Changing Jazz riffs…

19 05 2008

It’ll be interesting to see how those with vested interests paint the season the Utah Jazz have just finished. From an outsider’s perspective, I’d rate it “pretty good”.

Yes, they didn’t make it as far as they did last season… but this season was far more competitive, a far greater number of teams competing at the very top levels in the Western Conference.

They play good, hard, physical basketball, and I’d hazard a guess and state that the Jazz will be able to compete at this level for at least a few years to come…

But they won’t win an NBA Championship.

At least, not until they clean up their act.
During the 2007/08 season, the Utah Jazz committed more fouls than any other team in the NBA. Then, during the playoffs, the fan-based acted with shock & horror when the whistle went against them. Err… surely no surprises there.
So often during any playoff series, and never more so than the series for the Jazz that they just lost against the Lakers, not sending the opponent to the line for freebies is an imperative. But the Jazz continually do so. During the recent game 6, the LA Lakers had 38 free throws (they converted 31) to Utah’s 25 (hit 21). That’s 10 extra points to the LA team, take them away – and who knows? I realise you can’t blithely assert that Utah wins – as who knows which baskets get converted if fouls aren’t made – but it’s definitely food for thought.

It all comes back to one man: Jerry Sloan. As hard and uncomprising a coach in the NBA cannot be found. Even Popovich comes across positively care-bear-ish in comparison. And phenomenally successful. 1092 wins with only 723 losses… clearly one of the best coaches of all time.

But is he the right coach for the Utah Jazz, now?

20 years in charge of the Jazz, he is the longest tenured coach in US professional sports. A long and illustrious career. There’s hardly a franchise in the NBA that more closely resembles their coach. Hard & tenacious, tough & uncompromising. That’s the Utah Jazz all over.

But their greatest strength is also their greatest weakness – the physicality they bring to the floor often equates to a bloated amount of fouls given, often at the worst possible moment, whereas their opponents have a player who’s more than willing to close out the game. As Will Brinson said during the AOL Fanhouse game 6 live-blog, “I think he (Kobe) sticks some sort of dagger in the Jazz.” And how right he was.

This physicality is good at times. It definitely makes the Jazz a tough opponent to play during the regular season when back-to-backs mean that teams are at times tired when they play Utah… but during a playoffs it runs the risk of being a negative if they allow it to get out of control, and send opponents to the foul line.

Sloan’s had more than enough chances to address this, and although this Jazz team are relatively young, this has long been a hallmark of Sloan’s teams. It’s safe to assume that there’ll be no changes.

So… change?
I understand that looking at the success the team’s enjoyed, even the very thought of change will be met with resistance. Especially when the Jazz have succeeded for so long. But success is a relative term, and sometimes a change is needed. I’ve long been a firm believer that every coach, no matter how successful, has a shelf-life. Once it’s hit, that’s it… and it’s time to move on.
It’s time. Not that Jerry Sloan’s a bad coach, nor that he’s ‘failed’ at Utah.
Pointedly, he hasn’t.
But the Utah Jazz have taken all they can from him, and still not even competed for a title. The West’s only getting stronger. And the notion of ‘tough defense’ is something that does win championships, but it must be coupled with discipline.

So, who?
Of the available coaches now, Avery Johnson best fits what the Jazz should be looking to achieve. Still maintaining a strong defensive philosophy, but he does bring an appropriate level of discipline to the table too.
A helluva lot of blame has been placed on Johnson’s shoulders for the failures at Dallas, and it’s true that by the end he had lost his players – The “Lil’ General” clearly burnt some bridges there. However, the issues that plagued Dallas (and still do) were not decisions made by Johnson, but by Mark Cuban. Obviously Cuban can’t sack himself (tho’ I know many a Mavs-fan that wish he would)… and Johnson could’ve made a greater effort to bend his game plan to fit the roster he ended up with.
But Utah’d suit. Utah’d suit fine.

Now… to convince Larry Miller…

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26 responses

19 05 2008
Jim Murphy

As a lifelong Utah Jazz honk I’ve wondered if Sloan’s heart is still in it myself. Having said that, I’m not exactly sold on Avery Johnson taking the Jazz any further than Sloan. I like Johnson, for some reason I can’t put my finger on I don’t see him as a ‘good fit’. Plus to sell it to the Jazz fan base Sloan would have to walk away on his own terms, plus whomever replaced him would have to be seen by even casual fans as an upgrade. It’s a tough set of variables to work out…

Larry H. Miller, as you note, would also be a tough sell. He’s no doubt thankful that his team transitioned from the Stockton/Malone era to the Williams/Boozer era as quickly as they did but may be of the opinion that the depth of fan support for the ‘new’ Jazz is somewhat tenuous.. Whether right or not I’m thinking that he’s of the opinion that replacing Sloan would be seen by the fans as akin to Jerry Jones unceremoniously dumping Landry. Obviously that was the right move for the future of the team but clearly not a popular one.

19 05 2008
withmalice

I hear you Jim.
I think with Avery it’s just a case of ‘best coach available that fits’. And that’d be Johnson.

“Plus to sell it to the Jazz fan base Sloan would have to walk away on his own terms, plus whomever replaced him would have to be seen by even casual fans as an upgrade.”

Impossible. Both Phil Jackson & Gregg Popovich are already gainfully employed.

19 05 2008
DMtShooter

The problem goes to athleticism, not coaching. The Jazz’s best big, Boozer, doesn’t get off the floor (note the non-existent shot blocking). He’ll always be a liability in a longer playoff series against a more athletic big — this year it was Odom, last year it was Duncan. When the Jazz have playoff success, this isn’t an issue; he can eat Al Harrington’s lunch all day against the Warriors, and he’s cannier than Carl Landry and what the Rockets roll out. But when one of your best players is also your biggest weakness, you’re going home without a trophy. The fouling isn’t dirty play, it’s a lack of quicks and hops, and trying to compensate.

20 05 2008
UtesFan89

I’ve been calling for a new coach for a while. As you said, not because Sloan has failed or anything… I just don’t think his game works in the NBA now. The physical game has bypassed the NBA… if the contact gets above pre-school level, it’s a foul. Sloan doesn’t get this. He emphasizes D… but his bigs don’t play D at all (look at Booze). He benches the youngsters for 1 mistake on the defensive end… but leaves the “vets” (Harpring) on the floor no matter how many mistakes they (he) makes.

I don’t see Avery Johnson as the guy, though maybe I just haven’t look hard enough. I really hope it’s not someone on the bench right now with the Jazz (maybe, just maybe, Ty Corbin could work…)… it’d be more of the same.

Sadly, I don’t see Sloan walking away this off-season. I’m still hopeful, but I don’t find it very likely. As a result, it’ll probably be more of the same next year… playoffs, a J-Slo extension in December for the following year, and another early exit. I hope I’m wrong on the last 2… but I’m not counting on it.

20 05 2008
Reading is Great! Monday’s NBA Rumors, Breaking News, and Blog Links - EmptyTheBench.com

[…] are much alike.” – HOOPSWORLD – The free agency class of 2004 has worked out pretty well. – With Malice… – Is Jerry Sloan still the right guy to lead Utah to a NBA title? – Biz of Basketball – David […]

20 05 2008
mcbias

Good article, but I have to wonder, is it more the Jazz’s mix of players? None of the pieces seem to fit together right now, and they should have traded Kirilenko when they had the chance.

20 05 2008
Evan

The Jazz would be stupid to part with Sloan. They’ve had terrific seasons the last two years. I think they would have beaten LA if they’d kept Fisher. They are just a second guard away from the finals right now.

20 05 2008
800lb

I’m going on record to wholeheartedly disagree. I think Utah’s problems on defense are as much about missed rotations as they are about flaccid coaching, and I think Boozer and Okur need to suck it up and learn how to play in the off season. They foul at the end of a bad defensive play to deny the basket, and then when they hit the playoffs their “dirty” reputation makes the refs all whistle happy. They play great on the wing for the most part though, thanks to Brewer, Kirilenko, and Williams (the notable exception being when they take on Kobe Bryant, but c’mon, it’s Kobe Bryant). So I don’t think you can blame him for that.
However, Sloan’s offensive sets are as good as any in the NBA. His combination of off ball movement and back screens is fantastic, and I think Williams will only get better as Sloan works on his discipline. As much as Karl Malone was the star of the late era Jazz, Stockton was Sloan’s will personified, and he only got better during the run up to the Jazz making the 97-98 finals. So I think throwing him out now would be ridiculous.
Personally, after this year of thawing relations with Kirilenko, I think the best think that Sloan could do is to de-emphasize Boozer in the post and instead creating more floating movement between AK and Williams. That’s all academic though, and I think Sloan’s smart enough to move forward with or without Boozer.

