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.
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.
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.
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…