Posted by: David J. Smith on July 25th, 2011The author's views are entirely his or her own and may not reflect the views of the Utah Jazz.
Count me among those who were genuinely excited when Kevin O’Connor inked shooting guard Raja Bell to a contract last offseason. Yes, I freely admit this publically.
While we were smarting from the unexpected loss of Wesley Matthews to the evil Portland Trailblazers (who undoubtedly will offer Jeremy Evans a “toxic” four year, $22 million front-loaded with $8.0M at the front-end in 2012, to play behind two other players at the same position…just because. You know they will. But I digress…), the signing of looked like a solid move. He was a veteran who had contributed much on winning teams. Yes, he was coming off a terrible injury, but was healthy again. And we needed another SG.
Above all, he knew the system and loved playing for Jerry Sloan. He was coming back home to Utah. And who doesn’t enjoy a reunion? While his second stint hasn’t gone so smoothly, it’s always interesting to me to have a Jazzman come back into the fold.
So, that’s our topic tonight…a list of two-timing Jazzmen. Players who came and went and came back, for whatever reason. Some of the players are household names for us and some are rather obscure. Either way, here is the list in all it’s glory. By the way, I hate this lockout.
Rich Kelley (1974-1979, 1982-1985): Besides sporting a stellar ’stache, Kelley was an original New Orleans Jazz player. He was a classic “very good player on a very bad team,” especially in 1978-79, the finest season of his career (15.7 ppg, 12.8 rpg, 2.1 bpg, 51% FG, 81% FT). Kelley went on to play for New Jersey, Phoenix, and Denver before returning to the Jazz, this time in Utah, in 1982. He was a part-time starter who bolstered the bench, playing in tandem with Mark Eaton. He was part of the breakthrough 1983-84 team that won the Midwest Division and showed Woody Paige that the Jazz have heart.
Tom Boswell (1979-1980, 1983-1984): Do you have any clue who he is? Me neither. Turns out this power forward had a decent season in 1980 (11.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 56% FG). After this solo campaign, he went over to Europe for several years, returning for a bit Jazz role on that same 1984 team. That’s more than I ever thought I’d write about a guy named Tom Boswell.
Kenny Natt (1982-1983, 1984-1985): He had two nondescript cameos for Utah in the early 1980s. He’s more known for being one of Jerry Sloan’s coaching proteges, serving as an assistant for nine years before eventually having an interim opportunity of coaching the Sacramento Kings.
Thurl Bailey (1983-1992, 1998-1999): One of the most beloved Jazz players of all-time, both on and off the court. He was the first piece of the exciting 1980s teams that captured Jazz fans’ hearts and attention. Fresh off NC State’s surprise championship, Utah nabbed “Big T” with the 7th pick of the 1983 Draft. Thurl was a consistent, sometimes great frontcourt player who had a nice offensive repetoire, especially a soft jump hook and capable jump shot. He had a pair of years where he averaged 19.6 and 19.5 ppg respectively, coming close to winning the 6th Man of the Year award. Teaming up with #12, #32, and #53, Big T was an amazing player. His community service was extraordinary. In fact, I remember meeting him a handful of times as a boy and every time, Bailey was genuine, kind, and full of enthusiasm. His trade to Minnesota for current coach Tyrone Corbin was tough for that reason, but it made basketball sense; he was on the decline and Corbin was a very nice, versatile player for the expansion T’Wolves. When Thurl came back in 1998–essential to take Antoine Carr’s role off the bench–it was exciting to have one of the truly good guys come back. While the team finished with the best record in the league (off the heels of the Finals years), it was an early exit, thanks in part to the lockout. Thurl showed he still had some in the tank and finished his career in the same uniform in which he started it. Rightfully so. It’s wonderful that he is still an active part of the organization and community.
Andy Toolson (1990-1991, 1995-1996): I’m a BYU guy (another public admission) and frankly, I was surprised Toolson not only made the Jazz squad as an undrafted rookie, but even started 15 games alongside John Stockton. His second stint was very brief and perplexing, as he had been in Europe for many years and was 30 years old at the time.
Blue Edwards (1989-1992, 1994-1995): He was a breath of fresh air when Utah drafted him out of East Carolina. Blue brought a mix of athleticism, defensive effort, and occasional outside shooting. Edwards made the All-Rookie team, participated in the Slam Dunk contest, and was a fan favorite. He was traded to Milwaukee along with Eric Murdock to obtain veterans Jay Humphries and current Utah Utes coach Larry Krystkowiak. This was a move to add more veteran support behind John and Karl. It didn’t work, especially as Blue had his career year for the Bucks, averaging 16.9 ppg. He was ironically traded back to Utah for Humphries, perhaps the first time players were traded twice for each other. This second stint was brief. He went on to finish up a nice career, playing for Vancouver and Miami. Oh, there was a made-for-TV movie about him.
