Utah Jazz: Harpring ponders future in basketball

Nagging injuries may force the forward to end his NBA career.
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Utah Jazz forward Matt Harpring said Monday he will decide before the start of training camp whether to play his 12th NBA season.

During a break in his summer camp for kids at the Murray Recreation Center, however, Harpring hinted that he has lost his long battle with injuries.

He called last season "the toughest of my life" because of a chronically sore knee and a post-surgery infection that ravaged his ankle.

Together, the injuries severely limited his ability to contribute.

Harpring averaged a career-low 4.4 points in only 11 minutes per game. He was often held out of back-to-back games while trying to limp through the season.

"The bad ankle is on the same leg as the [bad] knee," Harpring said. "So it was a problem. It was a very big problem. And it still is a big problem. ...

"What I really lost was the mobility. It just doesn't move and bend like it's supposed to and that becomes a problem when you're trying to play a sport like basketball."

Harpring hoped his sore knee and infected ankle would improve as last season progressed. But it didn't happen.

"I was constantly struggling with mobility in the ankle and pain in the knee," he said. "It was tough."

At his end-of-the-season meeting with team officials in April, Harpring told CEO Greg Miller, general manager Kevin O'Connor and coach Jerry Sloan, Harpring that "it was the most difficult year I'd ever had, and I've had a lot of tough ones because of my knee. ...

"I said I was going to take this summer to try and rest and rehab. I wanted this ankle to come back and I wanted to get this knee stronger so I could play at a high level again. Otherwise, I told them, I won't be able to do it."


"Right now, I'm not there yet," Harpring said. "I don't know if I'm ever going to be there. That's just a problem and situation I'm going to have to face. But it's reality to me because I know I can't go through another year like last year. ... So this might be it."

O'Connor called Harpring's situation "an ongoing evaluation process -- something we just have to go through. As we go forward, we'll have to see how everything plays out."

If he regains his health and can continue playing, O'Connor said, Harpring remains a key component for the Jazz.

"Matt's been a warrior," he said. "Every time he stepped on the floor, you knew one thing you'd get from him was a competitiveness that a lot of players in this league don't have."

Harpring turned 33 in May. He was the 15th overall pick in the 1998 NBA draft and played with Orlando, Cleveland and Philadelphia before O'Connor signed him as a free agent in 2002.

Harpring's best season was his first one with the Jazz. He averaged 17.6 points and 6.6 rebounds while shooting 51.6 percent from the field.

Harpring has one year and $6.5 million remaining on his guaranteed contract. He likely won't retire because he would forfeit his money, but he could negotiate a settlement with the Jazz or his contract could be used in a trade with a team that does not expect him to report.

"My plan is to let the Jazz know fairly soon," Harpring said. "I don't want to handicap them. We've been in discussions. We've had open lines of communication. So they know how I feel. I've been giving them updates. ...

"They've been very good with me. They have been very patient. They are putting no pressure on me, either way. They know that this is something I have to deal with. ... I'm still a young guy and, to have permanent damage later on in life, that's an issue right now, too."


A difficult year

Matt Harpring's statistics last year, compared to his career averages: