This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Agent Marc Fleisher confirmed Wednesday that Jazz center Mehmet Okur has signed with Turkish professional team Turk Telekom Ankara. Okur could join the squad as soon as this weekend, and his contract features an option that will allow him to immediately return to the NBA as soon as the league's lockout ends.
"He didn't feel that the option to go play in pick-up games are what he needed," said Fleisher, who stated that Okur is close to 100-percent health and will be insured while playing overseas. "He choose this and it's a good team. He knows the league very well and it's a good opportunity for him to play at a high level. And when the lockout ends, he'll come back and be rearing to go."
Okur must first handle a minor visa issue before joining Turk Telekom. Once it is resolved, he could meet up with ex-Jazz guard Deron Williams while in Turkey.
Okur is the first Utah player under contract to sign with a pro overseas club during a lockout that just passed the two-month mark. He is signed with the Jazz through the 2011-12 season, and is set to make $10.8 million next year.
Okur's 2010-11 season was a wash. The 32-year-old played in just 13 games and was never 100 percent while recovering from left Achilles tendon surgery. He acknowledged at the end of the year that he pushed himself too hard during his comeback. As a result, he dealt with a variety of other injuries, including back pain and a sprained right ankle. The nine-year veteran averaged only 4.9 points, 2.3 rebounds and 12.9 minutes while sitting out the final 35 games of the year.
"He didn't want to take the chance of the lockout going a long time into the season and he would've not played," Fleisher said.
He added: "This allows him to play right away and get his game back to where he wants it to be. Should the lockout end, he'll be in a better position than many other players."
Fleisher continues to explore overseas options for former Jazz forward Andrei Kirilenko, who has played well for Russia during EuroBasket 2011.
"We've talked to Russian teams, as well as a lot of other teams. … Andrei has been playing phenomenally," Fleisher said. "He may have been one of the best players so far in EuroBasket. … We continue to look at the possibilities and nothing has happened yet."
While there has been a recent bout of optimism in the media about a possible end to the lockout, Fleisher is taking a practical approach to the league's work stoppage. He remembers the 1998-99 lockout that produced a shortened 50-game season, and believes that a similar outcome is possible this time around.
"I don't think there's any way for anybody to know when the thing's going to end or not end," Fleisher said. "I'm encouraged that both sides are meeting without talking about it afterwards. That usually shows that they're at least engaged in serious negotiations and aren't just posing. But that doesn't necessarily mean that an end is in sight anytime soon."
Brian T. Smith