During this unusual 5 month sprint of an NBA season, one item had to emerge for the future of the franchise. It didn’t involve a player. Tyrone Corbin had to become the undisputed leader.
The script was written against Tyrone. Replacing Jerry Sloan on the run, losing your superstar in a superstar league to trade, a lockout, a non-existent summer league, a truncated training camp and virtually practice less season.
Despite all the barriers, Corbin became the definite leader of the Utah Jazz. He managed a roster filled with potential pitfalls. Contrasting career paths of veterans looking for legitimacy and youngsters looking for time had the potential for disaster is a combustible combination. Corbin massaged it perfectly holding the locker-room together and fostering an environment where the team improved as the season progressed.
At times Corbin had the iron fist. An early season benching of Devin Harris sent a message of how the team needed to play. He left the veterans on the bench to stew about their dreadful performance in New Orleans while the young players fought their way back into the game.
At times Corbin was a player’s coach understanding the importance of chances. Stemming back to his playing days were minutes meant employment and opportunities were all he craved he understood the psyche and needs of his players.
The two rookies, Alec Burks and Enes Kanter, were given opportunities and chances, but never exposed to a level of failure. Both struggled miserably for stretches but were never banished, instead Corbin continued to give them chances to play out of their missteps and they did.
Without the services of a summer league Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors, along with their entire draft class, were slow to emerge this year. Yet, by the end of the season both had established their spot as the future cornerstones of the franchise and arguably the team’s two best players.
A locker-room without a dominant leader, without a captain, can easily splinter with any misstep or misdirection from the head coach. It never happened. Corbin fostered an environment where voices could be heard, allowing numerous players to step forward from Earl Watson to Paul Millsap to Jamaal Tinsley.
An open locker-room is risky for a coach. For one night in Philadelphia, Corbin’s leadership was challenged by a veteran in the locker-room. Corbin held strong asserting his control over the team and the team from that day on propelled itself into the playoffs.
This roster lead to a nightly game of what should have been, what move could have been made. Remarkably, despite Corbin’s inexperience as the lead man he was able to avoid making the micro decision on any given night and instead maintained a macro view that held the team together. He kept the veterans engaged and gave the youngsters time to emerge.
Corbin established himself as the head coach of the Utah Jazz in more than name. This is evident in the contrast to a year ago.
Last year, at locker-room clear when Corbin met with the media was the first time it felt as though Tyrone Corbin was the head coach of the Utah Jazz rather than holding someone else’s chair. Today, the Jazz clear out their lockers again, having exceeded all expectations on this season under the direction of Corbin.
As they left a year ago they wondered about their head coach. Today they know who will lead them. They know he will have their back while demanding excellence. They know they have a leader.