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Tuesday, July 27, 2004
Okur to join Utah's revamped frontcourt

SportsTicker

SALT LAKE CITY -- Mehmet Okur was very concise in his earliest moments as a member of the Utah Jazz.

"Life is good," Okur said with a wide grin after signing a six-year, $50 million deal to join the Jazz.

The Turkish center signed the deal Tuesday, three days short of the deadline the Detroit Pistons had to match Utah's offer. But knowing they wouldn't be able to come up with the money, the Pistons let Okur go early.

The NBA champion Pistons instead re-signed Rasheed Wallace, who went to Detroit in a midseason trade that cut into Okur's playing time. Okur still finished the season averaging 9.6 points and 5.9 rebounds.

"I didn't play much last year. I come over here hungry. I want to go hard right away. I can't wait to play with them," Okur said. "I like the system here."

With a spiked hairstyle that could rival new teammate Andrei Kirilenko's, Okur fielded questions during a news conference Tuesday afternoon. He's heading back to Turkey to play for his national team as it tries to qualify for the European championships.

Okur will return to Utah in late September for his first workouts under coach Jerry Sloan.

"I've heard a lot of good things about him. I hear he's a good teacher and that's what I'm looking for," Okur said.

The Jazz have an opening at center and hope to fill it with the 6-foot-11 Okur, who's only 25. Greg Ostertag's nine-year career with Utah ended last week after he saw the Jazz were bringing in Okur and forward Carlos Boozer. Ostertag signed with the Sacramento Kings.

Utah vice president for basketball operations Kevin O'Connor said Okur had been Utah's top target since the season ended.

"We felt that he would fit a lot of the needs that we had," said O'Connor, who called the Pistons to thank them for letting Okur sign early. "He gave us the ability to score with the basketball. He gave us toughness. He gave us somebody that can rebound."

Next up for the Jazz is signing Carlos Boozer, another restricted free agent who signed an offer sheet with Utah. The Cleveland Cavaliers still have until Friday at 12:01 a.m. EDT -- 10:01 p.m. Thursday in Utah -- to match the offer, but owner Gordon Gund said the team has no intention of doing so.

But don't expect the Cavs to do Boozer or the Jazz any favors. Cleveland management contends that there was a verbal agreement with Boozer not to sign an offer sheet with another teams, even if the Cavs didn't pick up the option year on his contract.

Boozer is training with the U.S. Olympic team in Florida this week. He's expected to make a quick trip Thursday to Utah, where he will have a physical, sign his contract after the deadline, then head back to Jacksonville.

The Jazz still want to sign point guard Mo Williams, a restricted free agent, but have until October to do it. Adding Okur and Boozer were the priorities in overhauling the lineup.

O'Connor also still faces negotiations with Kirilenko's agent on signing the All-Star forward to a long-term deal to remain in Utah. Kirilenko is entering a contract year.

But once Boozer signs, O'Connor will feel some relief.

"Getting the two big ones on board so to speak has been good for us," he said. "Are we finished? I'd say for right now, we are."