Ronnie Price is different.
He's as self-made, intelligent and fiery as Raja Bell, but quieter and more humble. Price will kill pregame dead time by reading, just like the Jazz's Andrei Kirilenko and Kyrylo Fesenko. Yet while the duo page through colorful foreign fantasy novels, Price explores black-and-white books about stretching the limits of the unconscious mind. Then there's his wit: The veteran Utah guard will coldly stare down a teammate from across the locker room, feigning anger, before firing off a flurry of inside jokes as soon as his friend cracks.
Price is also a chameleon. On the surface, he is defined by depth, understanding and patience. A father of two who loves his profession; a historian of the game who takes pride in serving as the Jazz's NBA player representative. But Price is also unyielding. He is an undrafted small-college athlete who still has a rock on his shoulder, despite spending six seasons in the league. Forever a fighter, Price tears into opponents, acting and reacting as if he's just one rash decision away from being forced to turn in his pro uniform and return to the small world where everything started.
"I didn't know how good or what my role would ever be in the league," Price, 27, said. "One thing that I have learned is … I'm just as good and talented as a lot of these guys."
Total devotion • Blend together Price's unique nature, diverse personality and electric on-the-court energy, and an anomaly is created. He defies stereotypes in an era of cut-from-the-cloth players whose soundbites are sometimes only trumped by their paychecks. Price is special, handmade and one-of-a-kind. Ask him what he's thinking, feeling or seeing, and a three-minute answer often allows. Ask the Jazz about him, and everyone from coach Tyrone Corbin to center Al Jefferson takes the question seriously. They pause, lift their head, and speak with the same pride that is at Price's core.
"What can I say about Ronnie Price? Nothing but good things," Jefferson said. "He's very smart. He [knows] any topic that comes up in this locker room he can give his opinion about it and be real legit. He got a high IQ. I could see him being a head coach or a [general manager] one day."
Lofty praise for a player who has averaged just 3.3 points, 1 rebound and 0.9 assists this season, missing 21 of the Jazz's last 27 games due to a combination of foot, shin and calf injuries. It'll likely be 22 of 28 by the time that Utah tips off Wednesday night against Denver, a contest that will end the Jazz's disappointing 2010-11 season and possibly represent the final time that Price is associated with Utah in a box score.
"If he's playing 20 minutes a night or not getting any time in a game, he's coming into practice every day ready to work and ready to be a good teammate in the locker room," Corbin said. "He's been a tremendous asset for us the time he's been here."
The former Utah Valley State standout is set to make $1.3 million this season, and his current contract with the Jazz will expire by the time that the NBA is expected to enter a lengthy lockout. But Price will continue to represent Utah during labor negotiations even if he lacks a new deal. He respects the game and his teammates too much to leave his post during the most crucial situation that the league has faced in more than a decade.
"I want everyone to be on top of everything this summer, and I want to be able to help them with that," Price said.
Long road • Life has not been fair for Price this season, and the game has not been easy for the Jazz. Utah entered the 2010-11 campaign with lofty expectations, highlighted by a goal of winning the Western Conference. Price began training camp feeling stronger than ever, anxiously waiting for the opportunity to turn a contract year into proof that he deserves another six years in the league.
Neither vision has been achieved.
Remove the late-season development of rookies Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors and Jeremy Evans, and the mid-career progression of Paul Millsap, and the Jazz's season has been a mess bordering upon failure. Meanwhile, Price is at the same point that he was in 2005 as a rookie with Sacramento: fighting for a spot and trying to claim his name.
But the reserve with a career average of just 3.6 points has learned more in six seasons than most athletes absorb during their entire time on the court. Price doesn't know where the game that he loves is about to take him. But he's certain that his life has only just begun.
"Some players are lucky if they can play 'til they're 35 years old. But after they're 35, you've got another 40 years of your life to live," Price said. "A lot of people aren't fortunate enough to make $200 million in their career, to where they don't have to worry about anything else. I'm always just trying to get better as a person. Not just a basketball player, but as a person, because I think life has more to offer than just the game of basketball."
Ronnie Price file
Position • Guard. Year • 6. Age • 27
Vitals • 6-foot-2, 187 pounds
Stats • 3.3 points, 1 rebound, 0.9 assists. Career • 3.6 points, 1.3 assists, 1.1 rebounds
Draft • Undrafted
College • Utah Valley University
Born • Friendswood, Texas
Price is in the final year of his contract with the Jazz, and is set to make $1.3 million this season. He is one of six Utah players whose contracts are set to expire.
Price attended Utah Valley State, now known as Utah Valley University. He credits Wolverines coach Dick Hunsaker with molding him into a sharp-minded professional who reads books about the unconscious mind during pregame downtime and serves as the Jazz's NBA labor representative.
Nuggets at Jazz
P At EnergySolutions Arena
Tipoff • Wednesday, 6 p.m.
TV • ROOT Sports
Radio • 1320 AM, 1600 AM, 98.7 FM
Records • Nuggets 50-31, Jazz 38-43
Last meeting • Nuggets, 103-101 (March 3)
About the Nuggets • Denver ranks first out of 30 teams in average points (107.5) and 21st in points allowed (102.6). … Ty Lawson is averaging 15.5 points and 6.2 points during his last 10 games, including a 37-point performance last Saturday against Minnesota that saw him hit 10 of 11 3-pointers. … Arron Afflalo, Kenyon Martin, Nene and Felton are not expected to play due to injuries or rest issues.
About the Jazz • Raja Bell, Andrei Kirilenko and Ronnie Price did not travel with the team for a recent two-game road trip due to injuries. … Rookie Gordon Hayward is averaging 13.5 points and shooting 54.4 percent from the field during a six-game stretch since April 1. … Utah has held three of its last four opponents to 98 points or less.