Tyrone Corbin’s two NBA head coaching jobs have dropped into the middle of a storm.
With 28 games left in the 2010-11 season, when legendary coach Jerry Sloan decided after a game that he was retiring from the Utah Jazz, Corbin was given his first chance to be an NBA coach, but it was in the midst of a controversy over whether All-Star guard Deron Williams forced Sloan into retirement.
Corbin now is getting another shot, replacing a friend who was fired, Michael Malone, and trying to hold together a team whose players are dismayed that a coach they liked is no longer with them, despite the progress they say was being made.
Corbin acknowledges as much.
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“That’s one of the things we talked about,” Corbin said. “Mike brought me in, and I really enjoyed working with him; he’s a good guy.
“But the change has been made, so we have to move on. We have to try to help each other out because the games keep coming. Nobody in this league is going to feel sorry for you. If they sense you’re wounded or not together, it’s going to be difficult to win.”
Corbin’s job figures to be even more difficult, considering some of the players are disheartened by Malone’s firing and believe the message from management is confusing.
“It’s not that much, being that we had him all year, but it’s different, it’s an adjustment,” forward Rudy Gay said of Corbin, who was Malone’s top assistant. “Everything is an adjustment right now.”
Perhaps Corbin’s calm demeanor can settle the team. And he can rely on his experience from 16 seasons as a player, including two stints with the Kings (1995-96, 1999-2000).
“I’ve been through it as a player. I know how the locker room can get lost in the moment, with guys going all over the place emotionally,” Corbin said. “Feeling insecure about who’s going to lead them, who’s going to coach them, what they can expect for themselves and their families, and how they can play and perform through it.”
Corbin, who was hired during the summer, coached the Kings’ summer league team. Malone wanted a veteran coach who had been a head coach.
It gave Corbin time to work with the Kings’ young players, and five players from the summer league team are on the roster.
Corbin acknowledges the relationships he’s built with players will change with the move to head coach.
“I know the guys, they know who I am, but in a different capacity than I am now, and those relationships help a little bit,” Corbin said. “But now I’m the guy making all the calls. I’m the guy taking them in and out of games. I’m the guy giving DNPs (did not play) to some guys. It changes the relationship a little bit, but hopefully trust will grow.”
While he tries to stabilize the locker room, Corbin also will implement the style of play management desires. That means an increased pace and more movement and passing in the half court.
The Kings were tied for 13th in pace – the number of possessions a team uses per game – in the NBA (95.9) entering Friday. Corbin’s team’s were 13th, 20th and 26th over the last three seasons coaching the Jazz.
Those teams were anchored by two bigs, Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, his first two seasons, but they both left as free agents and the team began rebuilding.
Corbin now has center DeMarcus Cousins and Gay, who has shown he can excel as a scorer and facilitator.
But can those two play the running style that management seeks and still be at their best?
“It’s going to take some time to marry my style with what the organization is looking to see,” Corbin said. “We want a team that’s going to compete every night on the floor and give everything you have on both ends of the floor.”
Corbin wants to get the Kings to run more, an emphasis all season, while making sure Cousins remains a key to the offense.
“We always ran for easy baskets and tried to push the ball down the floor, but we used what we had,” Corbin said of his Jazz teams. “We had a post player, and we’d go to the post; if we had perimeter guys, we’d go to the perimeter guys.”
Corbin’s success will determine if he’s looking for a new job for the second consecutive summer.
If the Kings don’t win more, management might make a splash by hiring a big-name coach.
The only certainty is that the transition from Malone to Corbin will take time.
“I’ve been with a team during it’s dark years, so it’s nothing new,” Gay said. “No matter how many times you’ve been through it, you’re never prepared for it.”
Corbin seems prepared to deal with the chaos of change. It’s nothing new to him.