This season has been a very interesting one within Jazz fandom. There are often two factions: those who want wins regardless, believing that a winning culture is important, contagious, and essential to keeping fans coming to games, and those who want losses—and a top draft pick as a result—regardless. There are those who are fine with the team’s recent defensive struggles because it means that, perhaps, that’s one step closer to Tyrone Corbin’s last month as head coach of the Utah Jazz 1. There are others who see improvements in Corbin’s minutes distributions 2 and see how his strengths lie in keeping the locker room together, even amidst a rollercoaster season with many lows and few highs.
For those where rebuilding and tanking might seem synonymous, a couple of articles on the 76ers and their recent (and somewhat chronic) struggles seemed to sting a bit, because what some Jazz fans have been asking for—strategic moves, short-term pain for long-term gain, etc.—are exactly what the 76ers have done, and done well. 3
One point of contention for some Jazz fans has been Corbin’s defensiveness and prickly-ness when asked any questions about analytics, playing time, minutes distribution, and the ever-ongoing “experience vs. youth” debate. Such prickliness was never made more starkly clear to me than when Brett Brown, head coach of the 76ers and a long-time assistant of Gregg Popovich, was asked similar questions recently, responding in a very matter-of-fact, long-term thinking sort of way:
“Despite the mounting losses and the eroding confidence in the club’s locker room these days, first year head coach Brett Brown fully admits he understood these were some of the lows he expected to encounter when he was hired by the organization last summer.
“This is not slit-your-wrist time. This is not even close to that,” Brown told Del Lynam of Comcast Sports. ”This is about building a program and understanding the short-term pain for a lot of long-term gain. To truly rebuild and grow something is going to take three to five years. That is just the way it goes. It is too talented a league and too well-coached. The experiences we are going through now will be distant memories when these guys start getting older. They will find positives in this season and Michael Carter-Williams will be better for it.
“I’ve been asked by so many people, ‘Why would you take the job and screw up your coaching percentage?’ As if I care about that. I knew what I was getting into.”
There are multiple things that stand out to me here. One, it’s pretty remarkable to see a coach who understands the vision of management and is willing to completely buy in to it. He recognizes that building a championship team—remember his experience within the Spurs organization—isn’t an overnight thing. Two, clearly management has let him know that they have a long-term plan in place, and they’ve given him enough assurance with the job he’s doing so that he feels confident he’ll be around for 3-5 years to see this project through. How many coaches will talk about short-term pain for long-term gain? Three, he’s willing to give Michael Carter-Williams the time and the space he needs in order to work through rookie walls, rookie struggles, rookie growing pains. He knows MCW will be better off with significant minutes: he’s leading rookies in minutes per game at 34.7.
Let’s say, theoretically, that Ty Corbin had said each of those things Brown did when asked such questions by either local reporters or national reporters. If he said those things, and did those things, would he be feeling a little bit less heat from the fans (assuming he feels any of the heat from fans to begin with)? If he were less defensive, less prickly, would it help some of the PR battle he’s been facing this year? If both his actions and his actions aligned more closely with what management laid out earlier this year—discipline, defense, and development—like Brown has, would a little less vitriol be directed his way?
As it stands, it feels like a pretty strong disconnect between what rebuilding fans were hoping for, what management seemed to set up, and what we’ve been seeing as fans. So, once again theoretically, if you were a 76ers fan and you were facing a near-record-breaking losing streak, would you be down in the dumps? Or would you be hopeful because you see part of the plan in place for a top draft pick in a strong draft?