11 February 2011

I could have told you, Jerry Sloan, this world was never meant for one as beautiful as you

For Jerry Sloan, basketball wasn’t a meritocracy. In fact, he didn’t even believe that you were only as good as the last great you thing you did. For Sloan, you aren’t what you were, and you aren’t yet what you could be. You are who you are, and what you’re doing, right this minute.

Even while he was getting challenged by an angry young man -- whose biggest achievements are two All-Star Game selections and one trip to the Western Conference Finals (that, if we’re being honest, wouldn’t have happened had the Warriors not been hot at the perfect time and the Mavericks not gone cold at the absolute worst time) -- Sloan did not call for a comparison of resumes.

Sloan didn’t bring up his 23 years of exemplary service, six appearances in the conference finals, two trips to the NBA Finals, 1221 wins, or his 2009 induction into basketball's Hall of Fame.

He didn’t pull out the list with the contact information of impressive references, like the NBA’s all-time leader in assists and steals; the best power forward ever -- who was so good he could play and own in L.A. Gear shoes, and possibly even Sketchers; the two coach of the year recipients he worked with, including the one who had no problem being under Sloan’s stewardship for many of Sloan’s 23 years as the Utah Jazz’s head coach; or the man, now a ghost, who was business savvy enough to keep a team thriving in small-market Salt Lake City for 25 years, and who backed Sloan for over two decades.

Sloan didn’t do these things because he knew there was no point. He would have won the credibility war with the angry boy, but what good would it do?

Every athlete talks about being a competitor. They all claim it, but what do they actually mean? That they don’t like to lose? That they like to be challenged, then overcome? Or that they like to get paid a lot of money to play a fun game in front of thousands of people and a television audience a few nights a week?

Sloan was a true competitor, and to him competing meant trying his hardest to win. He could lose because he or his team weren’t good enough, but it was unacceptable to lose because somebody let up, even a little bit.

And he only sought victories on the court, he only wanted to beat opposing teams. It might be the easiest victory of his life, but defeating a disgruntled point guard, his disgruntled point guard, would do nothing to help his team win.

Sloan knows how to make in-game adjustments. His farmboy speech belied his superior basketball intellect. Letting the irascible star win was an adjustment that Sloan feels will give his (former) team its best chance of winning.

So Jerry Sloan is walking away from the Utah Jazz, and barring something unforeseeable, the National Basketball Association.

He leaves without a title, but with no regrets for the two times he was just games away from winning one. The happiness a championship could have brought would be long gone by now, anyway, having left as soon as the following season began, when there were more games that needed to be won.

Sloan leaves without many other things, like a coach of the year trophy, that he couldn’t care less about. While Woody Allen didn’t want to belong to a club that would have him as a member, maybe Sloan didn’t care much about a club that would have Mike Dunleavy as a member. That’s not fair to Dunleavy, though; it wasn’t because of him, or Sam Mitchell, Don Chaney, or Doug Moe, that Sloan didn’t care about the award. It is because it had little to do with what happened on the court.

Many say the game has passed Coach Sloan by. How could this be when he still runs one of the most intricate offenses in basketball? In football, an offense that has been that effective for such a long stretch of time would garner Sloan the label of “genius.”

Some insist Sloan doesn’t know how to coach today’s young players. What about Bryon Russell, Shandon Anderson, Paul Millsap, Wesley Matthews, and even Deron Williams? What about the all of the players whose play dropped off significantly after they left the Jazz and Sloan? What about the unearned, unwavering patience with Andrei Kirilenko?

The game didn’t pass Sloan by, and young players weren’t impossible for him to work with and help improve. Jerry Sloan’s system has yet to stop working. No, the players stopped working for Sloan’s system, and he has chosen to accept it. He can’t change his expectations for them, and it seems they either can’t or won’t tweak their unproven games to fit into his proven style of play.

Sure, the NBA has changed. Actually, it changed a long time ago, and it will continue to change. Before they even sign their first pro contract, players have non-hoops dreams they plan to pursue. Many fancy themselves rappers. LeBron James thinks he is an adept business man, not realizing his entire net worth is attributed to the way his body grew, and not any kind of boardroom decision he has made.

Sloan wanted no part of this cocktail generation, but he never tried to control what players did in their free time. All he asked (and by “asked,” I mean “demanded”) was they be ready to commit themselves to seeking excellence whenever they were on the clock.

