Per USA TODAY’s Sam Amick, former Utah Jazz head coach Tyrone Corbin has reached an agreement with the Sacramento Kings to join their staff as an assistant coach. Corbin will reportedly serve as lead assistant to Kings head coach Mike Malone. Though Utah had already named Quin Snyder as Corbin’s successor in June, the move feels like the final word in a drama that has been playing out for the past four seasons in Salt Lake City. For much of his tenure as coach, Corbin was met with criticism from Jazz fans and media for a variety of reasons, his reluctance to give minutes to young players like Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter and Gordon Hayward being key among them.
Despite those gripes, as well as the belief of some fans that the team underperformed with Corbin at the helm, the reality of the situation is that much of the criticism his detractors have served up over the years is unjustified at best and flat out wrong in other cases. Regardless of the doom and gloom portrait painted by what was probably a vocal minority in the fanbase, there were aspects of Corbin’s turn as head coach that deserved some praise. In many ways, the Corbin-led Jazz were actually a success story.
When Corbin took over after the sudden retirement of Jerry Sloan, Utah was already in a freefall. After 41 games, the team held a 37-14 record and were in contention for a top spot in the Western Conference. At that point, the losses began to pile up and a frustrated Sloan decided to call it quits after more than two decades with the team. Shortly thereafter, All-Star point-man Deron Williams was traded to the now-Brooklyn Nets, leaving Corbin (a first-time head coach) to man the post. Without Williams or Mehmet Okur, who had been neutralized by his Achilles injury, the Jazz were without much of the core that had guided them to success over the previous 4+ seasons. Couple this with Corbin needing to incorporate multiple new players into what was already a questionably-built roster and the team’s 8-20 finish seems like it was unavoidable.
The following season marked Corbin’s high water mark as Jazz coach and is seemingly forgotten by the anti-Corbin contingent. In a year when nobody was predicting they would be eligible for postseason play (some even believed they would finish dead-last in their conference), Corbin led his team to the NBA Playoffs. In doing so, he was able to manage the line-ups and minutes in such a way that most of his players were able to remain both effective and content throughout the season. The strange mix of established veterans and younger, developing players that comprised his roster were somehow able to gel together; Corbin deserves a lot of credit for this feat. Corbin probably deserved some Coach of the Year consideration for this effort.
His next campaign with the team was similarly successful. Again, pundits felt the Jazz would have a difficult time logging another winning season and, again, they managed to do so. Unfortunately, the team fell a game short of advancing to the postseason, but a lot of this can be attributed to the major injuries that afflicted the team.
Some would call this an excuse; I call it reality in the marathon that is a season in the NBA. As much as fans want a coach to simply “get the job done”, things happen that are beyond a coach’s control. As he did for most of his tenure with Utah, Corbin made the best of it and did so in a professional manner. His final season with the team is perhaps the best example of this. With Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap gone and his job on the line, Corbin gave more minutes to the young core and did the job to the best of his ability regardless of the season’s inevitable result.
Could he have done more to develop that young core? Perhaps — and that will be a major focus for Snyder and his staff going forward. But let us not forget the good that Corbin was able to accomplish in the face of difficult circumstances for the Jazz.