NBA PM: Free Agency Weighing On Utah Jazz?
When the 2013 NBA All-Star break rolled around, the Utah Jazz were squarely in the middle of the fight for a Western Conference playoff berth. Winners of six of their previous nine games, they had some nice momentum going into the break. After the break, however, something changed. The Jazz team that had beaten both the defending champion Miami HEAT and the runner-up Oklahoma City Thunder in the weeks before the break suddenly couldn’t beat the likes of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Milwaukee Bucks and Atlanta Hawks.
“We just haven’t been playing as well as we were,” Jazz head coach Ty Corbin explained before the team’s loss to Dallas on Sunday. “We’ve had some guys out of the lineup and we just haven’t jelled as well as we did before the break to now after the break. We’re just trying to find our footing to get back to the way that we were playing earlier.”
One issue Corbin has been working through is the fact that he has a very veteran starting group including Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Mo Williams, but also a very raw second unit including Enes Kanter, Derrick Favors and Alex Burks that needs playing time to develop.
“It’s difficult, it’s a challenge, but we’ve been in it for a couple of years now,” Corbin said. “It is how we are and it is who we are. We’ve got young guys that we want to develop and we have to play our veteran guys to give us a chance to win and be competitive now at the same time. Mesh that in with the free agents we’re going to have on this team, it’s a lot to juggle, but it is where we are. Guys have been tremendous about just coming out and playing and we just have to continue to fight and continue the course until something changes.”
Free agency, in particular, has added a level of difficulty to Corbin’s job this season. More than half of the players on the roster can be free agents this summer, including starters Jefferson, Millsap, Williams and Randy Foye. A number of those players were involved in trade rumors prior to the trade deadline, which came the week after the All-Star break. When asked if he thought that might be a factor in his team’s fall, Corbin’s reaction was telling.
“Might be?” Corbin asked emphatically.
Then he caught himself and gave a more even-keeled response.
“We can’t do anything about it,” Corbin continued. “It’s something that we all talked about at the beginning of the year. There’s a lot of free agents on this team. The only thing that we can control now is each and every game, be a team and a family while we’re together. Until that changes we are a family and guys for the most part have been tremendous about accepting when they get on the floor and the minutes they play on the team and giving us a chance to win.”
Still, given the drop off since the All-Star break and the trade deadline, Corbin couldn’t rule out the idea that the lack of anticipated trades and impending free agency are playing a role in the team’s struggles.
“It could have, but the guys have been great about it; they’ve been tremendous,” Corbin said. “I’ve been on teams in this league where there were a lot of free agents … never had a team with this many free agents at one time, but it can be a difficult thing to manage. This group of guys has found a way to accept where they are and play their way through it. Whether nothing happening at the trade deadline had an adverse effect on them, I don’t know, but we haven’t been playing our best basketball since a couple guys got hurt and we had a couple guys get back and we just haven’t found the rhythm that we had before.”
Corbin also isn’t afraid to admit that he has some growing to do as a coach, as well, and is still feeling out the best way to motivate his players.
“If you played the game at any level you know that the coach always has to find a way to get the guys to keep playing, whatever that is,” Corbin said. “Some guys respond when you go right at them and others you have to find another way to be direct with them. It depends on your team and you have to learn how to manage that. What I’ve been learning is that it’s a part of the business.”
Al Jefferson told HOOPSWORLD he feels the coach has done everything he can do, and that it’s now on the players to prove they are willing to do the things that will get the to the playoffs.
“We’ve got to start with high energy, especially at the defensive end,” Jefferson said. “We’ve got to learn how to play 48 minutes, we can’t take any plays off. These last few games really count and our playoffs really start right now.”
It seemed strange to hear him talk about a veteran starting group “learning” to play 48 minutes, especially this far into the season, but he clarified his meaning.
“It’s really not the point that we’ve got to learn it because we know it already, we just have to go do it,” Jefferson said. “It’s as simple as that. You’ve got to go do it. You can talk a good game, say all the things you need to do, but we’re the ones out there. Coach can only prepare you for so much and he can’t play the game for you. We’re the ones out there and we’re the ones who have to do it. That’s what it’s come down to no, either do it or go home.”
“Coach can only do so much,” agreed Gordon Hayward. “Players are the ones out there playing the game and we’ve got to perform.”
A strong first half effort turned into a second half collapse in Dallas last night, putting the Jazz two games behind the eighth-seeded Lakers and tied with the Mavericks for the ninth seed. The Jazz aren’t completely out of the picture, by any means, but they’re going to need a dramatic turnaround to get back into the playoff picture.
It remains to be seen whether or not they have that kind of turnaround left in them.
Al Jefferson: It’s On The Players
Al Jefferson talks about why the Utah Jazz are struggling to maintain their playoff chase, whether or not head coach Ty Corbin is to blame for the team’s failures, his own free agency and more in this exclusive interview:
The NBA’s Other Big Winning Streak
The Miami HEAT may have a date with destiny next month as they chase the NBA’s all-time longest winning streak of 33 games, but they aren’t the only team riding a hot streak. In the Western Conference, the Denver Nuggets are playing as well as any team in the league, having won 15 in a row and moved into the West’s third seed. They’ve done it in convincing fashion, too, taking out the Oklahoma City Thunder twice while also defeating top conference foes Memphis and the Los Angeles Clippers during their run.
“When you get on a winning streak like we’re on, we’re very confident,” Nuggets forward Corey Brewer said in a recent interview with 102.3 ESPN in Denver. “Anything can happen. We feel like we had to win the game and we could win the game still, even when we’re down.”
The Nuggets are known as a scoring team, ranking sixth in the league in transition offense, but their defense has been the key to their run. Denver is second in the NBA in transition defense, meaning they give up very few easy baskets, and also a decent 14th in half court defense.
“I’d probably have to say 80 percent of (our success), because our defense turns into offense and right now we’re playing really good defense,” said Brewer.
Of course, once the playoffs start the game tends to slow down and the half court game becomes more important. Brewer believes his team will continue to thrive, even in that environment.
“I think we can still win with (our style of play), said Brewer. “As long as we are playing tough defense and making teams turn the ball over, we can get some easy buckets. That’s what you need in the playoffs because you don’t want to play in the half court in the playoffs like that.”
The Nuggets will look to set a new team record for consecutive wins tonight as they take on the New Orleans Hornets, as task that should be much easier with Ty Lawson (heel) and Wilson Chandler (shoulder) expected back in the lineup.
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