Douglas C. Pizac, Associated Press
Phil Johnson

SALT LAKE CITY — In Denver, former Jazz star and acting head coach Adrian Dantley sits on an increasingly warmer seat — one usually occupied by George Karl.

In Utah, the chair next to head coach Jerry Sloan is as worn as they come in the NBA — and Sloan would have it no other way.

Longtime top assistant Phil Johnson, who has been by Sloan's side more than two decades, has worked with him even longer.

The Grace, Idaho, native with both Weber State and Utah State ties officially was named a Jazz assistant two days after Sloan succeeded Frank Layden on Dec. 9, 1988.

"When I had chance to hire him, I knew what he'd be able to do, because I'd seen him coach — and in a tough situation, coaching me, because he (was) about the same age," Sloan said of Johnson, an assistant to Dick Motta when Sloan played in Chicago.

"All the players had respect for him, because he knew what he was doing," Sloan added. "He's a great teacher."

Sloan considers Johnson's No. 1 attribute to be loyalty, but teaching comes a close second.

"That's why he does most of the teaching with our team — because he's a better teacher than I ever thought about being," Sloan said of Johnson, who also was named NBA Coach of the Year with the 1974-75 Kansas City-Omaha Kings. "I think he explains things a lot better than I do, and I've been fortunate to have him.

"To find people are going to be loyal, I think, is very important."

Sloan, in fact, has had only five assistants sit on his bench during his 22-season tenure in Utah:

Johnson, whose coach way back in junior high was Motta;

Ex-Jazz and New York Knicks general manager Scott Layden, Frank's son;

Tyrone Corbin, a longtime NBA and ex-Jazz player who is bound to draw interest in various vacant head coaching positions this offseason;

Gordie Chiesa, who spent a decade-and-a-half as a Sloan assistant and now is a Memphis Grizzlies pro scout;

ex-Jazz player Kenny Natt, later a Cleveland assistant and interim head coach in Sacramento; and

longtime Jazz employee and ex-Nuggets assistant GM Dave Fredman, now Utah's head scout.

"We try to keep continuity with them," Sloan said, "just like we try to keep continuity with the players."

Back in Denver, Dantley — who starred for the Jazz when Sloan assisted Frank Layden — is in his seventh season as a Nuggets assistant.

The man whose jersey number is retired in Utah has no full-time head coaching experience, but he's been pressed into service while Karl battles neck and throat cancer.

And with the Jazz up 3-1 in their best-of-seven first-round NBA playoff series with the Nuggets, he really is starting to catch some heat.

Asked Monday if Karl's absence has impacted the club, the Denver Post reported, point guard Chauncey Billups said, "Absolutely. That's no slight on A.D. (Dantley). He's done a great job trying to maintain and handle the guys we have on this team. But yeah, definitely. I think you'd see that from any team that lost their head coach for the second-half of the season."

Experience, Billups suggested, is lacking.

"George won over 900 games, man. A.D.'s been coaching 9, 12 (actually 25) games," Billups said, according to the Post. "That's the difference. (Karl) is a head coach. A great head coach. You've got A.D. filling in who probably will be a head coach but hasn't had the opportunity to do that.

"We miss (Karl's) voice, we miss his leadership, we miss the plays he draws up at timeouts, we miss the halftime speeches, we miss everything. But that's not an excuse at all. I think A.D. has done a wonderful job."

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