TrueHoop: The Playbook

When I was growing up in Portland, Oregon, my favorite player, bar none, was Blazer point guard Terry Porter. He was one of the game's best point guards -- despite the fact that in college, under Dick Bennett at Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Porter had hardly played any point guard at all.

The player who have the best shot at being great coaches, I believe, are those who had to work hard to master the NBA game -- if they succeed, they succeed with plenty of tricks and stories to share. (Super-gifted players may or may not be able to impart anything of value.)

After entering the NBA, Porter learned everything from how to shoot from long-distance to how to run a team full of NBA players. And he got really good at both, and stayed effective for so many years that he ended up in the playoffs in 16 of the 17 years of his career. He played twice in the NBA Finals, and used his reinvented shot to gain a reputation as one of the league's elite clutch scorers.

From 2003-2005 Porter was head coach of the Milwaukee Bucks. Before that he was an assistant with the Sacramento Kings, and for the last two seasons he has been an assistant with the Detroit Pistons. 

As part of The Playbook, an ongoing series of basketball conversations with coaches, Porter agreed to talk to us about the Pistons, their big game last night, their young players, how they defend certain key opponents, and more:

So, big game last night against Boston, but you couldn't get the win. I guess you can take something from that, though, right?
We didn't come in and start the way we would have liked to. We did a great job of getting back in it and then we had a mini-meltdown in the fourth quarter.

Fortunately we worked so hard to get it tied back up, so we're going to focus on the little mistakes we made during that stretch and things that we think that we need to improve on going forward. We can get better in those areas but we don't want to have that type of slippage the next time we face those guys.

Give them some credit. They really played well. KG stepped up for them. I thought we did a great job on Ray Allen and Paul Pierce, as good a job as anybody has done on those two guys all year long. You just have to say that KG stepped up big when they needed some shots and Rondo played good through some stretches.Terry Porter

just have to take the different scenarios in the game where we didn't play as well as we would have liked and try to go back to the drawing board and improve on them.

I noticed you guys really didn't double KG at all.

Is that that because against this team, it's tough to leave anybody? What's the decision-making process there?
Well, KG obviously is an outstanding player. We feel that we have one of the best low post defenders as far as bigs and have done a good job in Rasheed Wallace and Antonio McDyess.

So we have some bigs that can really bother them and make them take tough shots. Now, can we stop someone, I don't know if you can stop someone that has stature but you can make it more difficult for him.

You have to weigh your options as far as do you want to double him and open up the other guy so those other guys get a rhythm to the game, because he is such a great passer.

We just felt that our guys could definitely do a good job to make him work for everything he's got and not make anything easy and limit some of those other guys getting involved, getting into a rhythm. It would not allow Ray Allen to get some wide open 3s and not allow the team to get open 3s, period. That's one of the better teams in the league. I think they are second as far as three point percentage, and they average about 20 a night. So we thought that would be a good way for us to limit that part of the game.

Also seems like Rasheed was giving him room on the perimeter, kind of daring him to shoot that jumper ... and he was just shooting it and hitting it.
Yeah, KG shot the ball well. I think overall, when he catches us on the perimeter, we try to, again, you know, not let him get anything easy. So everything that he takes, we want it to be a contested jumpshot, and last night he just seemed to be in a pretty good rhythm.

Overall I thought we did a pretty good job, again, of contesting those shots, not giving him uncontested shots. But he got into a pretty good rhythm and we didn't have an opportunity to really break him of it.

Now let's talk about your team generally, not just last night. You have the same core players as you've had for quite some time and we have all heard about Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace, Tayshaun Prince, Antonio Mcdyess and the like. But you have a lot of other newer players contributing, and maybe we can roll through some of the names. Let's start with Jason Maxiell, who has seemed to development this season into quite a player.
Yeah, you know, first of all, our core guys have been together for more than five years, they have been able to go to the Eastern Conference Finals five years in a row and get to the NBA Finals twice. So they know how to play the game. What they have done is amazing.

