With any good business, everything starts at the top with leadership, which sets the tone for the entire organization. This is also true in the NBA. When teams have good owners, success usually follows. With good ownership often comes a good team president, general manager, scouting department and coaching staff. The Utah Jazz have had this since Larry Miller took ownership in 1985.
At this time, Miller already had a good coach in Frank Layden, who coached the team until 1989 and then served as team president and general manager. Even after Layden retired, Miller hired smart people to run the organization. Frank’s son, Scott Layden, served as director of player personnel from 1992-1998, helping construct a team that made back-to-back finals appearances. After Scott Layden left for New York, Miller hired Kevin O’Conner to rebuild the Jazz after the John Stockton and Karl Malone era ended. O’Conner built a team around Deron Williams, Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Oker that made it to the Western Conference finals. He also set up the young core that lead the Jazz today by drafting Gordon Hayward and trading for Derrick Favors.
After Miller’s death in 2009 his son, Greg Miller, and his wife, Gail, took over, and the Jazz haven’t missed a beat. In 2012, O’Conner decided he wanted to take a lesser role with the team, and Dennis Lindsey was hired as general manager. Lindsey had other offers before choosing the Jazz, but stability of ownership is what brought him to Utah.
Under Gail Miller and Lindsey’s leadership, the Jazz are looking like the next up-and-coming team. Rick Carlisle, head coach of the Dallas Mavericks, gave them high praise: "That’s a team that’s on the rise, that’s a team that’s the future of our league and they made a strong statement tonight." Charles Barkley on TNT said, “This Utah team has a bright future, got a good young team. ... Nobody has better young talent than the Utah Jazz.” High praise from some of the best minds in the game.
Miller was also patient and supportive of his coaches. After Layden resigned, Miller promoted Jerry Sloan to head coach, a position he held for 23 years. Miller could have fired Sloan after missed opportunities in the playoffs or during the rebuilding process post Stockton and Malone. Miller’s faith in Sloan paid off with only one losing season, numerous playoff runs and two finals appearances.
After Sloan’s retirement, the Jazz promoted Ty Corbin to head coach, who lasted only three and half seasons; following a legend is not an easy task. (Just ask Gary Crowton.) The Jazz decided not to renew Corbin’s contract and hired Quin Snyder to lead and develop this next generation of Jazz players.
Stability is something that the Miller family has brought to the Jazz from the beginning. Looking at the rest of the league shows that not every team is as competent in this area.
For example, the New York Knicks are owned by James Dolan, who took over ownership in 1999, and the team has performed abysmal ever since. Dolan has worked his way through multiple team presidents, general managers and coaches. Former Jazz executive Scott Layden ran the show in the early 2000s until he was fired in 2003.
Things went from bad to worse when Isiah Thomas took over as general manager and president, and he pretty much destroys everything he touches since he quit playing basketball. (Take a look at the Toronto Raptors, the Continental Basketball Association and the Indiana Pacers). Thomas hired and fired five coaches from 2004 to 2008, the last one being himself. A sex scandal with an intern also haunts the Knick’s Thomas era.
Dolan finally got smart and hired former Indiana Pacers executive Donnie Walsh as team president, who helped dig the team out of the salary cap purgatory that Thomas had put them in. Walsh also hired Mike D’Antoni as coach, who has been the best coach the Knicks have had since Jeff Van Gundy.
Dolan basically drove Walsh out after trading for Carmelo Anthony, for which he gave up half the team Walsh had been assembling. Walsh resigned in 2011 and Glen Grunwald took over until 2013, when he was surprisingly let go and replaced with Steve Mills. In 2014, Phil Jackson was named team president and decided to keep Steve Mills as general manager, but fired head coach Mike Woodson shortly after the season was over. His chose to replace Woodson was Derek Fisher, who had never on any level coached before and had just negotiated a poor CBA for the players association. Fisher only lasted a year and half and his tenure ended with a few weird stories involving ex-teammate Matt Barnes, Tim Hardaways Jr. and their ex-girlfriends.
Under the leadership of Dolan, the Knicks have had 11 coaches. (The Jazz in their history have only had eight.) Also during this time, they have had six team presidents/general managers. In the 16 seasons that Nolan has owned the Knicks, they have only made the playoffs six times, and most of them were early in his ownership since he took over a good team. Right now the Knicks are a mess and Dolan is the main reason why.
Another team to look at is the Sacramento Kings who are owned by Vivik Ranadive. Ranadive bought the Kings in 2013. In the short two and half seasons Ranadive has owned the Kings, they have had three coaches: Mike Malone, Ty Corbin and George Karl (the latter looks to be on his way out at the end of the season). Instead of standing by his coaches, he has stood by his knucklehead “all-star” DeMarcus Cousins, who is also a huge problem why the Kings are a mess.
Ranadive must like change because not only is there a rotating door for head coach but general manager as well. His first hire was Pete D’Alessandro, who had previously worked for the smart front offices like Warriors and Nuggets. A year or so into his tenure with the Kings, D’Alessandro was demoted and eventually let go in place of a former Kings player, Vlade Divac.
Divac was an interesting choice to bring in as general manager, since he didn’t have any coaching or general manager experience. Divac might be able to do a good job but the Kings need to bring in some strong front office help. The Kings and Divac were the laughingstock of the league after a trade went down between them and the 76ers. Not only did Divac give up way too much for no reason, but he didn’t even know that the league must approve all trades.
With the turnover in the front office/coaching staff and legitimately suggesting that the Kings run a four-on-five defense, Ranadive seems to have upset the majority of the minority owners. According to the Vertical’s Chris Mannix, “Kings minority owners have quietly explored ways to seize controlling interest from Ranadive.” Watching the draft video of the Kings war room during the 2014 draft, it’s easy to see why the minority owners don’t have much confidence in Ranadive as the owner. Who would have thought in just over two and half years, Kings fans may actually prefer the Maloof Brothers ownership?
The Jazz have been a first-class organization for 30 years and one that the Spurs modeled their franchise around in the late '90s. Under the Miller family’s leadership, they’ve made the playoffs 23 out of 30 seasons. Marc Stein of ESPN wrote, “Long before they [Spurs] became a factory for coaches and general managers, even before Duncan made it to the Alamo City, San Antonio looked at the Utah Jazz with the same sort of reverence with which rival teams study the Spurs today.” The Millers deserve praise for the way they run the Jazz, and here’s to many more years of their leadership.
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