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Scott Howard-Cooper

Jerry Sloan, Karl Malone
Karl Malone (right) became the NBA's second-leading scorer largely under the tutelage of Utah's Jerry Sloan.
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

One year post-Sloan, Jazz move on (even if Malone hasn't)


Posted Feb 10 2012 10:30AM

Jerry Sloan resigned as Jazz coach one year ago. Resigned. It's been a full year since the longest-tenured coach in the four major sports rode off on his John Deere, a year that saw Deron Williams depart and the Jazz go through an instant roster rebuild, a year that featured a tailspin finish to last season and an encouraging start to this one, and then ... hey, look, it's Karl Malone.

Happy anniversary, Jazz. The franchise's leading scorer is back. Don't worry about inviting him to the party. He knows where to find a scalper.

Yes, it's been some year. Malone recently ripped the organization for Sloan's exit, saying his former coach quit because management would not back Sloan on wanting to take a tougher stand with handling Williams. Then the Mailman complained that he had to buy a ticket outside EnergySolutions Arena to get into the game the night after the coaching change.

CEO Greg Miller and general manager Kevin O'Connor blasted back, Miller using his blog to call Malone a liar and high-maintenance during the Jazz years. (Liar may be a little exteme. High-maintenance: an understatement.)

Malone contacted the Salt Lake Tribune the next day to respond to Miller. Eventually, Sloan, who turns 70 next month, felt the need to release his version of last year's events, a most un-Sloan-like move considering the formal statement didn't sound anything like him. He said he had the complete backing of the Miller family. He did not mention Malone.

But here's the thing about all that: The Jazz are still about stability. Much has been resolved in the last year. Tyrone Corbin, Sloan's assistant who became the successor, finished 8-20 last season but is off to a 13-11 start in this one. Backed into a corner by Williams' looming free agency, Utah not only resolved the situation before it could turn the locker room toxic, but GM O'Connor swung a deal with the Nets that avoided a lengthy rebuilding process. One year later, reasons for optimism abound.

Sloan hasn't left the team entirely either, which, given his popularity and success, should be regarded as more good news. "Yes," Corbin said, "he does have an effect on what we do." Sloan and Corbin still talk, though rarely about Xs-and-Os. The Jazz still run some of the old sets.

"He is a part of what we do," Corbin said. "He's a part of my coaching because I respect his whole approach to the game and how he coached. The things he had his teams do, I used some and I changed some."

His presence still may be felt throughout the organization, but Sloan remains mostly tight-lipped, as he always has. He still won't give a reason for quitting at Evansville, his alma mater, before coaching a single game, long before he took over for the Bulls in 1979-80 at the beginning of a Hall of Fame career on the sidelines. Being passed over as head coach of Team USA in 2000, after serving as an assistant coach to Lenny Wilkens in 1996, was an aching blow. He mostly refused to talk about the disappointment.

And so it will be with the decision to quit. He refuted speculation a year ago that Williams had a hand in his decision, but anyone who knows Sloan understands that he simply could be protecting the sanctity of the locker room.

Yet something had to have happened for him to quit in the middle of the season despite several people at the top of the team's hierarchy urging him to reconsider. He still won't give a definitive answer.

Now Malone is the complication. The Miller family had become skilled long ago at rolling their eyes at the superstar power forward as he made frequent demands for a new contract or threatened to demand a trade. The late Larry Miller, equally emotional, would fire back.

Malone and Larry Miller (the father of the current CEO) became close friends. Malone bought into Larry's very successful car dealerships. Larry was agreeable when Malone approached him about purchasing a small portion of the Jazz, although there would be no major price cuts to close the deal, so it never happened. Malone talked about becoming an assistant coach, but was told it would be the real deal, with the full schedule of travel and tape review, not some ceremonial role. That never happened either.

The Mailman was high-maintenance, to be sure, but he was true to his emotions, good and bad. It's the same passion that drove him to improve his game, to maintain a conditioning routine most of the rest of the league could only dream of matching and to become a franchise bedrock.

That is also drove him to suddenly jump unannounced into the Sloan story is part of the bargain. Everyone in the organization understands that, even a year later.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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