Jerry Sloan is a no nonsense coach who does not rely on gimmicks, douchey remarks to the press to communicate ideas to his players or the refs, or turtlenecks. Sloan recently passed Pat Riley to claim third place All-Time in coaching wins. He’s done it without quitting on his team mid-season, throwing his players under the bus, or making a tell all book airing out the dirty laundry of his team and making money off of it. Sloan has never been awarded the Coach of the Year trophy while lessers have been lauded ahead of him. That said, Jerry Sloan is who your COY winner wishes he was more like.
Sloan has never won it, and every season the media starts to talk about how "Gosh, he’s never won it!" Well, he’s never won it precisely because some flash in the pan coach takes a crappy franchise filled with 1st round talent out of the cellar – and becomes a great coach somehow – and gets all the media attention.
I think Jerry Sloan is deserving of this award, and here are five reasons why:
#1. Lifetime Achievement:
Let’s get the dumbest one out of the way. I think any award that ends with the word ‘year’ should never be for lifetime achievement. They are two different time frames. Unfortunately some guys get awards for lifetime achievement that they should not have had. I think one of Karl Malone’s MVP awards could be counted as such. By this measure, Jerry Sloan is a valid recipient of the COY award for lifetime coaching credentials. It is very hard to argue with coaching over 2k regular season games in the NBA. 1211 coaching wins and counting, plus another 98 playoff wins, give him a career 60.5 winning percentage. Oh, and his head coaching career started in 1979. He coach three 60 win teams, and nine 50 win teams. He’s always in the playoffs. His coaching wins are based on starting guys like Adam Keefe and Ben Handlogten and squeezing every ounce out of them – not taking extended breaks from coaching only to emerge when the general manager has two of the best players of the era signed to multi-year deals already in place. Sloan can get the COY award for lifetime achievement, but he shouldn’t have to rely on it this season.
#2. Expectations vs. Reality:
When an overlooked team comes out of nowhere to win a lot of games people do take notice. When a hyped up team underachieves people also notice. This is the media management of expectations. No one expected Scottie Brooks to win 50 wins with his Thunder. No one expected Sam Mitchell to win with his Raptors. They both won Coach of the year. For a variety of reasons, people were just not so hot on the Jazz coming into this season. Portland was still young. The Thunder were the darlings. The Jazz shook things up. Some preseason predictions had the Jazz as 4th or 5th in their own Division. (I’m not going to give those mainstream sports media websites any traffic by linking to them) When we look at which teams had the largest jumps from expectations vs. reality the Jazz stand head and shoulders above all but a few teams. As of today, nearly 40% of the regular season already played, the Jazz are sitting atop of their division. The Jazz are on pace for a 55 win season, and most of the hardships are already over with – a number of easier games remain that Jazz fans will look forward to in the second half of the schedule. San Antonio and Dallas are also doing great right now, but Popovich and Carlisle have already won the COY before. Sentimentality of #1 may fuel a victory by condition #2.
#3. Success through adversity
Losing Carlos Boozer, Kyle Korver, Wesley Matthews (among other top 8 rotation players) really hurt the Jazz on paper, and in the papers. (or interwebs, or whatever we call it today) This would have been less of a problem if Jerry Sloan ran an uptempo offense that relies on one on one play. Instead the Jazz run a very complicated system that took Jeff Hornacek (a coach’s son with a very high basketball IQ who was a former All-Star and consummate professional / non-head case) more than a whole calendar year to figure out. From training camp to training camp the Jazz went from: Carlos Boozer, Ronnie Brewer, Matt Harpring, Wesley Matthews, Kyle Korver, Eric Maynor, and Kosta Koufos to Al Jefferson, Raja Bell, Earl Watson, Francisco Elson, Gordon Hayward, and Jeremy Evans. It’s hard to say that the roster improved when looking at the capabilities and production of these players lost and gained. A force multiplier also exists with the experience lost from losing all of these guys who had played countless minutes in this system – from preseason through to the playoffs.
The Jazz are known for their stability, not for turning over half the roster in one off-season. Sloan’s system is successful through familiarity with both the playbook and the players running the sets. It’s a big deal for the Jazz to be playing better in this season than they did in previous seasons, let alone last season when so many guys were in contract years and so willing to work hard. Doc Rivers is winning games, but his core is intact. Phil Jackson is winning games, but he didn’t lose any main rotation guys while adding in new faces. Popovich always adds in new players, but his core is the same. Carlisle had a minor overhaul, but we still know that it’s Dirk, Jason, and Terry over there in Dallas. Sloan went into this system without his top scorer and rebounder, former All-Star and second best player. None of these other coaches who are winning games this season lost their second best player to free agency. Sloan is winning, despite all the challenges in front of him from a new roster and losing familiar parts of the team.