When he realized that commitment was lost and not coming back, Sloan knew the only possible way to salvage this team was for him to step aside and not let his high standards get in the way.

So, here we are.

* * * * *

10 February 2011

Jerry Sloan's Last Words

The biggest quote by Jerry Sloan after last night's game:

"We're not looking to trade anybody," he said. "We're looking to try to make our team hopefully better on the floor [and want] guys [to] accept the responsibility that it takes to be good every day," he said.

What does this say about Deron Williams?

04 February 2011

Shoot first, ask questions later

One of this blog's co-founders has moved to Indiana. Me, for graduate school. It all happened so fast. Since I missed the first Utah Jazz-Denver Nuggets game (I watched it the next day, which caused puking) on account of studying for the GRE, which I would take the next morning, I thought tonight might be an appropriate time to attempt a live blog.

I don't even know if I can entertain myself for the entire game, much less anyone else. That being said, I dedicate this to B, his brother Pail Millsap, and Sloan'd's one reader, Holdinator.

***You know how us Westerners thinks it's stupid for Easterners to not stay up a little later to watch West Coast basketball (as well as football and baseball) games? I'm no defending them, but it IS tough. It's 10:30 here in the EST. If not for the dearth of Jazz games I get to watch on TV, I would have started this game with no intention to finish it.

***Chris Anderson must have been strung out while the rest of us were making fun of Mike Tyson's face tattoo.

***Watch I'm watching for early: The other night, Steve Luhm (Salt Lake Tribune) said the ball moves better when Gordon Hayward is on the court. Keepin' tabs.

***Geez louise, Hubie Brown, get off Hayward's back. We know he's a whipper-snapper, but he deserves a fair chance.

***Deron Williams is so excited to be back on the court. Check his happy feet on defense. (the set-up)

***Kyrylo Fesenko is so excited to be back on the court. Check the usage of his brain. (punch line)

***In a Google image contest, "silly fesenko" beat "dumb fesenko," "brainless fesenko," and "naked fesenko."

***The first quarter of this game is over. For the rest of the Jazz players' lives, they will have to live with getting outscored 24-23 by the Denver Nuggets in the first quarter on February 4, 2011. You can never take this away from the Nuggets.

***Pail Millsap is not impressed with Fesenko's performance. Says we know Fesenko can do this against the Nuggs. Wants to see his boy Kyrylo do it against other teams too. @Del_Taco

***Jeremy Evans gets up and stays up. Cialis.

***Call your doctor is J.E. spends more than four minutes on the court at a time.

***I also dedicate this live blog session to Bryon Russell. Like him, I believe I am much better than I am.

***Start thinking of songs to dedicate to the Jazz's first-half performance. If a Youtube of the best one exists, I will post it.

***Williams' new birth control must really be working.

***What if the Jazz, like the Lakers, Celtics and Spurs, are built to win in the playoffs, not necessarily the regular season? Chickenshit, or no?

***Andrei Kirilenko looks like a girl who hasn't been asked to dance all night. "There's really nobody I'm interested in anyway. It's okay. My acne has nothing to do with this. So what if I never use a curling iron?"

***You can never take this halftime lead away from the Utah Jazz. The record will always show that they led 50-47 at the midway point.

***Any songs you want to dedicate to the Jazz's first-half efforts?

***Uhhhhhh ... self bang?

***For Jeremy Evans:

***Halftime song dedication:

***So far, and in so many ways, this video personifies the Jazz's second half:

***What I'm surprised Hubie Brown hasn't said: "Utah needs to be careful. They just got three dunks in a row. They're not a team know for their dunks."

***The look on Bell's face after J.R. Smith pushed him down said, "Ah, good, I still got it."

***Holy cow. A scuffle. I've been wanting this for three years. I need to go back and watch it again.

***That scuffle was the best Utah Jazz moment since they made the 2007 Western Conference Finals. Williams probably should have gotten tossed too.