20 05 2008
dan

Wasnt it just last season the Jazz were in the West Finals? Man, I do hope the Jazz let him go. So then anybody who wants him gone in Utah will see how fast they decline. As a Nugget fan I would love that. I would love to see him in Denver. Man. so the Jazz get bumped by a better TEAM and all of sudden you want Sloan gone. Thats almost as ludicris as the Cavs wanting Brown gone. Coaches can only coach with want management gives them, and then if they dont produce results can them

20 05 2008
DMtShooter

If the Cavs want to run Mike James, they should warn him a few minutes before the press gets there. It takes a while to get paste out of your mouth.

/ LeBron shoots techs when three other guys have a much better percentage. WTF?

DMtShooter

20 05 2008
Holdwilco

Being a lifelong Jazz fan, I love Jerry Sloan. He’s already earned his plaque in the HOF. Yet, I’d be okay with him retiring.
Larry Miller, however, has made it clear through the local (Utah) media that if Phil Johnson doesn’t want the job when Jerry retires the job will go to either John Stockton or Jeff Hornacek. Avery Johnson will never be on the sidelines in Salt Lake, and I’m okay with that. I think he’s an overrated head coach anyway.
http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/columns/story?columnist=wojciechowski_gene&id=3391439&sportCat=nba

20 05 2008
30frames

I agree with the major thesis of the author – Sloan probably can’t take a team all the way to the title with his style. None of that means he is a bad coach, just that his style has limitations and Jazz fans are not wrong to ponder if that ceiling has been reached. Or, perhaps the Jazz would rather revel in their “family” and “traditions” and keep Sloan around and continue to be a good-but-not-great NBA squad every year.

Lots of guys getting major minutes for the Jazz are one dimensional – AK jumps, Boozer has offensive post moves, Harpring is white-boy gritty, Korver shoots jumpers. A good team can force those one-dimensional guys to do something outside their comfort zone – like Odom killing Boozer. Also, a guy like Harpring guarding Kobe? Are you REALLY surprised that didn’t work out? And then, Kobe gets to coast on defense. Not that the gritty grinder has no role in the NBA, but on a good team that guy (Turiaf, Rambis, Oberto, Oakley) comes off the bench.

The good news for Jazz fans is guys like Deron, Brewer and Milsap do have multiple talents. Wonder is Sloan is the man to lead them.

20 05 2008
50yearfan

To put it gently, you don’t know what you’re talking about. Avery Johnson is a nice guy. However, he is a failure as a coach. He was left with the best team in the NBA (courtesy of Don Nelson) and proceeded to run it into the ground.

20 05 2008
withmalice

And yet of recent years, Avery Johnson’s been closer to a title than Sloan.
Weird, huh?
Of course, none of it was Cuban’s fault.

Now I’m not asserting that Avery Johnson’s a better coach – that’d be ridiculous. But I do think that after 20 years, surely the writing’s on the wall. Assertions that the Jazz as they are currently made up will be better next season are foolhardy – they won’t be. The Lakers will get better with Bynum & Ariza coming back, the Trail Blazers will be a beast with Oden, and the Hornets will be better just by being a year older.

Avery Johnson’s not necessarily a perfect fit for the Jazz, but I think he’d be a pretty good fit until someone else comes along with better credentials.
Maybe as one commenter suggested it should be Stockton…

20 05 2008
Basketball John

I’m going to email you back, I promise.

But for this issue, I have to disagree. Sloan’s offense has shown to be one of the best in the league no matter who is running the show. It can be used to slow things down or run.

As far as D goes, it’s the personnel. In the Stockton/Malone days, they had one of the best defenses and it was the same thing. The rules have changed now, but the defense still works so long as the personnel are there. Boozer and Memo just don’t have it.

And it’s all a moot point. Sloan isn’t going anywhere. As UtesFan89 stated, Miller has said it’s Phil Johnson’s job after Sloan leaves. He’ll promote one of the assistants or bring in a former player that runs “the Jazz system.” So even with a new coach, the Sloan system will still be there.

20 05 2008
withmalice

Hey John… was waiting on a response from you!
I just wonder – how many years do you give to get the job done?

20 05 2008
The Dude Abides

While the Jazz foul more than everyone else, I think you’re exaggerating the foul disparity a bit. The FT breakdown in Game Six was 28-25 until the Jazz had to intentionally foul at the end, making the final totals 38-25. I would estimate that the Lakers shot approximately 30 FTs in the series due to Jazz intentional fouls in the final minutes of Laker victories. Conversely, in the two Utah victories, there were very few intentional Laker fouls at the end of the games.