James Donaldson (1993, 1994-1995): A former All-Star during his days as a Maverick, Donaldson was signed twice as insurance due to injuries to Mark Eaton and Felton Spencer. He provided some help, although in a very pedestrian way. He was the starting center the year John Stockton became the all-time assists leader.
Stephen Howard (1992-1994, 1996-1997): After latching on for two seasons, he came back to be the 12th man of the first Finals team and actually produced when he got playing time (3.6 ppg, 57% FG in just 8.3 mpg)…shows how deep that team really was.
David Benoit (1991-1996, 2000-2001): No, not this guy. I distinctly remember sitting with my father at Westminster College, watching this undrafted guy named David Benoit tearing up the Rocky Mountain Review. It was no shock to see him make the team and quickly become a rotation player. His freakish athleticism injected some life and he too was a Slam Dunk contest participant. Benoit had an up-and-down career, but overachieved as an undrafted player. His missed three-pointers are well-chronicled, but you have to consider his career a success. He was almost part of a first attempt to obtain Rony Seikaly a few years before the infamous nixed trade with Orlando. David’s last season in Utah was decent. He is coaching in Japan now.
John Crotty (1992-1995, 2000-2002): Utah has this uncanny way of finding undrafted rookies who can play. Crotty won a spot as the third point guard and ended up being Stock’s main back-up in 1994. He went on to play and contribute in Cleveland, Miami, Portland, Seattle, and Detroit before returning to the Jazz. At the age of 32, he had the best year of his career (6.9 ppg, 3.4 apg, 47% FG, 45% 3s, 86% FT in 19.6 mpg). He was one of the best back-ups John had, but the best was…
Howard Eisley (1995-2000, 2004-2005): …this guy. He is another in the long list of diamonds in the rough. After two decent years as back-up PG, he really emerged during the 1997 Playoff run and the following year filling in during the only major injury Stockton experienced. He was a vital part of the team for years and helped prolong #12’s career. After many years of grimacing anytime Stock took a breather, the team would not skip a beat with Eisley at the helm. He had a long, solid career, playing for Dallas, Phoenix, New York, the Clippers, and Denver. He was brought back in 2004 to as emergency help and stayed the whole season. Howard is currently an assistant coach for the Clippers.
Greg Ostertag (1995-2004, 2005-2006): Besides Carlos Boozer, is there a player who elicits more emotion than Ostertag? We all think of the Fred Flintsone tattoo, the Shaq slap, his teeth, his conditioning, his buzz cut, the hunting stories, and his bizarre relationship with Jerry. Had it not been for his behemoth contract (which looks modest in today’s standards) and subsequent expectations, you would think he had a nice career for someone picked late in the first round. Greg had his moments (Playoff efforts vs. O’Neal and Hakeem), but was often aloof, awkward, and bumbling on and off the court. His career resembled a roller coaster. While he fumbled the ball often, he was a true defensive presence. Not many shed tears when he pranced off to Sacramento, but all were shocked when the Jazz essentially traded three first-round picks (Raul Lopez, Curtis Borchardt, Kirk Snyder) in a five-team trade to reobtain #00. When it was all said and done, Greg is one of the longest tenured players in franchise history. That might make many shudder. To his credit, Ostertag’s kidney donation to his sister was a remarkable sacrifice.
Raja Bell (2003-2005, 2010-present): I feel bad for those who do not remember Raja during his first stint, but will remember him for last year’s woes. He was a last-minute signing in 2003–post Statues– and he emerged as a true gamer and leader. It was a shame he left, but he did so for good reasons: (a) a nice pay day for someone who toiled and worked hard playing all around the world, (b) a chance to play in Phoenix for a high-tempo, championship caliber team, and (c) to team up with one Steve Nash. Can’t fault him one iota. During the Deron/Carlos/Memo years (isn’t it sad that this is a reference to the past and not the now?), Raja in his prime was what I felt was missing. Unfortunately for him and for us, last season was horrible for Raja (and for the team). Who knows what the future holds now with Gordon Hayward, CJ Miles, and Alec Burks waiting in the “wings” and Bell is running out of steam.
So there you have it: the two-timing Jazz players. Undoubtedly we’ll see others join these ranks (Wesley?). for as they say, it’s never too late to come home.
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