Utah Jazz Should Go All-in on John Stockton as Next Head Coach

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Utah Jazz Should Go All-in on John Stockton as Next Head Coach
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

The Utah Jazz moved a step closer toward a bright future by moving on from a mediocre present (or worse) under coach Tyrone Corbin and could further that effort with a trip down memory lane.

John Stockton, the name alone still carries an almost reverent tone around Salt Lake City to this day. Efficient, proficient and historically productive, the former playmaking point guard left an indelible mark on the place he called his basketball home throughout his entire 19-year playing career.

His iconic No. 12 jersey swings from the rafters inside EnergySolutions Arena, which appropriately sits on the corner of John Stockton Drive and Karl Malone Drive. Hulking bronze statues of the prolific pick-and-roll tandem that put Utah on the basketball map sit steps away from the arena's entrance. His Stockton 12 Honda dealership gives Utahns an excuse to test the car market.

The Jazz witnessed the rise of Stockton from off the NBA radar to intriguing-but-unknown commodity to all-time great. As good as the rise was, though, the return could be even better.

Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

No, the 52-year-old won't be breaking out his short shorts and carving up a defense with expert decision making and precise passes any time soon. Yet, the opportunity exists for him to do the same thing he did in his playing days—make the Jazz players better than they would be without him.

The only difference is he'd be elevating those players from a sideline seat as opposed to a spot on the floor. You see, Stockton is reportedly one of several candidates the Jazz are considering for their vacant coaching gig, according to ESPN.com's Marc Stein:

The Utah Jazz, as part of a broad coaching search expected to feature some 20 candidates, plan to reach out to Jazz legend John Stockton to gauge whether he has any interest in the position, according to sources with knowledge of the situation.

Sources told ESPN.com that Jazz officials intend to at least pose the question to the Hall of Fame guard about his willingness to move into coaching, while mindful of Stockton's lack of previous coaching experience and the fact that he has long loathed the sort of spotlight associated with the job.

Utah's strategy seems a bit flawed. Not because of all that blank space under the "Experience" section on Stockton's resume, but rather due to the double-digit number of candidates said to be under consideration.

If No. 12 is in fact part of this race, why are there 19 others in the starting blocks? Why is the Hall of Famer even racing at all?

If he says he wants the position, it should be his. No starter's pistol required, as Gordon Monson of The Salt Lake Tribune explained:

If Stockton really wants to coach, the Jazz should write him a large check and hire him — now. End of search. Whether he knows analytics from assists, it matters not at all. Those who say Stockton wouldn’t be a good selection because he has no experience on the bench probably never watched him play. For 19 years, the man saw plays on the court before anyone else saw them. Vision was never a problem. He could do the same from courtside.

Utah needs someone with basketball savvy.

The Jazz need a coach not only capable of seeing the potential of young studs like Derrick Favors, Trey Burke, Enes Kanter and Alec Burks—and, depending on how his restricted free agency goes, possibly Gordon Hayward as well—but having the skills needed to help them realize their abilities.

The talent is present, but it's incredibly raw. Under Corbin's watch, this group wrapped the 2013-14 campaign 25th in offensive efficiency and 30th at the opposite side. Only Favors finished with a player efficiency rating above 16.2 (19.0), via Basketball-Reference.com.

David Zalubowski/Associated Press

The ingredients are in place, but this is far from a finished dish. A mastermind is required to get this team to the next step.

Stockton can be that coach. For 19 scintillating seasons, he played that role to perfection.

"Some play a position exquisitely, just as it was designed," Stockton's legends profile on NBA.com begins. "That would be John Stockton at point guard."

He made Utah's whole greater than the sum of its parts. Sure, it took Jerry Sloan's designs and Malone's talents (both of whom, it should be noted, are back with the franchise in different capacities), but Stockton was the one building off those architectural drawings.

He was feeding Malone in the post or hitting the big man on a roll to the basket. Stockton was spotting snipers like Jeff Hornacek and Byron Russell, or finding a forgotten Greg Ostertag lurking underneath the basket.

Stockton hasn't been a coach per se, but he's been a team leader. A brilliant one, at that.

While other players flashed trademark moves—think Tim Hardaway's crossover, Hakeem Olajuwon's "Dream Shake," Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's sky hook, Magic Johnson's no-look dimes—Stockton's trademark was simple: He made winning plays. He set the table and disrupted opposing offenses at historical rates. He walked away as the game's all-time leader in career assists (15,806) and steals (3,265), records he still holds to this day.

His championship jewelry case remains empty, but he was still a winner in every sense. The Jazz made playoff runs in each of his 19 seasons, twice capturing Western Conference crowns only to encounter the buzz saw that was Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls both times.

On name power alone, Stockton could invigorate this fanbase. Considering the team just completed its worst season in nearly a decade (25-57), that's a strong feather in his cap.

"What he would bring to the position is instant credibility," Bleacher Report's Andy Bailey wrote.

Yet, Stockton's status isn't important for the tickets it could sell. The same type of reverence shown by these fans could translate to Utah's youthful, talented locker room. Player support is invaluable in the NBA. If Stockton could acquire that, he'd have already won half the battle.

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The Jazz players already know him, and not only through archived game film and countless entries in the game's history books. He worked with Burks and Burke before the start of the season. He recently evaluated prospects for the franchise at the Portsmouth Invitational.

He's soaking his feet in coaching waters, and the Jazz need to do everything in their power to convince him to dive in. They need to start those efforts now too, because the road ahead will not be traversed easily.

"The assumption in coaching circles is that Stockton, who was fiercely private as a player and has remained so in retirement, would balk at the media demands on coaches as much as anything about the job," Stein wrote.

Yet, that same private person penned an autobiography, aptly dubbed Assisted, in 2013 before (perhaps slightly begrudgingly) blazing out on the necessary media trails that followed.

"It doesn't surprise me that I did the book. It surprised me that we published it and then therefore I have to do this," he said at a press conference in November, via Jody Genessy of Deseret News. "It goes with the territory we have, like when we were playing."

Allen Einstein/Getty Images

He didn't seek out the attention, but he didn't run from it either. Stockton saw it as part of the job, the same way he might handle similar work as Utah's head man.

The Jazz need to make a home run hire.

They've built an intriguing collection of young talent, which will only get deeper with the arrival of another young phenom plucked near the top of next month's draft The financial books are clean, there are draft debits to be collected through 2018 and internal improvements to be made through player development.

If Utah brings in the right coach, it could have a tremendous impact on the present and future. Sort of like Stockton did when he first arrived in 1984.

That same spark could be ignited now. The Jazz are holding an impressive hand, but they're still an all-in gamble on Stockton away from a jackpot payday.

 

Statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference and NBA.com.

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