It was an emotional scene in Utah earlier today. After 23 years of coaching the Jazz, Jerry Sloan tendered his resignation along with his longtime assistant Phil Johnson. The press conference was handled with the utmost class, but it was still a tear-jerker. Even Sloan himself cried, after speculation on twitter that Sloan’s stoic nature would render the 3 boxes of tissue on the dais unnecessary.
The changing of the guard also affected another emotion in this Suns fan – anxiety. With 33 games left in the season before tonight’s bout with Golden State, the Suns will probably need another 20 wins to assure themselves of a playoff spot.* Though Utah is currently the sixth seed in the West and therefore not Phoenix’ immediate target (Denver is seven, Portland eight), there is the potential for the Jazz to taper off and make room for Phoenix after replacing one of the most successful coaches in regular season history in the middle of the current season.
*We’ll take a closer look at what the playoff prospects look like for Phoenix, Utah, Denver, and Portland tomorrow.
In the more immediate future, I worry about the potential spark this move may ignite in the Jazz players. With the Suns and the Jazz meeting in Salt Lake City on Friday and again in Phoenix on Tuesday, the two remaining meetings between these two teams on the year may go a long way toward determining the bottom quarter of the playoff field in the Western Conference. If the Jazz go on a Pacers-like run (Indiana is 5-1 since replacing Jim O’Brien with Frank Vogel) over the next few games, the Suns would be caught right in the middle of the buzzsaw when they can least afford to pile up losses.
Will a playoff-caliber team like the Jazz respond to an in-season coaching change in the same way that the Pacers did? There’s only one way to find out, but I sincerely hope not.