Monson: Sloan deserves share of blame for Jazz's swoon
Jerry Sloan blew a gasket the other night, absolutely went berserk.
He busted his players off, one by one, in a locker room full of guys who had turned in a pathetic performance in the first half of an important game, getting booed off the floor against a weak opponent at home. It was a continuation of an abysmal three-week skid, a span of bad halves during which his players had all but begged to be booed and busted off.
"We've been losing," said Deron Williams. "He doesn't enjoy that. Nobody does."
Added Matt Harpring: "It was like old times. He was upset, really, really mad. He let everyone know what they were doing wrong. We needed a spark, something that would fire us up, and he gave it to us."
The Jazz were so fired up, they went out and played even worse in the second half, losing to Golden State, a bad team that had only seven players, by a margin of 10 points. It was the sixth loss in seven games for the Jazz in the stretch run of the season, as they stumbled and bumbled, weakly attempting to improve their playoff seeding in the West.
Sloan later met with reporters and wandered off on an odd monologue, at times growing defensive when questions were put to him regarding his coaching decisions and the Jazz's uninspired and heartless play.
A week before that, he missed a shootaround before a key road game for what was characterized as "exhaustion."
Here's the truth about Jerry Sloan at the end of this regular season: His team hasn't played well, he hasn't motivated his players well, some of his decisions haven't panned out, and he deserves a portion of the blame for the Jazz's ineptitude.
Despite his recent complaints about detractors -- "If you've never coached, you can sit up in the stands and coach all you want, but you still don't know what this game is about," he told reporters on Monday -- Sloan is man enough, should be man enough, to see his mistakes and shortcomings clearly.
"I'm not perfect," he said. "But I do it the only way I know how. A lot of coaches are smarter than I am. I've made mistakes, but everybody makes 'em."
Sloan's best attribute is the general tone he sets for the Jazz through his example and persona. He expects players to show up, work hard, do their jobs, and play team basketball, the same way he was taught to do four decades ago. He's earned the respect of his players with his toughness, his drive to win, and his longevity.
But that doesn't mean his players will listen to him or live up to his standard.
Fact is, if there's one thing the Jazz have not done over the better part of a month, it's show much of a competitive drive and any kind of toughness or heart. They've been soft and susceptible.
Sloan deserves as much of the criticism for that as his players.
It's his boat. He's the captain of the crew.
As Harpring put it: "He's still the commander of the ship. He's in control. You can't let the inmates run the asylum."
Sloan, though, said he cannot motivate his players, they have to do that themselves. But motivating players is part of a coach's job, a big part. Saying otherwise is like a CEO saying he's not responsible for the output or lack of output of his employees.
He should hold his players accountable, just the way team ownership should hold Sloan accountable -- even now, even after induction into the Hall of Fame, even after 20 uninterrupted years at the helm.
Sloan is sometimes slow to change, although not completely adverse to it. He's found patterns he likes, when it comes to lineups, playing time, substitutions, handling players, and in-game decisions. Some of them pan out -- the use and development of Ronnie Brewer and Paul Millsap -- and some of them don't: the starting role of C.J. Miles and the bench role of Andrei Kirilenko, and playing Brevin Knight behind Williams instead of Ronnie Price.
Even after his team suffered a number of key injuries, Sloan said earlier this season that the Jazz "are a very talented group of players" who could become "a very good ball club."
The former might have been true, but the latter has not happened, even -- maybe especially -- after all the Jazz's players have returned. It was Sloan's job to smooth all that through, regardless of how complicated, and the result has been anything but promising.
Losing to the T-wolves and the Warriors at home, along with getting blown out in key games at Portland and Dallas, has revealed weaknesses in the Jazz beyond just physical inadequacies at the defensive end. The will to compete too often has been absent.
"I think this team has lived up to its potential," Sloan said. "They fight pretty hard."
It has? They do? The Trail Blazers beat them by 21. The Mavs beat them by 29.
That's the confounding part to this team, this season. The Jazz are better than they've shown. They can play and compete. Why, then, haven't they been as consistent in their effort as they should?
"Sometimes, we just lose focus," said Harpring. "You've got to be willing to sacrifice. You need passion, heart, and hustle. Sometimes, when I'm watching, I ask myself: 'Where is all that?' "
Regardless of whether the Jazz can actually reassemble any kind of serious playoff hope, Sloan said he will motor forward, same as it ever was, aware of at least a few of his faults, but sure and satisfied with his overall effect.
"I'm not as lively as I once was," he said. "But my desire to win is as high as it's ever been. Things don't always work out the way you expect, but I have the desire, more than ever, to fight through tough times."
With the team he's got, and with the job he's done heading into the playoffs, he'll need it.