Kragthorpe: Jazz’s Corbin needs playoff shot to prove himself
Utah Jazz • Corbin is 86-88 during his tenure in Utah.

By Kurt Kragthorpe

Tribune columnist

Published: April 14, 2013 06:22PM
Updated: April 13, 2013 11:37PM
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Kurt Kragthorpe

If the Jazz miss the NBA playoffs, coach Tyrone Corbin will spend the summer wondering about certain shots that could have changed everything for his team.

Like the wide-open jumper that Golden State’s Carl Landry missed Friday night in Los Angeles.

With two games remaining, the Jazz find themselves in a position that they should have been able to rise above — needing help from the Lakers’ opponents just to make the playoffs. Otherwise, their season will end Wednesday, and my questions about Corbin’s coaching ability will persist through the offseason.

Only by competing favorably in a playoff series could Corbin show improvement after his performance last spring, when he was overwhelmed against San Antonio. In the absence of any such evidence this season, 2013-14 will become critical in the judgment of Corbin.

The reality is that an overhauled roster may give Corbin less material to work with, creating an opportunity for him to demonstrate his worth. And he’d better deliver.

Even in an organization that values continuity, having last fired a coach in 1981, Jazz management undoubtedly will scrutinize Corbin next season to determine whether he’s truly the right coach to lead a rebuilding team. The evaluation is tricky at this point because each of his three seasons has come with an asterisk.

By suddenly taking over for Jerry Sloan in February 2011 and having his best player (Deron Williams) traded two weeks later, staging a lockout-shortened training camp last season and having this year’s team filled with key players about to become free agents, Corbin has faced circumstances unlike those of any NBA coach in his first three years on the job.

In many respects, Corbin has responded admirably. He has managed the intertwined, conflicting responsibilities of developing young players, remaining loyal to veterans and trying to win games. My default position is to endorse him. He’s a good man. And I believe having an African-American coach thrive in the state’s most visible sports job only could improve the image of Utah as a place of increasing diversity.

But observing Corbin’s work sure is frustrating.

Corbin mismanaged forward Gordon Hayward’s playing time during a key stretch in March, wearing him down in the second halves of games before finally starting him and properly distributing his minutes. Only recently did Corbin apparently discover a standard practice at all levels of basketball, making offense-defense substitutions on important possessions.

The Jazz’s most successful end-of-game sequences, including a buzzer-beating shot against San Antonio and a clinching 3-pointer last Sunday at Golden State, have come from point guard Mo Williams dribbling out high and shooting, not from any cleverly designed plays. And Williams’ self-reliance at critical moments has created as many negative results as positive.

It’s true that Williams’ absence for 32 games following thumb surgery and short-term injuries to other players have complicated Corbin’s job. His adjustments have improved the Jazz’s offensive efficiency in the second half of the season, while making leading scorer Al Jefferson more team-oriented.

Yet if Corbin could win the full-season equivalent of 44.7 games (36-30) after the lockout, he should have done more this season with upgraded talent. The best he can finish is 44-38, owing mostly to a 12-27 road record with two games left.

Close games tend to even out in the NBA, but consecutive losses at Milwaukee, Cleveland and Chicago in early March — with the Jazz continually in position to win — are haunting them now.

“You can always look at a game or two or three and say, ‘Man, if we had gotten that game,’ ” Corbin said Friday, amid the helplessness of hoping for a Laker loss to aid his team’s playoff quest.

The Lakers won again, thanks to Landry’s miss for Golden State, but Kobe Bryant’s injury will affect them in their last two games. That could be just the opening the Jazz need, although they have to play at Minnesota and Memphis.

Two wins would give Corbin an 88-88 career record. That would be an achievement, considering his 5-18 start. But missing the 2012-13 playoffs would leave his work unfinished, and questions about him unanswered, until next season.

kragthorpe@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribkurt

Corbin’s Jazz coaching record

Season Record Pct.

2010-11 8-20 .357

2011-12 36-30 .545

2012-13 42-38 .525

Total 86-88 .494

Playoffs

Season Record Pct.

2011-12 0-4 .000

Utah at Minnesota

P Monday, 6 p.m.

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