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.