Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The value of a mentor

As you've seen by now, it is being rumored that Joe Dumars might replace Flip Saunders with Michael Curry. Of the coaching moves this offseason, this is the first where a team went with a relative newcomer (in coaching terms).

I actually coached against Michael in the CBA when he played for Mike Thibault with the Omaha Racers. [Mike T. is a terrific coach, by the way. Here's a good story about him.] Michael was good for 20 ppg. More importantly, he was a smart player who understood the game and competed hard as a member of some good teams.

He worked his way into the NBA and was president of the NBA Players Association. After his playing career ended, he worked as the NBA's VP of Basketball Operations, so it's clear he's a leader who enjoys responsibility and taking on new challenges.

Sliding over one seat on the bench after only one year as assistant coach is a significant adjustment. To help with the adjustment, look for Dumars to assemble a staff that includes at least one former NBA head coach (Dave Cowens could stay and fill that role) and a veteran assistant.

My college coach, Hank Egan, served as a veteran mentor to me in Golden State. He did the same for Coach Popovich in SA and Mike Brown in CLE, who also played for him. His experience
in Golden State was invaluable. Michael would benefit from having a similar coach on his staff, someone who has been around the game for 40-plus years and who understands not only the game, but people.

As for schemes, I'm sure Michael will borrow ideas from coaches he's played and worked for. Setting a vision and identity for the team is critical -- especially early on -- but implementing practice drills that fit your team's philosophy and help hone your strengths is important, as well. This small detail can be a challange for first-time head coaches. Again, a seasoned head coach can help with issues like this.