The Utah Jazz faced a hefty problem when Jerry Sloan stepped down as an NBA coach: they knew only one way to run a franchise.
The Jazz had risen to historic heights under Sloan and his no-nonsense style of basketball. Between owner Larry H. Miller, Sloan — and even former coach Frank Layden — a lot of honesty, heart and hard work went into the Jazz.
Utah rose to even greater heights under Sloan’s supervision, who was the captain of no-nonsense basketball. Sloan's philosophy: You leave your jersey tucked in and you play your hardest — then repeat. The Jazz made the playoffs 20 straight years and the Finals twice (unfortunately falling to the Bulls both times). Sloan got the most out of his team and he coached arguably the most stable franchise in the NBA during his tenure. Utah will always be indebted for what Sloan did for the Jazz during his 23 years.
Then Sloan resigned in February 2011.
For the next few years, the Jazz tried to run operations the same way that had always brought success. The is made evident by looking at the coaching staff at the time: Former player Ty Corbin, Layden’s son Scott, Sloan’s nephew Brad Jones and former player Jeff Hornacek. The NBA had evolved, and Utah did not evolve with it. Gone are the days of a big, physical center being a necessity.
Corbin was a professional his entire time with the Jazz and did his best to win games night after night using the old style of basketball Utah was known for; it just wasn’t as effective anymore. Free agents probably looked at playing for the Jazz with their matching shoes and felt the same amount of excitement as watching reruns of "The Little House on the Prairie" on a Friday night.
The Jazz's narrative began to change after the hiring of Dennis Lindsey.
Lindsey immediately went to work to build a new foundation in Utah, and he transitioned the Jazz from the old model to a functional and respectable NBA franchise by modern standards.
Lindsey stayed true to the defense-first principles known in Utah while performing a thorough overhaul. Since Lindsey stepped in, the players' facility has been reconstructed, a new head coach (Quin Synder) hired, a plethora of assistant coaches added, a system with statistical analyses adopted ... heck, even the logo has changed. Everything shifted over those years to what the Jazz have today.
Looking at this 2018 team, Dennis Lindsey has meticulously built a team of blue-collar underdogs. Look at it this way, who hasn’t been given up on or severely overlooked on the Jazz roster? Joe Ingles was cut from the Clippers as his wife was on a plane to celebrate his NBA roster spot with him. Ekpe Udoh, after being a top-10 draft pick, was out of the NBA and playing overseas. Royce O’Neale? Undrafted. Jae Crowder? Left looking on as his own fans cheered trying to lure Hayward during a Celtics game. Rudy Gobert? Picked 27th — by the Nuggets, then traded. Snyder? Fired as a college coaching.
Lindsey and Snyder have also built a team full of unselfish players. Consider this: three years ago LeBron James complained on national television that coach Dave Blatt called for another player to take the game-winning shot. This season Gobert asked not to be subbed in because the win meant more to him than any defensive highlight could. The difference is night and day.
The Jazz have completely changed the dialogue concerning playing in Utah. It was very recently the common belief among Utah fans was that nobody wanted to play here. Lindsey has changed that dialogue by making Utah a designation point for career years.
Joe Ingles, George Hill, Gordon Hayward and Rudy Gobert all have had or having their best season — all playing different positions and at different ages. Ricky Rubio has averaged a career-high in points this year. Joe Johnson, a seven-time all-star, asked to come and play for Utah. Crowder said Utah made basketball fun for him again. Hill had a career year and boasted it was an easy transition to Utah. These are great athletes voicing to all who will hear that Utah is the place to play if you want to win, have fun and look good, and it is all due to the player development aspect Lindsey and Snyder have added to this organization.
Regardless of what happens in the playoff race this year, the Jazz have a defensive and offensive juggernaut in Gobert, Mitchell is a star and still in his rookie contract, and Snyder is one of the best in the business. Lindsey has laid the foundation, the vertical construction is now underway.
Watch out NBA, the Jazz are going up and up for years to come.
Dustin Jensen is a Utah native and recent graduate from the U. Dustin is an accountant at Eide Bailly LLP, enjoys running, eating bacon burgers, and is a Utah Jazz fanatic. You can e-mail Dustin at [email protected]