Are Utah Jazz Brass and Staff Aligned?

Public image via Wikipedia

Public image via Wikipedia

Throughout the season it’s not uncommon to hear from fans and media, local and national alike, that the Utah Jazz’s front office and coaching staff must not be aligned, or on the same page when it comes to the goals for the franchise this season. This can be a faulty perception by media, sometimes made via fan assertions.

The latter often tend to impose their personal opinion of how playing time should be doled out based on emotional attachment, passion and a small portion of the actual information available to them when compared to the countless hours spent with players by coaches and brass.

Whenever a member of the national media tosses out a tidbit that falls in line with a popular opinion a frenzy of validation ensues. Media, by nature, needs fans’ attention to survive. As a result, sometimes we end up with a topical, circular beast that preys upon itself until there’s nothing left to consume.

Some labor under the belief that Tyrone Corbin is clueless, which is ludicrous and born mainly of message boards and social circles that often have a tendency for a dependency on conflict to create conversation; whether for personal entertainment, misguided belief of the masses, a necessity for page views to avoid unwanted emails from higher-ups, or any other number of factors that skew the oft-glossed-over or ignored truth.

Others believe there’s a sinister conspiracy going on behind the scenes, a “Jazz PR machine” that controls every facet of the organization and the information released to the public, monitoring or scripting every word spoken by it’s stations and employees that makes the Utah-based data-gathering headquarters of the NSA look like a bunch of internet amateurs that don’t know how to work Twitter.

While it’s true that the Jazz, like the San Antonio Spurs, tend to be a tight-lipped bunch, it’s not some conspiracy to keep fans in the dark so much as it is a logistical strategy to keep the competition from discerning their every or next move, on and off the court. As the international spotlight shines ever brighter on the NBA and it’s shining stars, little can be kept from scouts, saboteurs and the public for long, and any little gem mined can turn into internet gold at a well placed whim.

The Utah Jazz brass and staff meet regularly, the brass nearly every working weekday in the morning, and sometimes more. It’s a clearly defined working relationship rather than some chaotic, clueless drama playing out on more levels than Leonardo DiCaprio with a lathed metal top who isn’t quite sure how it’s all going to end up. The various Jazz personnel have defined roles within the franchise, and whenever possible, cross-meddling in affairs is avoided.

Jazz brass leave the coaching staff to their duties after general desired direction is expressed, not interfering in game time decisions made by staff. This extends to who plays when and how much.

A coach in a healthy working environment must operate under the assumption that all the tools made available to him are accessible, not just a popular handful desired by fans and their increased real-time pressure in this, the Information Age.

In the same respect, a coach in a difficult situation might sometimes make unpopular decisions based on experience and a far more vast amount of information available to him than to the media or fan.

Let’s be real about the hierarchy of knowledge here: No one knows more about his guys than the coaching staff, who literally lives with them for half of every year and generally spent at least their entire adult lives in the industry. Then comes the media, who have the privilege of more access than the fan, then finally the fan, whose access is mostly limited to game times and offerings gleaned from the media.

There shouldn’t even be an argument about whether or not Enes Kanter should be starting at this point; he shouldn’t. Not with the worst numbers on the entire roster outside of the outdated PPG, which we now know can be intrinsically intertwined with pure volume. Yet entire arguments and subsequent tangents are constructed from some deep-seated belief that a player can only “get better, be better” if he’s in front of millions fans with the lights directed at the main stage.

At the time of this writing, the Jazz are 8-8 when Marvin Williams starts at the power forward position, 1-16 when he doesn’t. Ty Corbin deserves credit for doing what no coach before could; finding the right role for Marv, one where he thrives for the first time in his peaking career.

But should an “overpaid, expiring veteran who won’t even be here next year” be starting, or even playing at all? What a silly query. For a plethora of reasons.

The Jazz haven’t been good, but they wouldn’t be able to function on offense at all without three-point shooting to open up the paint a bit for Derrick Favors and the driving wings and guards. Williams and Richard Jefferson are literally the only three-threats on Utah’s roster playing more than 12 minutes per game — something isn’t right with Brandon Rush’s head — at an outstanding .404 and .430, respectively, from behind the arc this season. After that pair, the drop-off is precipitate.

More than once this season Richard Jefferson has been called “the worst veteran in the NBA.” This assumption, one can only assume, is based on his utter lack of playing time under Mark Jackson at Golden State last year. Jefferson, while targeted as a whipping boy by many fans and media this season, hasn’t been so terrible after all, as a simple search shows.

Stats current as of December 29, 2013

Stats current as of December 29, 2013

Of course, it’s impossible to please all the people all the time, but it’s absurd to assert that Ty Corbin should be starting an unprecedented all-starting-five of inexperienced lottery picks whose leader is the oldest at a tender 23 years old and playing more like a second or third option than a first option All-Star.

It’s even more absurd to proclaim that Corbin is favoring veterans over the young draft picks acquired through various means, including fleecing the Brooklyn Nets so completely with, in hindsight, impressive foresight. If the head coach isn’t playing someone at a given time there’s probably a good reason for it.

It’s also no secret that former GM Kevin O’Connor said very little in interviews. It’s refreshing to have a GM in Dennis Lindsey that, if you listen correctly, will tell you things, give you insights into the way thngs work in the NBA and within the Jazz organization.