***The lineup the Jazz had during that mix-up was perfect -- Roger Bell, Al Jefferson, Williams, Paul Millsap and Earl Watson. There's a lot of pride there. They all knew exactly what to do. Bell started it, and it was smart of him to not get involved because he would have at least received a technical foul, and possibly a tossing. Williams was the closest teammate, which requires him to push J.R. Smith, which he did. Millsap and Jefferson got there soon after to separate the fighters, but to also speak some fighting words. Finally, Watson was further away, but when he got to the scene, he got right up with the rest of the crowd. Everyone had Bell's back, and now the youngsters, like Calvin Miles, Hayward, and Fesenko, know what to do when a fellow Jazzman gets mugged. I have a feeling Francisco Elson and Ronnie Price were so pissed they weren't able to get involved.

***Al Jefferson has offered his fellow Jazz a ride on his back in this fourth quarter.

***Friend Bryan text messaged me: "This might gel us, man. D(eron)Will(iams) pushing was HUGE." It's true. Look at all the Jazz since the fight, they're feeling badass.

***That being said, Utah MUST finish this game. They were in the Nuggets' head. They have to throw the knockout punch.

***One more thing: That near-fight probably turns out completely different if Kirilenko is on the floor.

***Great win, worth staying up until 1:30 a.m. for.

***It is hard to predict anything with these modern Jazz, but the roles of this team might have been determined today.
Al Jefferson is the go-to guy on offense who can also make huge plays on defense.
Deron Williams is the best player.
Roger Bell now knows he is free to instigate because his teammates got his back.
Paul Millsap is the role player. He'll score some big hoops, grab some crucial rebounds, and make a few plays on defense. He also bails out Williams when Yaz gets erratic.
Earl Watson is the calmer. While Williams can get crazy, Watson can bail him out when they're playing together, or sub in for him and slow the Jazz's roll.
Calvin Miles is a less reliable version of Millsap.
Kyrylo Fesenko goes into Denver and takes a few huge dumps.
Francisco Elson and Ronnie Price come in and do veteran things.
Gordon Hayward and Jeremy Evans do rookie things.
If Mehmet Okur every plays consistent minutes, he'll be the shooter off the bench.
This might just be the game that leads the Jazz to pull the trigger on a salary dump deal. What does he bring that the Jazz don't already have with the above players?

***Then again, this Jazz team has not established an identity since John Stockton and Karl Malone left. Every time these Jazz seem to have it figured out, they forget it.

That being said, I think Utah is about at the beginning of one of their All-Star break hot streaks.

10 November 2010

Jazz vs. the state of Florida

Other than being a huge comeback, the Utah Jazz-Orlando Magic contest was quite different from the Jazz's game with the Miami Heat last night.

1) The Jazz played fairly well against the Magic. There a lot of turnover, but Utah had energy and effort. The Magic simply could not miss in the second quarter and most of the third quarter. When the Jazz made their comeback and started sinking shots, the reaction was "finally," or something similar.

The comeback against the Heat was the return-from-the-dead type. Utah spent the better part of three quarters getting hammered. They worked their way back into the game by chipping away at the lead.

2) The comebacks were different. The Jazz were all but completely dead in Miami, and they slowly dug their way out of their own grave, kind of like this:

In Orlando, the Jazz made up ground quickly with a 24-2 run at the end of the third and beginning of the fourth quarter.

3) Whereas the Miami comeback was mostly due to Paul Millsap and Deron Williams, the Orlando revival was a team creation. Yes, Williams could not miss, but Kyrylo Fesenko, Millsap, Al Jefferson, Roger Bell and Andrei Kirilenko all made important contributions.

* * * * *

Yeah, that's right, Florida.

Duh, EVERYONE knows Millsap can sink the three

Why not Paul Millsap, why not tonight? -- Matt Harpring

How incredible was Paul Millsap last night against the Miami Heat? Well, can you remember a Jazz player having a game as incredible as that? Here's the thing: as unreal as his one-man comeback show at the end of regulation was, Millsap was great the entire night; his 3-point barrage was just the apex of a stunning performance.

Anyway, Millsap's showing goes down as one of the best in Utah Jazz history. There aren't many that compare. The only performances I can remember in the class with Millsap's were by Karl Malone: his 61-point night against the Milwaukee Bucks in 1990, and when he scored 42 on the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1997 playoffs.

