Chicago — Before Raja Bell plays another game for the Jazz, a discussion is planned between the veteran shooting guard, coach Tyrone Corbin and team management.
Utah General Manager Kevin O'Connor said Sunday he'll be involved in the meeting, which is expected to occur prior to the Jazz's game Monday against Detroit at EnergySolutions Arena.
O'Connor declined to discuss specific details about why a healthy Bell was unexpectedly removed Saturday from Utah's starting lineup against Chicago. Ruled out five and a half hours before tipoff due to an unspecified internal matter, Bell was not with the team during a 111-97 loss to the Bulls.
O'Connor spent the last few days scouting NCAA men's basketball conference tournaments and was not with the Jazz during the end of their just-completed five-game road trip. As a result, he wants to have a private conference with Bell and Corbin before moving forward with the situation.
"I want to sit down with Raja, and have a meeting with coach and Raja first," O'Connor said.
Utah is off Sunday, so Monday is the first day the conference could occur. An update about Bell's status could be announced after the discussion, but nothing is officially planned at this time.
Messages left for Bell's agent, Herb Rudoy, have not been returned.
A confrontation between Bell and Corbin — who've long had an on-off relationship — appears to be at the heart of the situation, and O'Connor didn't mention any other Jazz players or team personnel when asked about the internal matter.
Bell started for the Jazz on Friday during a road defeat to Philadelphia and spoke with the media afterward. However, Corbin said the guard wasn't with the team for a normal pregame meeting Saturday morning in preparation for the Bulls. The exact time Bell left the Jazz hasn't been specified.
While Bell and Corbin at times have been at odds, the second-year coach has consistently stuck by the 12-year veteran since taking over February 2010 for Jerry Sloan.
Bell's started all 30 games he's played for Utah during the 2011-12 season, but he's only played in three contests since Feb. 19. Corbin decided Wednesday to keep Bell in the Jazz's first unit, after he missed six games due to a strained left adductor. As part of the decision, veteran Josh Howard was promoted to the starting lineup while second-year forward Gordon Hayward was sent to the bench.
The fiery and highly competitive Bell has been openly critical of the Jazz when they haven't played up to their potential. But he's respected by his teammates and peers, and is still valued by Utah. As a result, any recent fallout between Corbin and Bell is viewed by the Jazz as repairable and not out of the ordinary during the course of a long NBA season.
During a pregame interview Saturday, though, Corbin became visibly aggravated when asked about Bell's absence. After saying he hoped the situation would soon be resolved — but also acknowledging he wasn't certain Bell would play against the Pistons — Corbin cut off further questions about his player.
"I don't want to talk about it anymore. All right?" Corbin said.
Bell, 35, is averaging 6.9 points this season while shooting 48.1 percent from the field and 41.3 percent behind the 3-point line. He's under contract through 2013, set to make a pro-rated $3.2 million during 2011-12 and $3.4 million next season.
The Jazz have recently been involved in general trade talks and have an open ear as a Thursday deadline approaches. But the organization isn't willing to sacrifice its long-term future for short-term gain.
"Sometimes addition is subtraction, and that's what we don't want to do," O'Connor said.
Many NBA teams are equally hesitant, since there's little time for practice and player development during the lockout-shortened season. The Jazz (19-21) only have 26 games left this year, and less than seven weeks remain before Utah's regular-season finale April 26 against Portland.
Overall, O'Connor is pleased with the progress he's seen from the Jazz — especially the development of youngsters Derrick Favors, Alec Burks, Enes Kanter and Hayward — and believes an 11th-place Utah team still has a strong chance to make the Western Conference playoffs.
"We're playing meaningful games and that makes a big difference," O'Connor said.
Brian T. Smith