Jerry Sloan and longtime top assistant coach Phil Johnson will leave the Utah Jazz today, as first reported by the Utah radio station KSL, ending their 23-year tenure leading the Jazz. According to Adrian Wojnarowski and Mar J. Spear of Yahoo! Sports, Sloan decided to step down at halftime of last night’s loss to the Chicago Bulls following a dust-up with Jazz All-Star point guard Deron Williams, one of several “flareups,” as beat writer Brian T. Smith termed them, between the two this season.
A few weeks ago, I wrote Williams’ public dissatisfaction with the direction of the Jazz had more potential to harm their franchise than anything Dwight Howard, another player who can test free agency in 2012, could do to the Orlando Magic. Though Howard has at times called out his teammates for not defending on the wing, or delivering the ball to him on offense, he’s never challenged coach Stan Van Gundy’s authority, as Williams apparently did with Sloan several times this season.
That’s an important point: for all the rumors about Howard’s leaving, he’s never called out Van Gundy specifically, and he said earlier this week, “I never said anything about leaving.” Speculation that he’ll ditch Orlando won’t cease, no matter how much he’d like it to, until he signs a contract extension or re-signs with Orlando outright, and he could still depart anyway. Still, he’s kept whatever problems he’s had with Van Gundy in-house, and we should probably stop wondering if Van Gundy, the most successful coach in Magic history, might find himself out of a job anytime soon.