Posted Dec 2 2009 7:51PM
Jerry Sloan was chatting recently with a couple of old acquaintances about his off-season experience of getting inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. It was a lot of fun, a great honor, he recalled, once the agony of that acceptance speech was over.
"If I had to go on talkin' for a living," Sloan said in that down-home drawl, "I guess it wouldn't be long I'd starve."
It was barely two weeks ago when Sloan's Utah Jazz were looking more than a little hungry in the standings, holding an emaciated 4-6 record after the first 10 games of a season that appeared close to coming undone.
Following a summer of speculation about where he wanted to play, forward Carlos Boozer struggled at the start, maybe in part due to a nagging knee problem and in part to the ill will in the air around Salt Lake City.
After a particularly lifeless effort in a spanking by the Celtics in Boston, point guard Deron Williams' frustrations spilled out in a message to his more than 21,000 followers on Twitter.
"We got to change something bc what we doing ain't working right now!" Williams wrote. "Don't know what but something?????"
According to the new Hall of Fame coach, there were no secret formulas.
"When they all decide they want to work harder, do all of the right things, eliminate the mistakes and play together, things will turn around," Sloan said. "It's pretty simple, really."
And it's been simply true as the Jazz have won six of their past seven games to get to three games above the .500 mark for the first time this season.
No one's game has bounced back higher than Boozer, who piled up 24 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists in Monday's win over Memphis and has not scored fewer than 22 points or grabbed fewer than seven rebounds in any of the last five games.
"He's getting back to the old Booz," Williams said. "We keep going to him and that's something going to help us out. Physically, he's better. You can see that he's getting more lift on his shots. You can see his confidence growing. He's got the fadeaway going now."
Yet Williams readily conceded that there were more than physical ailments wrong with the Jazz when they began the season.
"You know, it's a contract year for a lot of guys and things can happen. We tended to get a little selfish. We had to get a reality check and realize that we're not a 1-on-1 team. We're a team that relies on a system. When we utilize that system, we're a good team. When we don't, we're not."
At 25 years old and in the prime of his career, Williams was not at all happy to be taking backward steps from where the Jazz were as Western Conference finalists in the 2007 season. It was that discontent that spilled into his "tweet" from Boston.
"Yes, I was frustrated," he said. "It was hard to get into an offense. Guys were breaking the offense and going 1-on-1, which is not what I want to do. Lately we've been staying in our offense for the most part, getting good shots, getting good looks. It's something that we can do a way better job of -- screening, getting people open. But we're doing better. We're trying, making an effort to do those things, and that's a start.
"Look, I understand the concerns that everybody has about contracts and their future. But nobody's going to look good if you score 25 and your team's losing. That's not what we've been about around here and that's what we've got to remember."
Boozer has gone from hearing the first half of his last name thrown in his direction to getting the home crowd back in his corner.
"I learned early this season to just relax and let the game flow," he said. "If bad things happen, just move onto the next play. If bad games happen and people have a negative reaction, just move onto the next game. I've had to reach back into that lesson several times, but I'm learning and it's getting better.
"For me, it's just about playing with confidence. If I mess up, just move on. D-Will and these guys are gonna keep coming to me and telling me to hang in there and that's what I've done."
"Physically, I feel great again. I feel 100 percent healthy and feel like I can do all of the things I want. Overall, it's just great for us to be winning again, to be competing with these guys. We're on a good little roll right now and hopefully we can put together a real streak."
The Jazz have Andrei Kirilenko contributing consistently on offense. They've got rookie Eric Maynor playing significant minutes and making plays. But mostly, they have their heads back into the game.
"I'd say it's about being unselfish," Boozer said. "Offensively we're back to moving the ball great. Making the extra pass -- we're doing that now on offense.
"We're also helping each other defensively. When a good post-up player like, say, Tim Duncan gets the ball, we're going down and digging that ball out of the paint instead of letting him go 1-on-1 against his defender. We're covering each other's backs. When somebody else's man is open, we try to run out there at him and we gang rebound.
"The big thing is we didn't come apart with the slow start. Every team, I don't care if you've been together for 20 years or five, you'll go occasionally through a tough patch. Our tough patch happened to come at the beginning. But now we're rolling."
Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here.
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