Whenever the next basketball season tips off for the Utah Jazz, there will be a new face manning the sidelines on Opening Night for the first time in 23 years following the abrupt, mid-season resignation of Hall of Famer Jerry Sloan last February.
That face will, of course, belong to 48-year-old Tyrone Corbin, the man now responsible for maintaining the winning culture Sloan established during his two-decade-plus tenure in Salt Lake City.
While this is certainly not going to be an easy task for Corbin given the debacle that was last year in Utah, there’s no reason to think the franchise is doomed and headed towards ruins under his watch.
In fact, quite the opposite is actually true. Jazz fans have plenty of reasons to be cautiously optimistic and even excited about the dawning of the Corbin-era in Utah.
On the surface, last season in Utah was a complete and utter disaster. For just the fourth time since 1982, the Jazz failed to make the playoffs en route to a 39-43 record.
Along the way, Jazz fans were forced to endure not only the resignations of both the legendary Sloan and his longtime assistant, Phil Johnson, but also the loss of the franchise’s best player and one of the NBA’s elite point guards in Deron Williams, who was traded to the New Jersey Nets two weeks after he essentially caused Sloan to call it a career.
For the average NBA franchise, these losses suffered last season by the Jazz would have been simply overwhelming and soul-crushing, and probably set most franchises back for at least half a decade.
However, the Jazz’ organization is far from an average franchise. Their front office is one of the smartest and craftiest units in the league.
Led by General Manager Kevin O’Connor, the Jazz did an excellent job with damage control throughout these foundation-shaking changes and insured that the cupboard wouldn’t be bare for Corbin following the departure of their star point guard.
O’Connor fully understood that Williams had no intention of re-signing with the Jazz when he became a free agent in the summer of 2012, so rather than pulling a Cleveland or Toronto, he wisely decided that it was in the organization’s best interests to get some assets in return for Williams while they still could.
And he definitively accomplished this in the trade with New Jersey, which turned out to be a hell of a deal for the Jazz.
In return for Williams, the Jazz landed power forward Derrick Favors (the third overall pick in the 2010 draft), point guard Devin Harris, two first-round draft picks (the first being the Nets' in 2011, the second being the Warriors' in 2012), and $3 million in cash.
Needless to say, Corbin should feel very fortunate to be working under such a shrewd front office because they have certainly made his situation a bit more manageable as he attempts to replace a legend and get the Jazz back to their winning ways.
Thanks to O’Connor and Co. the roster he’ll have to work with whenever next season tips off is far from talent-deprived and is actually quite promising.
Without question, their deep front court is primed to be the strength of the Jazz next season, where Corbin will have a talented blend of size, experience, and youth at his disposal.
Corbin will once again rely on veteran big men Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson in the paint. The blue collar, productive low post duo accounted for 35.9 points and 17.3 rebounds per game on 51.3 percent shooting last year.
He should also benefit from the return of 6’11’’ center Mehmet Okur, who played in just 13 games last season due to back problems and an Achilles injury.
In addition, Corbin will also have the luxury of having two top 5 draft picks in his front court that are just oozing with potential. Favors, the first prize in the Williams’ trade, is a long, active 6’10’’ power forward blessed with freakish athleticism and a developing offensive game.
The other prize of the Williams’ trade is rookie 6'11'' center Enes Kanter, whom the Jazz selected with the Nets’ third overall pick in this year’s draft. Kanter, in addition to being a physical banger in the post, is a polished, skilled big man with a diverse offensive game already in his arsenal.
Given his skill set, which includes solid post moves and the ability to step out and knock down a jumper, Kanter appears to be a perfect complement to the athletic Favors. With these five big men, Corbin appears to have a bevy of talented frontcourt players.
Where the question marks exist for Corbin, however, is at point guard and the perimeter, where the Jazz lack depth and meaningful experience.
While Devin Harris is no Deron Williams, he is a serviceable NBA point guard who last year averaged 15.2 points and a career best 7.1 assists in 54 games with the Nets and 17 games with the Jazz.
However, the knock on Harris is his durability, which figures to be a concern for the Jazz given the fact that they currently don’t have a reliable backup point guard on their roster.
Another concern for Corbin has to be the shooting guard position, which last year was an unproductive, inefficient problem for the Jazz and rated as one of the weakest group of players in the NBA by ESPN Insider Kevin Pelton.
The Jazz got virtually nothing from the duo of aging veteran Raja Bell (8.0 points per game on 40.9 percent shooting) and C.J. Miles (12.8 points per game on 40.7 percent shooting). They desperately needed to address that position this offseason, which they hope they accomplished with their lottery selection (12th overall) of shooting guard Alec Burks of Colorado.
While Burks is not a good three-point shooter, he is a scorer who averaged 20.5 points per game as a sophomore in Boulder. At a long 6’6,’’ Burks is an explosive athlete with a great handle who has the ability to create his own shot.
Additionally, he’s also a willing passer, a good rebounder, and, with his size and athleticism, has the potential to guard multiple positions on the perimeter.
Burks may not light up the league instantly, but he provides the Jazz with a serious upgrade at their weakest position and has the potential to develop into a very NBA good shooting guard.
As far as the small forward position goes for the Jazz, that spot belongs to second year player Gordon Hayward now that the Jazz are free of the underachieving Andrei Kirilenko and his ridiculous contract.
In limited playing time last season, Hayward flashed some offensive potential, mainly down the stretch. In the final seven games of last season, Hayward played 36 minutes a game and put up some pretty impressive numbers for the Jazz.
During that stretch, Hayward averaged 16.4 points a game on 58 percent shooting, made 1.7 threes a game on 57 percent shooting from deep, and had an EFG percentage of 66.2. Not to mention, he capped off his rookie campaign with a 34-point outburst.
So Corbin certainly has some talented pieces to work with as he embarks upon his first full season (well, hopefully) as coach of the Jazz.
Another thing he’s got going in his favor, aside from his 16-year career as a player in the league and the seven seasons he spent coaching under Sloan, is the head start he got on the process of replacing Sloan and establishing himself as the head coach of the Jazz.
Corbin, who was thought so highly of by the front office that he wasn’t even given the “interim” tag once Sloan unexpectedly resigned, had 28 games remaining on the schedule when he took over the team last season.
This allowed him to use the remaining portion of last season getting accustomed to being a head coach and all that goes with it, such as clock management, substitutions and making in-game adjustments. Furthermore, it also enabled him to set the groundwork for his tenure as Sloan’s replacement.
So instead of going into training camp and having to install an offense with new aspects – since it’s expected Corbin will tweak Sloan’s half court offensive scheme – and establish his coaching philosophy and mentality, Corbin was able to get a head start on his tenure as head coach of the Jazz over the final third of last season,
That will certainly aid the Utah players and organization as they prepare for the post-Sloan and post-Williams era of Jazz basketball.
All things considered, things aren’t looking as grim as they should be for a franchise that lost an iconic coach and an elite point guard just last season.
Corbin will probably never fill the shoes left by a coaching legend like Sloan, but the Jazz’ front office did an excellent job in surrounding him with some talented, young players who can make the transition process a little bit easier for Corbin so he can get the Jazz back to the playoffs and their winning ways. The key is just patience.