I think our bench has really matured, the guys that we've had here for a couple years.

Jason Maxiell is a young man who we feel brings great energy, great defensive presence and ability to block shots and change the game in that regard. You know, he's made big strides every year, and this year, game by game, he's going to see improvement. We're excited about what he brings to the table and how he helps us with energy and the hustle and doing all the little plays, intangible things on the floor.

I don't think he guarded Garnett much at all last night. Any reason for that?
No, I think he had his chances. He was on him a little bit, maybe it wasn't as much because KG was out of the game when he went in the game. But he's not a guy that we feel can't guard KG, so maybe just wasn't on it because at the times he was on the floor KG was not on the floor. He is definitely someone we feel we can still put on KG. 

And let's talk about Amir Johnson.
Well, Amir is another young man who came in with high expectations. I think he's just starting to slowly get an opportunity to show his skills.

He's been working hard on his body and conditioning and waiting for the opportunity to play and this year he has done that. Another guy who is very athletic and moves around the floor extremely well, can block shots and rebound and change the game in that way.

It's important that these guys continue to get playing time. Coach is continuing to give them that, so they can continue to improve on their confidence level in game situations, and not have the uncomfortable position of when the playoff comes around and he calls upon them, and they don't have enough game experience.

They are getting to have enough confidence so that they know, when they step between the lines, what is expected of them and how they need to go about helping our team be successful.

How do you as a coaching staff find time for player development during a busy season, when you're focused on competing as a top team?
Well, a lot of it is obviously the practice time, those guys from when we go up against the starters. And a lot of times, guys are getting individual workouts in after practice. It's obviously very important that they get that in.

Most of our young guys are very good about working on something every day to try to get those guys continued improvement.

Do you carve up the roster as a coaching staff, where somebody handle bigs and somebody handle guards? Do you individually work with particular players more than others?
We all just grab guys, different times throughout the year. The rest of coaching staff, the rest of the guys pick guys and work with them, Igor [Kokoskov] and Mike [Curry] and Dave [Cowens] and myself, we take the different players and work on different things, from post ups to pick and roll situations and then shooting, obviously.

I know in your own career, you became a point guard in the NBA without playing that role in college, and that clearly involved being on the receiving end of a lot of player development.
Yeah, I just went to a small school. Coach Bennett tried to put five guys on the floor he felt could really play well together and not really trying to narrow down a player's particular position like the ones, twos, and threes.

Bigs and perimeters is basically what he said.

So I was fortunate enough to play a lot, but not at the point guard position. Once I got into the League I knew if I was going to stay into the League, I had to learn some ball skills.

So I had to work at that and get a feel for time management. Obviously the shooting was something I had to get at, and I slowly learned all those things I needed to learn.

Do you coach a lot of shooting now? I know you went a lot of time working on your shot in the NBA, right?
Yeah, we talk a lot about shooting. I think shooting is very important in the game today. I think it's something that, you know, we don't pay enough attention to sometimes because we just don't have the time with our schedule and try to squeeze it in in practice. I think Coach does a good job of making sure we always have a segment where we do some type of team shooting or individual shooting to try to maintain the fundamentals and maintain the reps and get the guys enough shots where they can feel comfortable to keep their shots sharp; or if they are struggling a little bit, to try to tweak with it and get it back to a point where they feel comfortable.

Do you guys have a shooting coach?
No. We don't a particular guy who is just a shooting guru so to speak.

Let's talk about some more of those players, Rodney Stuckey and Arron Afflalo?
Well, both of those young men, I was fortunate enough to coach them in the Summer League, and the first thing I like about both of them is that they have a great will to win. They both play extremely hard. They want to be good.

Both of them have different skill levels.

