Jerry Sloan's first major move as the Jazz's head coach was hardly surprising - hiring Phil Johnson as his chief assistant.
Sloan and Johnson will both have four-year contracts and Johnson will be on the bench for tonight's game against Miami in the Salt Palace, rejoining Sloan in a longtime NBA association that almost sounds fictional. Try to keep this straight:Johnson was Dick Motta's assistant for three seasons in the early 1970s in Chicago, while Sloan was playing for the Bulls. Johnson was Sloan's assistant for three seasons in the early 1980s, when Sloan was the Bulls' head coach. And when Johnson left the Jazz in November 1984 to become the Kansas City Kings' head coach for the second time, Sloan replaced him on Frank Layden's staff.
They're back together, with Johnson leaving his assistant's position in Sacramento to return to Utah. "It's really a great opportunity for me to go back and work in that organization," Johnson said Sunday from Sacramento. "It should be a good situation."
Imagine this: If Johnson had stayed with the Jazz the last four years, he'd be the head coach now - and Sloan would probably be his assistant. In any case, the Jazz now have the coaches Layden has credited as his offensive and defensive masterminds - plus Scott Layden, the No. 2 assistant and player personnel director.
"He was the only guy we wanted," general manager David Checketts said of Johnson. "I've always thought that at the point Jerry took over, Phil would be the perfect assistant."
Five players - Mark Eaton, Thurl Bailey, Darrell Griffith, Bobby Hansen and Stockton, then a rookie - are left from Johnson's first tour with the Jazz. Johnson came to Utah for Layden's first full season (1982-83) and stayed three-plus years, through the Midwest Division championship season.
Because the Jazz gave Johnson to the Kings for free in 1984, Sacramento owner Gregg Lukenbill requested no compensation when Jazz owner Larry Miller asked permission to talk to Johnson. Checketts called Johnson Saturday in New York, where the Kings were completing a road trip, and finalized the deal Sunday when Johnson returned home. This week, Johnson will turn around and go east with the Jazz.
Johnson, who originally assisted Motta at Weber State and became Weber's head coach before joining Motta in the NBA, actually had three tours with the Kings' organization. He was the head coach twice and after being fired again in February 1987, become the assistant to his former assistant, Jerry Reynolds, after a curious sequence last March. His latest contract with the Kings would have taken him through next season.
"I had some reservations about leaving," Johnson said. "They've been good to me, particularly under the circumstances lately."
He's also very fond of the Jazz - and Sloan.