Two weeks ago, I went easy and only wrote about a couple of underrated players. This time I’m so miffed at the Jerry Sloan situation, I have to go off on Utah’s Mr. Williams for a while.
Deron Williams, Utah Jazz
Let’s get this up-front: I love Deron Williams as a player and think he’s at the top of any “second-best PG in the NBA after Chris Paul” debate. He sets up his team well, keeps everyone on the same page, gets in the lane at will with that cross-over, takes over when he needs to, etc. Give him the ball, and you can generally trust how the club will be run for the next 48 minutes. This placement of Williams in the Overrated bin is about the Jerry Sloan mess.
Let’s lay out what we seem to know about the situation (more to be revealed, no doubt): 1) Utah has a single major sports franchise, the Jazz, so the state’s fans are rabid about that team. 2) Jerry Sloan had been the coach of the Jazz for 23 years and was very successful in that role, which means he’s very popular in Utah. 3) Sloan is well known for being set in his ways – which again, were very successful ways. 4) As an old-school, set-in-his-ways kind of guy, young players sometimes didn’t like playing for him. 5) Williams apparently didn’t like running Sloan’s conservative offense and wanted more control of what happened on the floor. 6) Players will almost always side with star players over coaches. 7) As the team’s unquestioned leader and All-Star, Williams probably had a near majority of the players following his lead. 8) Supposedly Williams sometimes ran different plays on the court than what Sloan called, and there was a growing rift in the locker room between the players (who are lead by Williams) and the coaches. 9) Supposedly Williams made it clear to Jazz ownership that he would not re-up his contract next summer if Sloan was still the coach. 10) Sloan retired this week just a month after signing a contract extension.
This is headed nowhere good. Sloan was one of only three coaches in the NBA who has seemingly been around forever and has had success upon success (Greg Popovich, Phil Jackson). This is not the type of guy you get rid of. And now he’s leaving the team he’s been with since early in the careers of John Stockton and Karl Malone. And it’s likely he’s leaving because of Deron Williams, who will now be the most hated man in the state of Utah. Especially if the team gets worse with a slightly new system in place that will sometime soon be replaced by a totally new system that Williams likes, but will require new players and lots of practice, which will be accompanied by a downturn in the team’s success in the short-term, which will all ultimately result in Williams leaving town in a year or two. And there you have it, no more Hall of Fame coach and no more top-3 point guard.
If you’re not familiar with the Jazz’s ownership situation, they’re run by Greg Miller (officially the CEO who runs the Estate of Larry Miller), whose father Larry was the owner from 1985 until his death in 2009. Larry Miller was another conservative, set-in-his-ways kind of guy (he had Brokeback Mountain pulled from movie complexes he owned when he found out what it was about) who got along famously with Sloan. Utah sports writers and radio personalities have already said openly that this Sloan fiasco would have never happened this way if Larry was around, but he’s not. The team did what Williams wanted, which will make the team worse and make him a hated man in a location that doesn’t exactly have the free agency draw of Miami. Why would he stay?
Again, I love Deron Williams as a player, but he just ended the career of the third-winningest coach in NBA history (while his club was winning nearly 60% of their games) and probably ended the sustained run of success this franchise has been on. You don't push a guy like that out; the short-term results are never good.