Sloan practices with picks; O'Connor negotiates

Updated: July 14, 2004, 12:48 AM ET
Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY -- The Utah Jazz's top two draft picks are signed and practicing.

Now, the focus is on a pair of prized free agents -- Cleveland forward Carlos Boozer and Detroit center Mehmet Okur, who were expected to sign long-term deals with the Jazz once the NBA's signing period opened at 12 a.m. EDT Wednesday.

Jazz coach Jerry Sloan was leaving the contract situations to vice president for basketball operations Kevin O'Connor, who shortly after the signing period began said he was still working on contracts and declined further comment.

"I don't think it's fair to put yourself in that situation and start thinking about that. We just have to wait and see," Sloan said. "I learned a long time ago you get yourself in trouble when you try to think about those things."

Sloan will probably never be called an optimist, but all indications were that both players would sign the deals. There has never been a question about Okur and the Detroit Pistons aren't expected to match Utah's offer, reportedly a six-year deal worth nearly $50 million.

Boozer is another story.

His future with the Jazz was a little fuzzy after reports surfaced Monday that his agent, Rob Pellinka, had resigned amid controversy that followed Boozer's surprising decision to agree to Utah's six-year, $68 million offer.

The Cavaliers said they believed a verbal agreement with Boozer was in place when they did not pick up the third-year option on his contract.

Boozer denied any agreement was in place, and a last-minute $5 million offer Monday for a one-year contract didn't appear to be keeping Boozer in Cleveland.

"For [the Cavaliers] taking shots at my character is incredibly wrong, and I don't understand that," Boozer told The Plain Dealer for a story Tuesday. "I thought I had a great relationship with them. Maybe they're trying to save face or trying to make up stuff and kill my character. And if that's the road they want to take, that's OK."

Boozer could not be reached for comment. His cell phone has been out of service since last week.

Even after the signing period begins, the Pistons and Cavaliers will have 15 days to match the Jazz offers -- which seems unlikely in both cases. Detroit got Antonio McDyess to agree to a free-agent offer and the Pistons are trying to re-sign Rasheed Wallace.

And Cleveland doesn't have enough money under the salary cap to match Utah's offer.

If the Jazz get both players, Utah could quickly go from missing the playoffs for the first time in 21 years to a contender in the Western Conference. Sloan, who is back for a 17th season coaching the Jazz, said he'll worry about Okur and Boozer then.

Now, he has rookies Kris Humphries and Kirk Snyder and a host of other prospects on Utah's summer league team, which opens the Rocky Mountain Revue on Friday.

Humphries, a Minnesota standout, and Snyder signed three-year deals with the Jazz on Monday, then started their NBA careers with their first practice.

Sloan has spent the last several weeks mourning his wife, Bobbye, who died June 18 of pancreatic cancer. He returned from his southern Illinois farm for the summer league and was happy to be coaching again.

"Back to basketball. That's really the only thing I'm trying to concentrate on right now," he said.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press