In advance of the Orlando Magic's game against the Utah Jazz on Wednesday, Orlando Pinstriped Post hooked up with Amar of SLC Dunk, SB Nation's Jazz blog, to preview that night's action and to discuss Utah's season in general. Below is our email q-and-a exchange.
Evan Dunlap, Orlando Pinstriped Post: Utah is at the bottom of the Western Conference at present, which is where a lot of experts predicted they'd be before the season began. The Jazz are quite clearly rebuilding. How confident are you in management's plan to return Utah to NBA prominence, and how soon will they reach that level? What do you think the plan is, exactly? I'm trying to get a sense of how Utah's present relates to its future.
Amar, SLC Dunk: I'm quite confident in the 'new' plan, the 'old' plan wasn't working. Of course, before we get to that we need to take a look back at the last few seasons. The Jazz, with star point guard Deron Williams and led by Hall of Fame head coach Jerry Sloan, were in win-now mode. Sloan resigned, Williams was traded, and the team was left to fend for itself. For three years the front office failed to even admit to being in a transition period from 'win-now' to 'whatever isn't win-now'; and denied being in a rebuilding mode despite not having any star players. The desperate attempts to cobble together a contender out of the parts no other teams wanted failed every season, save for the mirage season where the Utah Jazz made the playoffs and were dispatched in four of the easiest games the San Antonio Spurs have ever played. The old plan was to always aim for the playoffs, even when the wealth of this team lay with the untapped potential of undeveloped youth.
Since then and today the Jazz also transitioned from the 'old' GM Kevin O'Connor to the 'new' GM Dennis Lindsey. And I am confident in his plan because his resume is built upon being part of successful franchises. The team is trying to maximize their draft position (*cough* tanking *cough*), while developing the assets they already have. Prominence in this version of the NBA is really only an All-Star away. If Utah is able to snag a Top 5 pick in this upcoming draft the plan then shifts into overdrive to build around the youth. That's the dream though, over the last three plus seasons the team failed to even admit they weren't contenders. Fans can only hope that the new boss is different from the old boss, and that the results from the new plan are better than fighting for the 8th seed in the Western Conference every season.
But if the plan is to build around the youth, and the future of the team is youth, then why are guys like Richard Jefferson, Marvin Williams, and John Lucas III all playing 20 minutes per game this season? I guess that's where the coach comes into play.
OPP: This season is Tyrone Corbin's third full one at the Jazz's helm, and from what I gather, he's not exactly popular with most Jazz fans; please correct me if I'm wrong on that point. Is Corbin the right man to lead this rebuilding effort? If not him, then who?
SLCD: Tyrone Corbin is a major flashpoint for Jazz fans. Some fans, who wish to congratulate the team on whatever they do, are vehement Corbin-loyalists. Other fans, I am among this group, are able to see critical flaws to Corbin's professional ability as an NBA head coach – and voice them. Exacerbating the divide between fans lays the local media outlets. The ownership group that owns the Jazz also own and control the flow of information that covers the team; they own the papers, radio, and TV stations.
No criticism of Corbin is tolerated; questions posed to non-Jazz people about Corbin are very leading; and the major media mouthpieces even suggest that no other head coach could have done what Tyrone Corbin continues to do with this roster. For the record, nine of the 15 players on the roster are former lottery picks. It appears like North Korean propaganda to some fans, and the lack of objectivity on all sides only further polarizes the opinions about Ty. Lost in all of the Pro- or Anti- Ty talk is the fact that the flawed coach is actually improving. He makes more moderate player rotations, he has changed the offense a little more, and is now learning that head coaches are allowed to call timeouts or make offensive/defensive subs in late game situations on their own, without having a veteran player inform them of that fact.
But Ty still tries to win every game. That's the point of basketball, but that's something Dennis Lindsey specifically said Ty was not being evaluated on. He was being evaluated upon the "Three Ds": Defense, Discipline, and Development.
It remains to be seen how well the Jazz are doing on those fronts. It's silly to me that a talented player like Alec Burks finally reached 30 points in a game in the middle of his third season in the NBA. That doesn't sound like development to me. I don't think Ty is the right coach, and for all of his improvement, he appears to be coaching for his next contract – which may be with another team. His tenure with the Jazz appears to be coming to an end. If Ty is out who steps in? Jeff Hornacek? Is he still available? Jokes aside, I think the Jazz will need to move beyond Corbin and his stooges (Sidney Lowe and Mike Sanders – two former 'boys' of Ty when they were players), and give the reigns to Brad Jones. Jones is a current assistant with the Jazz, he was in the Spurs org for a while (Dennis Lindsey was as well), and coached both the Spurs and Jazz NBA D-League teams. He's also Jerry Sloan's nephew through marriage.
