Loyalty, Teamwork, and All That Jazz

Brandon JohnsonCorrespondent INovember 3, 2008

"The Jazz will never win a championship with Sloan at the helm."

"The game has passed Jerry by."

"Fire/Retire Sloan."

As a Jazz fan, it's nearly impossible to listen to a discussion or peruse a message board without hearing the above and more from the detractors in the fan base.  In their opinion, this Jazz franchise would have won at least one title had Jerry SLOWN, as some love to write, not been in charge.  They feel the Jazz organization needs a change and a change now, before Jerry runs another promising season into the ground.  However, most come up sputtering, or give some half-baked idea that could not possibly work in real life when asked one basic question:

"Who would you replace him with?"

There is the obvious choice of Phil Johnson, but he falls into the same system as Sloan so most look past it.  Some bring up Tyrone Corbin, which might be a good choice down the line, but his lack of being a long-term assistant bring others up short.  Some cry for a former Jazz great like Stockton or Malone, though both have indicated at one time or another that they are not likely to do so.  Others dream of landing someone like Phil Jackson or Pat Riley as though the Jazz would be able to just snatch Jackson up from coaching the high-profile Lakers on a whim.  And all the while, Jerry continues to do what he's done in Utah almost every season that he's been here.  Win.

Jerry Sloan is coming up on a milestone that no coach in the league has reached before.  Not Jackson, not Riley, not Don Nelson.  After tonight's win against the Clippers, he is two wins away from reaching one thousand wins with a single team.  Stop and think about that for a moment.  Not only does that show Jerry's tenure with Utah, but he is in his 21st season with Utah.  In his first 20 season with Utah, he averaged almost 50 wins a season.  Do you know how many fan bases would kill to average that over a long period of time?  Just ask any Clipper fan.  Jerry is also fourth in all time wins with 1,192.  He also has only one losing season with the Jazz.  Only one when the Jazz were supposed to be heavily rebuilding after the departure of two future Hall-of-Famers.

Jazz fans don't seem to realize how lucky they've been.  The Jazz only missed the postseason three times in Sloan's tenure, those three years where they were dealing with the transition from losing two greats and trying to rebuild the pieces they needed to be competitive again.  Their coach didn't bolt for retirement or another team when the downslide happened, like some other big name coaches.  He simply kept coaching the team through the tough times, when all indications were that he should retire in the twilight of the run he'd had.

For the most part, the Jazz organization worked hard to put the right talent on the court.  They went searching for players to build around as they only had AK as a young part of the team.  They found pieces in Boozer and Okur, drafted Williams, Brewer and Millsap.  Last season they picked up Korver and Price.  In the off season, they went and grabbed someone to back up Williams in Knight in case Price didn't work out at the point.  They brought these players to Sloan.  Like the farmer he is in the off season, he grew and cultivated this team into one that would give their all on the floor every night.  And they are flourishing.

I hear that the game has passed Sloan by, yet he has allowed this team to run more than past teams because of the personnel he has.  I hear that Sloan always plays down rookies and doesn't give them a chance, yet he took Paul Millsap and gave him significant minutes in his first year in the league.  He has allowed Deron to call many of the plays, because he trusts Deron to make the right calls out on the floor.  This was different from Stockton, who reportedly preferred to get the plays from Sloan in the game.  I've also heard claims that Sloan is too stuck on his rotations, yet when Millsap was having a monster night just tonight, Sloan left the hot hand in the game and Boozer on the bench.  From the way Boozer was cheering, I doubt he minded at all.

When Sloan moved AK to the bench to play with the second unit and still get starter's minutes, one person I know said "Why did it take him this long to do so?"  Sloan couldn't have done this last season though, with Kirilenko's ego so fragile after the last post season.  This season, Andrei has embraced the role, and he looks and sounds like he's enjoying the new assignment. 

People talk and people complain and whine away, but they don't know how lucky they've been.  They are watching one of the best coaches in the league night in and out, and GMs and coaches around the league give him the respect he has earned, even though Sloan has never gotten the award he should have had at least once in his career.  Coach of the Year.  Maybe this is his year, but I doubt it.  Coach of the Year has always gone to a coach whose team is a surprise, and usually flashy and awe inspiring.  The Jazz under Sloan are always compared to a '57 Chevy that keeps right on rumbling along. 

Even if the Jazz do finish at the top of the West, a challenge in itself with the Hornets, Lakers and Rockets all there, and Denver making a trade to be in the running too, Sloan won't get it.  And it won't matter to him in the least.  Sloan has often said awards don't mean much to him.  He just wants his guys to play hard at both ends every night.  Maybe he's got the right crew this time to do so.  It'd be nice to see all that farming he's done with his players pay off.