Speculation is that the Utah Jazz had to choose between All Star point guard Deron Williams and Hall of Fame coach Jerry Sloan. Sloan abruptly resigned. Photo by Jeff Lewis
Lakers finish “Grammy’s” trip, Coach Sloan announces retirement and Boston is still No. 1 in the east after defeating Miami.
By Michael Brown,
Sentinel Sports Writer
Lakers enigmatic play continues
Just when everybody thinks the Lakers have righted the ship into steady waters after they strung together four consecutive wins, L.A. veered off course in losses to Orlando, Charlotte, and one of the most embarrassing losses in recent memory at Cleveland, leaving fans scratching their heads again.
After enduring speculation last week that Andrew Bynum could be traded for Denver’s Carmelo Anthony, L.A. seemed to use that as motivation on its way to winning back-to-back games at Boston and New York, improving its record to 4-0 on the annual “Grammy’s road trip.”
The Lakers’ momentum began to unravel Sunday in an 89-75 loss at Orlando. Although that performance was disappointing, the Lakers got a pass due to Dwight Howard’s incredible performance (31 points, 13 rebounds), and considering Orlando’s a formidable team.
But Monday’s 109-89 shellacking at Charlotte was inexcusable. After the Lakers worst loss of the season, Coach Phil Jackson was so disgusted he “addressed” the media for all of five seconds.
“I’m embarrassed about what we did and that’s it,” Jackson said as he began to walk away from reporters. “Thank you.”
It’s probably best that Jackson kept his comments to a minimum. After watching Los Angeles’ listless and uninspired performance, I’m sure Jackson could have said more.
The problem: they would have been of the four-letter variety.
To say that the Lakers are enigmatic is like saying the Titanic sprung a leak. That’s not to say that L.A. is watching its title hopes sink–but that their inconsistent performances are cause for concern.
Bynum and Pau Gasol showed in Boston why you don’t separate the seven-foot duo. They went a combined 14-of-23 from the field for 36 points and 19 rebounds. That productivity out of two big men can’t be matched by any others in the NBA and should put the Anthony rumors to rest once and for all.
The problem is, is that an exceptional performance by Bynum like the one in Boston is followed by one in Orlando in which he looks like a sieve on defense against Howard, and the fact that he played only 23 minutes at Charlotte, finishing with an ordinary nine points and six rebounds.
For all of their problems, the Lakers should win at Cleveland Wednesday and end the trip at 5-2, a record any team would take after traveling back east. Couple that with beating Boston and Lakers fans and critics will probably be content going into all-star weekend.
Did Utah management choose all-star over Hall of Fame coach?
That seems to be the main question being pondered in NBA circles and the blogosphere after Jerry Sloan abruptly resigned last Thursday, ending a 23-year coaching career.
Initial reports out of Utah said that Sloan and point guard Deron Williams had an “emotional dispute” at halftime during the Jazz’s eventual loss to Chicago Wednesday. Reportedly, Sloan instructed Williams to run a certain play, but Williams opted for another.
Sloan, a hall of famer who is third on the NBA’ all-time coaching win list (1,221) behind Lenny Wilkens (1,332) and Don Nelson (1,335), said during a press conference “it was time to move on” and didn’t confirm the reports of an altercation.
However, Williams, in a separate interview said, “It’s sad to see him go, especially in the middle of the season. I can’t stop the speculation. My teammates know what happened. We had an argument. We’ve had them before.”
He continued, “Am I the reason coach resigned? I highly doubt that. I never did once say, ‘It’s me or him.’ I haven’t even had a meeting with management this year.”
I’ll give Williams the benefit of the doubt. He’s an elite point guard and has been an exemplary citizen since entering the NBA. I also appreciate the fact that he was candid and acknowledged that he and Sloan had bumped heads several times.
But Williams, who is a free agent in 2012, doesn’t have to make overt threats about bolting Salt Lake City for greener pastures in a bigger market. Utah’s management knows that Williams doesn’t have some innate sense of loyalty to the organization like Karl Malone and John Stockton.
Williams has an opportunity over the next few years to team-up with other free agents such as Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul and set the NBA on its ear, all the while cashing-in on a maximum contract.
It’s not fair that a hall of fame coach had to be sacrificed, but I think that’s what happened. Utah knows that drafting and developing players such as Williams, Stockton and Malone is the only chance they have at procuring elite talent. Impact free agents won’t sign in Utah.
There’s no other logical reason to explain why Sloan would resign mid-season while the Jazz were still in the playoff hunt. Sloan was a hard-nosed player with the Chicago Bulls, and his work ethic was unmatched according to interviews I saw last week with former players and his coaching colleagues.
Sloan doesn’t seem like a Larry Brown type who would just walk away. I have a feeling this isn’t the end of this story.
Miami’s all flash, but Boston’s all substance
That statement was proven again Sunday when the Celtics got the best of the Heat for the third time this season led by point guard Rajon Rondo.
Miami came into Boston with an eight-game win streak, but left battered and bruised after an 85-82 loss, inching the Celtics ahead of the Heat for the Eastern Conference’s best record.
The final score wasn’t indicative of the game, as Boston’s explosive 35-point third quarter put the contest out of reach. Rondo tortured the Heat’s inept point guards by finishing with 11 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds for a triple-double.
During Boston’s first win against Miami, Rondo had 17 assists, and in the second win Rondo had eight points and 16 assists. Although Rondo hasn’t put up gaudy scoring numbers against the Heat, he’s dominated the games and even been a pest against LeBron James on defense.
Whenever James handles the basketball, Rondo’s quick hands pester him and force him into turnovers. In three games against the Celtics, James has 16 turnovers.
Ball security is only one of Miami’s problems when they face the Celtics. Heat starting center Zydrunas Ilgauskas and forward Chris Bosh can’t bang with Boston’s size.
Ilgauskas, who resembles a glacier in sneakers on the floor, surrendered baskets to Boston’s Kendrick Perkins (season-high 15 points) during key moments of the game, and Perkins is considered a defensive stopper who’s oftentimes a liability on offense.
And while Bosh had 24 points on 8-of-11 shooting from the field, only two of his baskets were made in the paint. Miami hasn’t shown that they can score inside in three games against Boston, and they haven’t shown an ability to get stops.
If these teams meet in the Eastern Conference Finals, I could see Boston knocking out the Heat in five games. Boston also won despite the fact that leading scorer Paul Pierce had one-point in the game.
Now that’s scary.
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