SALT LAKE CITY — Derrick Favors is all signed up, an apparent mainstay for the foreseeable future. Gordon Hayward, in a worst-case scenario, will be a restricted free agent next summer. The Jazz’s reconstruction is moving forward. But one issue still unclear as the season opens Wednesday at EnergySolutions Arena is the status of coach Tyrone Corbin.
Entering his fourth season, Corbin’s future is as uncertain as any player’s. That didn’t keep him from being his agreeable self on Tuesday. Asked if it feels as though he has been coaching far longer than 2½ seasons he laughed: “Feels like I’ve coached longer than I played in this league (15 seasons).”
Judging by his remarks all preseason, Corbin is neither unrealistic nor pessimistic. He is what could be expected: cautiously optimistic about his team, but also about his job security. That’s about all he can be. He has never won a playoff game. The team sneaked into the postseason in 2011-12 but was embarrassed by San Antonio in a sweep. Otherwise, they have been May absentees.
That’s not good enough for a franchise that once generated 18 straight playoff seasons and even got to the conference finals as recently as 2010. But that was before Derongate brought it flaming down in early 2011. The Jazz were struggling and Deron Williams was simmering and Jerry Sloan was growling and the clock was ticking. Sloan quit on a weird, feverish night after arguing with Williams in the halftime locker room. Soon the Jazz changed the franchise by trading Williams for Favors, Devin Harris and a draft pick that became Enes Kanter.
But battling for the final playoff spot was the new ceiling for the Jazz and they knew it. Last summer they waved goodbye to a slew of free agents, including Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson. The youth movement was on.
Thus Corbin’s case remains complicated. He got handed the job as a meltdown was in progress. Not only did he have to fill in for Sloan, but remake the team minus its star point guard. Last year he dealt with the waning days of the Jefferson-Millsap era, knowing neither would be with the team this season. Now he is directing the growth period as the Jazz rebuild with young players.
On one hand, it’s hard to imagine other coaches doing better under the circumstances. Corbin’s win-loss record is identical (87-89) to the first 176 games of Sloan’s Hall of Fame career. But only five current NBA coaches have been at their job longer than five years. There were 13 coaching changes last season, including one involving the league's Coach of the Year, George Karl.
In that sense, Corbin’s security is tenuous.
The Jazz are predictably tight-lipped on his status, but the devil is in the details. He hasn’t received a contract extension and this is the final year of his deal. Asked how he’ll evaluate his success, he said, “It will be all over the board. I evaluate myself and where we are differently than everybody else does. I want to make sure we’re growing.”
General manager Dennis Lindsey reiterated his policy of not discussing contract situations of either players or coaches.
“I’ll say this,” Lindsey said. “We’ve all set benchmarks of how all of us will be judged.”
Three of those benchmarks, he said, will be defense, developing talent and showing discipline. The latter, he added, is expected of both players and management.
It's likely the Jazz are a 25-win team. They have no guaranteed scorers, uncertainty at point guard and — as much as management likes to reference the 2004 Detroit Pistons or the current Indiana Pacers — no proof they can be a superstar-less success.
Although a high draft pick next year would benefit the Jazz in the long run, they insist they aren’t tanking this season. Neither Corbin nor Lindsey will say how many wins qualify as a good year. But it seems simple enough from the outside looking in: They need to make the playoffs.
Less than that and it’s just more of the same.
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