Arron Afflalo is a very strong defender. Still has some areas that he needs to continue to work on. He's working on his shot, which for young guys, it's very important to get more consistent with the shot, get to the point where they can extend their range and always, again, when you talk about being a perimeter in this league, your ball handling skills are so important. So those things I think are something that he's trying to work on every day, and trying to get inside of playing the game and trying to feel different things out about the game.

When you turn from college to pro, there's obviously a lot of small things that you have to make adjustments for and he's made great strides. I think the coaching staff for a fact is very pleased with the progress he's made up to this point.

Again, it's about giving these young guys an opportunity to play in some games and build confidence. We're pleased with what he's done.

Rodney Stuckey is a very explosive type of point guard, gets to the basket, strong point guard. And again, for him, because he plays the point guard position, it's probably the toughest position for a young guy to try to play because not only do you have to learn your position, but you have to learn everybody else's position on the floor, and sometimes that can be overwhelming. And I think at times this year, he's had some frustrations.

But I think overall, he's really, you know, slowly getting more and more comfortable and learning the game itself and then, it's just about a matter of him working on his skills. Again, being more comfortable being in the leadership position, when you're a point guard, that's something that's very important.

Are those players you think you'll be counting on in the playoffs?
It's hard to say right now.

I think, you know, these last probably when we get to about 15 or 10 games left, I think coach is really going to probably start deciding on some different lineups and experimenting those last games and try to figure out who he is going to put in the rotation. That has not been determined. But at some point he's going to start looking at the lineup and see how the rotation is going to go.

A lot of it also is going to be based on who we play in the first round. Because playoffs at that point is all about matchups. Obviously our starters are going to be the starters but who off our bench and what matchups and advantages we're going to have playing certain guys against our opponent all gets factored in.

As long as we're talking playoff matchups, wonder if you can give me any thoughts about how you go about playing against, let's say, Dwight Howard?
Dwight Howard is a major force in the post. So we try getting our bigs, who I think have done a great job on opposing bigs this year, who have their hands full. Obviously you have to try to give him a lot of different looks. Sometimes we double team him. Sometimes we don't double team him. And again, that's another team that has a lot of really great 3 point shooters surrounding him and trying to create space so he cannot bring the low box.

We just try to really keep him off-balance and try to throw a lot of different lineups, a lot of different bigs at him, and try to like I said at some times double him at different stretches of the games and other times try to make things look very crowded and not to get him get a rhythm.

I think that's the most important thing with someone like that and also trying to not let him get dunks and easy opportunities at the rim.

And a guy I guess you have to worry about in your conference is LeBron James, talk about how you might handle someone like him.
Well, LeBron obviously is having another tremendous year. He poses a lot of different problems because he's so big, so strong, and now he's getting to the point where his shot has become consistent. You have to decide what you're going to give up.

He's another guy where you talk about a superstar type guy, you have to throw him a lot of different looks, you have to throw different people at him and try to make him keep him off balance as much as you can and make him work at the defensive end as much as he's going to make you work at your defensive end.

So he's another guy that we've got to try to just make sure we limit dunks, limit his easy points and then try to limit his free throws. He attacks the rim so much that you can't give him ten or 15 free throws and expect to be successful with that. He's going to be getting to the basket and he's going to be creating matchup problems, and then he's going to be opening the floor for his other teammates.

When Cleveland is playing defense, certainly LeBron seems like at times he's a very effective defender. Who does he guard when you guys play each other? Does he guard Tayshaun? They move him around, really. They put him on Tayshaun some games based on last year's matchup we had with him. They put him on Chauncey at times. So again, they moved him to different they moved him to different, you know, people on our roster at times. So again, I think their philosophy is similar to our philosophy that you've just got to throw different looks at players that can r
eally hurt you and not give him a steady diet of one thing.

Guys are too good in this league that you just cannot draw on the same type of defense night in and night out, especially in a series, best of seven. Guys are too good and coaches make too good of adjustments game after game that you have to throw different looks at them.

