Utah Loses Game and Postseason Dreams

Philip Maymin
Basketball News Services 

The Utah Jazz had the poor luck of having to play against the one man in the NBA that steps up every single night for every single game. Kevin Garnett would go all-out even playing against toddlers. Unfortunately, the Jazz did not equal that intensity, and lacking their trademark hustle, the Jazz fell 104-90to the Timberwolves. Because Denver won last night, Utah is now eliminated from the postseason after a string of 20 straight playoff appearances, and will participate in the draft lottery for the first time in franchise history. Should Jerry Sloan be eliminated from consideration as Coach of the Year?

In previous articles, I have argued that no coach should be named Coach of the Year unless he leads his team to the playoffs. I argued that making untalented players outperform expectations is not the definition of good coaching: winning is the definition of good coaching. However, the award should not merely go to the coach with the best record, because the award should, rightfully, distinguish some elements of luck from skill. For example, if Utah ended the season one game shy of Indiana's league-best record, there is no question Sloan should get the award over Rick Carlisle. Perhaps it's impossible to objectively specify the criteria, but we all know what it is. Some element of outperforming expectations, so long as you win and not just lose less, can be given credit. As long as you make it to the playoffs, where the slate is wiped clean, you can be considered for Coach of the Year. Otherwise, we might find ourselves in the position of saying this guy was the best coach and his team stands no chance of winning the championship. It sounds odd.

That's what I argued a few weeks ago, and it still holds water. There is one caveat, however.

The Utah Jazz are going to finish the season with a winning record. Even if they lose to Phoenix tomorrow night, they will still have a 42-40 record. If playoffs were determined just by taking the top teams, the ones with winning records, the Jazz would be in it. They would have the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference, instead of Milwaukee, whose coach Terry Porter faced similar obstacles this year to Jerry Sloan. Does Porter deserve more consideration because his team played in the weaker conference?

It could be argued that the requirement for consideration for Coach of the Year be that either the team is in the playoffs or is a winning team. Because, you might say, the coach doesn't control what conference they play in.

I am almost inclined to agree, but then I wonder why? Why am I so inclined to agree so quickly?

Because I want Sloan to win it, that's why. And not even so much for this year, but for all years past. That's inappropriate, and, as I mentioned before, disrespectful to coach Sloan. He should not be made the pity winner of an award. If he wins it, he should deserve it solely on the merits of this year's performance.

Terry Porter dominates Jerry Sloan's performance this year. So does Hubie Brown. For those reasons, at least, coach Sloan should not get the Coach of the Year award. If his team had made the playoffs, it would be a different story.

But then if the Jazz had made the playoffs, whether or not Sloan will be coach of the year would have been a far less important story.

The newly lottery-bound Jazz host the long-time-coming Phoenix Suns tomorrow in a completely meaningless but potentially exciting game. Finally the players on both teams can be loose and play for the sheer joy of it. The game starts tomorrow at 7:00pm and will be broadcast on KJZZ and NBA League Pass.

Phil Miller ofThe Salt Lake Tribune notes: Assistant coach Phil Johnson was suffering from what trainer Gary Briggs believed was food poisoning, and he left the Jazz bench in the second half. . . . The game included three technical fouls, one on Mikki Moore for shoving Mark Madsen, one on Oliver Miller for a foul to the face on Bell, and one on Sprewell during the incident with Bell. . . . Greg Ostertag was called upon early in the game to do some housekeeping. One string from the net had come unattached, and Ostertag cut if off with a pair of scissors.

Matt Harpring
(knee) andCurtis Borchardt(wrist) are out for the rest of the season, meaning, of course, Wednesday.


Phil Miller ofThe Salt Lake Tribunewrites: Here lies the Utah Jazz's playoff streak, prematurely dead at 20, the victim of poor shooting, iffy defense, and ultimately, their coach said, a surprising lack of interest... Salt Lake's annual learn-to-hate-thy-first-round-opponent ritual is hereby cancelled. Time to learn a new ceremony, Utah: The Jazz's first NBA Draft Lottery is tentatively scheduled for May 26. The Kings could have prolonged Utah's hopes for one more game by beating the Nuggets, but perhaps it's best they didn't. No NBA team has ever declined a postseason invitation, but Jerry Sloan, emotionally spent after raging against what he said was a care-not attitude among his players, might have tried.

Phil Miller ofThe Salt Lake Tribunewrites: The Jazz will likely select 14th, 16th and 21st in the June 24 draft.Of course, they also have a 1-in-200 shot at winning the NBA lottery and choosing No. 1, 2 or 3.

Tim Buckley ofThe Deseret Morning Newswrites:Nine hours before tipoff, Jerry Sloan saw it coming.It was the Jazz's routine morning shootaround, and the coach could sense his club would not have what it would take to beat the Minnesota Timberwolves. "I told 'em, 'Hey, we can full-court layups if you're not gonna get ready to play,' " Sloan said. "It looked like some guys had kind of packed it in, and it didn't appear to be that important to 'em. And I think they came out and showed that." Minnesota did beat Utah 104-90, and that combined with Denver's win over Sacramento later Monday night eliminated the Jazz from playoff contention. What bothered Sloan was not so much the fact his team lost as it was that they never seemed to give themselves a chance to win. And that he saw it coming. "I was concerned (Monday) morning — and the game wasn't until (Monday) night," he said. "And I got, unfortunately, our guys shoved down my throat."