Two weeks into the NBA season, the Jazz are inviting comparisons to a legendary team in franchise history.
Not a good club, but a memorable one — the original New Orleans Jazz, whose coach was fired after only 15 games.
Having fallen to 0-8 after crumbling in the fourth quarter of Monday’s 100-81 loss to Denver at EnergySolutions Arena, the Jazz are threatening that franchise-worst 0-11 start of 1974-75. Naturally, the issue arises about whether coach Tyrone Corbin can last even until his contract expires at the end of the season.
Corbin definitely deserves an opportunity to coach rookie point guard Trey Burke, who broke his finger a month ago and is just now beginning individual drills. But to say Corbin is exempt from an in-season firing, just because the Jazz think of themselves as different from other pro sports franchises, would be ridiculous. If this team stops responding to him, there’s no point in prolonging his employment.
The Jazz are not at that stage yet. Eight games in the NBA is barely the equivalent of one college football game. With a road-heavy schedule and the absence of Burke, while forwards Marvin Williams and Brandon Rush are working their way into the rotation, there’s not enough material to judge Corbin.
Having said that, the Jazz’s performance is disturbing. At various stages of last week’s trip, they trailed Brooklyn by 26 points, Boston by 25, Chicago by 29 and Toronto by 38. Then came Monday’s finish, when 37-year-old Andre Miller nearly outscored the Jazz by himself in the fourth quarter.
Even in what’s already being written off as a season of draft positioning, that’s unacceptable.
After the latest episode, Corbin sounded defeated. Asked what went wrong at the end, he said, “Couldn’t make a shot … mistakes, turnovers. … We only scored 13 points in the fourth quarter. Tough to overcome.”
The thing is, Corbin is looking bad in comparison to coaches in similar rebuilding positions. Phoenix’s Jeff Hornacek (5-2), Philadelphia’s Brett Brown (4-4) and Boston’s Brad Stevens (4-4) are a combined 13-10, with the 76ers and Celtics each having beaten Miami.
Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey likes to say the organization is above the “blame-the-coach culture” of the NBA. Yet he’s obviously aware of what Hornacek (an ex-Jazz assistant coach), Brown (Lindsey’s former San Antonio colleague) and Stevens (Gordon Hayward’s college coach) are doing with their teams, while Corbin is winless.
Wednesday’s game — vs. New Orleans, coincidentally enough — is important to Corbin and the Jazz. If they lose to the Pelicans, it might be a long time before they ever win. They can’t succeed with league-worst statistics of 40.1-percent shooting and 86.9 points.
I was horribly wrong in believing the Jazz could piece together decent point guard play until Burke became available. John Lucas III and Jamaal Tinsley combined for four points and five assists in 46 minutes Monday.
With his right index finger in a black brace, Burke paused to sign autographs and pose for photos on his way out of the building. There’s no official timetable for his activation or the judgment of Corbin, as it relates to Burke’s development.
Ever since taking over for Jerry Sloan in February 2011, Corbin has faced difficult circumstances. He deserves to coach the 2013-14 team as it’s designed — up to a certain point, of course.
In that inaugural season in New Orleans, the Jazz fired Scotty Robertson with a 1-14 record. Corbin will last beyond 15 games, even if he’s 1-14 (or worse). But the day is coming when the Jazz will have to do what everybody else does, and start blaming the coach.