Cleveland — Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin has spent nearly two weeks considering making a major change to Utah's starting lineup.
He's about to pull the trigger.
Corbin said Monday he plans to move second-year forward Gordon Hayward to the bench against the Cavaliers, using a veteran-heavy first unit that features Devin Harris, Raja Bell, Josh Howard, Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson.
"I think [Hayward] will respond to it. He's been great," Corbin said after shootaround at Quicken Loans Arena. "I expect him to continue to develop and be an asset to us."
Corbin said the change could be permanent, and might last throughout the remainder of the 2011-12 season.
"If it go well, then we can go with it for a while," Corbin said.
Utah's coach first acknowledged considering the move after the Jazz fell 100-98 to Minnesota on Feb. 22 — a last-second loss that saw Utah blow a 16-point fourth quarter lead. Corbin continued to contemplate the change during the All-Star break, but wanted to wait until Bell returned to action before making a final decision.
However, Corbin started privately considering the idea of promoting Howard when the nine-year veteran showed signs of returning to starting form during a hot streak that lasted from Dec. 31 to Jan. 11. A strained quadriceps slowed Howard's progress, but he's averaged 13.3 points on 47.8-percent shooting and 7 rebounds during the last six games, filling in for Bell in Utah's starting lineup.
"When he was [first] starting to click, I was like, man, he adds a different dynamic for us," Corbin said.
Bell (strained left adductor) is expected to be active against the Cavaliers. During his absence, Howard started at small forward while Hayward held down the shooting guard position.
Hayward has started all 36 games for the Jazz this season, and at times has been Utah's best overall player. But the No. 9 overall pick during the 2010 NBA Draft has also continued to struggle with his consistency and sometimes disappears from games.
Corbin stressed his decision to make Hayward a reserve is not a demotion. Instead, the Jazz coach wants to strengthen Utah's first five as the team makes a second-half playoff push, while giving the Jazz's bench more offensive flexibility.
Hayward said he's comfortable with the move. However, he also thinks he's proven himself to be a capable NBA starter.
"[Corbin] just said, 'You're in the second unit. I'm going to use you to get the ball in your hands,' " Hayward said. "It doesn't matter. You just come in and have the same mindset and just do whatever you can to help the team win."
Utah entered Monday 11th in the Western Conference, just a half game ahead of 12th-place Phoenix. A Jazz team that's just 3-13 on the road is also in fifth and last place in the Northwest Division.
Utah could potentially have four lottery picks from the 2010 and 2011 drafts — Derrick Favors, Alec Burks, Enes Kanter and Hayward — teaming up in the second unit with backup point guard Earl Watson.
"Adding Gordon is easy," Watson said. "He's another player who can benefit playing fast and he'll make a lot of plays. He's a playmaker. I'm going to try and make him a scorer — get him in positions where he can score 12 to 15 points coming off the bench. So you have him, Burks, C.J. [Miles] — three guards — that's pretty tough."
Brian T. Smith