If LeBron were guarding Chauncey, does that mean you would be more likely to give the ball to Chauncey to make LeBron work?
Oh, yeah, you would obviously run Chauncey through a lot of screens, make LeBron have to go through a lot of screens, run some pick and rolls and make him be work in that regard, as opposed to having him stay on the weak side and not be a part of the play.

So you have to keep those guys working at the defensive end as much as you possibly can by movement and that's either by pick and rolls or multiple screens or flares or things of that nature, just always have him thinking at that end, as opposed to just have him on the weak side able to lock in and zero in on an opponent and the ball.

So, when are you going to be a head coach again?
Well, I don't know. I've been very blessed, you know, Flip [Saunders] and Joe [Dumars] have given me an opportunity to be a part of this organization and this team, and it's been great. Hopefully we can, you know, zero in on what we have to try to get done for this franchise first, and that's to get back to the Finals and try to win a championship. That's what this organization is all about. Joe has done a great job of putting together a roster and bringing Flip in and allowing me to come in and be a part of this staff. So I'm thankful for that, so right now, just zeroing in on just trying to get this team back The Finals.

Those other things as far as being a head coach, they will take care of themselves if we continue to play well and have success.

But that's part of the plan, right?
That is part of the plan and you take one day at a time to really just help the Detroit Pistons organization and help us get better as players, help our players get better and help our team improve to the point where we can become champions. That's what it's all about. I mean, you look at the top teams in both teams, they are all zeroing on getting back the Finals, putting themselves in position of winning a championship and that's what we are zeroing in on.

One last thing I meant to ask you, you used to coach T.J. Ford?

Are you still in touch with him and what do you think about his progress?
I love T.J. Loved him from the first day we sat down and talked about playing that point guard position.

I just think he's a winner. A lot of people think that he's too small and he's not big enough and he doesn't have the shots or whatever. But I think when you look at someone, obviously you need to look at the whole picture and he's always been a winner at every level and for me in Milwaukee, he was great for us.

I know when we had success, a lot of it had to do with his ability to run the team for us and create opportunities for our team.

I'm a big fan of T.J. Ford, and was sad to see him get the setback this year against Atlanta, but since then, he has come back slowly and he's starting to play again. I just hope the young man is blessed to play a long career, because I think he's great for the league and he has the skill that's needed in this league.

Do you have any opinion about whether or not he should be playing?
I think so much of that is individual. I think, you know, he's had doctors from both sides talk to him, and it's up to him as a player and as a human being to decide if he wants to run the risk.

If it was me, it would be tough for a young man not to continue to play because he has such a great passion. But for him, I give him my blessing for whatever his decision is. If he decides tomorrow enough is enough, I don't know what's going to happen, I want to see if I can have a good life, I would bless him. If he turns around and gets into the playoffs, and is more committed than ever to basketball than I would bless that decision because I think he has great support in his family. They talk a lot about this issue as far as his health, and I think that he will make a decision that he feels is best for T.J. Ford, and that's the most important thing.

(Photo: D. Lippitt/Getty Images)

As a former player (Knick, Nugget, Bullet, Piston, and Bull) and head coach (Raptors and Wizards) New Orleans Hornets assistant coach Darrell Walker has shared the court, as player or coach, with some of the best NBA players in history -- including Michael Jordan, Isiah Thomas, and Joe Dumars.

Walker has a strong sense of who is, and who is not, a superstar. After working with him day in and day out, Walker could not be more convinced that Chris Paul makes the cut.

As part of The Playbook, an ongoing series of conversations with coaches, Walker agreed to talk to us about the powerful Hornets team:

Let's start by talking about the season Chris Paul is having.
Chris Paul is a superstar. There are not a lot of players in this league who are superstars, but Chris Paul is one. He's small, but he's strong as hell. He's very, very, very strong. And he knows the game. He's a great kid too. He's a better person than he is a player, and I don't say that about a lot of people. ...

