» Associated Press
SALT LAKE CITY _ The Utah Jazz are suddenly an army without a general.
John Stockton, who has missed only four games during his entire NBA career, had knee surgery Monday night and will be sidelined for the first six to eight weeks of the regular season. He has played every game for seven straight seasons.
“It's weird without Stock here,” Karl Malone said at practice Tuesday. “It's not going to be the same until he gets back.”
The 35-year-old star guard, the NBA career leader in assists and steals, had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee to remove loose cartilage. Dr. Lyle Mason, the team's orthopedic surgeon, said this particular injury does not heal easily.
“It's possible he could return to 100 percent effectiveness, but he could also have some permanent limitations,” Mason said. “We just have to wait and see.”
Stockton, in the second year of a threeyear, $15 million contract, has played 609 consecutive regular-season games, the third longest active streak behind Phoenix's A.C. Green (696) and New Jersey's Michael Cage (657). The career leader is Randy Smith (906).
He has played in all 127 Jazz playoff games and last season helped lead the team to the NBA Finals for the first time.
“It's too bad for John, but it gives our young guys a chance to show what they can do,” Utah coach Jerry Sloan said. “I've seen organizations destroyed over situations like this, but that won't happen to us.”
“He told me last night, `I'll see you in two weeks,”' Malone said. “I told him to just sit down. It's a great loss for us, but this will definitely help the organization later by getting some young guys more minutes.”
The Jazz re-signed backup point guard Howard Eisley during the off-season. Eisley has played in 147 consecutive games for Utah and will start in Stockton's place.
“It's unfortunate, but we must move on,” Eisley said. “I still have a lot of learning to do during the preseason.”
The Jazz also drafted Jacque Vaughn and intended to keep three point guards on their roster.
“This is a terrible thing, but at the same time it's an opportunity for me,” Vaughn said. “I just want him on the bench to yell at me.”
Stockton, a Spokane native, is the third big-name player who will miss the start of the season with a major injury. Miami's Alonzo Mourning (knee surgery) is out eight to 12 weeks and Chicago's Scottie Pippen (foot surgery) two to three months.
“We'll probably have to stop him from coming back too quick,” Malone said. “Maybe he needs the rest after all these years.”
Stockton, a nine-time All-Star, is beginning his 14th year in the NBA. He first noticed soreness in his knee when the Jazz opened training camp Oct. 3 in Boise.
Lyle Mason, the team orthopedic surgeon, said Stockton injured his knee while playing basketball during the summer at Gonzaga University.
Stockton had fluid drained from his knee Sunday night in El Paso, Texas, before Utah's game against the Dallas Mavericks. Stockton didn't play in that game, and Mason said he decided to do an MRI exam in Utah on Monday as a precaution.
“John was reluctant to do it because he didn't feel any real pain,” Mason said.
“With Stock, I was just thinking, `Come on, ice it down and get back out there,”' Malone said. “But John won't ever tell you if he's hurt.”
Including the preseason, Stockton will be out eight to 12 weeks. Mason said Stockton asked him if that recovery time was a worst-case scenario.
“I told him that was the only scenario,” Mason said.