No team is allowed to talk about injuries these past few seasons unless you are Portland or Houston. Trailing not too far behind are the Jazz, though. This season is no different. I’m not going to focus on the nagging issues that all teams go through. Nor will I talk about the acute issue that just popped up (Kirilenko with his weak core, he’s now out with a back injury, again). The two big ones are huge injuries that haven’t kept Sloan from winning games – but would be handy excuses for other coaches to lean on in post game interviews. Al Jefferson got injured in the preseason. He’s going to have to have to be evaluated all through the season, and it will not be solved until the season ends. What’s the injury? His shooting hand is all jacked up (yes, that’s the medical term). If you haven’t noticed, the variation of the Dick Motta forward oriented offense that Sloan runs requires your main forward scorer (which Jefferson is) to shoot. Jefferson isn’t making shots with his left hand this season, and he hasn’t been rocking the rim this season partly because he doesn’t want to hurt his hand anymore than it already is. Yet the Jazz are winning. Maybe to you this isn’t a valid point for why Sloan should get coach of the year. How about having a former All-Star, top three player on the team, and starter miss every game this season except for 3? Mehmet Okur is so valuable to the Jazz, particularly in offensive floor spacing, it’s a wonder that the Jazz have 10 wins without him, let alone 21 wins. This isn’t the same thing as ‘missing Bynum’ because Bynum’s never been an All-Star, never been a consistently healthy starter, and the Lakers win titles without him – the Jazz can’t win playoff home games without Memo (for the most part). Jerry Sloan has had to win games this season with all of the roster turn over, without being able to lean on his third best player in addition to losing his second best player.
Don’t think the loss of Okur means that much? You probably don’t know much about how he plays in our system. In addition to being super clutch from deep, and spacing the floor for the Jazz offense, in his career with the Jazz he’s averaged 16 and 8 (what are Bynum’s career averages with the Lakers? Are they 16 and 8? Nope, they are 10 and 6.), and Memo averaged over a block a game last season before his (previously) career ending injury. A healthy Okur surely would have aided the transition from last season’s roster to this season and prevented the Jazz offense from sputtering at times. No matter how awesome I think Elson and Fesenko are, they aren’t as good as Okur is. Okur played Yao Ming one on one in the playoffs and forced him into -3 points per game (from his regular season avg vs. the Jazz). Okur is a huge part of this team, and this team’s success. Right now the Jazz are in the thick of things in the West and on pace for a 55 win season – with Okur finally getting on the floor for the first time since last playoffs. Credit to Sloan here again.
#5: Quality of wins
I’m not happy with the inconsistency so far this season, nor am I happy with losing so many home games early on. I’m not happy with being down after one quarter either. What I am happy with are the quality of the wins the Jazz have been having, and how indicative this is of Jerry Sloan’s coaching this season. This team doesn’t give up against the best teams, and this team has an unprecedented road record for a Jazz team and an even more unprecedented record after being down 15 points. That 4 game in 5 nights east road trip where the Jazz swept Miami, Orlando, Atlanta, and Charlotte was a great indication of Sloan getting something out of this team that other previous Jazz teams were incapable of doing. This season Sloan isn’t just doing ‘more of the same with the same’, he’s directing the Jazz to wins without the familiarity of a team that’s been together for half a decade and outside of the friendly confines (and calls) of the Delta Center / Energy Solutions Arena. This team has had some very high quality wins this season so far. This is a product of playing increasingly high quality basketball. This is Sloan doing his thing and incorporating new parts (some baby faced) into pressure situations and coming away the victor. The Jazz may not win 60 games this season, and may not hold onto a top 3 seed in the west – but this Jazz team is winning against the best of the East and West, and winning on the road. These are not wins you can sweep under the rug. Furthermore, the Jazz record is not trumped up by wins against horrible teams. (It’s the bad ones that give us trouble!) Right now the Jazz are as legit as it comes from our Northwest Division, and right now Jerry Sloan is a legit coach of the year candidate / winner if he does win it.
Why Jerry Sloan should not accept the award if he does win it
Logically, Sloan is not going to win this award. He does not care for it. It does not validate his existence. It does not make up for not winning a title earlier. It does not excuse him from working hard for a title in the future. This award would be less useful to him than some other flash in the pan coach who may need it for his resume. We can assume that Sloan isn’t going to win the award this year as well. If the impossible happens and Sloan does in the award this year he should not accept it. Not only would it be, excuse my language, completely consistent with his badass behavior and personality; but it would also show the same care and regard to the award that the NBA (and by extension, the brain trust that makes up USA Basketball) has shown to Sloan over the years. Kids today may not know all of the history behind this, but Sloan was a dutiful coach for USA Basketball during the 90s. He did his job and he served his country. He was promised certain positions for future international campaigns, however, USA Basketball (much of the same people who figure out who wins the NBA awards every year) reneged on these promises. Sloan, given the option to assist someone junior to him within the program, told them to take a hike. Jerry Sloan is all about loyalty. The people who sold him out for a flash in the pan coach for USA basketball were unloyal to him. He should forget their trinket if he wins it. Or at least, the fire and brimstone Sloan would have. The same fire and brimstone Sloan that they’d want to recognize with a potential lifetime achievement award now that he’s already a Hall of Famer.
Jerry Sloan is worthy of the CoY trophy, and he's been worthy before a number of seasons in the past. He' been passed up each time, and despite the faux protestations of the media, he'll never win it for the right reasons now. I love Jerry Sloan for the good things that he does, but I also notice his failings as well. Despite all of this, I think that with how he's coaching this season, he is worthy of the trophy THIS season, on its' own. I don't think he should accept it now or ever, if he wins. It would only validate overlooking people and trying to make it up after the fact. That's not part of Sloan's honor system. It would be dishonest to condone that type of recognition. At least, that's what I believe. Or maybe I need to write less articles about Jerry Sloan after watching Rambo movies . . .
[Don't know why this last paragraph was omitted when I originally posted this]