Monson: A Jazz fantasy — John Stockton as new coach
By Gordon Monson
Tribune ColumnistFirst published Apr 26 2014 11:43AM
This is a hundred-acre wood column.
A column that’s part fantastic, part fantasy.
One expressing an idea that makes so much sense, when it first dawns, it hits you straight in the forehead like a carelessly swung 2-iron, straight in the kidney like an unexpected pick from the blindside. It’s solid — and it resonates and keeps on resonating. The Jazz need a new coach, and their wishes would be granted with a simple, single yes uttered by one man, the man.
Problem is, the pick’s moving and the swing thought’s wild. John won’t do it. He has not told me that he won’t. He has not made a peep about this specific situation. But he just won’t. He’s John Freaking Stockton. Don’t you hate it when a man’s personal priorities get in the way of a great idea?
It’s as plain, though, as the Jazz logo at midcourt.
Stockton should be the head coach of the team for which he spent nearly two decades playing. Fans would love it. Sponsors would pony up for it. Players would respect it. The vibes in the universe call for it. The Jazz whiffed the last time a deal like this came to the fore, lacking the vision to hire Jeff Hornacek when he was right there for the taking. All they have to do this time is talk Stockton into reversing his thinking and fulfilling his destiny.
To quote Bill Walton: Uh-oh.
Not gonna happen.
A sizable stack of cash might help.
The Jazz will talk to Stockton about their vacancy, then. But what should they say? Should they ask him for his advice on what kind of coach would work for a club with young players, a nice draft pick coming and a load of financial flexibility? Or should they straight up call him home to his proper professional place from his comfortable oblivion in Spokane, where family has come first over the past 15 years?
Like family man Hornacek before him, there does come a time for Stockton to step back into the competitive arena where he thrived as a player, where he could thrive as a coach. The knob on that burner is easily turned back to high heat, back to where it was for those 19 years. Stockton didn’t have to play that long. He’d already made his name and his money. But he played on, anyway, on account of the facts that he had the competitive fire and he had more to give.
Those facts remain facts.
It’s true that Stockton has never coached anything beyond his kids’ junior teams and the argument can be made that he needs seasoning on the bench before he could be trusted to run the show. That’s what the unemotional and unimpressed say.
But they must not have paid close attention to the way the man grabbed the game by the throat. He was perhaps the headiest player of his generation, making up for his modest dimensions with acumen, anticipation and all-around savvy. He’s not a case of a former superstar blessed with such unique physical gifts that when he attempts to coach lesser beings he cannot relate to their shortcomings. Stockton overcame enough outward shortcomings — remember the stories about him being asked by clamoring fans during the Dream Team experience in Barcelona to take pictures of them posing with Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley? — to have navigated with relative quiet through a Hall of Fame career, a career that depended neither on obvious size or speed.
There was a reason the late John Wooden loved to watch Stockton play, and it had more to do with what was in the point guard’s head than any of his physical attributes.
The last thing Stockton ever wanted was to take over for Jerry Sloan. He wanted no hand in Sloan riding off into retirement, but now that Jerry is once removed from the scene, maybe it would be a bit more comfortable for him to take the wheel.
But then, Stockton has a mind of his own. And there may be no harder individual on the planet — read: as stubborn — to try to coax into something he is set against. No matter how much sense it makes.
Some might question whether Stockton could handle the peripheral duties of a modern NBA coach, beyond managing players in the locker room and designing sets and schemes on the court, such as facing the media before and after every game. He may not have relished that part of his playing days, rarely revealing personal info, but when it came to breaking down and talking about the games themselves, Stockton typically responded with more cooperation.
And he’s likely matured through the years, too. When he came into town for the hanging of Sloan’s banner in January, he fully displayed the articulation everyone knew was always there, somewhere. In an on-air interview he did after Sloan’s press conference, Stockton couldn’t have been much more engaging.
Put him back in the grind of day-to-day competition, and the pleasantries could dry up, but … Gregg Popovich has thrived with a public crustiness that makes Stockton seem as loquacious as the Chuckster himself.
Not saying Stockton wouldn’t have to learn some lessons, not saying there wouldn’t be rough spots, but with his understanding, his experience, his credibility, his ties to the team, his preparation, he not only would be the best fit, he would shine a guiding light on a club struggling through some darkness.
All the Jazz have to do is help him see that light. And stack up the cash. And hope the man’s destiny is fulfilled.
GORDON MONSON hosts "The Big Show" with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 and 960 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.