Sucks to be a new guy…or a soon-to-be free guy
[This post was inspired by a conversation with @dianaallen about whether Raja now regrets his decision to sign with the Jazz.]
Utah has never been a dream free agent destination, and so 2010 was a weird summer. A number of free agents, including Mike James and Al Harrington, were actually saying that they wanted to play in Utah. By the end of the summer, we’d signed three veteran free agents and also traded for Al Jefferson, who was
sweatier more ecstatic than anyone in the history of ever to land in Salt Lake City.
This year’s roster had more turnover than probably most of us have seen in our lifetimes: 6 of 13 guys on the roster are new to the Jazz, including Raja. The aforementioned four have been around the league, and all of them cited wanting to play for Jerry Sloan as the reason or part of the reason they chose/wanted to come to Utah. Here’s what they said back then:
Raja Bell: “[Jerry's straight shooting was] one of the biggest factors, if not the biggest factor, of wanting to come back. … As a professional and as a man, I appreciate that. I don’t really buy into all the politics of the NBA, and so to come to [a team] that doesn’t play many games and has very little political games being played, it’s refreshing and I enjoy it.” (KFAN)
I’ve heard some of the other (younger) guys being asked by the beat writers whether they’ve talked to Jerry, and they said stuff like “I’m sure we’ll talk some time.”
Raja: [Have you talked to Jerry?] “I haven’t. I gave him a call. I left him a voice mail. Kevin told us all that at some point Jerry would reach out to us. I figured I wouldn’t get him [on the phone] but I just wanted to let him know my thoughts, so I left a message.” (KFAN)
Al Jefferson: [upon arrival in SLC] “I’m very happy, very excited. The coach, especially. It’s gonna be an honor to play for him. I always have respect for him. Hopefully, he can turn me into one of [the best power forwards in the game].” (KSL)
“I need a coach like that. I need a coach that’s going to get everything out of me…I can adjust [to a tough coach]. I need that; I’m prepared for that.” (KFAN)
“[Mo Williams called me the night the trade went through and told me], ‘You’re going to love [Jerry Sloan]…he’s going to treat you like a man, he’s going to treat you with respect.’” (KZNS)
Earl Watson: “You have an organization that’s been great for years and you have a coach who’s been unbelievable and a Hall of Fame coach, and you just automatically want to be a part of something special.” (nba.com)
“I’ve always wanted to play for Coach Sloan. I’ve always admired how his teams played; I’ve always admired his personality, his being that guy who was very demanding. Coach Sloan is a Hall of Famer; it’s a dream come true for me. It’s a chance for me to learn a lot of basketball knowledge and pick up as much as I can and move forward later on in life.” (KALL)
Francisco Elson: “I’ve heard a lot of good things about [Jerry]. Knowing his system, it’s a tough system and [I've] always been with coaches that always had tough systems, so for me it was my first choice to come here.” (nba.com)
“Obviously my basketball career has not ended yet, and you always have room to improve and learn. Why not learn from one of the greatest coaches in the game?” (KFAN)
The same seems to go for guys that Jerry hasn’t always had the easiest or best relationships with, but with whom understanding and respect has grown over time.
AK’s relationship with Jerry has been much-documented (and possibly overblown). At the start of this season, he said that he wants to stay with the Jazz when his contract expires because “I know the system, the coach, the general manager and all the stuff. We have a great relationship. We’re kind of like a family.” (Fanhouse)
In an interview less than a week ago, AK reiterated, “Utah is definitely my first choice,” that he wants to play for Jerry, and that to him, Jerry is a magnet in him wanting to stay in Utah. (nba.com)
Kyrylo Fesenko: “Deep, deep in my heart I’m a Jazzman. All this summer, I knew I was going to come back. I couldn’t imagine my career without Jerry.” (nba.com)
Upon being recalled from the Flash in March 2009, Fes also joked, “I miss only AK and Coach Sloan.” (desnews)
Fes and Jerry have had a tumultuous relationship, no doubt, but that he was “an emotional wreck and talked about being stressed out and struggling” and was “taking it hard” after Jerry’s announcement, and that he told ESPN during the Playoffs last year, “Sometimes Coach is really harsh on me, but I realize I deserve it. Every player needs to be motivated. He’s not trying to offend me. He sees the potential I have, and he wants me to get to there” says something to me.
I wonder how these guys are feeling now about their decision to come/stay here. I also wonder how Jerry being gone will affect how free agents see Utah as a potential destination…
…I’m not going to break it down or anything. I’m not much for analysis. I do think, though, that Jerry was much of the Jazz’s luster for guys that have been around the league and want to play for a proven coach and stable, winning franchise. Like it or not, the former is gone, and warranted or not, the “stable” part is out the window. With the lockout looming, who knows what the future holds? (The uncertainty, however, doesn’t make today, or yesterday, or the day before that, any less sad for me. Yes, I am taking it hard.)
If anyone is wondering, the Jerry and Phil post will come after we get these next two games over with, I think. We’ll have one week off, and I definitely won’t be watching the All-Star game. Maybe I’ll be in a more coherent frame of mind by then.