Monday, February 23, 2009

Jerry Sloan: Too good to be coach of the year

Now this title may not seem to make too much sense: Isn't the Coach of the Year award supposed to reward, well, the best coach in the NBA?

Not really, if you think about it. Most of the time, the Coach of the Year is just another way of saying "Coach who presided over the biggest single-season-turnaround of the year", unless there's one team that's just too dominant to ignore.

Lets take a look at the last few years for some examples here.

Byron Scott (2007-08)
Scott brought the Hornets from 39-43 a year before to 56-26 this season, in the first season back in New Orleans after being displaced from Hurricane Katrina. Big turnaround + big story = sure thing.

Sam Mitchell (2006-07)
Mitchell led the Raptors to a 20 game turnaround from 27-55 to 47-35 and a division crown, setting records for the expansion franchise. Jerry Collangelo was the real key to this turnaround, as Mitchell has already been fired less than two seasons removed from this honor.

Avery Johnson (2005-06)
Another coach that didn't last long after winning his award, Johnson only led a 2 game swing, from 58-24 to 60-22, but helped a completely reconstructed team around Dirk make the NBA finals. The 2007 playoff upset by Golden State started the ball rolling, and by the end of 2008 Johnson was clearly losing his job.

Mike D'Antoni (2004-05)
D'Antoni's turnaround is the most dramatic we've seen, swinging from 29-53 up to 62-20 thanks to ditching Stephon Marbury and picking up free agent Steve Nash. D'Antoni created the most entertaining style in recent memory, and with fantastic the regular season. As popular belief became that his system would only fail in postseason, he was forced out and headed to MSG.

Hubie Brown (2003-04)
In a shocking development, Brown's Grizzlies were the biggest turnaround of the year, jumping from 28-54 to 50-32 thanks to some Hubie Magic, also known as adding Bonzi Wells and James Posey to a good Pau Gasol core. There's a reason Jerry West won executive of the year, and Hubie retired shortly after this season.

So that's four out of five years where the biggest turnaround coach won the award, and the year Avery won there wasn't an incredibly notable turnaround team. Further examples exist in selections such as Larry Bird in 1997-98, while the occasional dominant force such as Phil Jackson's 72-10 Bulls in 1995-96 fill out the other winner prototype.

So, what about Jerry Sloan?

Jerry Sloan's teams have never fit into either of these buckets, and as you've noticed, he's never won the award as a result. Sloan came into his post with the Jazz, after a poor stint with the Bulls, with the gift of Stockton and Malone, and immediately began running off his record 16 straight winning seasons.

In this consistent performance, there's little room for the big turnaround needed to be a media darling for coach of the year. The one time he had a chance with that angle, bringing the Jazz from 26-56 to 41-41, Avery Johnson's Napoleon angle won the battle.

Perhaps one of Sloan's years would be so dominant that he could win an award that way? Sloan's Jazz had the best record in the West for three straight years from 1996-97 to 1998-99, but Pat Riley, Larry Bird, and, of all people, Mike Dunleavy stood in his way.

The closest I can remember Jerry Sloan coming to actually winning the award was in the 2006-2007 season, where two years removed from a 26-56 season Utah won the division, but the genius of Sam Mitchell ended up on top...for a year or so at least.

Will he ever win it?

I'm not sure how many years of coaching the man has left in him, but this year could possibly be a compelling enough story to make it as possible as ever. Between the long-term injury to Boozer and the half-healthy early work from Deron Williams, if Sloan can squeeze 51 or so wins out of this squad (17-8 in the remaining games), it could be possible.

If not, Jerry Sloan can just take his 16 straight winning seasons straight to the Hall of Fame, for the first award he'll receive, and I'm sure he'll be just as happy.

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