SALT LAKE CITY (AP) The long, difficult season showed on the faces of Utah Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin and leading scorer Gordon Hayward.
Both slogged through the second-worst record (25-57) since the team moved to Utah in 1979. Both knew the Jazz had made a firm commitment to rebuild by jettisoning their top veterans.
But they didn’t know exactly how tough it would be.
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”I knew it would be difficult. There’s no way when you change the roster like we did that it’d be good for a coaching staff in the last year of their contract,” said Corbin, who has a 112-147 record in more than three years at the helm. ”No matter how you scheme, young guys make mistakes and that makes it difficult to win.”
Now the question is whether either Corbin or Hayward will be around next season as the process continues.
Corbin’s contract has ended and he knows he has detractors, but he discounts the notion that a decision on his future has already been made. He hopes his performance will be judged on more than his record.
Despite the progress that the young team made, the losses never got easy.
”The biggest disappointment of the season was losing. As a competitor, I just hate to lose. Losing just don’t feel good. You want to see the fruit of your labor through victory,” Corbin said.
Hayward – the first Jazz player to average 16 points, five rebounds and five assists since Pete Maravich – started the season excited to be the team’s first scoring option in the final year of his contract. But after shooting a career-low 41.3 percent, he admits he didn’t realize how much defensive attention that would bring.
”When you put yourself out there in the roles we were forced to play, your game gets exposed a bit. You see what you still need to work on and what your weaknesses are,” said Hayward, who picked his spots more as the team healed.
The team started 1-14 amid injury woes but improved as the season progressed. Point guard Trey Burke started the season on the bench with a broken finger, pressed through a shooting slump and ended with a season-high 32 points in the final game.
”I faced a lot of adversity, both mentally and on the court, but I think I’ve grown a lot through the course of the season,” said Burke, who averaged 12.8 points and 5.7 assists while shooting 38 percent.
As a small guard, he wants to get stronger and become more of a leader. His coach is already a believer.
”The attention to detail Trey paid to everything from day one will give him the chance to be the player he wants to be, and he wants to be one of the best,” Corbin said.
Despite the losses, the team never splintered. Players pointed to Corbin’s positivity and the veteran influence of Marvin Williams and Richard Jefferson, who resurrected his career shooting 41 percent from 3-point range and scoring 10.1 points after rarely playing at Golden State last year.
”There was a lot of teaching going on. We all wanted to win but the focus of the year was helping the young guys improve and get experience,” said Jefferson, who hopes to latch on with a championship contender next season.
Utah only won four of the final 25 games, including the finale in double overtime against a disinterested Minnesota team.
A lottery pick, another first-round choice and sizeable salary cap flexibility will benefit the Jazz in the offseason. And there’s plenty of promise in Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors and Alec Burks. The two big men improved in all statistical areas and Burks became a go-to scorer and ended up as the second-leading scorer despite playing as a reserve most of the season.
”It’s right around the corner. No one can teach like experience, you can’t teach chemistry and we showed signs of what we are capable of doing,” Hayward said.