Utah Jazz: Threat of getting cut always looms for fringe players
This time there was a chartered plane waiting to take him to Idaho instead of spending hours on a bus trekking along Interstate 84.
The arena was the same, though he dressed in an unfamiliar locker room.
The fans at CenturyLink Arena in Boise remembered him, cheered loudly when he took the floor. But this time, instead of the Idaho Stampede jersey he wore for six months last year, Justin Holiday wore the colors of the Utah Jazz.
"This is what I've been working for pretty much all my life," Holiday said.
So with each October day, the 24-year-old swingman moves either a step closer to realizing a dream or a step closer to disappointment.
The Jazz opened training camp with 20 men on the roster, knowing that number would be whittled down to at least 15 by the end of the month. A dozen or so players have guaranteed contracts, leaving the rest to fight for just one or two spots.
One man, Dwayne Jones II, already has been cut.
"It's a difficult thing," Jazz coach Ty Corbin said Tuesday morning as Holiday took jump shots nearby. "A guy is here trying to fulfill his dream. The opportunity is in front of him [but] you have to come to a point for this story, this chapter in the story. ... It's part of it. It's a nasty part of the business. You just wish the guy well and try to encourage him as much as you can. Hopefully he'll continue on the path and look forward to the next opportunity."
There are breaks, both ways.
When starting point guard Trey Burke fractured his finger in a preseason game against the Clippers, requiring surgery that will sideline him for at least a month, backup Scott Machado went from a fringe player to someone seemingly assured a spot on the opening night roster.
"I'm just here still working, trying to take opportunities as they come," said Machado, a star at Iona, who bounced between Houston, Golden State and the D-League last year.
Brian Cook, a nine-year veteran of the league, has seen it break the other way plenty of times.
Cook, a first-round pick out of Illinois in 2003, backed up Shaquille O'Neal in Los Angeles. He's started, then been relegated to the bench for months at a time.
Cook found himself fighting for a roster spot with the Washington Wizards last season. He made it to the Oct. 30 deadline.
"I felt like I made the team," he said. "My numbers were good."
With a number of injuries at center, the Wizards instead kept 7-footer Earl Barron.
"It's part of the business," Cook said. "With us, our names are just on the ticker. It's just like any other job. You just have to keep working, keep grinding."
Cook, who believes his experience, size and outside shooting would help the Jazz, signed with a team in Puerto Rico but would like nothing more than a return to the NBA.
"I want to squeeze a few more years and rock it until the wheels fall off," he said.
Each player fighting for a roster spot understands what's at stake and the challenge ahead. The Jazz have added extra seating to the bench area where Holiday, Cook, Lester Hudson, Dominic McGuire and Mike Harris sit during preseason games, and minutes are scarce for the players who are desperately trying to catch their coaches' eyes.
"I just know I always have to be ready," Holiday said. "I know the situation I'm in. Everybody knows we have all these guys and what we're all trying to do."
For now, no final decisions have been made. Every player still in camp has a chance to make the team, Corbin said. "They're still here for a reason."
But with the departure of Jones, who played all of 3 preseason minutes for Utah before being cut, players know how quickly things can change and how fast approaching the 30th is.
"He was here one second and the next he was gone," Holiday said about Jones.
Then he added, "We're all thinking and hoping we're not the next one."
Trail Blazers at Utah Jazz
O At EnergySolutions Arena
Tipoff • Wednesday, 7 p.m.
TV •Â ROOT Sports
Records (preseason) •Â Utah 1-2; Portland 1-2
Last meeting •Â A 96-86 Portland win Friday in a preseason matchup in Boise, Idaho
About the Jazz • Rookie point guard Trey Burke had surgery on his fractured right index finger Tuesday. A timeline for his return has not been set. ... The Jazz have dropped two in a row after opening the preseason with a win over Golden State. ... Jazz had just two players in double-digits Saturday in a 106-74 loss to the Clippers.
About the Blazers • LaMarcus Aldridge had his way with Utah's big men Friday night, going 8 of 9 from the field. ... Weber State product and reigning rookie of the year Damian Lillard had 23 points and 5 assists against the Jazz. ... The Blazers feature a number of Utah ties, including former Jazz players Mo Williams, Earl Watson and Wes Matthews. ... Rookie guard C.J. McCollum is out indefinitely with a broken left foot.