Utah Jazz: After offseason uncertainty, Ronnie Price happy in Phoenix
NBA • Guard’s playing time has diminished, but he counts himself lucky just to have an NBA job.
Published: March 14, 2012 11:47AM
Updated: June 25, 2012 11:35PM
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Bill Haber | The Associated Press The Portland Trailblazers on Thursday released former Jazz guard Ronnie Price, seen here playing for the Phoenix Suns on Feb. 1, 2012.

Phoenix • The Utah Jazz had shown little interest in offering another contract.

The NBA lockout lingered.

For five uncomfortable months, free agent Ronnie Price wasn’t sure where his professional basketball career would lead.

So he prayed.

“Me and my family,” Price said, “… and everything worked out.”

After spending the past four seasons in Utah, Price signed a one-year contract with the Phoenix Suns.

The two teams meet Wednesday night for the first time this season and — yes — the Jazz’s Paul Millsap admits it will be “weird” seeing Price in a different uniform.

“Ronnie was a great teammate,” Millsap said. “He helped the younger guys and he was a leader in the locker room. And when he got time to play, he went out there and put everything he had on the line. Great player, great guy.”

Price signed with the Suns on Dec. 13, just days after the lockout ended and before the start of the season.

At first, he was point guard Steve Nash’s primary backup, playing enough to score a career-high 18 points in a 110-103 loss to New Jersey and another ex-Jazz teammate, Deron Williams.

“I think I showed people I’m still able to produce,” Price said.

Since mid-February, however, Price’s role has changed. He mostly sits on the end of coach Alvin Gentry’s bench, waiting for his next opportunity. Price, in fact, has not played in 12 straight games.

“It’s been an up-and-down season for our team,” he said. “There have been some lineup changes — trying to find the pieces that work and get us some wins. At the end of the day, that’s the most important thing.

“Right now, we’re in a pretty good groove, so I don’t expect things to change much for me. It would be rather selfish, since we’re winning games, if I was worried about getting back on the floor.”

One thing is certain: Price is glad to be in Phoenix — with or without playing time — after his offseason free agency.

His first choice was re-signing with the Jazz, but he quickly realized it wouldn’t happen.

“Utah is my home and I made the statement that, if they wanted me, I’d stay,” Price said. “… We had very, very brief conversations. But I could tell they were going to go another route. So it was time to move forward.”

The lockout complicated the situation.

Teams were not allowed to negotiate or sign players during the labor dispute, so Price was caught in no-man’s land.

“The situation was crazy for all free agents,” he said. “A lot of decisions had to be made in a short period of time and, if you didn’t make a decision, there was a possibility you’d be left out. That happened to plenty of guys.”

But Price parachuted into Phoenix, where he is the odd-man-out in Gentry’s current point guard rotation of Nash and another veteran, Sebastian Telfair.

No problem.

“I have a job,” Price said. “I’m not one of those free agents who got left out, with no place to go. So I’ve got nothing to complain about. …

“I’m very blessed to be a basketball player. That’s the most important thing — I’m still having fun playing the game. I’m enjoying being an NBA player.”

luhm@sltrib.com

Jazz vs. Suns

P At U.S. Airways Arena (Phoenix)

Tipoff • 8:30 p.m.

TV • Root Sports

Radio • 1320 AM, 98.7 FM

Records • Jazz 20-21, Suns 19-22

About the Jazz • They are 5-15 on the road, including 3-11 against the Western Conference. … They are 9-0 when shooting over 50 percent. … In Monday’s 105-90 win over Detroit, F Paul Millsap had 12 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and five steals.

About the Suns • They have won five straight over Utah, going back to March 4, 2010. … They have won five of their past seven to join the Western Conference playoff race. … G Steve Nash, who just turned 38, averages 13.6 points and 11 assists.