With his future up in air, Jazz coach juggles young roster.
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Throughout the tumult of last season, a year which to that point could be considered Tyrone Corbin's most delicate assignment, the man at the forefront of the Utah Jazz's rebuilding effort had a piece of advice for the seven players on his team facing free agency.
"I told the guys last year, 'Play your game and be as good as you can be,' " the Jazz head coach said last week. " 'Whether you're here or somewhere else, the best you can do is represent yourself.' "
What then helped the former Jazz forward manage a potentially volatile locker room now serves as advice for Corbin himself. The coach, entering his third full season at the helm for the Jazz, is in the final year of his contract and, according to the man who represents him in negotiations with the Jazz, an extension is unlikely.
As training camp opens with Monday's media day, Corbin has been presented with yet another set of objectives: this time developing a promising, but untested, young core with unknown quantities on the bench and his general manager asking earlier this summer that the team not be judged on wins and losses.
Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey said last week that Corbin, whose career record is 87-89, has "performed really well under these circumstances," but declined to comment on anything related to his contract status. Corbin's agent, Los Angeles-based Steve Kauffman, said the sides have not begun negotiating an extension.
"I don't expect anything to be done," said Kauffman, whose other clients include Jeff Hornacek and Monty Williams.
Kauffman said he would prefer for Corbin to sign a longer-term deal after the season.
As it turns out, the Jazz's most important free agent next summer likely won't be a player.
In an NBA where knee-jerk coaching reactions are the norm the Lakers fired Mike Brown five games into last season, after all this isn't necessarily a bad sign for Corbin, said Jeff Van Gundy.
Van Gundy coached the Houston Rockets when Dennis Lindsey was a young executive in the front office. Now a television analyst for ESPN, Van Gundy said Corbin's circumstances would "be excruciatingly hard" in most instances, but the Jazz's history of "never blaming the coach" bodes well for Corbin.
"If you're a good ownership and good management," Van Gundy said, "you don't need to see the result of the season to know if you have the right guy or not. You get to work with him every day; you know what kind of coach and person he is."
Corbin began his Jazz coaching career in 2004 as an assistant to Jerry Sloan, and spent seven years on the bench next to the Hall of Famer until he was thrust into the head job when Sloan unexpectedly resigned in February 2011. Two weeks later, the Jazz shipped Deron Williams to New Jersey, stripping the franchise and Corbin's roster of its most reliable and marketable player.
"The changes," Corbin said, "it's not just me. It's the league. The way things are, there's a lot of changes from year to year. We've certainly had our share of them."
In 2011-12, Corbin coached the Jazz to a 36-30 record in the lockout-shortened season. Last year, he was tasked with keeping veterans such as Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap happy while former lottery picks including Gordon Hayward, Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors were fighting for enhanced roles.
Even with the success of the season resting largely on the shoulders of players who would not return to the Jazz, Corbin made the young players a priority. He spent time most days with one of the young players, a group that also included Alec Burks and Jeremy Evans, going over selected film clips a job head coaches often delegate to assistants.
At the end of the season, after the Jazz finished 43-39 and two games out of the playoffs, Lindsey gave Corbin as much of an endorsement as the measured executive has.
"Ty's our coach and has the Miller family's full support," Lindsey said on April 18 after players had emptied their lockers. "You guys know how we do it around here. It's the blame-the-coach culture in sports; we subscribe to a little different philosophy."
Lindsey's plaudits make it difficult to imagine the Jazz replacing Corbin barring total catastrophe this season.
In April, Lindsey added, "Ty's, one, the right person to lead us; two, he's really growing as a coach."
That sort of confidence from management fuels Van Gundy's belief that Corbin is in a position to succeed with the Jazz.
"[Players are] not going to go and subvert the coach by going to management to bitch and moan about what's going wrong," he said. "They know the coach is going to be in place. Ty Corbin has done a great job."
After a summer in which the Jazz did most of their addition by subtraction plus one bold draft-day move the team lost its leading scorer, rebounder and assists man. The Jazz have seven new players on the roster, including Trey Burke, the No. 9 pick in the draft and presumptive starting point guard. Corbin has spent much of the summer getting to know them, scheming for ways to develop his key players while also managing some wins in the beefed-up Western Conference.
As one of the few teams in the West to have not significantly improved this offseason, the challenges for the Jazz and their coach will be plentiful.
Just like his bosses, Corbin is taking a patient approach.
"I look at it from the standpoint I'm going into my 10th year with this organization I know and respect a lot," he said. "Unfortunately, I'm in the last year of my deal, but I have a job to do."
Twitter: @tribjazz Tyrone Corbin
Head coach, Utah Jazz
Age • 50 | Career record • 87-89
2011 (replaced Jerry Sloan on Feb. 10) • 8-20
2011-12 • 36-30
2012-13 • 43-39
• Open training camp with Monday's media day at Zions Bank Basketball Center.