* * * * *
Other thoughts on last night's Jazz win:

Remember when Chris Webber used to have quiet 20-10s? You'd watch the entire game, then be shocked when the play-by-play announcer would say Webber had 20+ points and 10+ boards. The reason for your jaw-drop was Webber not seeming to impact the game at all. Well, the same felt true about LeBron James' triple-double last night … Speaking of Chris Webber, isn't Paul Millsap's game resembling Webber's more and more? I mean this in a complementary way -- not all of Webber's 20-10s were worthless. … What was the common factor in last night's game and the Jazz-Cavs game in January -- you know, the Sundiata game? The obvious answer is LeBron James, which is correct, but there was another similarity between these two games: Deron Williams had to leave the game early (fouled out last night, injured in Cavs game), and somehow Ronnie Price ran an effective point and helped the Jazz win. … DWILL gets all Nashian (Nashty?) when setting up a hot three-point shooter at the end of the game. Williams will penetrate to the top of the key to draw the defense to him, jump in the air, then contort his body and nicely set up the shooter for a good look. He usually does this with Okur, but last night it was Millsap. … Great work by SLC Dunk in compiling stories from around the country regarding Millsap and the Jazz.

* * * * *
It looks like Jerry Sloan will be around for at least one more year. Sometimes I wonder if Jeff Van Gundy is just biding his time on those NBA broadcasts, waiting for the Jazz gig to open up. Utah fans and the Jazz organization likes JVG's kind of hoops, and the job would provide a stability unlike he and his brother have experienced in their NBA coaching careers.

In honor of Sloan, here is another song that references the Utah Jazz:

Drake ft. Lil Wayne -- Miss Me

"Young Money's Jerry Sloan, I turn every stone"
(The lyrics before and after this line are a little bit naughty.)

09 November 2010

Millsap at SF----->The Commercial

When in a crunch, one can find out the strength and quality of themselves or an entity to which they belong. Four observations from the last few minutes of the Jazz-Clippers double-OT game on Saturday:

1) For all his shortcomings in the last 20-30 seconds of a game, Deron Williams is one of the best at taking the ball the length of the floor during a game's last moments and making a play happen. Steve Nash is probably the only other point guard who could consistently do this like Williams does it.

2) Paul Millsap has played like a grown man this season. He seems to find different ways to be an effective offensive contributor every single game.

Here's the question: Could Millsap start at small forward? His game is becoming increasingly better, to the extent that he is playing more and more like a small forward, but without losing his power forward skill set (though he does drive to the hoop more like a small forward). His mid-range jump shot has become reliable, much more trustworthy than any shot attempt by Andrei Kirilenko or CJ Miles.

The question is how would Millsap do on defense against the quicker kind?

The first retort to that question is, how would the quicker kind defend him? See, mismatches often go two ways, with a consideration given to the talent involved. Millsap has talent enough to take advantage of being guarded by a slighter-framed fellow. Furthering the question, how would Millsap's advantage stack up against the advantage of the quicker player? The answer to this sub-question can only truly be answered in a game-by-game instance, so the original question is the type to ponder in a macro sense.

To start, Millsap is no slouch athletically. He might not be as nimble as a prototypical small forward, but he is by no means slow. Also, Millsap could use his thicker body to punish his SF adversary on both offense and defense. By the end of the game, his opponent might be worn down and ragged, unable to attack the hoop with much zeal. In fact, Millsap should be quick enough to stay in front of his man most times, thereby turning his SF foe into a jump shooter. With the defensive rules in the NBA, making a defensive impact most of the time, or perhaps only half of the time, is fairly good defense.

Overall, I think opposing SFs would get by Millsap as much as they proceed past Kirilenko and Miles. AK might be better at recovering and blocking the shot, but again, Millsap is no slouch at this himself. It should also be noted that Millsap's lack of size is a defensive detriment against most power forwards. At either forward spot Millsap is going to give up something. He might actually give up less as a small forward.

The power advantage the Jazz would have starting Millsap at SF and Jefferson at PF should be taken into account. Much to Millsap's credit, in fact most of the credit be unto him, these two power players have been able to play well together. Millsap's feel for the game and somewhat reliable jumpshot have given Jefferson room to maneuver in the low post.

The Jazz would set a nasty tone each game with a starting a frontcourt of Millsap, Jefferson and Elson, especially alongside physical guards Williams and Roger Bell. When Mehmet Okur heals and returns, he doesn't necessarily have to start. Jerry Sloan likes to have a scorer in the second unit, and Okur could fit that role nicely. Or Sloan could put Okur in the starting lineup alongside Jefferson and Millsap. Memo's added outside shooting would leave the paint open for Millsap and Jefferson, as well as Williams' penetrations.

