The rebuilding has begun.
Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin sat three starters for the entire fourth quarter Monday, then kept Al Jefferson on the bench throughout overtime against the Washington Wizards.
All the while, Corbin let his rookies run. Gordon Hayward, Jeremy Evans and Derrick Favors responded by temporarily bringing Utah to life, overcoming a 10-point fourth quarter deficit before the Jazz eventually fell 100-95 at EnergySolutions Arena.
After Utah's (36-39) most humbling and embarrassing defeat of the season, Corbin acknowledged that the team's youth movement is one step away from overdrive. Corbin will spend Tuesday evaluating a flat, directionless team that has dropped six straight games, come as close as possible to playing its way out of a playoff berth, and handed Washington (18-55) only its second road win of the entire season. And a coach as frustrated as one of the players that he benched is considering giving Hayward, Evans and Favors the green light for the remainder of a lost season.
The young trio combined for 29 points on 13-of-23 shooting, 17 rebounds, six assists and six blocks in 82 minutes, led by Favors' 11 points and 10 rebounds.
"I was very encouraged [by them]," said Corbin, who let out another heavy postgame sigh before addressing the media. "They did a good job with just bringing energy, man, and they played hard. They counted on each other; they trusted each other on the defensive end."
They did everything that key Jazz veteran starters did not, providing the life that has often been lacking during a surreal two-and-a-half-month slide that has seen the team drop 26 of 35 games after starting the season 27-13.
While Corbin opened up about Utah's disappointing lack of effort and energy, the Jazz's leading average scorer and rebounder again walked away without saying a word.
Jefferson strode past Corbin while he was speaking, then attempted to walk out of the arena without a comment. Approached by a Utah public relations representative, Big Al waved off an interview request and never looked back.
It was the third time in four games that Jefferson has denied a postgame interview. He also received a last-minute ejection Saturday during a home loss to Dallas, when he drew two technical fouls in one situation and appeared to intentionally have himself removed from the game by clapping in a referee's face for several seconds.
Jefferson was taken out of Monday's contest and replaced by Favors with 54 seconds left in the third quarter and Utah staring at a 73-63 deficit. But while Paul Millsap and Earl Watson eventually returned to the contest in overtime, Jefferson never did.
Corbin barely acknowledged his star center while Jefferson silently sat on the bench. And during key late-game timeouts, Jefferson stood as far away from Utah's huddle as possible, at times just chewing on a mouthpiece and looking at the crowd dead-eyed while a kneeled Corbin preached away.
Corbin said that he was not sending a specific message by keeping Jefferson out of the game. But he also never specifically explained why the center failed to return.
"The young guys were playing well," said Corbin, who is just 5-16 since taking over the team Feb. 10 after Jerry Sloan's resignation. "They played hard. They had success. They got us back in the ballgame. I thought they deserved to be on the floor."
So Corbin stuck with them. And after being stuck between rebuilding and desperately pushing for the playoffs Utah's postseason elimination number dropped to two with the loss the Jazz are finally moving forward. Shaky and uncertain; frustrated and flustered; and with no single premier talent to build around. But forward.
Asked if they're ready to carry a heavier load during the organization's darkest time since the the post-John Stockton, Karl Malone years, the rookies did not hesitate. Evans said that he will continue to bring high-flying energy. Hayward's confidence continues to improve. Favors? He just wants to be on the court when the ball is in play.
"I didn't know how long he was going to leave me while I was out there," Favors said. "I was just trying to play hard."
Jazz guard Raja Bell left the game late during the third quarter with a sprained right foot. X-rays were negative, but he did not return.