PHILADELPHIA — With his team struggling, Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan decided to mix things up with his starting lineup for tonight's game against the Philadelphia 76ers.
Rookie Gordon Hayward will replace veteran Andrei Kirilenko in the starting small forward spot, marking the first time this season that Sloan has altered his first five for any reason other than injuries or illnesses.
"I think it might be a little bit better situation for us," Sloan said.
The Hall of Fame coach listed a couple of reasons for the change, which comes after a season-high three straight losses on this East Coast trip.
First, Sloan wants to get Hayward more opportunities to play. With Kirilenko often filling in for Paul Millsap at the power forward spot, the coach said he also believes that having AK-47 as a reserve will bolster the team's bench production.
"I just thought Gordon needed a chance to play some," Sloan said. "It's hard to get him in the game where we can get him consistent minutes.
"And," he added, "I think, hopefully, that will help us more trying to come off the bench with Andrei."
Kirilenko has started all 41 games he's played in this season, but he is no stranger to a reserve role. He was surprised, however, when Sloan made the announcement at the team's morning prep meeting.
The Jazz coach had repeated multiple times recently that he didn't believe a rotation change was in order right now. He just wanted his team to play with more energy and execute better.
"We playing not good lately," Kirilenko said. "We have to expect some changes."
Asked if it's hard not to take the change personal, Kirilenko smiled and then responded: "I get used to any decision coach makes, because over the years I've been starting off the bench, I've been in starting lineup. So it's not really bother me. I'm looking from the positive side anyway."
He then added with a chuckle, "I'm easy target."
Even so, Kirilenko said he doesn't view this move as punishment.
As for Hayward, this will be the 20-year-old's seventh start in his rookie season. Coincidentally, that is how many games he's missed due to coach's decision. But Sloan has been impressed with the amount of work Hayward has put in while improving over the season.
"I'll just treat it as another game," the ex-Butler star said. "Hopefully, go out there, compete, do my job and bring energy."
Fellow rookie Jeremy Evans will also get a chance to dress tonight for a change. Backup big man Francisco Elson will not be available to play because of a strained left quadriceps muscle.
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company