Last week the longest tenured coach in professional sports resigned. In his 23rd season as head coach of the Utah Jazz, Jerry Sloan decided to step down. It might be old news at this point, but it’s worth discussing. The 68-year-old coach once again had his team on the verge of the playoffs (19 trips to the postseason in Utah, missing out only 3 times, from 03-06 when AK-47, Matt Harping, and a young Carlos Boozer were his go-to guys).
Sloan was synonymous with Utah. When you think Jazz basketball, it’s Stockton, Malone, and Sloan in some order. The Hall of Fame coach went 1127-682 in Utah (you may have seen his win total of 1221 which includes 3 seasons with the Bulls). Sloan’s Jazz won 7 division titles, 2 Conference Titles (back-to-back losses to Jordan and the Bulls in the NBA Finals), he had 3 60+ win seasons, and Karl Malone’s MVP year of 98-99.
He is/was known for unbelievable toughness, both as a player and a head coach. More often than not his toughness has translated to his teams. Ok, maybe he ruined Andrei Kirilenko, not a great fit for the Russian.
Of course there are criticisms for Sloan as well. Two trips to the Finals is certainly a career achievement to be proud of, but skeptics would say it happened in 20+ seasons. He has a losing record in the playoffs (98-104 overall, 96-100 with the Jazz). His impressive win total in the regular season also comes with the longevity of his job.
I don’t fall into that category. I’ll take Jerry Sloan over just about every other coach in the NBA. Popovich, Rivers, Jackson that’s it, in my opinion, for coaches currently better than Sloan. His teams were consistently very good. He took over back in the 88-89 season, therefore along the way he has had battle the end of Magic’s Lakers, Drexler’s Trail Blazers, Payton/Kemp’s Sonics, Hakeem’s Rockets, Barkley’s Suns, Shaq/Kobe’s Lakers, Duncan’s Spurs, and Kobe’s Lakers once again. Those dominate teams were just in his conference, when he finally made it through the two times Jordan’s dynasty Bulls were waiting for him. Not the best luck.
In the two years between the Bulls 3-peats, Sloan and the Jazz lost to the Rockets both times in playoffs. Houston went on to win back-to-back titles. Stockton and Malone were just no match for Hakeem.
But as for why Jerry Sloan decided to walk away, during the season, another winning season seems to be up for some debate. The quick response was that the blame should be placed on All-Star PG Deron Williams, with whom coach Sloan had some disputes recently. The team’s owner Greg Miller said at the press conference that Sloan was not “forced out.” Seems a bit fishy to me, that a guy who was with the organization going on three decades, and was squarely in the playoffs (31-23) would just decide, I’m done.
D. Williams was quick to defend himself, appropriately saying that Sloan has done more for the Utah franchise than anyone else, and he would ask to leave before his former coach. Hard to know what to believe. Deron is signed thru next season with a player option for 12-13. There is absolutely no guarantee that he’s staying. The organization is clearly putting all their eggs in the Williams basket (assuming that it did come down to some kind of “him or me” scenario with Sloan/Williams).
As great a player as Williams is (I think he’s the best PG in a very talented league) the truth is the Jazz just don’t seem to mesh. I can’t tell if they don’t like playing together or if Millsap is just overexposed. Okur has been hurt, AK-47 is… AK-47, Big Al has not been a dominant force. But with all that D. Williams is the team leader and despite not a great sense of team chemistry they’re still a winning team in the competitive Western Conference.
Ty Corbin has some huge shoes to fill. He dropped his first game as coach on Friday to the Suns; he’ll get an instant chance for revenge as they visit Phoenix tonight. Utah is tied for 6th in the West with Portland (Blazers have won 5 in a row), and a half game up over Denver. Memphis is only 1.5 back of Utah. Do you think Ty Corbin can keep the Jazz in the playoffs with just 27 games left?
Cavs Win, Cavs Win! Yes, the Cleveland Cavaliers ended their 26 game losing streak with a win over Blake Griffin and the Clippers. Mo Williams played in his first game in nearly a month and put up a double-double. Antawn Jamison scored 35 in the win and J.J. Hickson looked like a monster. What a victory for the Cavs… just 27 more games to go.
Also a nice gesture, I think, by the Cavs on Sunday. They know, more than anyone about losing streaks, and how painful they can be. Well they hosted the Wizards this weekend, and Washington came in a sad 0-25 on the road. The Wiz got the win. Good for them.
All-Star Weekend: I am pumped up and ready to go for the upcoming All-Star weekend from LA. Events begin on Friday with the Rookie Challenge. Kevin McHale and Amar’e Stoudemire will coach the Rookies while Steve Kerr and Carmelo Anthony coach the Sophomore. Here’s the rosters.
Eric Bledsoe, Clippers
DeMarcus Cousins, Kings
Derrick Favors, Nets
Landry Fields, Knicks
Blake Griffin, Clippers
Wesley Johnson, T-Wolves
Greg Monroe, Pistons
Gary Neal, Spurs
John Wall, Wizards
DeJuan Blair, Spurs
DeMar DeRozan, Raptors
Stephen Curry, Warriors
Tyreke Evans, Kings
Taj Gibson, Bulls
Jrue Holiday, 76ers
Serge Ibaka, Thunder
Brandon Jennings, Bucks
Wesley Matthews, Trail Blazers
I don’t know the number, but bet the Sophomores and the Over.
On Saturday business really picks up. The night kicks off with the D-League All-Stars game where Courtney Sims of the Iowa Energy deserves a shout-out as I played against him in High School.
Following he D-Leaguers you got the Skills Challenge where Chris Paul will compete against 4 of the following 8 players as it was voted on by the fans. Stephen Curry, Baron Davis, Tyreke Evans, Derek Fisher, Tony Parker, Derrick Rose, John Wall, or Russell Westbrook.
Next you get the 3-Point Contest, an event that Celtics fans will be even more excited to watch this year as two members of the C’s, last year’s champ Paul Pierce and 2001 winner Ray Allen compete against Kevin Durant, Daniel Gibson, James Jones, and Dorrell Wright. Who do you got? I’ll take Ray (Pierce has those injuries as we know).
The night ends with the Blake Griffin Invitation also known as the Sprite Slam Dunk Contest. There will be at least 1 memorable dunk this year… and it may come from one of Griffin’s competition, Serge Ibaka, JaVale McGee, and DeMar DeRozan.
Of course Sunday is the East vs. West All-Star game where Doc Rivers will coach Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Rajon Rondo, and Kevin Garnett. Enjoy the festivities and I will be back on Monday to break it all down.