Send Coaches to the D-League?

03.10.08 10 years ago 8 Comments

Today’s San Antonio Express-News explores a theory recently presented by George Karl, that some NBA assistant coaches could benefit from coaching in the D-League:

Column: D-League could benefit head coaches, too

When Gregg Popovich couldn’t be saved from his temper on Thursday night and got tossed from the Spurs’ game against the Pacers, Mike Budenholzer slid about 24 inches to his left on the Spurs’ bench and entered a completely different realm of coaching.

Several times in the past two seasons, Adrian Dantley has done the same thing for the Denver Nuggets, though sometimes for entire games as George Karl spent bedside time with his son after Coby’s cancer treatments.

I asked Karl if he thought Dantley, nominated again for the Basketball Hall of Fame for his accomplishments as a player, was ready to be a head coach, and he threw out an interesting notion: Sending assistant coaches with identifiable potential as NBA head coaches for stints with D-League teams, strictly for the sake of getting game coaching experience.

“I think AD’s got to coach,” Karl said. “He’s got to try it, and in this league right now, I don’t know if I’d recommend inexperienced coaches to anybody. There’s so many hurdles and mine fields to work your way through.

“I talked to (Nuggets vice-president of basketball operations) Mark Warkentein the other day about sending coaches down to the D-League.”

There are two first-time head coaches in the league this season and both have struggled in bad situations.

Marc Iavaroni was the “hot assistant” after sitting at Mike D’Antoni’s right hand during the Suns’ successful runs. He landed the job in Memphis, where his young players made too many mistakes to win many games and then ownership decided to throw in the towel on the season, forcing one of the worst trades in league history and making it impossible for Iavaroni to win games.

Sam Vincent was hired in Charlotte for (relatively) short pay, and he showed his inexperience by promising the Bobcats would make the playoffs. They won’t, not even in the dreadful Eastern Conference, and some around the team believe Vincent has lost his players.

I don’t know if D-League experience could have prepared either Iavaroni or Vincent for what they faced this season, but Karl’s point is interesting.

“I think you get to this point,” Karl said, “and the next step is the void of experience. We jump over all the time. We give the opportunity. But a lot of times in pro coaching we have felt the college coach has stumbled early in his career because of whatever problems our game presents to coaching. But now the younger coaches stumble more often because of the dichotomy of different things and the stress and pressure of other things and, of course, trying to figure it out.”

I asked Popovich what he thought of Karl’s idea.

“Off the top of my head,” he said, “it sounds like a good idea. It’s kind of like coaching in the summer leagues, in Utah or L.A. It’s an opportunity for guys to see what it feels like to see the pace of the 24-second clock and end-of-quarter and end-of-game situations, all the junk that happens.”

“It’s probably a pretty good idea. We’ve all got guys we think will be pretty good head coaches. Some have more experience than others. Yeah, that’s probably a good idea.”

One problem, in Popovich’s view: The coach hired to run the D-League team — in the case of the Spurs-owned Austin Toros, Quin Snyder — would feel like an odd man out.

I disagree with Karl that head coaching experience is a must for success in a first job. It took Mike Brown only three seasons to get the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals in his very first job as a head coach at any level.

Jeff Van Gundy got the Knicks to the Finals in his first run as an NBA head coach, too.

“I had no experience, none,” Van Gundy said. “I coached 20 high school games, and some summer league games. I think the summer league was very valuable. I love summer league. When you take it seriously, it’s your best chance to simulate what you might do.

“I was under somebody (Pat Riley) who allowed me to do it, the whole thing. Is it the same? No. But at least it’s similar.”

He does agree with Karl about one thing.

“I agree with George in the sense that you only get one chance to make a first impression that you’re competent,” he said. “There’s not a lot of sympathy from players if you screw up, like late in a game. Everybody screws it up now and then, but there’s not a lot of sympathy.”

The NBA, like all professional sports, leagues is full of pro-sized egos (and many times, as we have seen, coaches’ egos can be just as massive as the egos belong to the players they manage). So how would a coach react to being “sent down”? I guess it depends on each guy’s personality. Some would view it as an opportunity to get better, while others would surely look at it as an insult. The biggest thing though that I think many coaches would point to immediately as a reason to decline the offer to go to the D-League for a stint? Can you think of one guy who has been a head coach there who is now in prime positioning for an NBA head coaching gig? It feels like there’s a perception attached to it that would be tough to shake, much in the same way that you will most likely never, ever see Bill Laimbeer coaching a NBA squad because he’s been a “women’s coach” for years now.

To read the full post, go HERE.

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