After speaking with NBA types and ruminating about Jerry Sloan's abrupt resignation, I wanted to add a few additional thoughts that didn't make into my column in today's Bee. Probably the first thing that struck me was this: The common element between the NBA's most successful small-market franchises (San Antonio Spurs and Utah Jazz) is the presence of a dynamic, forceful, intriguing head coach, who is empowered with decision-making over who plays and who stays, and who essentially is the face of the franchise. For decades. Gregg Popovich and Jerry Sloan.
The hip, handsome Greg Miller, son of the late Larry Miller, the rotund, offbeat Jazz owner who used to retrieve balls for players and participate in pregame huddles, has no clue about the ramifications of Thursday's actions. First of all, Larry Miller, who tussled all the time with the stubborn Sloan, never would have allowed the situation to escalate to this point where a star player (Deron Williams) behaves in a manner that offends his coach and disrupts a locker room. The biggest joke of all? That Williams would complain that the Jazz offense is predictable and therefore ineffective?
Geez, I spoke to a handful of NBA coaches tonight and oher NBA types, and the consensus was that Don Nelson, Rick Adelman, Jerry Sloan and Phil Jackson were the most innovative offensive coaches of the the past few decades. All stress ball movement, body movement, screens, spacing, tempo, and, to varying degrees, pushing the ball for transition or early offense opportunities. We witness the alternative too often: the NBA's current epidemic of coddling point guards who overdribble, think games (and titles) are won with isolation plays, and consequently, alienate their teammates.
When the Jazz were here Monday night for what proved to be Sloan's final career coaching victory, I watched Tyreke Evans drive - yet again - into a crowd during a critical late game possession, and wondered what Sloan (or Popovich or Jackson) would have done. Actually, I knew the answer. Popovich yanked Tony Parker and Jackson scolded Kobe for similar transgressions committed during their first few years, and Sloan was similarly hard on Williams during his rookie season. Paul Westphal is a different cat; he looks the other way and barks at DeMarcus Cousins for some minor infraction. The upshot is this: Parker absorbed the constructive criticism and developed into one of the league's premier point guards and, more importantly, into an NBA champion. Kobe became more of a team player and, well, became Kobe. Williams overcame early struggles and showed tremendous improvement in his second season, yet seemed to hit a plateau, never quite establishing himself as someone capable of leading a championship squad.
Seriously. To complain about an offense that keeps all five players involved, stresses movement, outside shooting, pacing, spacing, transition opportunities and unselfishness? Folks, we are talking about an offensive scheme that has flourished since World Wars I and II. Sloan's teams run, pass, dunk, move the ball. What's not to like? The game has become quicker, the players more skilled and athletic, but the basic concepts haven't changed.
Sloan - a Hall of Famer, a great guy, the longest tenured coach in professional sports - deserved better. Larry Miller never would have allowed this to happen. His son screwed up big time. And, hey, just curious: What exactly was Andrei Kirilenko doing in the room with Sloan, Miller and GM Kevin O'Connor after Wednesday's loss to Chicago? Were they talking team dynamics? Discussing the Williams flap? Or a major trade? Something dramatic certainly occurred, details surely to be revealed in the near future. Meantime, all the best to Jerry Sloan. He was one of the good guys, and one of a kind.
Good luck to Ty Corbin
Lost in the commotion of Sloan's abrupt announcement was the fact that NBA journeyman and longtime Jazz assistant Tyrone Corbin is given his first head coaching opportunity. First of all, good luck to Ty, a former King who played or studied under some of the best coaches in the league - Lenny Wilkens and Sloan among them. He probably has the worst job in the league, to be honest. How do you replace an icon? But he has always impressed with his smarts, commitment and work ethic; even the Jazz and Spurs' pregame workouts are noteworthy because of their structure, intensity and consistency, and the sight of Ty workng up a sweat while directing the shooting drills.
So did we mention what a softie Sloan is?
Those of us who covered the NBA throughout the 1980s and 90s, covering Sloan during his NBA Finals defeats and disappointment at being bypassed for the U.S. Olympic coaching assignment in 2000 will always appreciate his honesty, wry humor, and especially the dignity he displayed during his late wife Bobbye's bout with terminal cancer. Though a private, even shy person, Sloan shared the family's struggles (at Bobbye's urging) in efforts to combat the disease. He often choked up when talking about his late wife, and I noted, his eyes swelled with tears during his press conference Thursday. Just wondering: Does Deron Williams have any idea of how poorly he will be perceived if (a) the franchise falters or (b) he bolts during free agency in 2012? Small markets have to try harder, and be particularly careful when selecting family members. Sloan and Popovich established the standard. The debate regarding Kevin O'Connor's decision to draft Williams over Chris Paul just reached another level.