Asked recently why his team struggles so much when any starter is absent, Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said, "Just look at our roster."
His response was surprisingly defensive and refreshingly realistic, while probably intended to justify the other players as much as himself. Yet that’s one of the few times Corbin has acknowledged the makeup of a team that’s designed for player development and draft positioning — and his difficult job amid all of it.
So just where Corbin fits into the Jazz’s future is the franchise’s biggest subject of the remaining three months of the season. The market will determine Gordon Hayward’s value as a restricted free agent, but Corbin’s status is strictly up to Jazz management.
This is tricky because it involves subjectivity. The judgment of Corbin comes down to two basic issues: How the players respond to him and how much they improve. Winning or losing has to be a partial gauge because it reflects the players’ growth, but it’s not that simple. And if the Jazz make any move before next month’s trade deadline, it will be subtraction, further challenging Corbin.
If a decision absolutely had to be made today, I’d say Corbin deserves a new contract. He’s earned it with the Jazz’s recovery from a 1-14 start with a 13-15 record since then — although they’ve been terrible in consecutive losses to Minnesota, having trailed by a combined 56 points after three quarters of those games.
My overriding point is there’s more to be done, and the evaluation of Corbin must continue through April. Jazz CEO Greg Miller said last summer that he liked having a coach with an expiring contract, keeping him from being "too comfortable." Miller added, "We all know there’s weaknesses in his game."
So to say Corbin is safe because the franchise values stability is unrealistic. That should be reassuring to those who believe the Jazz need a coaching upgrade as they move forward. Yet it also would be unfortunate if, as some observers say, he’s already doomed because general manager Dennis Lindsey is not the one who hired him. Corbin and his staff deserve a chance to prove themselves in the last 39 games, and I believe Lindsey will give them that opportunity.
Corbin was set up to fail when this season began. The roster was designed intentionally to be inexperienced and inferior. The Jazz had no capable point guard other than rookie Trey Burke, who would miss the first 12 regular-season games with a broken finger, and little outside shooting ability. So when the Jazz started 0-8 and 1-14 — and nobody knew what Burke would become, at that point — it was both unreasonable to blame Corbin and realistic to think he may not survive the season.
With what the players describe as an upbeat, encouraging approach, Corbin has kept this season from turning into a disaster. The players have battled through the tough times, which reflects well on their coach. So dealing with failure is not an issue, although handling success is a problem. They’re not embarrassingly bad anymore, yet the Jazz never should act satisfied.
"It’s a trap," Corbin said. "You win a few games … you drop it down a notch."
Of course, being too happy is not a concern after those two drubbings by Minnesota, which are not fully explained by Hayward’s missing one of the losses and Derrick Favors’ being sidelined for the other. The Jazz are 3-21 when any current starter is absent.
Summarizing the season, Corbin said, "Trying to find out what we’re going to get from each guy every night has been frustrating. But it is part of the process, and I understand that."
The quest for consistency will determine whether Corbin remains the Jazz’s coach beyond April. In that sense, his future is up to his players.
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