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Quick offer swayed Hart

Published July 20, 2007 2:18 am

Point guard says he's happy to have a job with Jazz
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2007, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

First come, first served.

In the revolving door world of the NBA, that's why free agent Jason Hart agreed to a two-year, $5 million deal with the Utah Jazz.

At the end of a whirlwind visit to Salt Lake City, Hart said Thursday morning that the Jazz's early interest in him and their willingness to quickly tender a contract offer was critical in his decision to sign with Utah.

According to Jazz vice president of basketball operations Kevin O'Connor, he called agent Bill Neff at 12:05 a.m. on July 1 - five minutes into free agency - and expressed interest in Hart.

When O'Connor made a firm contract offer last week, Hart quickly told Neff to take it: "I said, 'Let's make it happen. I don't want to wait.' "

A good decision?

Both sides think so.

"Guys are still out there without a job," Hart said, "so I'm happy to have one."

O'Connor sounds pleased that Hart's new job will bring him to Utah.

"We're happy to have a proven basketball player on our roster," he said. "Every time Jason has gotten an opportunity to play, he's produced. . . . When he's gotten an opportunity, he's always done a terrific job."

The Jazz's need for Hart evolved after veteran Derek Fisher was released from the final three years of his contract so he could move his family to a city where specialized care is available for his young daughter, who is being treated for eye cancer.

While recruiting Hart, O'Connor also pursued Toronto free agent Morris Peterson. But he ended up signing a four-year, $23 million contract with New Orleans. That facilitated the Jazz's contract offer to Hart.

O'Connor said the Jazz's interest in Hart would have continued even if they had signed Peterson. But Hart isn't so sure.

"I'm happy Morris [went] to New Orleans to open the door for me," he said. "Morris and I, we're pretty good friends. So when I see him I'll tell him, 'Thank you.' "

Referring to Hart, who attended Syracuse, O'Connor said, "He's somebody who's gotten better. When he came out of school, people questioned whether he could play the point guard position."

But that's precisely why the Jazz signed Hart - his proven ability at point guard, where he will back-up emerging star Deron Williams. The two might also be used together, much like Williams and Fisher last season.

"I consider myself a basketball player," Hart said. "So whatever the team needs, that's what I'm going to try and provide."

Hart's best season was 2004-05, when he averaged 9.5 points and five assists in 74 games with Charlotte.

Last season, Hart started with Sacramento, but was waived in March and signed by the Clippers, who needed a point guard after Shaun Livingston suffered a severe knee injury.

Playing in Sacramento "just didn't work out for me," Hart said. "They signed John Salmons - a big combo guard - and they had big plans for him. In the NBA, that happens. A lot of times, things don't go you're way. But that doesn't mean your career is over.

"I could easily have hung it up and gave up for the season. But I continued to work and when [Livingston] got hurt, my opportunity came. Fortunately, I was ready for it. I was still in shape and showed I could still play."

In 23 games for the Clippers, Hart averaged 8.4 points and four assists in 32 minutes.

Hart considered re-signing with the Clippers, among others. But the Jazz's immediate and persistent interest in him translated into an easy decision.

"I'm happy to be here," Hart said. "All those other teams, they are enemies now."





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