HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Forget the recent slides for a minute.
Take a good look at both the Utah Jazz and Dallas Mavericks and recognize what they are right now: two teams that had lofty (and in the case of the Mavericks, championship) aspirations who are now suddenly forced to reassess things heading into the second half of this season.
They are a study in crisis management, two very different approaches to crisis management.
The Mavericks have already begun their process, as you knew they would after Caron Butler went down with a severe knee injury and Dirk Nowitzki continues to struggle while playing with a knee injury of his own. New faces dot the roster (Sasha Pavlovic, Peja Stojakovic) and the Mavs have to figure out how to play with without Nowitzki, who is showing his mettle playing on a knee that is clearly not as close to 100 percent as he or anyone in Dallas would like (take notes Jay Cutler):
“After three weeks out, my legs are gone at the half every game,” Nowitzki said. “I feel slow. And it wasn’t like I was a beast before.”
After listening to Mavericks owner Mark Cuban on the radio this morning — “we’re not done yet,” he told the guys on Mike and Mike in the Morning — it’s clear that the Mavericks aren’t ready to give up on their title hopes.
Some things, though, appear to be out of the equation for the Mavericks as the season moves forward. Chasing the Spurs for the top spot in Southwest Division, Western Conference and the entire league is no longer the top priority — or as Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News suggests, “it will have to wait until the 2011-12 season.”
Still, the Mavericks’ proactive approach to their recent slide (3-7 in their last 10 and down to 5th in the Western Conference standings) has to make their fans feel at least cautiously optimistic about what could happen between now and the trade deadline next month.
On the flip side we have the Jazz, an organization that has operated a certain way for decades and doesn’t appear interested in changing, despite another mini-tailspin (losers of four straight for the first time in nearly two years and just 4-6 in their last 10).
The strongest words have come from the two most important figures in the Jazz operation, coach Jerry Sloan and All-Star point guard Deron Williams. And they are not speaking the same language right now. Sloan is preaching patience while Williams is talking about immediate solutions to a multitude of problems he sees with his team, as Brian T. Smith of the Salt Lake Tribune details here:
Williams said that a much-changed Jazz squad had a “better mesh of guys” in 2009-10, longing for the days when ex-Utah guards Wesley Matthews and Kyle Korver could command attention and respect from opposing defenses, in turn stretching the floor and balancing out the team’s offensive attack.
And Williams again pointed out the Jazz’s inability to run Sloan’s offense like it needs to be executed, as everything from Utah’s poor floor spacing and timing to the simple inability to set hard screens has prevented his team from “flowing.”
“We’re trying to run half of a system and then half just freelance,” Williams said. “We can’t do that. We’re not the Phoenix Suns. We’re not the New York Knicks. We’re not just coming out here and playing one-on-one. But that’s what’s happening. Things are breaking down and we’re going one-on-one the last five seconds of a shot clock.”
But Williams’ strongest statements were delivered when he was asked about the organization and coach that he plays for possibly making changes as a season past the midway point moves toward the Feb. 24 trade deadline.
He said “of course not” when it was mentioned that a franchise possessing Andrei Kirilenko’s expiring $17.8 million contract appears unlikely to make a major move as the stretch run approaches. Thus, the Jazz will likely have to dig their own way out of a deepening hole.
“That would be what [Sloan] wants,” Williams said. “I’ve heard him say that on numerous occasions. So I guess that’s what we’re going to have to do.”
When Williams was asked if he has the ability to ask Sloan for on-the-court changes, his response was layered in sarcasm.
“We’ve been running the same plays for 23 years. Why change now?” Williams said.
He added: “I’m just going to play basketball, man. That’s all I can do.”
If this sort of chatter makes Jazz fans nervous, we understand. When your coach and star point guard are on opposite sides of the fence like this, you should be worried about where you go from here.
Ultimately, Sloan will decide what goes on with the Jazz, same way he has for the past 23 years. But this can’t bode well for the future. Williams will be a free agent one day and you have to wonder if he wants to spend the prime of his career butting heads over the offense and personnel issues while his All-Star peers chase titles together elsewhere.
Crisis management. Similar issues with very different approaches to fixing them. Only time will tell what works best.