Utah Jazz: New guard Travis Leslie hopes to last beyond 10-day deal
Oklahoma City • Nate Bjorkgren waited for all of his players before making the announcement. Late last week, the Santa Cruz Warriors formed a circle around their coach.
There was Hilton Armstrong, the former lottery pick from the University of Connecticut whose rÃ©sumÃ© includes five NBA teams. There was Scott Machado, the point guard last seen at Iona, carving up Brigham Young in last spring's NCAA Tournament. Also, Travis Leslie, a former second-round draft pick by the Los Angeles Clippers who in six months had gone from playing alongside Blake Griffin, to his older, less-accomplished brother Taylor, a forward for Santa Cruz.
They have all jockeyed in the NBA Development League, trying to make it in the hardscrabble world of big-time basketball.
Bjorkgren assembled the group and announced, "Travis got a call-up from the Utah Jazz."
Teammates whooped and cheered for the 22-year-old Leslie. Like orphans left behind when a happy family adopts a friend, they celebrated, but no doubt wondered when their time would come. And when it did, what would they do with it?
That is the question now facing Leslie, who signed a 10-day contract with the Jazz on Sunday, filling the roster spot created when they waived Raja Bell.
"He gets 10 days there to leave an impression on the coaches and the front office," said Bjorkgren.
Leslie became the 22nd player called up to the NBA this season. His performances with the Warriors was enough to catch the eyes of the Jazz, who brought him in while chasing the eighth seed in the Western Conference. He has been given the equivalent of a five-minute job interview with a hard-pressed executive.
"I'm just going to come in and do whatever they need me to do," he said. "Come in and play my game and hopefully it works out."
Touted as a remarkable athlete and a better-than-average rebounder, the 6-foot-4 former University of Georgia star averaged 16.1 points and 7.4 rebounds for the Warriors. He was named the MVP of the D-League All-Star Game.
Video of him dunking over Sacramento's DeMarcus Cousins while the two were in college Cousins at Kentucky became must-see footage within the Jazz locker room.
"I ain't going to brag about it. It was one of my best dunks."
Leslie shrugged his shoulders and said, "Yeah, yeah, I got a lot of dunks." Reminded that the Jazz already have one player known for aerial jams, former dunk champ Jeremy Evans, Leslie said, "He's going to have some competition."
So, at least the new kid isn't shy.
But the real question is whether he'll be around long enough to make an impact. His contract will expire on March 20, at which point the Jazz can decide whether to sign him to another 10-day deal or let him walk and fill the roster spot another way.
His new coach has some familiarity with the situation. In 1987-88, Tyrone Corbin was signed to back-to-back 10-day deals with the Cleveland Cavaliers before signing for the rest of the season. He averaged 7.3 points and 4.1 rebounds in 54 appearances with the Cavs.
"There were just so many things going through my head at the time," Corbin recalled. "â¦ You appreciate the opportunity, and you want to make the most of the time you know it's going to be difficult to do it."
Whatever ways Leslie finds to sell himself is unlikely to happen immediately. The Jazz are loaded in the backcourt at his position. He was active for the Jazz's win over Detroit on Monday, due to an injury to Paul Millsap and Jamaal Tinsley's illness. But on a loaded roster, it may be difficult to find the floor.
"It's out of your control," said DeMarre Carroll, who trained last summer with Leslie in Southern California and was signed midseason by the Jazz as an insurance piece. "If you go in there and do what you got to do and practice hard and be there first in the gym in the morning and do all the little things, they'll see all the good."
Leslie is the ninth D-League player called up by the Jazz. Of all of them, only Lou Amundson continues to have any impact in the NBA. However, Sundiata Gaines may have had the most famous stint. In 2010, after just one practice with the Jazz, Gaines hit the buzzer-beating 3-pointer to beat LeBron James and the Cavaliers.
One thing Leslie has going for him is familiarity with the Jazz. In addition to training with Carroll, he is a Georgia native who played high school games against Derrick Favors and Kevin Murphy. He spent his rookie year with the Clippers before being cut in October, and was teammates with Randy Foye and Mo Williams.
"He's athletic as they come," Williams said. "In these 10 days, just be solid. Don't expect him to come in and lead us in scoring, but come in and give us solid minutes."
Carroll said he was in touch with Leslie after hearing that the Jazz planned to sign him. The self-described "Junkyard Dog" had some words of wisdom for his friend. In Utah, he told him, the executives are true to their word. Play defense. Grab rebounds. The offense will come.
"Even if you're not playing the first couple of games," Carroll remembered saying, "you never know what might happen."
Travis Leslie file
Age • 22
College • Georgia
Career • Drafted No. 47 by the Clippers in 2011. â¦ Scored 14 points in 10 appearances with the Clippers last year. â¦ Averaged 16.1 points and 7.4 rebounds for the Santa Cruz Warriors and was D-League All-Star Game MVP. â¦ Called up and signed to 10-day contract by the Jazz on Sunday.
Jazz at Thunder
O Chesapeake Arena (Oklahoma City)
Tipoff • Wednesday, 6 p.m.
TV • ROOT Sports, ESPN
Radio • 1280 AM,97.5 FM
Records • Jazz 33-31; Thunder 47-17
Season series • 1-1
About the Jazz • Jamaal Tinsley did not travel with the Jazz due to illness and will not play. Paul Millsap is a game-time decision with inflammation in his right knee. â¦ The Jazz have lost seven of their last nine games.
About the Thunder • Oklahoma City is coming off Saturday's 105-93 loss to San Antonio, the only team ahead of them in the Western Conference. â¦ Kevin Durant ranks first in the NBA with 28.4 points per game.
Jazz at Thunder
O Wednesday, 6 p.m.
TV • ROOT, ESPN