SALT LAKE CITY — It is possible, perhaps even probable, that the Utah Jazz will soon part ways with Tyrone Corbin, the organization’s head coach for the past three-plus years.
However, the final decision on Corbin’s fate has not yet been made by Jazz ownership and management despite what the New York Daily News reported, according to multiple people closely involved with the situation.
The day after general manager Dennis Lindsey said Utah brass and Corbin would “take a short decompression period to reflect on the season” before meeting to determine the coach’s future, NBA writer Mitch Lawrence reported that a decision has been made.
From his Twitter account, Lawrence wrote that a Jazz executive confirmed that the organization is “ready to pull the plug on Tyrone Corbin and go for a new coach.” He didn’t name any potential replacements.
The Jazz and Corbin’s camp vehemently denied the validity of Lawrence’s report.
“Not accurate. No discussion,” Jazz President Randy Rigby wrote in a text to the Deseret News while in New York for the NBA Board of Governors’ meeting.
Corbin’s agent, attorney Steve Kauffman, still has not heard from the Jazz about his client’s job situation.
“I’m not going to react to anything released by Mitch Lawrence based on my experience over the years,” Kauffman told the Deseret News. "As far as I know, there has been no decision made.”
That final verdict won’t be rendered until after the Miller family meets with Lindsey, Rigby and other members of management to determine whether to re-up Corbin’s contract or to go a different direction.
At Thursday’s locker clean-out, Lindsey said Corbin’s camp agreed to a process (details not given to media) that the team would complete throughout the regular season and that the evaluation would happen after the year ended.
“When we spoke to Ty and his representation during the year, we laid out (that) we wanted to take the full season,” Lindsey said. “We want to take a small period for all of us, Ty included, to decompress, so we’re not making a decision based upon the last possession, the last game and make an emotional decision. … And then in short order, we’ll come together with Ty and talk it out.”
On Thursday, Corbin said he preferred to reflect back on only this season — not his entire tenure since replacing Jerry Sloan after the Hall of Famer’s resignation in February 2011, nor what the future might hold.
Asked if he feels in his heart of hearts that he’ll be back in Utah next season, Corbin simply responded: “I always feel like I’m going to be where I am. Always.”
Corbin responded with fire in his eyes when asked about all of the negativity, including fans and media members calling for his job and blasting his decisions, that has swirled around Jazzland this season.
“You know what? Misery loves company, man. There are some miserable people. And they love talking about what somebody else is doing and not doing," Corbin said. "I think if you (they) focus more on what they are doing, they may have a chance to do something well. People like to criticize. That’s what it is. People like to read it. I don’t give a lot of energy to it myself.”
Corbin coached the Jazz to a record of 112-146 through two full seasons, one lockout-shortened campaign and the final 28 games of 2010-11 after Sloan’s departure. The Jazz ended his first partial season 8-20, unexpectedly made the playoffs in 2012, challenged for the final postseason spot in 2013 and then slogged and stumbled through a 25-57 youth development project this past year.
Corbin, who was involved in a couple of tough rebuilding seasons during his 16-year playing career, openly admitted Thursday that he knew the 2013-14 season was going to be a challenge after Lindsey, Jazz executive vice president of basketball operations Kevin O'Connor and the Millers decided to not bring back experienced veterans and leading scorers Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap.
This season, after all, was more about development, defense and discipline (Lindsey’s three key D’s) as the Jazz decided to do a cannonball into the rebuilding pool.
That’s when Corbin, a former Jazz player (1991-94) and a fixture on Utah’s coaching staff since 2004, figured the odds were stacked against him in the final year of his contract. It's also important to keep in mind that the 51-year-old was not hired by Lindsey.
“Anything can happen in this league, man. I’ve been in it a long time. You want to have a fair shake and you want to have the best opportunity that you can have to win,” Corbin said. “The organization decided to go in a different direction from the guys that we had the year before. I knew it would be difficult.
“I said right from the beginning, ‘There’s no way when you change the roster like we changed (that) it’s good for the coaching staff, especially in the last year of their contract.”
The hard-but-somewhat-fulfilling part, Corbin has explained, is that this coaching staff had to spend an enormous amount of extra time on teaching basketball fundamentals to young players on top of trying to help them fine-tune the offense and defense while game-planning for opponents.
“Coaches who’ve been in a long time won’t put themselves in a situation where they have a young team, because of those things,” Corbin said. “It doesn’t matter how you scheme things when you have young guys. Young guys make mistakes in this league. … Young guys you have more of those roller-coaster rides, and the emotions go with it.”
Even so, Corbin believes he and his coaching staff helped the Jazz’s youthful nucleus — Trey Burke (21), Gordon Hayward (24), Derrick Favors (22), Alec Burks (22) and Enes Kanter (21) — blossom through the growing pains. Those players each logged 2,100 or more minutes, gaining valuable experience and getting an idea of what it really takes to excel in the NBA.
“The young guys listened and they worked,” Corbin said. “(They) kept coming back every day and tried to get better and not getting down on their selves, and staying with each other and encourage each other and continue to fight.”
On the other hand, the Jazz really struggled to score, finishing with the second-lowest offensive output of 95 points per game. Perhaps even more daunting is that Utah finished dead last in the critical team defensive rating category, giving up 109.1 points per 100 possessions.
“We ranked 30th and we all have to own that,” Lindsey said. “There was a young playing group, to be fair to Ty and the coaches, and a new playing group that we threw together. Young players taking different roles, different minutes. We’ll reflect on that.”
Lindsey knows Jazz brass put Corbin in a difficult position this season, even if it’s a year that is supposed to be important in establishing a “championship-caliber” foundation.
“The defense, the development, the discipline — there’s some wins here and there,” Lindsey said. “There’s some areas that we were average in and, frankly, there were some areas that we need significant improvement. All of that will be part of the evaluation process for the coaches and the players.”
Last month, Corbin got a vote of confidence from one of his predecessors in the Jazz coaching ranks: Frank Layden, Utah's bench boss from 1981-88.
“I think that Ty Corbin is perfect,” said the retired Layden, who coached the Jazz to their first playoff appearance in 1984 before the Stockton-to-Malone era. “He’s going to take the raps because that’s the nature of the game (for coaches). You take too much credit when you win and you take too much of the heat when you lose.”
Layden doesn’t watch the Jazz on a regular basis, having moved to San Antonio to live by his son, Spurs assistant general manager Scott Layden, in the winter. But he knows Corbin well and has faith that he can help turn things around if given the chance.
“Johnnie Wooden (told) us that a good coach is one that wins when he has good players. Nobody can win with bad players,” Layden said. “This organization said in the beginning of the season, if I’m not mistaken, that we were building for the future, and this is not going to be a very good team, but you have to be patient and everything else.
“Well, the patience has to start at home,” he continued. “How can you say that and then be critical of the coach? Give him good players. He’ll be fine.”
At this point, Corbin would probably settle for simply getting another chance.