"When you look at it from the standpoint of how much this franchise was used to having the same guys all the time for so many years, and then you have the coaching change, and you have a trade and all these injuries — it's just one thing after another," said Jazz coach Ty Corbin. "They all came together at one time. Hopefully we can get past it and get back to the regular norm we're used to having around here."
Said Jefferson: "It's definitely been a roller coaster."
But unlike the other years, this time the roller coaster entirely skipped the track, arching aimlessly into space.
As time passes, it becomes clearer that Williams' problems with Sloan ran deeper than many knew. He hinted about leaving if the Jazz didn't surround him with enough talent, and reportedly waved off plays. A sense of unease had settled in. At first it seemed to just be the frustration of losing. Later it became public that the squabbles with Sloan were fairly frequent.
Meanwhile, Sloan's gaze had become worn and raw.
He annually considered retirement, but always concluded he had nothing better to do while his Illinois fields lay dormant.
Sloan actually mellowed over the years, hoping to accommodate the prickly Williams. He seldom chafed at minor details the way he used to and was often complimentary of his team's effort, even after a loss. But in the end, the one thing that would make him quit mid-season occurred: His best player (if not others) was unwilling to buy into his system and philosophy. It was always his way or the highway in that regard. So he quit on a winter morning, leaving the Jazz out in the cold, literally and figuratively.
On the bright side, the Jazz have a young, athletic, enthusiastic base of players. (Witness recent wins over L.A. and New Orleans.) But the certainty the Jazz enjoyed for nearly three decades has vanished.
"It will be a fresh turning point with the coach, and we can start with the beginning," Jefferson said. "I'm really looking forward to it. That's kind of the upside. You're not going into the off-season thinking it's going to be like it was this year."
A year that, in the big picture, had probably been looming for a very long time.
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