February 10, 2011
The Jazz have been a pretty funky outfit all season. Supposedly one of the more staid yet well-inspired groups that this league has to offer, Utah has come out of the gate consistently this year as the NBA's worst first-quarter team. And while Utah's many second-half comebacks prove to its well ‘o mettle, the fact remains that this first-half failing has cost Jerry Sloan's crew far more losses than it has wins.
It's also the first year the team has played without Carlos Boozer(notes), and though that may seem like a mitigating factor (as Boozer has averaged around 20 points and 10 rebounds in his first year with Chicago), his stats have been just about replaced by Paul Millsap(notes) and Al Jefferson(notes), and the Jazz would seem to be enjoying the first season since 2003-04 (think about that) that hasn't had either trade rumors involving Boozer, injury issues surrounding Boozer, or potential contract issues surrounding Boozer clouding the air. The guy has been a soap opera since his first few months with the Jazz, and with his return to Utah on Wednesday, the hope was that Utah could show its former forward just how well it's doing in his absence.
And while Boozer struggled, somewhat (14 points and six boards, four of his shots were blocked), the Chicago defense kept Utah at arm's length all night, and the Jazz lost yet another one. The team is now on pace for 47 wins, and is in danger of falling to third in its division behind the rapidly improving Denver Nuggets.
Following Wednesday's loss, both coach Sloan and Jazz GM Kevin O'Connor apparently had it behind closed doors, before sheepishly meeting the media:
Brian Smith, of the Salt Lake Tribune, has the details:
Sloan spent more than 30 minutes behind closed doors before finally speaking with the media. He was clearly disturbed during the initial portion of his postgame interview, and quickly answered two questions about his meeting with O'Connor before saying that he would only discuss game-related queries and then trailing off in mid-sentence.
During and following the conversation involving Sloan and O'Connor, a practice scheduled for Thursday morning was abruptly canceled, forward Andrei Kirilenko(notes) emerged from the coaches' room and not the locker room, and multiple players acknowledged that there was a weird vibe after the game. Meanwhile, Sloan vaguely hinted that an update would be provided in the future about his discussion involving O'Connor, while a request for an interview with O'Connor was quickly denied. However, no indication was given that anything drastic is expected to happen with the Jazz, Sloan or O'Connor.
Both Sloan and O'Connor are the longest-tenured people at their respective positions in the NBA, so they're clearly used to working together, but it's also clear that something's not as right as it could be in Utah, and there's no real shame in butting heads over it.
Kirilenko's presence in the meeting makes sense, as he hasn't been the same player since Boozer came out to Utah in 2004, and he's a constant thorn in Sloan's side with his gambling defense and iffy shot selection. Despite 5-14 shooting, Kirilenko played well on Wednesday, blocking four shots along with a 13-point, 10-rebound, two-assist, two-turnover, two-steal night. He also dominated Chicago's Luol Deng(notes).
But the frustration is clearly there, in Utah. If Boozer's flight to Chicago was supposed to clear the air and usher in a new era, then the Jazz have fallen flat to start it. And if two old pros like Sloan and O'Connor can't see eye to eye, even if this is your typical moan-fest in the course of an eight-month season, you have to wonder what would work at this point.