A free throw, a layup and a rebound.
If any or all of those plays had gone the Jazz’s way at the end of road games last week, their playoff chances would be more favorable. So would my evaluation of coach Tyrone Corbin.
That’s how this stuff works. If Paul Millsap makes a free throw in Milwaukee, Mo Williams converts a layup in Cleveland and anybody in a Jazz uniform rebounds the ball in Chicago, Corbin is judged better. The reality is he’s responsible for those losses. And only if the Jazz make the Western Conference playoffs can Corbin’s first full, 82-game season be considered successful.
His team probably overachieved for much of this season, but if Corbin’s work in the first two-thirds of the schedule is undone by the ending, he will have failed.
The franchise’s long-range outlook hardly hinges on whether this team qualifies for 2012-13 playoffs as a No. 8 seed. Yet I still say it’s meaningful, and that make-or-miss opportunity will serve as a fair measurement of Corbin.
I want to believe in Corbin, I really do. But every time he seems to be proving himself, he regresses. When the Jazz beat Golden State right after the All-Star break, giving him a 75-74 career record, that was monumental. It meant Corbin had gone 70-56 since his 5-18 start after taking over for Jerry Sloan under tough circumstances. His current team stood 31-24, while having absorbed most of Williams’ lengthy absence following thumb surgery.
But then Corbin and the Jazz gave it all back by losing seven of eight games before beating Detroit on Monday. Two losses came in overtime; two other defeats could have been reversed by last-second shots, which the Jazz missed.
In other words, Williams and Gordon Hayward could have made Corbin look good. Yet when Corbin said of his team’s wobbly play in fourth quarters, “You’ve got to be able to manage those moments,” he should have been speaking of himself.
Coaches should be judged by how their players respond in late-game sequences — and not just at the very end. Williams could have salvaged a win at Cleveland, but the real story was how the Jazz blew a 12-point lead in the final eight minutes when they became rattled and had defensive lapses. And the way Corbin managed Hayward’s playing time in a series of close losses undoubtedly resulted in his being worn down and ineffective at the end.
When the Jazz returned from their 0-4 trip, Corbin reflected, “It’s just part of the game, part of life.” And then he became defensive, paraphrasing the old Sloan stance that critics have never played in the NBA and harsh judgment is “what sells.”
The irony of that mini-rant is that last week, general manager Dennis Lindsey had gone on the Jazz-owned radio station and expressly invited fans, the media and everybody else to hold the team to a high standard.
That’s what I’m doing with Corbin. He’s faced his share of challenges, amid injuries and his dual mission of utilizing veterans Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap while developing Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter and other young players at the same time.
That’s not an easy job. But his bosses have given him enough support and resources. Jazz management left Corbin’s roster intact through the NBA deadline in February — not necessarily just to maximize this season’s possibilities, but enabling him to follow through on what he’d done to that point.
What’s more, during the entire Raja Bell saga, everything the front office did was to back Corbin. You’d better believe Jazz CEO Greg Miller would like to recoup some of Bell’s $3.4 million salary via a couple of home playoff games.
By giving Bell all that money to stay home this season, management reinforced the Jazz as a coach-driven franchise. What’s still in question is whether Corbin really is the right coach to drive it.