Tyrone Corbin's lips separated and the top one peaked. The Utah Jazz coach smiled at the mention of Jerel McNeal.
Whatever the reason, Corbin likes the 25-year-old rookie. So too, apparently, does the Jazz front office. Utah signed McNeal on Saturday for the remainder of the season after the former D-Leaguer's 10-day contract expired.
"I'm happy for him," Corbin said.
McNeal has been active twice for the Jazz, but he has not appeared in a game. While he likely will remain the last guard off the Jazz bench, his prospects for playing got a major lift as the Jazz took a hit. Guard Alec Burks, who averages 18 minutes per game, sprained his left ankle in the Jazz's 95-83 win over New Orleans on Friday. Burks was one of three players, along with Enes Kanter (dislocated shoulder) and Kevin Murphy (skin infection), to not travel with the Jazz to Oakland for Sunday's game against the Golden State Warriors.
The Jazz have five regular-season games left, but McNeal would be eligible for the postseason if Utah can finish ahead of the Los Angeles Lakers for eighth in the Western Conference.
After spending the season with the Bakersfield Jam of the D-League, any opportunity looks good to McNeal, who technically is a rookie despite having been signed to a 10-day contract with the Hornets in 2011.
"I started off not dressing up at all," McNeal said. "We're not getting a lot of practice time in right now, obviously. But I'm just coming in, before and after practice, just working with the coaches, working with some of the other young guys on the team, just trying to stay ready."
McNeal, who played with former Jazz guard Wesley Matthews at Marquette and is the school's all-time leading scorer, averaged 18.1 points, 5.5 assists and three rebounds per game for the Jam.
"He's a talented young fella who's worked his way to have an opportunity to take a chance with an NBA team," Corbin said. "We're excited to have him. He done a good job in the D-League. He's been great since he's been here with us."
With McNeal, the Jazz roster stands at 15, the NBA maximum. By locking up McNeal for the rest of the season, the Jazz retain his rights for summer league and offseason camps.
Marvin also injured
In addition to Burks' ankle, Kanter's shoulder and Murphy's epidermis, the Jazz are closely monitoring Marvin Williams' right heel. The Jazz forward said he played through tendinitis in the heel for several games before sitting out Friday.
"Coach was awesome about it yesterday," Williams said. "He spoke to me about it during shootaround, said I wasn't as explosive as I normally am. He thought that maybe if I sat out yesterday, gave it a little bit of time … hopefully tomorrow I'll be ready to go."