By Craig Kwasniewski
Quick question, who is the longest-tenured coach in any major professional sports in the United States? Who has coached through three different eras in the NBA, each with three entirely different types of players yet continues to earn their respect? Who took a small-market franchise to 19 playoff appearances in 22 years? Who is the only coach in NBA history to record 1,000 wins with the same club? And who still has not received a Coach of the Year Award?
It's time. Give Jerry Sloan the 2009-10 Coach of the Year Award.
Now I'm never one to fall for the career achievement award in the guise of an annual award. If it was, then just call it a career achievement award. No, that's not me. Jerry Sloan actually deserves the award this year... but it doesn't hurt that he has a hell of a career resume to back it up.
Before we get into the award, let's break down what the Coach of the Year award has become over the past few years. It's given to the coach of a team NOBODY expects to do well. It's the "how the hell did he do that?" factor. Byron Scott got it in 2008 for that exact reason. Later we learned how really he did it: a near-MVP season from Chris Paul and an unusually healthy Hornets team. Just over a year later Scott was fired for the second time in his career for the same reason as before, an in-ability to adjust on the fly and for losing touch with his players. Mike Brown got it last year riding LeBron's coattails but he later was exposed during the Eastern Conference Finals for running an offense with literally one single play, the 1-4 spread with LeBron at the top. Not really coach of the year material and it showed as the Magic breezed into the Finals. (BTW - Three of the last four winners were fired within 2 years of winning the award. Maybe we need to rethink the award credentials, no?)
Isn't it time we look a little macroscopically when giving the COY? It's not just overall records, but also how the coach relates to his players. It's not just leading a team you NEVER expected to win, but it's leading a team though the dog days of a long regular season. It's not just wins and losses, but the ability to delegate and adjust as the season rolls along.
The Jazz started the season with a very high payroll and very low expectations. This was the same exact roster that was dropped last year in the first round by the Lakers. How could we not expect the same thing followed by an eventual salary dump and rebuild in the summer of 2010? How will Sloan get Boozer stay focused through all the trade rumors? Will Kirilenko break free from the pressures of his immense contract or will he continue to fade? And how will Millsap react now that he got paid yet still plays behind Boozer? Too many questions, too many distractions... there's no way Utah can rebound unto a legitimate Western Conference contender. It showed as the Jazz started slow out of the gate and sat 19-17 by January 9th and out of the playoff picture. And then...
Sloan got the Jazz to rally and play typical Jazz ball: balls-out effort, hard-nosed defense and balanced scoring from all five positions. Players got healthy, roles became defined and the Jazz continued to move up the standings. They're 27-8 since January 9th and currently sit 4th in the West, but only 1 game out of the 2 seed (more importantly avoiding the Lakers until the Conference Finals). Isn't this what we ask from our coach of the year?
I know we're still many weeks from awards talk, I just want people to finally recognize a coach who shockingly hasn't been recognized.