It's Tuesday morning as I type these words. I've been watching ESPN's SportsCenter to get caught up on the sports news I missed overnight.
They're discussing the 2012-13 NBA season, in particular Tuesday night's season opener between the Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Lakers. L.A. star Kobe Bryant has a dinged-up foot and may not play (yeah, right) so ESPN's getting the lowdown from a Lakers' "inside source." Underneath the back-and-forth between studio host and source, they're running stock footage of Bryant in action -- you know, the usual stuff.
A dunk. A drive to the basket. A stop-and-pop jump shot. A pull-up 3-pointer from the corner.
Wait a second! Is that Raja Bell?
Well, what do you know? A Raja Bell sighting. There he is, No. 19 for the Utah Jazz, guarding Kobe in the corner at Staples Center.
Bell, who remains on the Jazz roster, is a 36-year-old shooting guard who has neither taken a shot nor guarded anyone since late last season. He still has a year remaining on his contract and is scheduled to make about $3.5 million this season, even though he's almost guaranteed not to play, at least not for the Jazz.
Too bad, really. As a reporter, I always liked Raja. In a world jam packed with guys who start rattling off cliches before I'm through asking the question, Bell was always an extremely thoughtful man.
Ask him a legitimate question, he'd give you a straight answer back.
In the end, that was big part of the problem.
See, when he was signed in July 2010 to a three-year deal reportedly worth $10 million, the Jazz were a different franchise. Deron Williams was the point guard, Jerry Sloan was the coach and Al Jefferson had just been acquired from Minnesota.
The Jazz were going places and they needed a tough, veteran, defensive-minded wing player to help guard the likes of Kobe Bryant. In fact, the Lakers also wanted Bell that summer and Kobe helped recruit him. But the Jazz offered a better deal so he jumped at it. After all, the money was good, he'd played for the Jazz years earlier and he and Sloan had always gotten along.
Unfortunately, by late February 2011 Sloan retired, Williams was traded and Bell was left to fend for himself on a sinking ship. He butted heads with new coach Tyrone Corbin right away and the two never did seem to get right. At one point last season Corbin sent Bell home from a road trip and the two barely spoke the rest of the season.
He played only once after March 15 and did not play at all in Utah's playoff loss to San Antonio.
When players cleaned out their lockers at the end of last season, Bell offered an honest assessment of his situation. He didn't pull any punches.
"I don't think I have a future with the team," he said. "It wasn't my call for the playoffs. Do I think I could have helped? I would have loved the opportunity to, but it didn't happen."
He later added, "I thought the way I was handled by Ty was unprofessional, but that's one man's opinion."
The Jazz have explored buyout options with Bell and his agent, but no agreement has been reached. While he's been on the roster, he hasn't been in camp and rumors surfaced last week the Jazz were exploring trade possibilities.
Utah begins the 2012-13 season tonight and Bell will be nowhere to be found. Clearly, the Jazz are playing hardball with him and, frankly, that's their right. He's still under contract and there's really no rush to buy him out or ship him off at a reduced rate.
They hold all the cards.
Go ahead and criticize them for signing him in the first place, but like it or not, it was a different time for both Bell and the organization. Beginning in February 2011 the Jazz began moving in a different direction and soon after Bell's presence in the locker room, on the court and behind the bench became terribly awkward.
It's not an ideal situation for either side but the Jazz would be wise to keep holding those cards. Until a resolution can be found, Bell will just have to keep guarding Kobe on SportsCenter.