Jerry Sloan has seen plenty of coaches come and go around the league in his 20 years leading the Utah Jazz.
The Minnesota Timberwolves have added Randy Wittman to that list.
On Sloan’s 20th anniversary as their coach, the Jazz face a Timberwolves team seeking steady leadership from new coach Kevin McHale in a matchup at the Target Center on Tuesday night.
“I know how volatile this business is,” said Sloan, who earlier this season became the first coach in league history to reach 1,000 wins with one team. “I just think how lucky I’ve been to be here for so long.”
Sloan was an assistant coach with Utah before being promoted on Dec. 9, 1988, and he is now the longest tenured active head coach in all of the major professional sports. Since his hiring, there have been 223 coaching changes in the NBA and every team has made at least two except for the Jazz (13-9).
There’s good reason for Sloan’s longevity, producing two Western Conference titles and seven division championships.
“Anybody could have been in this position. I think I just happened to be lucky - the guy who came along at the right time and the right place,” Sloan said. “I’ve been fortunate. There are a lot of great coaches. I don’t consider myself that. I have a very good staff.”
While Sloan led Utah to the playoffs for the 17th time last season, Minnesota failed to qualify for the fourth straight year, and it seems unlikely that drought is about to end.
The Timberwolves (4-15) fired Wittman on Monday, two days after a 23-point home loss to the last-place Los Angeles Clippers. McHale took over as coach, leaving his job as the club’s vice president of basketball operations.
Minnesota went 22-60 in 2007-08, Wittman’s only full season in charge, failing to respond to his demands for tough defense. The Timberwolves are riding a five-game losing streak in which the average margin of defeat has been 16.4 points.
“There were certain goals and expectations that we had for this team at the start of the season, and we have not lived up to them,” team owner Glen Taylor said in a statement.
“I am disappointed in our record and believe that we have more talent than our record indicates. A change had to be made and with three-fourths of the season remaining, there is still time to make substantial progress this year.”
McHale picked Wittman to help the Timberwolves rebuild after trading Kevin Garnett to Boston prior to last season, but they’ve fallen apart after keeping games close early in the season. Minnesota lost 113-84 at New Jersey on Friday night, then fell 107-84 to the Clippers the following day to seal Wittman’s fate.
McHale has experience in this kind of situation, going 19-12 in the final 31 games of the 2004-05 season after firing coach Flip Saunders. He has been the team’s top basketball executive since 1995.
One of the few things that seemed to go right for Wittman was his preparation for home games against Utah, winning both contests against the Jazz at the Target Center last season.
That was no small feat against a Utah team that went 54-28. The Jazz, though, struggled on the road, going 17-24, and are 4-6 this season.
Utah lost 106-104 at Phoenix on Saturday night in its 10th straight game without leading scorer Carlos boozer (left quadriceps). Boozer is expected back sometime this week.
Utah lost another player in the first quarter against the Suns when Brevin Knight was taken to a hospital for a CT scan after being hit in the throat. His status for Tuesday’s game is uncertain.
Utah and Minnesota tied last season’s series 2-2.