Deal likely ends Ostertag's stint on Utah roster
By Tim Buckley
Deseret Morning News
One Jazz big man will be back, and another one should be preparing to pack.
The Jazz have come to terms on a multi-year deal with Jarron Collins, and will sign the 6-foot-11 forward-center on Tuesday, basketball operations senior vice president Kevin O'Connor said Saturday night.
By extension: Veteran center Greg Ostertag's career in Utah seemingly will come to a close with nine seasons in the books.
"It's probably gonna be difficult for us to re-sign Greg," O'Connor said.
"I think Greg, obviously, has some people (other teams) that are looking at him, and I think he continues to want to explore what's out there," he added. "And we got in a position to where we wanted to get another big guy, and he (Ostertag) wasn't ready to make a decision."
The guy the Jazz are getting back has been in Utah for three seasons, appearing on and off in the starting lineup during that span.
Collins, selected in the second round of the 2001 draft out of Stanford University, started 68 of 70 as a rookie. He started seven of 22 games the following season, but went down with a devastating knee injury involving tears of both the anterior cruciate and medial collateral knee ligaments. The 25-year-old did return to play 81 games last season, however, and started 31 of those.
In going with Collins over Ostertag, the last tie to Utah's player roster for their 1997 and '98 NBA Finals teams, the Jazz chose not only the more affordable option, but also the steadier.
Collins isn't nearly the shot-blocking threat nor the defensive presence Ostertag is, but he does something Ostertag has been hounded for not doing during many of the nine seasons since the Jazz made the 7-foot-2 Texan a first-round draft choice out of the University of Kansas in 1995: He comes to play every night.
"Inconsistency," Jazz owner Larry H. Miller, who was not opposed to bringing back Ostertag, said a few days ago, "is the name of (Ostertag's) game."
Still, the Jazz did debate between Collins and Ostertag.
But in the end — with only $4.6 million available in 2004-05 team payroll salary cap space, and the Jazz still needing to sign not only the big man's spot that went to Collins but also restricted free agent guard Mo Williams — dollars did play a part.
"The salary cap came in low," O'Connor said of the NBA setting the cap for next season at $43.87 million, "and we front-loaded some of (our) other deals."
Financial terms of the Collins contract were not disclosed. But Ostertag made $8.677 million last season, and staying would have meant a drastic cut in pay.
O'Connor said he informed Ostertag's agent of the decision.
The Jazz basketball boss, however, did not totally rule out the possibility of Ostertag staying.
"You don't want to say 'impossible,' " O'Connor said.
For that to happen, though, either the Detroit Pistons would have to match Utah's six-year, $50 million offer sheet on center Mehmet Okur or the Cleveland Cavaliers would have to match the Jazz's six-year, $68 million offer sheet on forward Carlos Boozer sometime in the next week-and-a-half — and there is no reason to believe that will happen.
With Collins signing Tuesday, then, and restricted free agent guard Gordan Giricek scheduled to sign his four-year, $16 million contract on Monday, O'Connor's work in the NBA's 2004 summer free-agency market is almost done.
The Jazz still need to come to terms with Williams. But he is playing on Utah's Rocky Mountain Revue summer-league team, and an agreement is likely to happen sometime in the next week or two.
With Collins and Williams both back on board, the Jazz's roster would stand at 13.
O'Connor would not rule out beginning the season with 14, though, and said yet another big man would be the likeliest extra addition.
If that's the case, O'Connor suggested, Ben Handlogten and Mikki Moore both remain viable options. Both journeymen played for the Jazz at times last season — Handlogten exited after blowing out a knee, and Moore was there at the end — and both are more affordable than Ostertag.
"One more big guy," O'Connor said, "we could look at."
The big one who lasted nine seasons in Utah, however, seems to be a vision of the past.