Coaching in the NBA Developmental League has been a dream come true so far. When I was playing for the Lakers I asked Kurt Rambis the question: “Kurt, what do you like more between playing and coaching.” Kurt told me that the two were just very different. He explained that in coaching, you cannot actually get onto the court to have a physical impact on the game. But he talked about the impact that coaches can and do exert on games and practices. Now that I’ve been in the coaching world for the past four months, let me share a few of my own experiences.
1. There are a lot (and I mean a lot) of players in the “D-League” who are good enough to play in the NBA right now as a contributor or as a 14th or 15th man.
2. There is a shooting coach (the NBDL calls him a shooting consultant) named Bruce Kreutzer who travels to all of the NBDL teams and helps players with their shooting. Where was Bruce when I was playing!! Maybe he could have helped my FT percentage!!! Because the guy knows his stuff and he’s definitely helped guys on our team improve their shooting!
3. Traveling on Southwest is different than the NBA team charter. But to be honest, as long as I get either a window seat or an aisle, the legroom is not an issue. One of our players, Luke Nevill (7’2″ Australian) has found a way around the Southwest Airlines seating issue. He goes to the counter and says, “I am the tallest person in the entire airport. I really need an exit row today.” It seems to work every trip!
4. Our head coach Brad Jones brought in a psychological expert to meet with our team when we played in Bakersfield two weeks ago. The guy was awesome. To be honest, he reminded me a little bit of George Mumford who was Phil Jackson’s trusted team psychologist for a number of years for the Bulls and the LA Lakers.
5. One of the great things about the D-League is that Sundiata Gaines can go from scoring 30 points against our D-League team one night, to hitting a game winning 3 point shot against Lebron James after being called up to the Utah Jazz: Click Here
I hope to see some of you fans at a D-League game in the coming weeks and months. Right now we’re a few games above .500 and we are trying to gear up for a playoff push. The Lakers have a D-League team called the LA Defenders. In fact, they have a deadly shooter on their team named Ryan Forehan-Kelly who I used to play against in college. He went to UC Berkeley. Well, after our game against the D-Fenders at the Staples Center, the Lakers had a game against the New Orleans Hornets. I caught up with Phil Jackson for a little while in the coaching office at Staples before their game. I asked him what he liked better between playing and coaching. He laughed and said, “Well, I can barely remember what it was like to play.” Then he said that as a player you really have to be mentally in tune and physically “keyed up” to do your job. But as a coach, you really have to be mentally tuned in all the time in order to have the impact you need to have.
Earlier this week, I went back to downtown Los Angeles and the Staples Center for the first time since I began coaching. We played our NBDL game on Tuesday night and ended up winning at the buzzer on a shot by Dontell Jefferson. After our game, I went and visited Phil and Kobe in the Lakers locker room a few doors down in the tunnel as they played the same night against the Hornets right after our game. It was great to see Phil Jackson again. It was the first time I talked to Phil since I began coaching and he gave me some really good advice for coaching and explained how as a coach you absolutely have to be mentally keyed up and ready all the time. Frank Hamblen was in the coaches office as well and I had seen Brian Shaw and Jim Cleamons earlier. The only one who was missing was Kurt Rambis and I know that he’s wearing a nice winter coat up in Minneapolis right now!
It was great to see Kobe again. On that Tuesday night, I happened to be wearing one of the suits that he gave me for Christmas in 2002. (Phil always did a Christmas gift exchange within all of the players and coaches). It was funny that year because I had drawn Kobe’s name and he drew mine. I gave he and Vanessa a box of chocolates and book (101 Famous Poems), and he gave me two Italian tailored suits. I guess I probably still owe him a better Christmas gift one of these years!
When I finally caught up with Derek Fisher, (my only other remaining teammate from my time w/ the Lakers), he was already in the chapel session with the Lakers Chaplain and so I wasn’t able to go in there to disturb him to say hello. But I did see one of his close friends Durand and told him to pass along my best. It’s funny the way things work out. On that Tuesday of last week I was running around back there trying to catch up with people and then last night (Friday night), I was watching the Lakers vs. Heat game on ESPN. First it was Derek’s three pointer with a few seconds left, and then it was Kobe’s one legged, three pointer over Dwayne Wade’s hand with time expiring to win the game.
I’ve hit one game winner in my entire basketball life and that was back in High School against Monte Vista High. Earlier that year, our power forward, a great shooter named Ryan Luther, had hit a game winner against the same team. I remember those days well, and to think that players like Kobe and LeBron can hit game winners each season against some of the best athletes in the world is incredible.
Coaching in the NBDL is going great so far. It’s a dream come true to be working with great young players and to try to help them take their game to the next level whether that means the NBA or some other professional league overseas. Right now I’m in Bakersfield, California and we have a game later tonight. A couple nights ago, our head coach Brad Jones and I had dinner at Macaroni Grill in Bakersfield. I accidentally left my credit card there and when I picked it up today, the manager said, “I found your card and tried to find a way to contact you! I went to your blog but you hadn’t posted for a while….so I figured you would realize it at some point and come back to grab it.” Thank you Macaroni Grill, Bakersfield!!
I wish I could have been at the Target Center tonight, but instead I watched part of the game live on my iPhone using the NBA league pass application!!! I have to say that Oleksiy Pecherov is going to be a great player for the Wolves. I even got a text from a friend of mine at the target center saying “I LOVE Pecherov.” As I’ve watched the Wolves over the past few weeks it really seems like all the players are getting a better feel for the Triangle offense. I know this is going to make Kurt Rambis happy as the season progresses. .
As for me, I’ve been breaking down video for the past two weeks getting ready for the NBDL draft which is Thursday night! There is actually a website called www.synergysportstech.com in which Mark Cuban is a major investor. I’ve never ever seen a more complete scouting tool. I can literally put in the name of any NBA, college or NBDL player and then pull up video clips of this player on offense, defense, transition, etc. It makes scouting and preparing for the draft much easier than trying to track down a million different DVD’s to try to learn more about players. I can also stream digital video of full games, international players, and then do breakdowns of every single aspect of what a player’s strengths are. The Synergy System is awesome and it’s only a matter of time before every NBA team and college team is using it.
As part of this scouting process I’m going to introduce all of you basketball aficionados to a very interesting player. I’ve played with two of the best shot blockers ever to play in the NBA in Theo Ratliff and Eddie Griffin. There is a player named Jeral Davis who averaged over 7 blocks per game in college and who recently submitted his name for the NBDL draft! The Utah Flash head coach Brad Jones asked me to do a bit of research on Davis and then asked me what his numbers were. When I said “18 points, 7 blocks, ….” Brad stopped me and said, “Do you mean 7 rebounds?” I said, “It’s hard to believe but he averaged 7 blocks per game!” So, anyway, it’s exciting players like this that make our jobs fun. As the draft unfolds it will be interesting to see what happens with Jeral Davis and if we are able to get him. He is definitely a unique talent given that he is 7’1″ and has a 40 inch vertical jump along with a wingspan of 7’9″. In fact, he never played High School Basketball, but went on to become a dominant college player. It’s up and coming athletes like Jeral Davis that make the NBDL an exciting and productive league in a lot of ways!