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Kragthorpe: Jazz’s playoff push will decide Corbin’s grade

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Kurt Kragthorpe

First published Mar 31 2012 11:25PM
Updated Apr 1, 2012 12:39AM

At last, the Jazz’s Tyrone Corbin will complete the equivalent of a standard NBA season Monday, coaching his 82nd game.

"It seems like two seasons," Corbin said, laughing.

That’s because his first 28 games came in the vortex of replacing Hall of Fame coach Jerry Sloan and having All-Star guard Deron Williams traded two weeks later, and the next 54 will have come during a compressed schedule that followed a shortened training camp. No other first-time coach in NBA history had to deal with such extreme circumstances.

The book on Corbin: While having come a long way since February 2011, he certainly has not arrived yet.

He deserves credit for the Jazz’s contending for a playoff spot, having blended young players with a veteran core. His team responded, just when the season seemingly was crumbling. Yet the Jazz have blown too many chances to win (they’re 10-11 in games decided by six points or fewer) and too many issues have surfaced with veteran players for anyone to say that Corbin has handled everything perfectly.

While the Jazz have succeeded in making their April schedule meaningful, that just means they have to follow through. Only by making the Western Conference playoffs will Corbin earn the highest marks for this season’s performance.

There’s an argument that missing the playoffs and keeping the 2012 first-round draft pick they otherwise owe Minnesota would do the franchise more long-term good. Yet in evaluating Corbin, the playoff cut not only is a convenient gauge, but a significant one.

The Jazz won consecutive overtime games against Minnesota and Golden State in March. They also had last-shot opportunities in regulation and each of the first three extra periods at Atlanta, but failed to convert. And then they faded at the end of Friday’s one-point loss to Sacramento, in another case of Corbin’s questionable substitutions.

Veteran players Raja Bell and Earl Watson have publicly questioned Corbin’s use of them, and Corbin also has clashed with Devin Harris and C.J. Miles. Bell’s being sent home from a road trip reflects both a strong stand by Corbin and the coach’s mistake in allowing the issues to escalate to that point.

Those shortcomings are balanced by Corbin’s ability to have Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap play well together, besides blending Harris’ style into the Jazz’s system, trusting his young players, improving the team’s defense and establishing much better team chemistry.

Everybody’s accountable, according to Jefferson: "If you’re not doing your job, he’s going to call you out. That’s for me, all the way down to Jeremy Evans. … We don’t have a superstar on this team, but if we did, I wouldn’t be surprised if [Corbin] would go at him just like he goes at the rest of us. So that’s one thing I love and respect about him."

Corbin’s seven seasons as an assistant to Sloan, plus 16 years as an NBA player with nine teams, prepared him for this job.

Although he was a low-maintenance player, he says he’s willing to manage players who require more explanation about their roles.

"I played with all kinds of guys and personalities," he said. "You just deal with it. Hopefully, they understand at some point in whatever they’re trying to go through that the team is more important than anybody."

Corbin benefitted from general manager Kevin O’Connor’s assembling a deep roster, which also created some dilemmas about playing time. If anything, recent injuries to Bell and Josh Howard have made Corbin’s allocation of minutes easier.

In any case, the Jazz’s 13 games in April will say a lot about his coaching ability. Next season, Corbin’s first opportunity to work under ordinary circumstances, will determine even more.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.comTwitter: @tribkurt

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