NBA AM: Carlesimo Not Trying To Copy Spurs
Senior NBA & College Basketball Editor
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Brooklyn Nets interim head coach P.J. Carlesimo is currently in a state of uncertainty. He was promoted after the team decided to fire Avery Johnson as their head coach. While the team’s decision makers are publically supporting him, it’s clear that they would like to hire Phil Jackson if they can come to an agreement with the Zen Master.
Despite that, Carlesimo is moving forward like the job is his. This is Carlesimo’s first chance to be a head coach since 2008 when he was let go by the Oklahoma City Thunder. He went to the Thunder after spending five seasons in San Antonio working for Gregg Popovich. What he learned during his time with the Thunder is that the Spurs’ model is hard to copy, so he’s not trying to do that as much as he did during his previous stint as a head coach.
“Oh yeah [I learned a lot from Popovich], but it didn’t work in Seattle,” Carlesimo said to HOOPSWORLD, half-jokingly. “I didn’t take Timmy [Duncan] with me. I think if you take Timmy, Manu [Ginobili] or Tony [Paker], that would help. A lot of the plays work better with those guys. I took a lot away. I was here [in San Antonio] five years. I took a lot away. I was really here less than a year with Avery and I took a lot from him.
“Everyone does things a little bit different as much as there’s not a tremendous variance in the defenses in this league, it’s how you do it, implement it, relate to the players and how you do those things. I said it earlier, I think Pop is the best in coaching. I learned a ton from him. What you learn from somebody and transferring that, like John Wooden was great with sharing his books and things like that. It wasn’t necessarily easy to take it and do it yourself, but yeah it was very, very beneficial.”
In Brooklyn, it would be especially difficult to copy what the Spurs do because the market and franchises are so different. There’s a certain amount of trust and confidence within the Spurs organization that comes as a result of winning multiple championships. Brooklyn won’t have that until they do the same.
“Peter Holt is a great owner, he stays out of it,” Carlesimo said.” He trusts people. He hires them and lets them do their job. Pop and R.C. [Buford’s] relationship is just a special relationship. When you have success, everyone tries to copycat it. This is a hard one to copycat. The fact that they’re the only show in town. The fan support they have here. There are so many things that are unique here. Sam [Presti]‘s done a good job emulating a lot of the stuff in Oklahoma City, Rob [Hennigan] is in Orlando and I’m sure Danny [Ferry] steals a lot when he was in Cleveland and everywhere else. A lot of it is unique individuals. Peter is a very, very, very good owner. Pop’s the best coach I think in the league and R.C. is an exceptional general manager who doesn’t get credit for being as good as he is. There’s what you do, hire three guys like that, let them do their job, draft a Duncan and a David Robinson. It’s a pretty good formula.”
Another vital part of the formula is paying just as much attention to the character of the guys on your team as their talent level.
“I think with one exception he usually doesn’t hire people who aren’t good people,” Carlesimo said of Popovich. “He’s got good people around him, people who work hard. I think, not the difference, but maybe the defining element of the San Antonio franchise starts with Pop and the type of person he is. When you look at the players and coaches they’ve had, it’s the same thing. He only wants good people around here. He’ll sacrifice talent for a good person, so I think he’s had a lot of former players come back and play for him. Monty [Williams] is doing an excellent job right now. Monty was like, I don’t know what his title was. We didn’t have a title. But, one of my years he came in here just to kind of learn how to coach. I don’t think he had a position but he was with us the whole year. Jacque Vaughn did that. A lot of other guys have done it. [Mike Budenholzer] is an exceptional coach. He’s been here for 111 years or whatever it is. He’s got a lot of really talented coaches. Mike Brown is another one. If you think about it they’re all good people too, I think that’s the difference.”
With that criteria the Spurs have certainly experienced a different level of success than most franchises have over the past 14 seasons. Even as their leaders have gotten older they’ve managed to remain amongst the best, a true testament to how good their blueprint really is. Every year the general public is ready to write them off, but they still find a way to excel.
“It’s not honestly,” Carlesimo said when asked if it’s surprising that the Spurs are still amongst the best in the league. “I see the guys. When I saw even Manu in the summer over in London. When the day comes when Timmy’s skills decline appreciably or Manu’s do or Tony’s do, maybe now their stories deserve to be written. To be honest with you, not the Brooklyn media but a lot of the San Antonio media I don’t know what in the hell they’re thinking about or looking at. If you see what these guys have done year in and year out, how can you write a story about that when they continually have the best record in the league or close to it and go to the conference finals every year and have the same crew doing it. I’m kidding a little bit, but wait until they go 30-50 to go, ‘Hey these guys aren’t good anymore’. Write it at the beginning of the year, then they go out and win 60, and look like a moron. That’s not real good.”
Carlesimo and the Nets recently picked up a big victory against the Oklahoma City Thunder after losing decisively to the Spurs. If Carlesimo does keep the job through the rest of the year, expect him to try and duplicate some of the things he learned with the Spurs, but not everything because he knows now what they have is too special to try and completely emulate.
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