SALT LAKE CITY — Tyrone Corbin didn’t tank this season. It takes just one look in his eyes to know. They’re the eyes of a weary, discouraged man. He inherited a team in chaos, headed for the depths.
Tankers don’t sweat after games, especially when they’re wearing $150 neckties. Sometimes Corbin looks like he played the fourth quarter. Watch him after a rare win over a good team such as Oklahoma City, or even lowly New Orleans. It’s not fake emotion. Neither is the haunted look he had after their 28-point loss to Golden State.
To borrow a phrase, he looked like the walking dead.
Yet Corbin has never, in the three-plus seasons he’s been the coach, lost his composure with media or fans. He could have after the loss to Dallas on Tuesday, when the Mavericks set a franchise record for field goal percentage in a quarter (94.1). Instead he focused on the team’s defense in the second half.
Avoiding excuses is harder than it seems.
“These guys are fighting hard,” Corbin said.
He has done his job the same way he did as a player, with pleasantness and effort, trying to focus on the big picture. Sadly, the picture for the Jazz is that they need a new coach. Not because the young players aren’t better than they were 3½ years ago, but because the team isn’t. Corbin is 111-143 since assuming the role in February 2011.
The strain is taking its toll, not just on Corbin, but at EnergySolutions. The place on game nights is as blank as a lunarscape. Sound ricochets off the empty seats. It’s never quite clear whether someone turned up the sound system, to simulate excitement, or it’s just louder when nobody’s home.
The Jazz should get a high pick in a better-than-usual draft. But realistically, it won’t be enough. They are 22½ games out of the last playoff spot. Joel Embiid, Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle and Dante Exum combined might not make up that much difference. The only way Corbin could keep his job is if management previously ordered him to tank. If so, he’s not doing a good job of hiding his frustration.
Remember when Jazz fans had a hard time digesting a No. 8 playoff position? Nowadays that spot would go down as smoothly as crème brulee. For many years, the Jazz were recognizable to fans even outside Utah. That continued from Stockton-Malone to Williams-Boozer. But now it’s a franchise of no-names. When Corbin inherited the team, Jerry Sloan was gone and Deron Williams was soon to follow. Carlos Boozer left the previous summer.
Although Corbin has posted winning records in two of his four seasons, he has only made the playoffs once, ending in a four-game sweep. Of the 30 coaches who began the 2010-11 season, only six remain: Gregg Popovich (San Antonio), Monty Williams (New Orleans), Rick Carlisle (Dallas), Tom Thibodeau (Chicago), Erik Spoelstra (Miami) and Scott Brooks (Oklahoma City).
Patience is a virtue, but in the NBA it’s only a concept.
In not extending Corbin’s contract last summer, the Jazz screamed what they would never say aloud: they didn’t want to take the risk. In time, with free agents and draft picks, Corbin could possibly get his team back to the low end of the playoffs. But that’s not what general manager Dennis Lindsey and CEO Greg Miller have in mind.
The team’s failure isn’t all about coaching. Does anyone really believe the Jazz have more top-level talent than their record shows? In ESPN’s heralded new statistic called Real Plus-Minus (RPM), which measures both offensive and defensive effectiveness, Gordon Hayward is the only Jazz player in the league’s top 150 (95th).
Although Lindsey has said there would be pain in the rebuilding, and it would take time, the Jazz have an image problem right now. Selling tickets is tough business, especially if the message is “business as usual.” That’s where Corbin comes in.
The Jazz should make a place for Corbin in the organization. No one in team history has represented the organization better. His composure under the circumstances has earned him that. His experience is valuable. But management can’t expect fans to buy into a 24-win team without making a change. To do otherwise would make it hard to look anyone in the eyes.
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