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Basketball notes

No need to jazz up his record

By Marc J. Spears
Globe Staff / December 14, 2008
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They say records are made to be broken. But with 1,010 wins with the Utah Jazz, it will be virtually impossible for anyone to come close to Jerry Sloan's growing NBA record for coaching victories with one team.

Sitting a distant second on that list is late Celtics patriarch Red Auerbach with 795 victories with Boston from 1950-66. But from the way the no-nonsense, old-school Sloan talks about Auerbach, you would have thought that Sloan was a distant second instead.

"I don't even consider myself in the same category as Red Auerbach," said Sloan, whose Jazz visit the Celtics tomorrow. "It just happened that the numbers have shown up, that's about it. Red Auerbach is a great coach. I don't consider myself that. I just consider myself lucky to be in the game. I love to compete. I love to win.

"Red Auerbach is a legend in his own world. I don't even consider that."

Among the things Sloan has in common with Auerbach is power. Players knew Auerbach determined whether their Celtics careers were long or short. While Sloan has never had general manager duties, the Jazz have given him power over his players, which has helped him get the most out of them.

The 66-year-old Sloan has had strong backing from Jazz owner Larry Miller and management since taking over for Frank Layden Dec. 9, 1988. And with that backing, Sloan has been at the helm longer than any other current coach in major American sports.

"They said the coaches were going to be here and the players were going to be expendable. That's the way Mr. Miller has handled things here," Sloan said. "He could have fired me on a number of occasions. I've been lucky to work under a situation like that. I think anybody with that support will eventually get things going and work things out."

Sloan has coached 123 players and has seen 224 NBA coaches come and go during his tenure. This season alone, Toronto's Sam Mitchell, Minnesota's Randy Wittman, Oklahoma City's P.J. Carlesimo, Washington's Eddie Jordan, and Philadelphia's Maurice Cheeks (yesterday) have lost their jobs. Maybe teams would have more success if they used the Jazz's blueprint and had more faith in their coaches.

"Once the player knows their coach is going to be there, it puts them in a little different position," Sloan said. "First of all, their agents know they can't get rid of you. That gives you a fighting chance to have a chance to succeed. Now, if players don't like the coach they complain to the general manager and fire the coach and somebody else takes over.

"So, what do you have? You wait until the next guy comes in."

Coaching in small-market Salt Lake City, Sloan has never received his due nationally or been named NBA Coach of the Year. But this summer he should finally get the respect he deserves when it is expected he will be named to the Basketball Hall of Fame. While being a Hall of Famer would be an honor, don't expect the humble coach to plead to get in.

"Things like that, I don't have any control over," Sloan said. "I'm not a politician or anything like that. I just do my job and go home."

And even with all his success over 21 seasons with the Jazz, don't expect Sloan to retire any time soon.

"Money hasn't been a factor," he said. "I just enjoyed watching guys play, try to get better, and it's fun to see them compete. You have to go against guys that are getting after you a little bit and you have to respond to that. Guys can learn to do a better job with it.

"It's interesting. I don't know what else I would do, really. My health has been good. I just enjoy being around basketball."

From watch man to guard duty
Jose Juan Barea has quietly gone from former undrafted Northeastern University star to a starter with the Dallas Mavericks.

Barea was a two-time Bob Cousy Award finalist (given to the nation's best point guard) and the Huskies' No. 2 all-time scorer behind late Celtic Reggie Lewis, averaging more than 20 points per game in his sophomore, junior, and senior seasons.

Despite that, playing for a low-profile Division 1 program while standing about 5 feet 11 inches were reasons why Barea went undrafted in 2006. The Mavericks, however, signed Barea to a nonguaranteed contract Aug. 17, 2006.

After playing sparingly during his first two years, Barea is having a breakthrough season, averaging 7.4 points and 2.8 assists in 17.9 minutes while shooting 40.9 percent from 3-point range in 18 games (four starts) entering last night's game against Oklahoma City.

"I'm a positive guy," Barea said. "I have always tried to stay positive no matter what happens. I just keep working hard every day. This is only my third year, so I have to continue to work hard and come out and do my best."

Barea, a native of Puerto Rico, has been starting in place of the injured Josh Howard (ankle) of late. Barea scored 20 or more points in two straight games and averaged 18.8 points over five before being limited to 8 against Charlotte Thursday. He also nailed a 3-pointer to beat the Clippers Dec. 2 and scored 13 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter of the Mavericks' double-overtime loss to San Antonio Tuesday.

"I just like being on the court," Barea said. "It doesn't matter if I have to come off the bench or if I start. Josh needs to get healthy so I can come off the bench again. I do like coming out in front of the home crowd and starting, though."

Etc.
Not done
Once Dikembe Mutombo passes out his gifts, he hopes to return to the NBA for a final season, possibly with the Celtics.

The 7-foot-2-inch, 260-pound center said last week he hopes to sign with a team after spending Christmas with his family in Atlanta. The four-time Defensive Player of the Year said among the teams that have shown interest are Boston, San Antonio, and Miami. The former Rocket also said Houston has "not answered me." The 42-year-old, who has blocked 3,278 shots during his 17-year career, said he is in "good shape" from working out three hours a day with spinning classes, yoga, and weightlifting.

"You'll see me in the next two weeks," Mutombo said. "I will be somewhere. I really need to go back to playing. I've just got to make sure that I go to a place where I can be happy. There are about four to five teams that I've been looking at and about seven teams that have shown interest. It's up to me to make my decision."

The Celtics have the maximum 15 players and would have to waive one to make room for Mutombo. While Boston's starting center spot is solidified with Kendrick Perkins, his backups include seldom-used Patrick O'Bryant and undersized Leon Powe and Glen Davis. The Celtics have not replaced the veteran experience and length that free agent P.J. Brown brought late last season and have interest in Mutombo, but have not offered him a contract.

"The way Boston is playing right now with [Kevin Garnett], Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen, the team is heading in a direction toward winning another championship," Mutombo said. "It will be interesting if I made the decision to go there. It would be very good. I've been to the Finals twice [with Philadelphia and New Jersey]. I got close, but I walked away empty-handed. Maybe going to Boston would give me a chance to win.

"I would love to play until July and then retire after this season," added the eight-time All-Star. "My plan is to play this season. If my mind is set to play basketball, why not?"

The Dikembe Mutombo Foundation also recently announced its drive to gain donations by allowing contributions through text messaging. Founded in 1997, the foundation is attempting to eradicate many childhood diseases in the Democratic Republic of Congo. By text-messaging "Congo" to 90999, one can send a $5 donation to the foundation that will be charged to his or her cellphone bill.

Taking it easy
Hoping to ensure his star's long-term health and taking into account high minutes logged for USA Basketball in recent years, Cavaliers coach Mike Brown was aiming for LeBron James to average only 38 minutes per game this season.

So far, James, who is in his sixth season, has made it even easier on his legs, averaging 35.1 minutes. James, who turns 24 Dec. 30, averaged 39.5 minutes per game as a rookie during the 2003-04 season, which remains his career low. The 6-8, 240-pounder has been aided by numerous blowouts this season and played a season-low 17 minutes in a 117-82 win over Oklahoma City Nov. 26.

"I wanted to make a conscious effort to get him at 38 and I hoped for 36," Brown said. "To get it below that is exciting. Here's a guy that has also played a lot of basketball the last four or five years on the USA team. It takes a toll on your body."

Marc J. Spears can be reached at mspears@globe.com

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