Here comes another Jazz season, and everyone knows what that means. More of Jerry Sloan, railing on the refs. More pointing out that he and his team "haven't done anything yet." Another year of Feed 'n' Seed ball caps and agricultural references.
But that doesn't mean he hasn't changed.
Methodical, consistent, stubborn of course. But Sloan is still coaching because he has changed.
How to tell? Let us count the ways. He now uses rookies, early and often. The old Sloan stored his rookies in a broom closet. Though there was an occasional variation Bryon Russell started early in his career, then didn't the real change began with Andrei Kirilenko, who started 40 games as a rookie and was an All-Star by his third season. Deron Williams sat some in the first half of his rookie year but finished with the third-most minutes on the team.
Sloan also played Paul Millsap extensively last year.
There are numerous other ways the 19-year Jazz head coach has changed. Used to be once you were in his doghouse, you didn't get out. Gordan Giricek may still believe that's true. But it was Sloan who insisted on bringing back loopy Greg Ostertag for a second stop in Utah even when owner Larry H. Miller opposed it.
Nobody spent more time in the doghouse than 'Tag.
Sloan has also recognized that even though Carlos Boozer still doesn't play much defense, he's indispensable to the offense.
Meanwhile, Sloan has opened up the offense. Gone are the days when the Jazz held the ball until the final seconds of every single possession, waiting for a layup off the pick-and-roll. They now frequently take shots earlier in the clock, attacking the basket sooner, sometimes even popping early 3s.
Sloan used to shun 3-pointers with the exception of Jeff Hornacek and one or two others on occasion and the Jazz were among the league's worst outside shooting teams. Actually, they still are. But they're working on it. Mehmet Okur is a good perimeter shooter since when did a Jazz center stand outside launching treys? and the club drafted Morris Almond, a noted 3-point scorer.
The Jazz took the most treys in club history last year.
While it's obvious the team has a more athletic, interchangeable makeup than in the past, that's because Sloan has facilitated those changes. This year he will have at least a half-dozen players who can play more two or more spots, some that can play three.
He has also been more willing to make trades. The Jazz used to be as inert as a monument when it came to dealing players. Now they entertain trade offers regularly. It's no secret the Jazz have been willing to trade Kirilenko if the right deal came along. They also reportedly listened to trade talks at varying times regarding Boozer.
That never happened with Karl Malone and John Stockton.
Sloan has also become better at admitting fault. He has consistently allowed that he may have been too tough on the sensitive Kirilenko. He has moderated his stance on injuries, too. Back in the Malone/Stockton days, Sloan pretty much expected players to perform if they could stand upright. But lately he even went so far as to defend Boozer missing much of two injury-filled seasons, saying he doesn't want players to perform hurt.
He has closed practices to the media, stopped worrying about getting fired and utilized more of his bench. Speaking of bench, Sloan also stays sitting on the sidelines longer than ever.
"I don't get off the bench quite as quick as I used to," he allows.
Clearly there are some things that remain constant. He still rants at his players if they don't show effort. He continues to insist defense is of supreme importance. Yet in the process he has acquired a fan club among colleagues. Coaches such as Detroit's Flip Saunders, Portland's Nate McMillan and San Antonio's Gregg Popovich have gushed admiration for Sloan's style physical, focused and relentless.
"I think I've made some changes," says Sloan. "I think I've always been fairly patient, but in other people's eyes I'm very impatient. But I feel I'm a lot more patient with players than I used to be. It's hard for me to judge myself."OK, fine. The man has 1,035 career wins. Let him be judged by those.