Brian Scalabrine, after 11 years and countless memorable quotes and moments later, might be trading one place on the bench for another. Sources told Comcast Sports in Chicago that one of the most mocked and celebrated players in NBA history could join the Bulls’ coaching staff as an assistant to Tom Thibodeau because of the departure of assistant Rick Brunson. But, stop: Don’t do it. It’s not worth it to make a White Mamba joke. The 34-year-old has been in on it the whole time during his career while quietly stashing away four NBA Finals trips and, not-so-quietly, a ring in Boston.
Now he could be joining a coaching staff not long after some coaches predicted just such a move. Scalabrine never took himself seriously as an All-Star caliber player; he knew his limitations, and anything beyond the “glue guy” role wasn’t going to suit the 6-9 forward. It’s what made his perspective after the wins — whether or not he played a role — some of the best in the game. In comments as recent as two weeks ago, he said he didn’t want to retire yet. If this is the end, however, there are some things you need to know about why his coaching career could be anything but laughable, and why the sideline could suit Scal better in a second run than his first.
5. HE DOESN’T TAKE CRAP FROM ANYONE
You’ve probably heard someone on a city league say they could take Scalabrine. Scal, however happy to be a folk hero of the unsung he is, isn’t above calling out BS. It was only more of a week ago that White Mamba told Sam Smith this quote:
“The way I look at it is if that’s the case (people are mocking me), thenâ€”and no disrespectâ€”you’d have to be an idiot,” he says, getting just a tiny bit red other than in his hair. “That I won some contest to be in the NBA? Or that I don’t have to fight every day? That I’m not the first guy on the floor and the first in the weight room and the last to leave? That I haven’t been waking up 5:30 my whole life to train? I’d have to think you’d are an idiot to think I’m a joke. They might, which would be disappointing. Maybe it is that. But I know why I’m here.”
While it isn’t exactly Jordan whipping out his six rings, Scalabrine’s Finals appearances and eight playoff trips have earned him the right to shut down critics. Winning that title, in fact, provided one of the best NBA rebuttals ever uttered when he took a backhanded compliment about being a spare wheel on the Celtics’ title and turned it into a lesson in self-deprecation and smack. Taken together they’re a window into Scalabrine the coach, whose best asset is his ability to give the answer to you straight.Subscribe to UPROXX
4. SYSTEM SCHOLAR
Scalabrine didn’t play 11 years in the league because he could create his own shot. He averaged 3.1 points on 2.9 field goals per game, the very definition of NBA bread crumbs. Instead, he had to find his way to contribute from within game plans that never listed Scalabrine as the top (or second, third or fourth) option. Whether that has been from pick-and-roll jumpers as a solid shooter on a step-out shot, to garbage points inside, Scalabrine has made a living by knowing where everyone is on the floor and what voids he can exploit. However long he had on the court — and it wasn’t long with a 13 minutes per game average — he put himself in the right place more often than not. It’s a skill he can directly help players with in coaching, and one he’s apparently used before. Don’t take it from me, though. Ask Derrick Rose:
“He’s the other coach on the floor,” guard Derrick Rose said. “When Thibs doesn’t know, like, what to run, Scal’s always in his ear. If we don’t know what to run, Scal is always helping me and the other point guards, telling us where to go.”
3. TEAMMATES LOVED HIM
In the Chicago Tribune in May 2011 were two clues as to why his teammates love being on his team and while players under him in the future will feel the same way. The first quote is from Scalabrine on his philosophy as a teammate, while the second is Kyle Korver on how that strategy works in practice.
“And then if you’re not playing, what do you do with that opportunity? Do you help your teammates out or sulk on the bench? Helping my teammates is the route I choose to take.”
“He’s probably the most knowledgeable person on our team,” Korver said. “He’s also probably the hardest worker on the team. He’s got really strong opinions and is fun to debate basketball with. He’s one of a kind.”
Knowledgeable, hard-working, they’re all good qualities you want in a teammate. If anything, it’s a fairly low bar for a teammate. But what made Scalabrine the best teammate is this essential quality: He’s got your back. In Sports Illustrated‘s profile of Rose in March 2011 came this quote, which is possibly everything you need to know about Scalabrine: witty, unapologetically honest and with an on-court ego that’s wonderfully incongruous with his role.
“I have a different word for killers. I call them mother——-. And right now, Derrick Rose is the baddest mother—— in the league by far. He is the reason we win.”
Just watch his teammates at the end and tell me they don’t love Veal Scalabrine, a player who can laugh at himself but is dead serious about winning.
2. HE WON
There is not a convincing, direct connection to be made between Scalabrine’s role on the floor and a team’s wins and losses. His best Player Efficiency Rating of his career of 13.5 came last season in Chicago. That was the same or close to solid but unspectacular players such as Korver, Vince Carter, Randy Foye, Darren Collison and Luke Ridnour, though the Bulls’ production dipped 2.3 points when he was on the floor. And yet, he found his way from one winning team to the next because he made them better as a communicator and strategist. His services were so in demand by Thibodeau in Chicago he actually lobbied management to bring him back in 2010.
Doubt his intangible value? Not those who play with him.
“He’s been to four NBA Finals,” said Joakim Noah, who has grown close with Scalabrine. “We’d be silly not to listen to him.”
Kevin Garnett easily could discount Scal’s role on the 2008 title team. Instead, he was more glowing than someone forging their own letter of recommendation.
“Scal is the ultimate professional athlete. I have uncanny respect for the guy. He came in here and was a professional every day that he put on the green and white. I respect him more than anything. He’s one of my favorite ex-teammates in my small 15 years [in the NBA].”
1. SOME OF THE NBA’S BEST COACHES BELIEVE IN HIM
Boston’s Doc Rivers predicted this in March 2011. To be clear, when Rivers’ squad of stars coalesced into a title-winning team in 2008, the White Mamba was not included in the “stars” category. Or as a role player, either, with 10.7 points per game. Those worked against Scal only in the sense that fans didn’t see his role publicly, instead leaving his best work in practices and in team settings. Rivers was privy to all that. It’s why he said “I love him” before predicting the very spot Scal finds himself at now.
“Scal is going to be a hell of a coach,” Rivers said. “He’s in the same spot I was in at the same point in his career, and all he says is, ‘No I’m going to do TV. I’m going to do radio.’ And I just shake my head, sure Scal.
“Scalabrine, mark my words, will be an NBA coach, and a good one.”
Here’s the key to Scalabrine’s key to longevity in the league: He knows when to work and when to have some fun, but never mistakes the two. Being able to separate his place in fans’ hearts from the reality of being a starter just 61 times in 520 career games means he gives everyone something they want. For fans, it’s a hustle player whose self-awareness about being in on the joke of his own limitations makes him relatable. For coaches, it’s a player who won’t stop working to make the team better even knowing his role is small. Back in the Tribune:
“He’s always had such great enthusiasm for the game,” said Thibodeau, who asked management to sign Scalabrine as a free agent last summer. “Some guys, when they’re not playing, they’re disengaged. Scal has never been that way. I think that’s a big part of why he’s appreciated everywhere he goes. His spirit is so strong. If he’s not playing, he’s helping those guys who are playing and supporting them in every way possible. That’s what a pro does.”
Will he be a good coach?
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