Jerry Sloan doesn't carewhat the magazines say. Everyone knows that. Come Monday at training camp, he'll have his John Deere hat pulled down tight, ready to go, same as always.
But for those who actually do care, there's this: Never in Sloan's career has there been more respect. With the season-opener a month away, the preseason publications are practically falling over themselves to give credit.
Could it be Sloan has become his own nightmare — a sentimental favorite?
"I have no interest in that sort of thing and never have," said Sloan.
This year, training camp is in St. George, and Sloan will be loving it: the work, the pain, the challenge. He even loves it when there's skepticism. The difference is, this year there's not much of that to be found. He has a precocious draft pick that has already publicly said he wants to be Rookie of the Year, a center with a full set of teeth and a decent perimeter shot, and a power forward the same size as Karl Malone.
Now if the magazines would please move to the safe part of the gym, Jerry wants to get to work.
Although Sloan dismisses preseason hype, that hasn't stopped numerous publications from announcing their early season predictions. With additions such as Nevada rookie Kirk Snyder, ex-Piston's big man Mehmet Okur and Olympian Carlos Boozer, some feel the Jazz will be back in the playoffs after a one-year absence. All are crediting Sloan for the quick turnaround after the departures of Malone and John Stockton.
"The Jazz will contend for a playoff spot because it's just that good and because Sloan is just that good of a coach," says Lindy's Pro Basketball.
It adds, "Sloan remains one of the best coaches in the NBA, despite never having been named Coach of the Year."
Lindy's is calling for Sloan to win that award this year.
"The longest-tenured coach in any professional sport, Utah's Jerry Sloan is getting better with age," raves Street & Smith's.
It continues, "Granted, Andrei Kirilenko is a stud. But who were Carlos Arroyo, Raul Lopez, Raja Bell and Jarron Collins? Winners, thanks to Sloan."
"Suddenly," it concludes, "a team that wasn't known for depth, even in the glory days, is loaded. If the Jazz fulfill their potential — and Sloan won't have it any other way — the transition from those days will be complete."
The Sporting News Pro Basketball edition gives the Jazz an A in coaching.
Fact is, Sloan loved last year, in spite of the uncertainty.
There's something about the hardscrabble rural Illinois upbringing that makes him want to fight. Picked by several experts to have the worst record in the league, and by one to set an all-time record for futility, the Jazz won 42 games and narrowly missed the playoffs. That wasn't surprising, it was shocking. Sloan's deadpan response: "When you think about it, we really didn't do anything except go home early. We missed the playoffs, which isn't a really exciting thing to happen."
This year, though, the Jazz will be no surprise. Their draft is rated an A-minus by Athlon Sports Pro Basketball, and TSN says they had the best draft in the Northwest Division. Street & Smith's considers their offseason acquisitions a five-star effort, while Lindy's gives them an A-plus and has them returning to the playoffs.
TSN's preseason power poll rates Utah the 12th-best team in the league; Steve Kerr of Yahoo!Sports ranks them the fourth-best team in the West.
Most publications expect them to finish third in their division, behind Minnesota and Denver but ahead of Portland and Seattle.
Writes Kerr: "A year ago I looked at the Jazz roster and predicted 25 wins. I should have realized that with Jerry Sloan at the helm, that just wasn't going to happen. Sloan has established a foundation so strong in Salt Lake City that even the departures of Stockton and Malone didn't faze him . . . Utah should be back in the playoffs."
All of which is merely background clatter to Sloan. He didn't worry about the negativism last year, and he's not paying attention to the preseason buildup this year.
"There are so many things to be concerned about on a day-to-day basis, that's not one of them," said Sloan.
Someone else can be in charge of predicting.
He's in charge of winning.