20 05 2008
khandor

Jerry Sloan has been a great NBA coach … but he was never meant to win an NBA championship going up against the likes of Phil Jackson with the Bulls (MJ, Pippen & Co.) and the LA Lakers (Shaq, Kobe & Co.), and Gregg Popovich with the Spurs (Duncan, Parker & GINOBILI!!!).

20 05 2008
withmalice

Hey Khandor…
Not sure what you mean by “never meant to” – by Miller? Or just in reality?
Care to elucidate?

Cheers!

20 05 2008
Curt

Why do you say the Hornets will get better just by being a year older yet the jazz will not? Their core players are just as young or younger than the Hornets. Jazz do not have a super star to compete with the Kobes or the Duncans of the NBA. They do the most with the least amount of talent. No free agent wants to play in Utah. I am a big Jazz fan and I am happy that they are competing and winning in the playoffs. Winning it all takes a little luck. Jazz could have won against a much better Lakers team and at that point I think they would have had a chance to win it all. Keep Sloan and keep making it to the playoffs and eventually luck will help them win those extra couple games. Fans are to spoiled, if you expect more than competing year in and year out for a title than you are either a Laker fan or have unreal expectations.

20 05 2008
withmalice

Welcome Curt…

Sorry – the problems the Jazz experience are different from those that New Orleans do. New Orleans just needs more experience, especially at playoff level. The Jazz reached the conference finals a year ago…
And I think you misunderstand me on my comment ‘better by being a year older’… I mean the team, not the individual components. Part of growth as a team is the way the coach grows as well with the team. After 20 years in the franchise, it’s safe to say that Sloan’s grown about as much as he can. Byron Scott will be a better coach next year than this year. I firmly believe that.
The Jazz would benefit from a different point of view from a ‘managerial aspect’.

But anyway, to take your point – the key components of the teams:
Utah has Boozer (26), Williams (nearly 23), Okur (nearly 29), Kirilenko (27).
Hornets: Paul (nearly 23), West (27), Chandler(26), Stojakovich (30).
As you say, similar. But the big things that stand out to me are the versatility of West vs that of Boozer… and the difference between Chandler and Okur. I see Chandler improving even more, if anything Okur will decline.
So even with your viewpoint, I don’t see it as coming out in favor of the Jazz.

And… ummm… yes, my name is Don, and I am a Laker fan.

20 05 2008
fouledout

@ wm
And… ummm… yes, my name is Don, and I am a Laker fan. -just like the way they speak in alcoholics anonymous meetings..
hi, im (insert name),and i’m a lakerholic..

21 05 2008
Why Can’t J-Slo… « The Utah Jazz

[…] does it? I don’t catch anything in this that reminds me even partially of J-Slo. With Malice has a great piece up on J-Slo, starting with a conclusion I’ve often reached… the Jazz won’t win a championship […]

21 05 2008
UtesFan89

Sloan’s a great coach.
Sloan did a masterful job with Stockton & Malone.
He’s doing a great job now with Deron & Booze.
But something hasn’t clicked… the team still hasn’t won a title. Ever.
Making it to the West Finals took a lot of luck… a Game 7 road win in Houston, and the Warriors (one of the few teams the Jazz have owned as of late) upsetting the Mavs. And the Jazz got there and fizzled.

Is Avery Johnson the guy? Maybe. Maybe not. We don’t know.
But Sloan has given it his best in 20 years, and never won a title, despite having 2 HOF’ers before and Deron & Booze now. Obviously they’re still young. But how long do you give him before realizing that this era is also coming to a title-less end?

I really want to be wrong… I really want to see J-Slo guide the team to a championship (or 2, or 3, or etc.). I just haven’t seen anything to suggest that J-Slo is the guy to lead them to it. Oh, and 1997-1998? That was 10 years ago. A lot has changed. That team is gone. The NBA has become more offensive happy… calling fouls for everything from breathing on a superstar to being in a small semi-circle right under the hoop in the colored area (and even then, they often blow it). Defensive intensity is good. Hacking every other player to attack the paint isn’t.

Blame the coach. Blame the players. Blame the GM. It doesn’t matter who you blame. The point is, it’s not working.

21 05 2008
Have The Jazz Passed Jerry Sloan By? [Blogdome]

[…] Should the Jazz lose Jerry Sloan? [With Malice] • The Padres’ season is really going well, isn’t it? [Rumors And Rants] • Terrell […]

25 05 2008
malice

[…] Utah to a NBA title? …. With malice has a great piece up on J-Slo, starting with a conclusion …http://with-malice.com/2008/05/19/bye-jerry/Xbox.com Product Detail – MaliceVenture into the twisted world of Malice. … Malice, the tough girl […]

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