A well known local talking head, with a national audience when writing, called out Ty Corbin on air for not staying in line with the Jazz front office’s supposed directives, even after the following exchange on his very own radio show. The show is the afternoon Big Show with Spencer Checketts and Gordon Monson on the Jazz’s flagship station, 1280 AM and 97.5 FM, locally. Monson has targeted Corbin repeatedly.

Spencer Checketts to Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey: Gordon [Hayward] said something interesting [on our show], he said ‘We all know that we’re building for the future.’ Is that a message you’ve instilled in both your coaches and your players?

DL: Even the most novice fan can see what we did. But, look, y’know, it’s not young guys come hell or high water. We have Richard Jefferson that we’re trying to recreate his career, and we owe him a lot towards his career and responsibility to continue it. Ty’s coached him well and been honest with him, so, Richard, I think, appreciates that. 

We have Brandon Rush, who we’ve gone through a long rehab [with]. We’ve been very patient and diligent — we could have rushed him back, but we didn’t physically or mentally, and I think Brandon and (his agent Mark) Bartelstein appreciate that. 

Same thing with Andris Biedrins. 

The Big Show, 1280 the Zone

You don’t really even have to read between the lines on this one. Lindsey just put it right out there like Kramer going commando in gabardine.

The Jazz GM tells us a few things in this short exchange, not only that he and his coach are on the same page, but that agents listen to these sorts of exchanges with a trained ear, and their veteran clients have value. That Lindsey recognizes this — while commandeering a question clearly geared toward tanking, and taking it in an entirely different direction — in a market long maligned for it’s inability to attract free agents is more than savvy.

Dennis Lindsey, more or less, is attempting to repair an image, a stereotype if you will, that Utah can’t be a free agent destination with this conversation. He sent a message to NBA veterans and their agents that the franchise is willing to give any viable vet a shot at the floor.

Corbin has given Rush and Biedrins chances to crack the rotation, yet they haven’t stuck. Biedrins’ story in particular is relatively well known, how he lost his head mentally when his friend and mentor Don Nelson publicly threw him under the bus and abandoned him.

Those who know Biedrins offer theories as to what happened. They talk of how he suffered a succession of injuries, including a groin issue that limited his mobility. They note that Biedrins was affected by the departures of Davis and Stephen Jackson, who were adept at finding him in the half-court offense. They talk of how Biedrins became tentative once he started missing free throws — how you could see him shying away from the basket. And they’ll tell you of the about-face of Nelson, who began to publicly question the desire of his center in 2008.

“He really revered Nellie,” said Bill Duffy, Biedrins’ agent since his first year in the league. “When he fell out of favor with Nellie, it was almost like falling out of favor with your father.”

Chris Ballard, Sports Illustrated 

When Ty Corbin gave Biedrins a shot to show he still had something to give the game the Jazz were playing his former assistant coach Mike Malone, now head coach of the Sacramento Kings. Malone pulled a Nellie and went right to Hack-a-Biens, not accidentally playing with Andris’ head, testing him. It seemed almost malicious.

Biedrins hit one of the six attempts garnered from intentional fouls and headed to the bench on a Corbin-called timeout with his chin slumped to his chest. But when he reached the sideline, the entire Jazz bench came out with butt slaps and “Atta boy!” support for the dejected former Warrior.

It’s remarkable to have a team sporting the most losses in the NBA this season (along with the Milwaukee Bucks) not experience locker room civil war. Yet every report coming from within speaks of how close this team is to each other, how, while deeply disappointed after every loss, they still manage to support one another and soldier on toward an as-yet-unknown future.

Some will stick and be a part of whatever that future is, while others will make their way with a new squad or move on to other ventures in their lives, some possibly outside of the game of basketball. But either way, they’re forging lasting friendships of support and won’t be reveling in failure, rather relishing the successes, small or significant.

Last season, fans and media went into a Twitter tizzy when the Utah front office failed to either deal or find takers for expiring veterans Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, among many others.

And yet the Jazz basketball world didn’t crumble or slide down a precipice into eternal basketball darkness as predicted. Indeed, the future of the Utah Jazz franchise looks pretty bright at the moment.

Really, when it comes down to it, the only alignment out of skew is the one between those on the outside looking in and their idea of how a franchise should be run, and the reality lived out day and night by those actually living it and depending on it.

One side may call you moronic and idiotic for not seeing it their way. The other, the one with the most to lose, will ask you to trust them, “be patient, we have a plan. We’re working together for a better future.”

It’s the difference between an emotional or part-time investment and a real one with real livelihoods and futures at stake.

Author: ClintonNite33

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  • Cody Casey

    Awesome piece here, without question the most informative and straight on article i have read this year, wish we would hear more about Gobert, I mean that dude just has to stand there with his arms up, and he disrupts all other teams bigs, I’d like to see him get worked in and play more, outside of that, I think the Jazz are doing what they can, working with what they have, and it’s just fine as far as im concerned, I mean I went into the 1st game of the year, knowing they were going to be basement dwellers, I just look forward to seeing these young guys progress, and play together, and get chemistry, it’s been absolutely fun as hell, I am very happy with the Jazz direction, even if im not happy with the losing!

  • Clint Peterson (@Clintonite33)

    Thank you sir. Excellent commentary by yourself.

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