OPP: After the Draft Lottery, there were a number of Magic fans who thought Trey Burke should have been in the mix for Orlando with the second overall pick, which as you know the team used on Victor Oladipo. How has Burke looked so far in his rookie campaign? Which of the two players do you think has the brightest future at this level?
SLCD: I had lived in Michigan for the last few years, watched every NCAA game they played, and write about a team that needs point guard help – but even I wouldn't have taken Trey at the second spot in the draft. I am very happy he's part of the Utah Jazz family now though. He is coming into his own as an NBA player, but it comes only after a really rough start. Trey played horribly in Orlando, as you know firsthand as you were there in Summer League. After that he spent part of his off-season with John Stockton in Spokane (with Alec Burks) and started to play very well in preseason. Then in his second game he fractured a bone in his shooting hand and had to get surgery. Then, when he was finally cleared to play games again he came off the bench behind John Lucas III. Finally starting, and finally playing with NBA level players, Trey is making a lot of nervous Jazz fans very content. I would argue that he is in the ROY discussion – but his game does have a lot of warts still.
The Magic did great by picking Victor Oladipo. He's a great kid with a very bright future. I think your guard has the fast track because he didn't get hurt in preseason and need surgery, and he started off playing at a high level with the ball in his hands. Burke is suffering from the same "development" that has Derrick Favors incapable of seeing a double-team now in his fourth year. Victor has the size and strength as well. I could see him having a better career down the line, but I can easily state that Burke led squads will probably win more games over their respective careers. He's a proven leader, and he's on a team stacked with young talent that will grow with him.
OPP: Utah has a decision to make with Gordon Hayward, who will hit restricted free agency in the summer. There's no indication yet that the Jazz will let him go, of course, but it's still a topic worth exploring. Speaking financially, what do you think Hayward's prime years are worth? If you were in charge, is there any offer sheet you wouldn't match for his services?
SLCD: The Jazz are going to keep Hayward, just as long as it's not a max deal. And by the game to game variance of Hayward's shooting this season it's very likely that no team will offer him a max deal. Hayward fits like a glove in Utah. He's not flashy, eats at Subway year round, and drives a Honda Accord. He's also a clean cut white player with no tattoos and a hair style from the Reagan era. Gordon's also a pretty good NBA player too. How much would I pay him? I believe that it's worth it to pay him around $10 million per, but his peer group that got extensions done before the deadline are all making much more than that.
Ultimately it stops becoming even about Gordon Hayward though. The Jazz under Kevin O'Connor overpaid for both Andrei Kirilenko and Matt Harpring as free agents. And the ownership group may still be sour over that and take it out on Gordon as a result.
I get it, though. And I would have to let Gordon walk if his asking price became any higher than $13.25 million on average.
OPP: Despite having Derrick Favors in the middle, Utah has defended abysmally in 2013/14, ranking among the league's worst teams in terms of defensive efficiency. With which aspects of defense do they struggle in particular, and how can the Jazz remedy those concerns?
SLCD: The Jazz are bad on defense. They are particularly poor in three places: on the court, during games, and when they are wearing sneakers and people are watching them. More specifically, they are poor at defending any type of screen roll situation; are very very bad at closing out on shooters; and still foul way too much. Adding insult to injury, the Jazz are also one of the worst defensive rebounding clubs in my Jazz fan memory (25+ years).
The rebounding one was the easiest to solve, play Rudy Gobert more, and guys like Mike Harris less. Utah decided to go in a different direction and instead they sent Gobert to the D League, are mothballing Harris, and starting Marvin Williams. It... it didn't resolve the issue.
Moving on defense, and moving as a unit will get better with more practice. The team is still trying to figure out what being on the floor is like because the majority of the minutes are going to people who were deemed not good enough to see the floor, and sat and watched guys like Randy Foye and DeMarre Carroll play big minutes. The defense will improve, and Favors is a big part of that. But a bigger part is having a team defensive scheme. Even national writers like Zach Lowe can't get a straight answer from Corbin about what his scheme is. Good luck to the players on that.
Thanks to Amar for his time and attention in helping us get to know the team he covers. Visit SLC Dunk to read more Jazz coverage from him and his staff.