"We don't have any real length to our team when Memo goes out," Sloan said.

Compounding Utah's problems up front is the situation behind Okur.

Would-be backup center Jarron Collins took part only in noncontact drills during practice Monday and isn't likely to be available against the 76ers. He's been out all season due to a bruised right elbow, bursitis and triceps tendinitis — all injuries tied to an offseason golf-cart accident.

Further complicating matters, the Jazz on Monday also said reserve center Kyrylo Fesenko would leave the team to go to Toronto to address a visa situation.

He will re-enter the United States from Canada, thereby avoiding the need for a return trip to his native Ukraine before his current visa expires.

Fesenko is expected to miss not only tonight's game but also Wednesday's at Washington. In a best-case scenario, he might return in time for Friday's game at Charlotte. Otherwise, he won't rejoin the Jazz until their trip-ending stop Saturday in Cleveland.

As a result, Sloan spent Monday contemplating lineup possibilities.

He could start undersized backup power forward Paul Millsap alongside All-Star power forward Carlos Boozer, or open with 2004 All-Star Andrei Kirilenko at power forward and Boozer at center.

Those options, however, seemed less to Sloan's liking than another.

"If I start Andrei or Paul," he said, "then I'm limited with the number of people I have available to try to finish the game — especially with fatigue and that sort of thing."

With that in mind, early indications were that if Collins is unavailable as expected, Sloan might instead start rookie Kosta Koufos in the middle.

Ready, or not.

"Any young player's not," Sloan said. "They need opportunity to play."

The 19-year-old first-round draft choice from Ohio State has appeared in just two games this season and has yet to score his first NBA points.

Size matchups with 6-foot-11 Sixers center Samuel Dalembert, however, will be factored into the decision.

Meanwhile, Williams — sidelined since spraining his ankle during an Oct. 18 preseason game at Chicago — made it through practice Monday.

Prior to the workout, Williams did not rule out returning sometime on the trip — but he was not ready to commit to making his regular-season debut tonight.

NOTES: The NBA All-Star ballot will be unveiled today, and when it is, Williams, Boozer and Okur all are expected to be among the 60 Western Conference candidates listed. ... Former University of Utah guard Andre Miller of the 76ers attempted 24 shots, one shy of his career high, in Philadelphia's loss at Orlando last Thursday. After the Sixers practiced and before the Jazz did Monday, Miller shot by himself on the floor at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine floor — and during one stretch he knocked down 77 of 88 attempted mid-range jumpers. ... Ex-Jazz forward Donyell Marshall has played just 13 minutes over two games for the Sixers this season and is serving as a virtual player-coach as his NBA career winds down. He said he hopes to make the transition to coaching after his playing days are done.

E-mail: tbuckley@desnews.com