Which brings up one more concern about moving Millsap to SF: he's no 3-point shooter. Yes, but Kirilenko isn't consistent enough with his treys to force the defense to spread their efforts. In fact, it seems Millsap's jumper and ability to attack the hoop would better keep the defense from crowding the basket than what Kirilenko brings.

I gave the argument for Millsap starting at small forward, because it seems the natural inclination is to say it wouldn't quite work. Back the argument up or tear it apart.

3) Jefferson's blocking Chris Kaman's shots in overtime is an element the Jazz's defense didn't often posses with Okur and Carlos Boozer on the court.

4) There is a lot to complain about with Kirilenko. One thing I noticed for the first time on Saturday was he always gets up after getting knocked down. Well, except this time:

* * * * *
Since the Jazz playing the Miami Heat tonight, here are some interesting reads dedicated to LeBron James' new commercial.

Michael Weinreb: On LeBron, Nike, and the Deconstruction of America

Jason Whitlock: LeBron's Nike ad: Just do ... whatever

Bethelhem Shoals: LeBron James' Nike Commercial Asks 'What Should I Do?'

Kevin Blackistone: Quoting Cassius Clay, LeBron Rings Hollow

04 November 2010

Deron Williams wigs, Sloan'd forgives

“It’s going to be a different team for us this year,” Williams, 26, said.
“Things aren’t going to come as easy as they have in the past. It’s part of my
job to keep the team together and keep the team focused.”

When I saw Deron Williams wig out at Gordon Hayward and read his panic (which he insists was not panic) about getting drubbed in the first two games, my initial reactions were: this is exactly what prevents Williams from being a great point guard/player, what makes Steve Nash so superior, what keeps the Jazz from making progress against the Lakers.

A few days later, my thoughts continued: this is what happens when you hand your team over to a player who has never been The Man before. Yeah, my thinking went on, he's totally inexperienced at being the "undisputed leader" of a team.

At The Colony High School in Texas, Williams was purportedly overshadowed by teammate Bracey Wright, a smooth shooter with a nice game who went on to play at Indiana University and lead the Big 10 Conference in scoring his junior year. Wright was drafted by the Minnesota Timberwolves (in the same draft the Jazz took Williams), but played only 26 total games before moving overseas to hoop. (Wright's problem was being a shooting guard who was only 6-foot-3.)

When the University of Illinois made their run to the 2005 NCAA Championship Game, Williams took a backseat to Dee Brown for most of the season. As the season went on, it was evident Williams had the best pro potential, and the buzz got busier after he hit this shot:

Then Williams arrived in Utah with Matt Harpring and Andrei Kirilenko having been good Jazz for three and four years, respectively, and Carlos Boozer as young, up-and-comer who had been with the team for a year. Through he became the best player on the Jazz, Williams hasn't been an assertive leader until this season. In fact, if he were a Ninja Turtle, Williams has been more Raphael than Leonardo.

As my brain turned it over more and more, my opinion began to change. Is it proper to expect perfection from a fellow in a brand new situation, especially this early in the endeavor? No it isn't, I concluded.

He deserves some slack for panicking, and there was nothing wrong with yelling at Hayward, except Williams did it as he walked by instead of doing it face-to-face (but again, he's new at being the alphaperson). What Williams is deserving of critique, and constant ridicule, for is throwing the ball at Hayward -- that was a middle school temple tantrum.

“Everything’s a process,” Millsap said. “Everybody don’t come in just
knowing everything. So he’s been listening. He’s been able to get guys around
him, as far as coaches and players, throughout the years. Deron’s been working
hard to get where he’s at.”

“I think he’s made a lot of strides from where he started,” Sloan said. “The
experience that he has, knowledge, all that stuff — he’s a terrific player. I
think the experiences that you have over the years puts you in a position to be
able to do those things; to be a leader; have the responsibility to get other
players to play better. That’s the bottom line. That’s what leadership’s

--Quotes from The Salt Lake Tribune

* * * * *

With only four games played and so many new players, it is hard to glean anything about the 2010-11 Utah Jazz from the first week of the season. They haven't even been in a close game yet. One can, however, make observations about each player and what role they might have on the team.

