After nine years the Greg Ostertag era is over in Utah--a development, it can be said with some understatement, that is not being mourned by Jazz fans. Succeeding him at center is Mehmet Okur, who signed a six-year, $50 million contract in July. At 6'11" and 249 pounds he's not as huge as Ostertag, and he lacks Tag's just-took-my-Army-physical buzz cut, but he makes up for it with a blond-tinged, tail-in-the-back hairdo that looks as if it might scamper off his head. Like his predecessor, who moved on to Sacramento, Okur is also not what you would call ripped.
What he does possess, however, is something that Utah hasn't had in many years: offensive skills in the pivot. In his 22.3 minutes per game with the Pistons last season, Okur showcased an inside-outside game that included three-point range. Although not especially athletic, he is a good rebounder and position defender. He's also young (25) and eager to learn Jerry Sloan's system. "I like the way the Jazz play and the players they have," he says. "I'm very happy to be here."
It's safe to say that Okur is very happy in general. In the last six months he has won an NBA title, signed a set-for-life free-agent deal and married a former Miss Turkey. On top of that, after coming off the bench with Detroit, he is now a starter on a playoff contender. As he puts it, "Life is good."
But then, life is always good before the season starts. Okur was criticized for at-times lackadaisical play with the Pistons, and many in Salt Lake City are wondering whether he will inherit Ostertag's mantle as the prime target of Sloan's ire--becoming, as it were, Ghostertag. "I heard coach Sloan likes to work hard and to discipline," Okur says, nodding seriously. "That's what I need."
Just keep saying that, Memo, and you'll be fine. --C.B.
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Jazz
Last year they were an overachieving team with the best coach and the best system; this year they upped their talent with a highly productive summer in the draft and free-agent market.... I'm not saying they signed the best players, but they did bring in guys who will fit into their system. Jerry Sloan consistently runs only 12 to 15 plays, but his players execute them precisely, and each play has a counter that gives them an option depending on how it's defended.... Carlos Boozer is going to be excellent for the Jazz. He'll be undersized going against the best power forwards in the West, but he'll do the dirty work and battle for a double double every night like he did in Cleveland. That'll keep Sloan happy, which is all that matters in Utah.... Having Boozer means defenses won't be able to lock in on Andrei Kirilenko, but Kirilenko will be hurt in other ways by the move to small forward. He had a quickness advantage against power forwards, but at the three he's going to be one of the slower defenders.... Kris Humphries can shoot the lights out, but I have the impression that he was a bit coddled in high school and at Minnesota. He sure isn't going to be coddled in Utah.... The other rookie, Kirk Snyder out of Nevada, may have trouble earning time ahead of Gordan Giricek and Raja Bell. Giricek isn't a gifted athlete, but he tries to play defense, and that's enough to justify starting him because hisshooting helps spread the floor.... The Jazz committed more fouls than any other team last year, and those weren't soft fouls. Some people think they're dirty, but I can't see Sloan preaching anything other than good, hard basketball.
Carlos Boozer was one of three players to average at least 15 points and 11 rebounds a game last season. The others: Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP with 2003-04 statistics
Record: 42-40 (9th in West)
Points scored: 88.7 (27th in NBA)
Points allowed: 89.9 (9th)
Coach: Jerry Sloan
(17th season with the Jazz)
C JARRON COLLINS
NEW ACQUISITION (R) Rookie (statistics for final college season) *PVR Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 86)
JEFF REINKING/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES