Utah Jazz: Okur takes leave; Koufos to start?
PHILADELPHIA - With four games remaining on this Eastern Conference trip, the Jazz were thrown into flux Monday as Mehmet Okur left the team and headed to Turkey to attend to a family illness.
Okur is expected to remain in Turkey for only a couple of days, said his agent, Marc Fleisher, who will be joining him today. General manager Kevin O'Connor, however, emphasized "we do not know" when Okur will return to the Jazz.
With backup center Jarron Collins still bothered by an elbow injury, Jazz coach Jerry Sloan was inclined to start second-year center Kyrylo Fesenko in tonight's game, but Fesenko is scheduled to travel to Toronto to resolve a visa issue.
At the earliest, Fesenko isn't expected to rejoin the Jazz until Friday's game at Charlotte. That could lead Sloan to start 19-year-old rookie center Kosta Koufos against Samuel Dalembert and Philadelphia.
Okur's absence would leave the Jazz without two members of their starting five, though Deron Williams could make his return from a sprained left ankle. Williams went through a full practice Monday, but still is listed as doubtful to play.
The Jazz also could start Andrei Kirilenko or Paul Millsap at power forward and play Carlos Boozer at center, but Sloan sounded inclined to continue bringing both off the bench.
"If I start Andrei or Paul, then I'm limited in the number of people that I have available to try and finish the game, especially fatigue and that sort of thing," Sloan said.
Koufos, who has played in only two of the Jazz's six games so far, for a total of seven minutes, would be making his first NBA start. "If you like to play, you should be ready to go," Sloan said. "That's what we've always said."
The Jazz had scheduled Fesenko's visa appointment for an East Coast trip in which he was expected to be little-used. But with Okur leaving for Turkey unexpectedly, Fesenko's representatives were working late Monday to postpone the appointment in the hopes he could play.
"I think it's such an important opportunity for him," said Jason Levien, Fesenko's agent. To resolve the visa issues, Fesenko must leave the country before re-entering.
Given the length of the trip to Turkey, Okur's availability for the Jazz's games Friday at Charlotte and Saturday at Cleveland is uncertain. Okur has averaged 15.5 points and 6.5 rebounds this season.
"I just close my eyes and see him when he shows up," Sloan said. "That's about all we can do with anybody, whether it be injuries or sickness or whatever. That's the way it is and our job is to try to win with who we have."
Under normal circumstances, the Jazz could turn to Collins, but the eight-year veteran has yet to play this season while recovering from a right elbow injury suffered in a summer golf-cart accident. Collins practiced Monday, but without contact.