If you took a coach in a contract year, gave him a group of young players, most of whom had never started before, added a rookie point guard and no significant free agents, what expectations would you carve out for him so he could keep his job?
That’s the question facing Ty Corbin’s bosses this season.
The answer is simple — and complex, and it exists in the vacuum the Jazz have created for themselves and their coach as parts of the plan. Let’s call it something wild and crazy. Let’s call it “The Jazz Plan.”
It started during an offseason when management allowed its best players to walk out the door in free agency. Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap were good players, just not good enough to help the Jazz become legitimate contenders. If what the club was interested in was winning the maximum number of games it could in the 2013-14 season, it would have re-signed at least one of those guys, maybe both. But that’s not the goal.
The goal is to contend for a title — and to stay profitable as a business entity. Some think the Jazz only care about the latter, others believe they want both.
If they want both, with the way the NBA is structured, and with the realities of a small-market team inside that structure, the Jazz have one course to follow. It’s the one they are following.
It’s The Jazz Plan.
First, as mentioned, they let the expensive veterans walk.
Second, they moved up in the draft to select Trey Burke, their new point guard.
Third, they added a number of veterans with one year left on their deals that will not erode the Jazz’s financial flexibility heading into next offseason, when a larger number of quality free agents will be available.
Fourth, they now will allow five lottery picks — Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, Alec Burks and Burke — to evolve into whatever it is that they will be on the floor, and to demonstrate for the Jazz to whom they should pay large sums of money in seasons and extensions and deals ahead.
Actually, it’s at last more a revolution than an evolution. Most of those young players have been hampered in the past by the Jazz’s insistence on giving more expensive veterans their minutes — in an effort to win games and make the playoffs.
Now, it’s a whole new deal.
It goes back to the point of contend-shun.
It’s a rule seeded in the realities of the NBA that isn’t an option or guideline. It’s hard and fast. For the Jazz or any other small-market team to float to the top they have to get worse before they get better. They can’t simply reach into the free-agent market and haul out top-drawer talent, the kind of talent necessary to win a title, the way franchises in Los Angeles or Miami can. The Jazz have to scratch to get what they can, then grow what they’ve got.
That’s what they’ll do this season: Grow.
Alongside that growth will come pains — for them and their fans.
And this is where Corbin comes in, where the evaluation of Corbin comes in.
He won’t be judged — or eventually awarded a new contract — based solely on wins. He’ll get it by way of development, by way of those young players not only getting better, but playing harder.
On Monday, Corbin said his expectation for this season is “for us to compete each time we step out there on the floor.”
If the Jazz’s youngsters don’t compete, if they don’t improve, if they don’t bust it playing tough defense, if they don’t dive for loose balls, if they don’t run the floor, if they don’t run the right sets at the offensive end, if they don’t take two steps up for every one step back, or at least one step up for every two steps back, Corbin will be held accountable.
If they do accomplish that much, and still end up on the losing end a lot of nights, it will be OK.
That’s the next part of the plan: Landing in an advantageous position in next year’s talent-rich draft. The Jazz aren’t quick to admit this, but there are only two ways they will ever gain an authentic star player, a true difference-maker: 1) draft him and/or 2) develop him. They have to either trade for those picks or lose for them, all while they’re assembling and growing the rest of the roster. Under the rules of the new collective-bargaining agreement, and the punitive taxes it exacts from big spenders, the Jazz will be able to get some quality free agents, or talk trade with clubs who want to off load good players with heavy contracts. That’s the benefit of the aforementioned financial flexibility the Jazz have created and preserved.
But superstars can come here only through the draft.
Jazz general Manager Dennis Lindsey learned his craft, in part, in San Antonio. As well run as the Spurs have been, where would that franchise be now had it not been in a position all those years ago to draft Tim Duncan?
Unless the Jazz are setting him up as a scapegoat, Corbin won’t be let loose for losing too many games in 2013-14 and — horrors — putting the Jazz in a position to get Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker. His fate lies in teaching and motivating his young crew — on nights when they surprise and on nights when they get their heads kicked in.
If the Jazz don’t show reasonable progress, given their new opportunity, if they don’t play defense, they’ll be playing for either a new team or a new coach next year.
That’s the simple and complex answer to the Corbin question.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 and 960 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.