RAJA BELL: The Jazz's best player the first two games. It appeared he was trying to will the team out of its funk. Oddly, he hardly played in Sunday's win over the Oklahoma City Thunder. I wonder if Jerry Sloan will avoid forcing Bell's minutes if Utah is getting good play from Calvin and Kirilenko. Bell is older and coming off an injury. If he isn't needed, he might as well be preserved for when he is.

FRANCISO ELSON: Still seems lost on offense, but he will come in handy when the Jazz face the better teams in the West. Elson won't mind mixing it up, or starting the mix-ups, with the likes of the Lakers, Nuggets and Spurs. He shoots jumpers with confidence.

JEREMY EVANS: Like everyone else does, I find Evans impressive. He puts his athleticism to use by attacking the hoop and aggressively seeking rebounds.

KYRYLO FESENKO: Getting better. His most valuable contributions have been the times he has altered shots, or blocked shots as a help defender. He still loves the in-game promotions.

GORDON HAYWARD: Has shown hustle and smarts. Better yet, he has shown he can score in a lot of different ways, so long as he isn't shooting a three-pointer. If the Jazz get hit with injuries and Hayward has to play 30 minutes a game, his scoring average could reach 13 to 15 ppg. Hayward probably isn't a star, but he should be a valuable role player who scores when needed to score.

AL JEFFERSON: He might be lost within the offense, but he's right at home under the hoop. Like Boozer, he follows his misses. Unlike Boozer, he is able to follow the shot with a combination of power and a soft touch.

ANDREI KIRILENKO: Somehow, he looks more lost than ever on offense. His defense on Kevin Durant was terrific in the third game. His entire game was terrible in the first two contests. AK is Utah's version of JR Smith -- he'll either light it up, or hold the Jazz down.

CJ MILES: Overcame downright failure quicker than he usually does, which could be a good sign. Like Kirilenko, you can't expect anything from him, game in and game out. Hopefully he will show up at opportune times for the Jazz, scoring when the rest of the players are struggling. Sunk three huge 3-pointers against Toronto.

PAUL MILLSAP: Playing exactly like the Jazz need him to. He might not big enough or fast enough to be a go-to scorer, but he forces defenses to keep an eye on him the entire time. He'll either get his points, or open up the lane for his teammates. His jumper keeps improving.

RONNIE PRICE: Finds himself as the Jazz's third-best point guard once again. Might prove valuable at shooting guard against teams with a small backcourt. Could form a good fight-starting duo with Elson.

EARL WATSON: He has been much better than Jason Hart and Brevin Knight were their first month in the Jazz system. Runs the offense well and can hit a mid-range jumper.

DERON WILLIAMS: Nice game against the Thunder. We kind of know what we get from Williams. He needs to control the tempo and maintain order in the midst of chaos.

* * * * *

21 October 2010

Goodbye Mr. Gaines

Sundianatello Gaines was cut by the Utah Jazz today. Last year he was responsible for one of the most exciting wins in Jazz history, and as far as I know he's the only Ninja Turtle to ever don an NBA uniform.

27 May 2010

Hey, D-Will, drop the B.A.

My friend Jordan just e-mailed me about a run-in he had this afternoon with the Deron Williams:

"So I just ran into Deron Williams at Foothill Village while I was at lunch. I was approaching my car as he was getting into his (we had parked right next to each other). As I got to my car, I absent-mindedly waved to him, as if he would recognize me. He made eye contact, but no return gesture—not even a courtesy wave back.

I understand DWILL isn’t the friendliest guy, but I still felt like such a loser."

He asked that DWILL be left in all caps. Done.

To answer your first question: Yes, it was an Escalade.

But, surprisingly, it isn't black or off-white. In Jordan's own words:

"It’s a weird maroon color with black 22s and lo-pros. Plus those weird bluish halogen headlights."

Jordan continues: "When I pulled up next to it, I thought to myself, 'that is a hideous car.' Then when I saw that a young guy was driving it, I muttered under my breath, 'what a jerk.' It was after all of this that I recognized it was DWILL and made my friendly gesture."

Seriously, DWILL, you'd be a whole lot prettier if you'd smile once in a while. Rockabye.