Quickness. Vision. He's like Isiah. He's like Stockton. He sees the play before it develops. And he's the best I have ever seen at making the play at full speed. He has five or six gears, and he can play at all of them. He can stop on a dime at the foul line and make a shot or a pass like few can.

And he brings toughness. He knows what is happening out there. A lot of times coach calls a play and Chris says "I got something." He knows what he wants to do.

CP is young, but he's way beyond his years when it comes to thinking and understanding the game.

Compare where your team is this year to where you were a year ago.
It is nice to be healthy. This season, we have had almost everybody, and you have got to have players to get anywhere. David West and Chris Paul missed time last season, for some of the season they were out at the same time. And that wasn't all -- we missed a lot of players.

Look at our team, and the way we are playing this year. These guys just get it. They hustle. They play with confidence. In January we won 17 out of 20. That's basketball at a very high level. Chris Paul is playing at another level. David West is an All-Star, and Tyson Chandler was unfortunately left off (although I'm sure Marcus Camby and Chris Kaman are complaining too).Darrell Walker

Tyson Chandler looks so much more assertive and sure of himself now.
[Assistant coach] Kenny Gattison has been doing an outstanding job with Tyson, working on his game. And he's a competitor. He's got a great heart -- just so competitive. You can ask him to do anything and he buys in totally.

Tyson is really comfortable with the coaching staff. In Chicago, his relationship with Scott Skiles was non-existent, and Tyson got a little timid. Byron [Scott] actually had to threaten to fine Tyson money to get him to try to score some more.

When he first came here, if he got an offensive rebound, he always wanted to pass it out. Byron told him to dunk, or go up hard to try and score. It was programmed into him not to make a move, not to score. It happened in a game once, and Byron jumped up and subbed for him, and told him that if he is under the hoop with the ball, he needs to dunk, no matter what happened in Chicago. "You better start trying to score this ball," he said. And his confidence started growing to the point that now he's a nice double double guy.

What is your preferred pace and style of play?
We have to try to run. We're not the Suns. But we should be in the top ten in fast break points.

But we really have to hang our hat on our defense. This team has showed a real commitment to defense. We might not have great individual defenders, but as a group we're solid, up there in the top five or so in terms of points allowed, and field goal percentage allowed.

Tyson is a big part of that. He's soooo long, and he's 7-1. If he can't block the shot, there's a good chance he'll change it. A shooter has to get a really clean look against us for Tyson not to affect it. That lets us do some things with weakside help, and maybe we push pick and rolls to the side more than some other teams. But we'll change it up on you -- show you different things to keep you off-balance. All that really has to happen for us is that we play defense and scrap. We're not imposing. Tyson is a beanpole -- really not the bulkiest guy. So we have to fight a little harder.

Team chemistry helps us overcome a lot. I could play with anyone, but I didn't like a lot of the players I played with. But this is a different team. These guys love hanging out together. They have dinner on the road. They go to movies. That never happens in the NBA, but it happens on this team, and that helps us.

It seems like some teams are daring Chris Paul to shoot long jumpers.
The first couple of years he was in the league, he really thought like a true point guard -- pass first. That's his mentality. But the other night, Byron Scott told him he had to look at the basket now. We do a lot of shooting and conditioning, so he's getting confident. And he ended up making 18/33. He had a few roll out, too. He could have ended up with 50 points.

Why does Chris Paul have so much trouble with Deron Williams?
It's no secret. Deron and Chris have a rivalry, and Deron is such an imposing player. He's 6-4, about 210, and he's solid. Chris has had one good game against him, but Deron plays great against CP. Everybody has somebody they can not guard. Michael Jordan just couldn't guard Jeff Malone. I was a point guard playing alongside Malone, and Jeff just killed Jordan. Jordan even wrote about it in his book.

