Tyrone Corbin won’t feel comfortable sitting in one of the first two seats when he walks to the bench for the first time as the Utah Jazz’s new head coach. It’s a simple act, but also one that seems disrespectful to Corbin considering Jerry Sloan and his longtime trusted assistant, Phil Johnson, have occupied those pair of chairs for more than two decades.
Yet that’s where Corbin now finds himself: He’s the man tasked to guide the Jazz into a new era after Sloan stunningly resigned on Thursday.
“It’s going to be interesting when I walk out there on the floor,” Corbin said. “…We’ll see how things go.”
Corbin has been a candidate for several head-coaching jobs in recent years and was considered by many around the league to be one of the top assistants. He had served on Sloan’s staff since 2004 and enjoyed a 16-year playing career in the NBA, but his next task is his most challenging yet: He’s being asked to follow one of basketball’s greatest coaching legends.
“A rock among coaches in any sport,” Phoenix Suns coach Alvin Gentry said of Sloan. “He will be missed by all the coaches in the league.
“[Corbin] should do it his way. He is a very good student of the game. He will do a good job there.”
Prior to Wednesday night, it seemed doubtful Corbin or anyone else would replace Sloan anytime soon. Less than a week earlier, the Jazz had announced a one-year contract extension that Sloan had signed earlier in the season. Sloan, however, had privately considered retiring for a few days and informed Jazz general manager Kevin O’Connor of his decision after the team’s loss to the Chicago Bulls – a game in which Sloan and point guard Deron Williams(notes) clashed at halftime. Even so, Corbin thought Sloan would still show up Thursday ready to coach.
“I woke up this morning thinking things were going to be status quo as they were before,” Corbin said.
O’Connor and Jazz owners unsuccessfully tried to persuade Sloan to change his mind up until minutes before the announcement was made official at a news conference. Corbin expects to sign a contract soon that will make him the Jazz’s head coach for “quite some time,” but even still he was understandably somber during his introduction.
“We talked before we went into the room and [Sloan] decided to move on,” Corbin said. “It was a downer for me. I have such respect for the guy. He deserves to go out on his own terms, which I think he did. But I just didn’t expect it to be at this time of the season.”
Sloan’s relationship with Williams had grown rocky, which is one reason why Corbin made a point of having lunch with Williams before the news conference. Williams can become a free agent in the summer of 2012 and his uncertain future will continue to hang over the franchise. Corbin knows he and Williams will have to work together to get the Jazz to improve upon their sixth-place standing in the Western Conference.
“I know that this team is a better team when he is playing and playing well than if he’s not here and we’re not playing well,” Corbin said. “We’ll just talk, communicate and try to get on the same page. But I would love to see us keep him. I would love for him to be a part of this franchise and a part of this team if I’m the head coach.”
With less than 30 games left in the season, Corbin doesn’t plan to make any major changes to Sloan’s system, but said he will “tweak some things.” Corbin’s old mentors, Sloan and Johnson, have advised him to be himself, work hard and expect his team to work hard, too.
“It’s going to be difficult to replace a guy like coach Sloan who has been in this franchise for so long and who has achieved so much and who was such a big figure throughout the NBA,” Corbin said. “But it’s a tremendous opportunity for me, and I look forward to the chance.”
Blazers’ Roy on the mend
Portland Trail Blazers guard Brandon Roy(notes) told Yahoo! Sports he hopes to return to action Wednesday against the New Orleans Hornets after having arthroscopic surgery on both his knees just 3½ weeks ago.
Roy said his left knee, which is essentially bone on bone because of the lack of cartilage, still gives him some trouble while the right knee isn’t as painful. Roy also had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee two days before last season’s first-round playoff series against the Phoenix Suns. He returned in the series’ fourth game and struggled, but doesn’t regret coming back so soon.
Roy expects to be limited to about 15-25 minutes the first couple of games and eventually work up to 35 minutes. Prior to the surgeries, his scoring had dropped to 16.6 points per game. The big question is whether he can regain his explosiveness.
“I don’t know,” Roy said. “I honestly can’t say one way or another. I’m going to push to get back there, though. I’ve been in the weight room really trying to build my quads up and my calves up. I’m just doing everything I can to get back to that level.”
Roy has been viewed as the Blazers’ leader since his arrival in 2007, but in his absence LaMarcus Aldridge(notes) has enjoyed a breakout season, averaging career-highs of 21.6 points and 9.1 rebounds. Despite injuries to Roy, Marcus Camby(notes) and Greg Oden(notes) – among others – Aldridge has played a big role in keeping the Blazers in the playoff hunt.
“People are like, ‘Oh wow, I didn’t know he could do that.’ I’m like, ‘LaMarcus has always had that type of game,’ ” Roy said. “He’s being more assertive. The most important thing now that I’m coming back is guys can’t be like, ‘We kind of have to sit back and let [Roy] go.’
“They have to keep going hard and let me catch up to where they’re at. If they continue to play hard and LaMarcus keeps dominating then I’m confident that I can … make this team much better.”
Draft prospect watch: Arizona’s Williams
Arizona sophomore forward Derrick Williams looks well on his way to being one of the top 10 picks in this year’s draft, NBA scouts told Yahoo! Sports. The 6-foot-8 forward has averaged 19.5 points and 8.1 rebounds while shooting 69 percent from 3-point range through the Wildcats’ first 24 games.
The 2010 Pac-10 Freshman of the Year is playing with an injured right pinkie finger, which has helped him better develop his left hand to shoot and dribble. He said he’ll decide after the season whether to turn pro and isn’t worried about a possible NBA lockout.
One Western Conference scout rates the top five prospects for next year’s draft – in no specific order – as Ohio State freshman forward Jared Sullinger, Duke freshman guard Kyrie Irving, Turkish forward Enes Kantner, Baylor freshman forward Perry Jones and North Carolina freshman forward Harrison Barnes. But one East scout thinks Williams has the potential to move into the top five if he keeps playing at his current level.
The big question is whether Williams, whose listed weight is 241 pounds, will play small forward or power forward in the NBA. While Williams is playing in the post for the undersized Wildcats, he was on the wing at La Mirada High School (Calif.) and hopes to play small forward in the NBA.
“He has athleticism and he plays hard,” the West scout said. “His position is hard to define. But that’s not his problem, that’s our problem.”
Williams isn’t worried.
“If you’re good enough to play in the NBA, you can play,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what spot.”