Jazz Still Missing Coach Sloan
The Utah Jazz are 3-7 in their last 10 games and are searching for answers. In a very short amount of time, they lost both of their leaders in Jerry Sloan and Deron Williams and are still coping with a loss in a team as close as family.
"In my ten years career, I’ve never been in a situation like this last month," Andrei Kirilenko tells HOOPSWORLD. "We always have Jerry (Sloan) around and he could figure it out easily, but the last three weeks or month have been different. There’s no Jerry. What we’re trying to do right now is kind of establish ourselves, understand who we are as a team and what condition we’re in."
It’s difficult to completely welcome their newest teammates with open arms when those who were a part of the team prior to the trade deadline are still mourning their losses.
"It really wasn’t fun the last three weeks or month because Jerry resigned and they had to let Deron go for a couple new faces to the team," Mehmet Okur tells HOOPSWORLD. "It’s been rough and now, barely, we are getting used to the new guys and they’re getting used to a new system and team. It’s been up and down. If you look at all year long, we’ve been dealing with injuries. We aren’t healthy enough to play and go out there to compete. It’s a little bit of everything, but we try to stay positive at this moment because we still have games to play and everybody is trying to stay positive. We have to look forward to play and finish strong."
On top of the emotional issues they find themselves going through, they have also been an unhealthy team. Each night, new head coach Tyrone Corbin tinkers with lineups in order to field a full, competitive team and, although the players understand the tinkering, their lack of health causes more issues.
"Our offense has pretty much been the same, so more than anything, I think it’s just we’ve had some chemistry issues," Raja Bell tells HOOPSWORLD. "With the amount of change we’ve had and the amount of injury we’ve had, who is going to step up and carry the load? There may have been some guessing games being played there and it caused us some more chemistry problems then we could have anticipated."
Currently two games out of the playoff picture, the Jazz are trying to get on the same page. They know time is running out on this season and they have a lot to accomplish in that short amount of time.
"When we play well and play together, obviously we feel we can play and compete with anybody, especially on the defensive end," Devin Harris tells HOOPSWORLD. "We need to pull it together and get guys on the same page. When we do that, we’ve won and we feel we can win more games and I’m as comfortable as I can get in a short amount of time, but we’ve kind of hit a stretch where we have to play well. That’s pretty much what my focus is and we’ve shown stretches where we can do it, but I don’t have a lot of time to adjust to what we’re doing. I have to just kind of go with the flow and try to get as many wins as we can."
One of the most consistent aspects for this team to build around is the play of Al Jefferson, the first-year Jazz member acquired from Minnesota. Since the All-Star break, Jefferson’s play has gone up a notch and they all recognize his effort.
"That’s what he does best and he’s dominating right now," said Okur. "He plays a lot of minutes and he’s one of those guys when you pass him the ball on the block, he just finishes somehow. He goes over either shoulder and finishes and he’s a great rebounder. He’s been doing a great job for us."
"D-Will (Deron Williams) left and he was our go-to guy, he was the guy that made everything go and now he’s gone," Jefferson tells HOOPSWORLD. "I feel like I’m one of the guys who has to step up and fill in his shoes and Paul (Millsap) is another one. To be honest with you, everybody has to step up. I’m getting more comfortable and understanding the offense, understanding what I do and how I do it."
Although things aren’t clicking, they’re finding positives as they walk through the fire. Of course, it is the veterans who are trying to lead the way for the young players.
"We’ve had opportunities to win," said Bell. "We don’t really feel like we’re just getting beat up, but we feel like we have some growing up to do as far as execution down the stretch and attention to detail. We all feel like we’re close and just haven’t gotten over the hump consistently. We’ve had our moments, but it’s kind of been a ‘two steps forward, one step back’ type of deal. We’ll seem to turn a corner and be getting better, and then we’ll come out and have a performance like we did in New York and you start from scratch again. All-in-all, I think we’ve made progress."
"Right now we’re a couple wins from the playoffs and it is a goal for us, but we can’t really look at it right now," adds Kirilenko. "Don’t look at the stats and don’t look at the standings. I would say it’s better to take it every game as a single unit. Take it, try to win it and don’t worry about the whole picture yet because we have a lot of new faces and people are adjusting to each other. It’s not that I’m worried about the new guys, but it’s just a process. If you look at Miami, they have three of the greatest players and probably the best players in the league, but if you see their start, it takes them some time. In any team with new rosters, it always takes time for people to get adjusted to each other, what kind of system we’re playing, what kind of organization and what kind of rhythm on the floor. It takes some time and we’ve been playing better and better."
The new and young players see the example the veterans set for them and are trying to stay upbeat. Without question, the Utah Jazz have talent, but they know they are a work in progress.
"I’ve been through a lot this first year and just being professional mentally has helped me out to get through all of this," rookie Derrick Favors tells HOOPSWORLD. We know the team lost a lot and got a lot of new players. Sometimes you do, but the season is going by so fast and it’s kind of hard, so it’s just believing in ourselves. We’re coming out, playing hard and we need to keep believing we can make it."
After the roller-coaster season this team has gone through in the 2010-11 season, it is impressive how they continue to fight. The odds may be stacked against them to achieve their goal of a playoff berth, but the fight they display reflects the image of the man they miss in Jerry Sloan.