Monson: Corbin’s return to Jazz is hard to defend
Coach’s expiring contract and team’s defensive performance put him on thin ice.
Published: January 29, 2014 08:48AM
Updated: January 29, 2014 09:07AM
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Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Utah Jazz head coach Tyrone Corbin gives shouts instructions to his team, in NBA action. The Los Angeles Clippers beat the Jazz 105-104, in Salt Lake City, Monday, December 3, 2012.

Before the season started, members of Jazz management repeated again and again one of the primary measures of team success this year — for the players and particularly the coaches — would be the kind of defense it played.

That’s bad news for Ty Corbin.

The Jazz coach is in the last year of his deal, with no public indication that he’s any closer now to being retained than when the season began. Nor should he be at this point. He’s a smart man, a nice man, a good man, but is he the Jazz’s best option to lead them into their future? It’s a tough circumstance for a coach to deal with. If management believes a guy is its guy, that business should be handled early. If it is uncertain — read: skeptical — it will talk about the need for players to show more, for coaches to show more, for everybody all around to produce in the effort/motivation department.

Translation: Play better defense.

It’s a code for … you’re in big trouble, bub.

Nobody has come out and said that, all straight and plain. But connect the dots here: coach in last year of deal, with no new contract in sight, new general manager brought in after Corbin had been made coach, with new perspectives, new ideas, new plans, and Jazz bosses come out and talk about playing all kinds of strenuous defense.

“Defense is big for us,” said general manager Dennis Lindsey. “The kind of defensive effort we get will be important.”

“We’ll judge this team on defense,” said Jazz president Randy Rigby. “We have to have that to compete.”

Corbin agreed, saying before opening night: “We have to defend. We have to.”

When asked what his expectations were for his team, Corbin’s first two words were “effort” and “defense.”

He knew the drill.

And he knows it now.

This is speculation, but it could be that Corbin is coaching for a job next season — on another team’s bench. It could be that the decision is a breath away from already being made. Maybe it’s a breath past already being made. Don’t know it, just sense it.

Asked about his contract status on Monday night, Corbin said: “I don’t want to talk about that. I don’t even want to think about it. It will work itself out.”

As for determining whether Corbin should be offered an extension, ask yourself two questions: Are the Jazz better individually than what they are showing on the floor as a team? Is Corbin getting the most out of them? That is any coach’s primary calling. Ask yourself one more, as the code words are freely spoken: Are the Jazz better on defense than they otherwise would or should be?

Everybody pretty much conceded this team would struggle at the offensive end, at least to a degree, with its core of younger players, including a rookie point guard, bound to make more mistakes in execution than its more experienced opponents. But the same has been true at the other end.

Forty-five games in, the Jazz are suffering through some recurring defensive problems. They give up 101.1 points per game, which places them 16th out of 30 NBA teams. But their defensive rating is 109.6, which ranks 29th. The defensive rating is a key stat that totals points allowed per 100 possessions.

As for efficiency on the floor, Jazz opponents are hitting .465 percent of their attempts, .500 percent from two-point range, which ranks the Jazz defense 26th overall, while their own offense makes .440 percent, ranking 21st. That’s a huge advantage for almost every team the Jazz face, gifting over that many percentage points. As has been their tradition for many seasons, the Jazz also foul more than their opponents, yielding an edge to those opponents of more than 100 scored points from the line.

“You have to learn, being a young team,” Corbin said. “Some nights, when you think they’re fresh and there’s going to be a lot of energy, it’s just not there. You’ve got to figure that out. Some nights, we’re showing great signs. That’s part of being young and going through it.”

Lack of savvy contributes to the problem, as the Jazz learn to read and recognize opposing strategies, attempting to counter them with quick and crisp rotations. But the aforementioned effort also comes into play. Both halves of that equation fall on Corbin. He must teach and motivate, finding ways to get more out of his players, many of whom have the athleticism to D up, but who sometimes drift away when it comes to dialing down.

It’s a simplified conclusion, but if Jazz players want their current coach to remain, they’d best play better defense. If they don’t, they won’t.

It might not matter.

Corbin might already be gone.

I’m not certain about that. Nobody has whispered that from the inside. But those damning dots are lined up.

Even if defense really is the measure for the man, at this juncture, it doesn’t look good for his return.

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.