One day after an emotional loss to the Bulls in Utah, Jerry Sloan resigned as Jazz coach, a post he has held since the early part of the 1988-89 season. You’re going to read a lot of well-deserved rhapsodizing — about how Sloan hitchhiked to get to practice as a kid, his fortuitously brief college coaching career at Evansville, his fanatical defense and charge-taking as the NBA’s Original Bull, the 1,221 coaching wins, the way he got 42 wins out of this team in 2003-04, and the stern demand that players fit his system.
Not everyone loves Sloan, and he wasn’t a miracle worker. But this much is true: If you gave him talent — at least average NBA talent — the man would produce a top-10 NBA offense every season. And you knew exactly how he would do it — not with an endless stream of pick-and-rolls (as was the popular conception for a while), but with an intricate system of screens, cuts and motion that was part meticulous planning and part learned improvisation. Everyone was expected to set hard screens, even the star point guards, and everyone was expected to space the floor properly and help teammates get open.
And the result was this: an offense that ranked among the league’s top 10 in points per possession every year from 1991-92 through 2002-03, the final year of the John Stockton-Karl Malone combination that came so close to winning a title twice in the late 1990s. And I don’t feel silly telling you today that those Finals series against Chicago marked one of the rare times in my adult NBA life that I found myself cheering, hard, for one team to win. Or that one of my favorite sports memories was sitting next to my dad on the couch when Stockton made this pass to help Utah clinch Game 4 of the 1997 Finals, and my dad and I looked at each other, mouths agape, not believing that Stock had the you-know-whats to pull that.
Jazz beat reporters are already saying that Sloan may have “lost the team,” and that Deron Williams, who has been piping up this season about fast-breaking more and making trades, was unhappy with the coach and his system, and wanted a change.