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Utah Jazz: Ronnie Brewer says he will miss teammates

NEW ORLEANS — One moment, Ronnie Brewer was awaiting departure from the Big Easy on the Jazz's private California-bound charter plane.

Less than two hours later, after a phone call from Jazz general manager Kevin O'Connor came moments before the boarding doors were about to close, Brewer was leaning against a wall at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, texting on his cell phone, queueing up with the commoners, waiting to catch a Delta commercial flight headed to Memphis.

Utah's defense-minded starting shooting guard and his crooked shot had just been traded, for Memphis' protected 2011 first-round draft choice.

So — though his Jazz backpack was still strapped on and his head was still trying wrap its way around the reality of it all — he knew he had no choice but to look forward.

Hard as leaving some close friends behind may be.

"I think coach (Jerry) Sloan has developed my game and made me grow up as a basketball player and as a man. I enjoyed my teammates," said Brewer, who played in the Jazz's win Wednesday night at New Orleans and, until the time of the late-hour deadline-day trade, figured he'd be playing in Utah's game tonight at Golden State.

"But, I mean, I've got to move on," he added. "I enjoyed the city (of Salt Lake); I loved the fans, but, I mean, I play for the Grizzlies now. I'm part of their franchise now."

In Memphis, the wanted Brewer — cordial about his exit but seemingly excited about what the future holds — will have to fend for playing time as a swingman behind entrenched Rudy Gay and O.J. Mayo.

"But both of them can't play 48 minutes a game," he said, "so there has to be some loose minutes in there somewhere."

The brightest side may be that the University of Arkansas product will be much closer to home, one state away from where he was reared.

"It (Arkansas) is right across the bridge … so it's going to be cool to see how they accept me," he said. "Hopefully it will be with open arms.

"I mean, at the end of the day, you still want to play basketball. So, you're still playing basketball. It's just another uniform and in another area, so you have to take something positive out of it and just move on."

Most difficult, though, will be departing a team that grew quite tight after the Jazz drafted him in 2006.

"We had a close-knit group," said Brewer, whose father, Ron Brewer, also played at Arkansas and in the NBA. "I mean, when you come in with a guy like Paul Millsap, and you go through all the ups and downs, you feel like you have a bond with those guys.

"Being with (Carlos) Boozer, the stuff he's been through, and being by his side and being a friend; same thing with D-Will (Deron Williams) and C.J. (Miles) — I think as a team we matured together, and we became close, and I think everybody's career developed a little bit more being around from each other.

"Not taking away from Memo (Mehmet Okur), A.K. (Andrei Kirilenko). Those guys are great too. And Kyle Korver," he added. "Just playing alongside those guys just made me a better player and a better person."

The trade came as something of a surprise, seeing that he practiced with the Jazz on Thursday morning in New Orleans and took the team bus before boarding the charter plane.

But Brewer — who spent much of his flight up over the Mississippi River peering out the window from his seat in 3D, the sight of his new basketball home becoming clearer with each passing minute — sensed his days in Utah might have been coming to a close when word that Memphis was trying to acquire him surfaced a few weeks ago.

He also may have suspected it even sooner, though, when his camp and the Jazz couldn't come to terms on a contract extension last offseason.

"I just felt like with that that the numbers didn't match up, and we just left it at that," he said. "You can't really argue about it. … It's just that me, as an individual, I wasn't happy with the numbers, my agent (Henry Thomas) wasn't happy with the numbers and obviously (Jazz general manager) Kevin O'Connor wasn't happy with the numbers either.

"I knew, and my agent knew, that the numbers game was going to come into (play), especially with the contracts we (the Jazz) have this year and with the contracts we (the Jazz) already have for next year. So, hopefully it will work out the best for everybody."

e-mail: tbuckley@desnews.com