Tyrone Corbin, coach of the Utah Jazz, is in an unenviable spot. Then again, some would say he’s actually quite lucky to still be a head coach with the Jazz or the league at all. Corbin himself seems to be the last remaining piece of a puzzle that paints a very polarized Utah Jazz organization. If we rewind several years to when Ty was an assistant coach under Jerry Sloan, Jazz fans remember Corbin as an extremely promising coaching candidate. Ty was consistently being interviewed for coaching vacancies and was considered to be a good candidate, though he hadn’t been offered a head coaching job. As a Jazz fan, it was nice to have another valued coach on your bench. You felt comfortable you had the best coaching staff in the league when Ty sat alongside Jerry and Phil Johnson (a former Coach of the Year award winner) and it was somewhat bittersweet to think that at some point Ty would get hired to coach another team.
Jerry was in the midst of a cycle he created himself, where he would only renew his coaching contract one year at a time and always said that he would just walk away at some point. However, there was no hint he would he would leave when he did. After fielding a team that could reasonably call itself a contender for several straight years, it seemed an unlikely time for Jerry to break the hearts of Jazz fans and abruptly retire in the middle of a frustrating season. The Jazz front office claimed to beg Jerry to stay, at least for the rest of the season, but when that failed they didn’t waste any time. In a move that was likely meant to form some semblance of coaching consistency in the wake of the departure of both Jerry and Phil (who remained loyal to Jerry and walked away with him), the Jazz front office hired Corbin with no “interim” tag attached.
Another major reason for the immediate Corbin hire was likely due to the fact that superstar Deron Williams was rumored to be unhappy and a major part of why Sloan called it quits in the first place. They already lost Sloan, they didn’t want to let their star player slip away as well. Ty’s major strength has always been touted by the Jazz front office as being a coach that players like and want to play for, a trait that likely seemed to fit in well with the goal of keeping Deron, and the rest of a fractured locker room, tuned in for hopefully another deep playoff run. Shortly after, general manager Kevin O’Connor seized an opportunity to trade Deron to the New Jersey Nets.
It has to be said, and it has, that Ty was hired into a fairly decent situation with a team that had a superstar and in the blink of an eye was thrown into a pretty rough situation after the trade. Ty now had a decent group of veterans that were considered to be better than average in Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Devin Harris, Andrei Kirilenko and Raja Bell (a group that nobody would be convinced could contend in the playoffs) alongside a rebuilding project of Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors and a handful of future draft picks. What was Ty’s goal? Rebuild or win? Unfortunately for Ty, the roster was built to do neither. Ty went 8-20 for the rest of the season and it looked like the Jazz were headed straight into rebuild mode.
The following year, a lockout shortened season, derailed the Jazz’s hopes of an immediate rebuild. O’Connor chose to hang on to the bulk of the Jazz’s mediocrity-bound veteran core and Corbin was able to guide them to the last spot in the playoffs. Just good enough to get into the playoffs, get spanked by the Spurs in the first round with no real hope of advancing and miss the draft lottery. The no man’s land the Jazz were stuck in was compounded by the fact that the Golden State Warriors were just bad enough to keep the draft pick they owed to the Jazz that was top-seven protected. The pick turned into Harrison Barnes. Do you think the Jazz would like to have Harrison Barnes with their glut of young talent? The trend continued as the Jazz tried for the playoffs one last time in the next season and capped off a two and a half year period where they neither entered the rebuilding phase or were a threat to make any real noise in the playoffs.
The worst part of this run for the Jazz is that Coach Corbin has seemed to avoid any real plan, strategy or system. The trademark Corbin has found himself known by is that he will play whoever gives him the best chance to win at that very moment, without enough thought to the future of the team and franchise. Unfortunately for Jazz fans, this has meant a lot of time for mediocre veterans who are no longer with the team and much less time for the Jazz’s young core that needed to develop to lead the team in the future.
Ty now finds himself in the last year of his contract with the Jazz and faces a conundrum: What does a successful season look like from here? His new roster is not nearly talented or experienced enough for a shot at the playoffs. The Jazz likely are satisfied with that outcome, given the strength of next year’s draft class, but if he loses too many games will the front office really offer him a new contract? The only hope for Ty at this point is to get on the same page with new general manager Dennis Lindsey and develop a system that will work for the franchise over the next five to 10 years. No more playing for the eighth seed. No more settling for average. Corbin needs to show a real plan, a real vision to succeed, a road map that shows an NBA championship as the destination. This includes play calling, defensive and offensive schemes, positional roles and responsibilities and development/scouting. Based on the evidence Ty has provided us so far, it is far from certain that Ty has this type of vision for the team and it seems possible that he is just hoping to eke out enough wins to make it hard for the Jazz to let him go. Does Ty have any tricks up his sleeve for his most important season yet?