Tyrone Corbin is happy to have the final year of his contract picked up by the Jazz, an exercised option on Tuesday that makes him the team’s coach through this season and next.
That’s a positive for him and it’s a positive for the Jazz. And here’s why: From the start of the 2012-13 season, Corbin can focus on the business of building something potentially great instead of concerning himself with something realistically good.
He has that opportunity now, without the immediate duress of feeling the pressure is on to win every single game no matter what, to the point where he worries too much about his win totals, and how they look, and not at all about developing a young team that could have an eventual shot, if it is grown properly, at accomplishing more than what this team will do this year.
Translation: He can go ahead and give more minutes to Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks. He can experiment more to find the right combinations for the present and the future, without grabbing hold of the same old safety of good. That safety includes giving Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and other veterans the vast majority of the minutes.
This should be the year of Favors, Kanter and Hayward. It should be their breakout year, the year when they ascend to whatever it is they’re going to be as NBA players. The curve of growth is still there, particularly in the case of Kanter, who is only 20 years old. But the only way the big puppy will become the big dog is if he is fed minutes — a lot of minutes.
The same is true for Favors and Hayward.
Confidence is a big deal, aside from talent, the most important factor in any athlete’s progression, and the only way those youngsters can gain it is to get important minutes in important games, early and often.
It is time for Corbin to give a nod to youth.
There are a couple of problems with doing that: 1) It is typically not the Jazz’s way, and 2) Jefferson and Millsap are in contract years, along with most of the rest of the team.
Let’s address that last one first. If the Jazz want to trade Jefferson, to get something in return for him as an asset, they obviously would have to do it before the trade deadline. If that were their plan, they might want to showcase Jefferson in the run-up, making him as attractive as possible, alongside the fact that he’ll have an expiring heavy contract at season’s end. Dealing for him would give a trade partner a scoring big man and flexibility. Flexibility, especially, is valued in a major way around the league. Millsap falls into the same category, although his deal isn’t as much of a burden.
It was interesting that the Jazz named both of those guys, along with Mo Williams, as team captains. They are the veterans, they are the known elements to a team in transition. But being known for what they have been — good — isn’t necessarily the answer for what the Jazz should or could be. And that leads us back to No. 1.
The Jazz can hang onto and move forward with the givens: Jefferson’s low-post game and Millsap’s plucky-tough hustle. But if they do, they also get their weaknesses — Al’s bad defense, his propensity to stop the ball at the offensive end, and Millsap’s small stature and his tendency to foul.
If Corbin plays the vets too much, he’s bound to get the same results he did a season ago — a peripheral playoff finish. They’ll be good, and only good. That can be celebrated, but only by those who cling to security, those who are too easily satisfied. But if Corbin wants the Jazz to elevate themselves to something more, he has to give generous minutes to Favors, Kanter and Hayward, maybe Burks, too. Has to.
He can still play Jefferson and Millsap, et al., but, this season, the younger players must step up, must be given a chance to step up.
On this team, the Jazz have lottery picks — Favors, a No. 3; Kanter, a No. 3; Hayward, a No. 9; Burks, a No. 12; Marvin Williams, a No. 2; and Randy Foye, a No. 7. Develop and utilize that talent boldly and George Allen’s old idea that the future is now can be turned on its bean.
That group would play better defense, would enable the Jazz to rebound — Kanter would lead the team in that regard — and get out in transition more readily and it might even foul less. Since the Jazz perennially lead the league in fouls committed, closing the discrepancy between the number of free throws they get and make against what their opponents get and make would win them more than a few games by itself.
It’s up to Corbin, though, and how confident he is in his position and in his ability to bring the youngsters along, even on those tough nights when they make mistakes.
The Jazz already have done good. They’ve done that year after year after year. They’ve done good as well as anybody in NBA history.
If they ever want to do great, they have to get these guys on the floor, turn them loose, allow them to run and play and grow. In the months ahead, they’ll have to make additional strong personnel choices. In the meantime, they should take a chance on the choices they’ve already made. They should show a little faith in what they haven’t yet seen.
GORDON MONSON hosts "The Big Show" weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 1280 AM and 960 AM and 97.5 FM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.
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