Utah Jazz: Collins gone; Harpring too?

One Stockton-to-Malone era mainstay goes to Portland, another expected to retire.
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As they prepare to open training camp this weekend, the Jazz also could be closing a chapter when it comes to two longtime favorites of coach Jerry Sloan and former teammates of Karl Malone and John Stockton.

Veteran center Jarron Collins, one of only 10 players in franchise history to have spent eight or more seasons with the Jazz, said Tuesday that he will go to camp with Portland and attempt to make the Trail Blazers' roster.

"It was an honor and a privilege to play for the organization," Collins said of his time in Utah, "and to play with all my teammates throughout the years and be around all the people in the organization."

Also Tuesday, all indications were that the Jazz and Matt Harpring have determined that Harpring will not be able to overcome his ankle and knee problems to play this season, though no official announcement has been made.

An 11-year veteran, Harpring has spent the past seven seasons with the Jazz but continues to suffer the effects from a devastating infection that followed ankle surgery last summer as well as from the multiple knee surgeries during his career.

Jazz general manager Kevin O'Connor and Harpring's agent, Richard Howell, didn't return messages Tuesday. Harpring's $6.5 million salary is fully guaranteed for this season and the Jazz will not receive any salary cap/luxury tax relief if he is unable to play.

Although they came off the bench almost exclusively in recent seasons, Harpring and Collins brought toughness and professionalism that the Jazz might be hard-pressed to replace.

Mehmet Okur would be the Jazz's oldest player at 30, while Andrei Kirilenko would be the longest tenured. Returning for his ninth season, Kirilenko would be the only remaining player from the Stockton-to-Malone era.

A former second-round draft pick, Collins joins Malone, Stockton, Kirilenko, Mark Eaton, Thurl Bailey, Greg Ostertag, Rickey Green, Darrell Griffith and Bryon Russell in having played eight seasons or more with the Jazz.

"You look at the list, there are obviously Hall of Fame players, great players," Collins said. "It's good to have my name in their company. I feel honored in that respect because of the level of character and class those guys carried with them."

Collins was limited to just 26 games last season after injuring his right elbow in a summer golf-cart accident. The Jazz didn't make him a contract offer this summer as a free agent, though Collins said he had no hard feelings.

Now he'll head to the Northwest Division-rival Blazers. Without a guaranteed contract, Collins finds himself in the same position with Portland as he once was as a Jazz rookie, fighting to make the team.

"I think there's an opportunity there," Collins said. "They're looking to sign another player, so there's an opportunity for me to go in there and show what I can do and the things that made me successful in my career."

The Blazers signed Juwan Howard last week and could add Collins as a backup to Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla.

In recent weeks, Collins worked out with Cleveland and Portland. He even crossed paths in Portland with Ostertag, who is trying to make a comeback at 36, and played in a handful of games with his former teammate.

"It was great," Collins said. "Just like old times playing with Oster. We were actually pretty good on the defensive end, knowing how to cover for each other."

His departure will create an opportunity for young Jazz centers Kosta Koufos and Kyrylo Fesenko to have an expanded role as well as for second-round draft pick Goran Suton to potentially make the team. For his part, Collins talked about the relationships he'd made in Utah, with everyone from season-ticket holders to members of the front office to current teammates to former teammates including Carlos Arroyo, Gordan Giricek and Ostertag.

He saved special thanks for Kendra Smith, a former high school teacher in Tooele now living in San Antonio, who created a Jarron Collins Wall of Fame with pictures, autographs, stats, jerseys, warm-ups and sneakers in her classroom.

Collins came to Utah hoping to have an impact in the community, as well as with the Jazz, and leaves feeling as if he succeeded on both counts. "It'll always be home to a certain extent," Collins said. "Everybody moves on at some point."


The mainstays

Jarron Collins leaves the Jazz as one of only 10 players in franchise history to have played eight or more seasons in Utah. The others:

Player Seasons

John Stockton 19

Karl Malone 18

Mark Eaton 11

Thurl Bailey 10

Darrell Griffith 10

Greg Ostertag 10

Bryon Russell 9

Rickey Green 8

Andrei Kirilenko 8