All-Time Assists Leader John Stockton of Utah Jazz Has Knee Surgery and Will Be Sidelined For Up To Three MonthsBy GREG BEACHAM

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) _ 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 miss the first two to three months of the season.

``It's weird without Stock here,'' Karl Malone said at practice Tuesday. ``It's not gonna 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 three-year, $15 million contract, has played in 609 consecutive regular-season games _ more than seven straight seasons _ the third longest active streak in the league.

He has played in all 127 playoff games in Jazz history and last season led 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 offseason. 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 is the third big-name player who will miss the start of the season with a major injury. Miami's Alonzo Mourning (knee surgery) will be out eight to 12 weeks and Chicago's Scottie Pippen (foot surgery) will be out 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, Idaho.

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.''

Stockton was Utah's first-round draft pick in 1984. He was on the gold medalist Olympic teams in 1992 and 1996 and was selected in 1996 as one of the NBA's 50 greatest players.

Mason said Stockton asked him if eight to 12 weeks' recovery time was a worst-case scenario.

``I told him that was the only scenario,'' Mason said.