When teams are playing well, contributions seem to come from everywhere. On your team, you are even getting valuable minutes from a guy who barely made the team, Ryan Bowen.
We are definitely happy with Ryan. He is committed to the game of basketball, and has just been invaluable for his energy. He's crafty, and relentless, and it's not at all rare for him to make two or three great plays in a row. He's in intangible guy, which you love as your twelfth man. He can not play for almost a whole game, then come in and give a great effort. Just one of those guys who does all the small things. You stick him out there for five minutes and then you look up and he already has five boards. He's a little sneaky, and he can run. And when he scores, the players on our bench jump up and go crazy, because everyone has a lot of respect for a guy with a non-guaranteed contract who is making it happen.

How's New Orleans?
New Orleans is doing fine. To be honest, I don't see that much of it. I'm always at practice or taking a nap, or at a game. But there is progress. There are big conventions, Mardi Gras, the All-Star Game. The city's coming back.

There are still people living in trailers. Some of what you see is unsettling, with the crime. You have to watch where you go. But I live right downtown, close to everything, and I love it.

How much does New Orleans love basketball?
There is a lot of basketball here. But it's also big-time football country.

But people are doing everything they can to make it work down here. A lot of people are not coming to games, but I don't think that's because they don't love basketball. They enjoy our team. But think about it. If you have four or five kids living in a FEMA trailer, it can be a little tough to buy NBA tickets. But we'll see how it goes.

How does Chris Paul get so many st

Anticipation. Great hands, and great anticipation.

I played with Alvin Robertson, one of the all-time great stealers, and CP does a lot of the things Alvin did. CP can steal it right off you in the open court. He'll be guarding you close, and then just pop it right out of your hand. I don't think you can learn that. I think you have to have great reflexes. Guys like Allen Iverson play the passing lanes, but CP just takes it from you.

What's your prediction about these crazy Western Conference playoffs?
It seems like they're a long way away right now. We have to have the idea that we're not going to make it automatically. We have to stay healthy, and keep doing what we're doing -- stay committed to defense. Hopefully we can end up in the playoffs, whether it's as a one or a two seed, or a seven or eight seed. The West is so wacky, we can't really predict anything, at right now we just have to play hard and see what happens.

There are plenty of strong teams to worry about. Utah hounds us and all twelve of their players are very physical. They're a pain for everybody. Denver, San Antonio, Lakers, Phoenix, Dallas ... it's not easy. But until somebody beats Tim Duncan, it's San Antonio's game. That's the bottom line.

(Photo: Layne Murdoch/Getty Images)

Through the years, I have learned that when I hate seeing the Blazers play against a certain player, it's probably a sign that player is pretty darned good.

As someone who grew up watching the Blazers in the 1980s, I learned to hate seeing them play against Kurt Rambis. It may have seemed like he was the brute lucky enough to draw Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy, etc. as teammates. But in fact, I'd argue he was an essential ingredient. What team couldn't use a big, strong, agile guy with good hands, a willingness to make a career without the ball, and a rare understanding of the game?

He's in a club with some pretty good players (Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Bill Laimbeer, for instance) who frustrated me to no end in my Blazer mind, but impress me to no end in my basketball mind. If that makes any sense. 

Of course, now Rambis is the former head coach and current assistant coach for the Los Angeles Lakers. As part of our ongoing series of discussions with coaches, Rambis agreed to talk basketall -- the triangle, life without Andrew Bynum, and more -- with TrueHoop:

The Lakers have a special challenge whenever they acquire a new player: the triangle. Some guys take years to learn it. Some never seem to get it. It's the reason the Lakers have their own D-League team -- to teach it. Is it really so hard to learn?
I do not believe so, no.

I played in offenses that used the same principles growing up. Moving, getting teammates open, moving the ball -- that's how I grew up. We played more without the ball, then.

Compare that to the Leauge today, where most of these players have grown up as stars in systems where coaches call plays, and they get the ball in their hands to create. Players understand that. But we're asking them to let the ball dictate what their next action is supposed to be, instead of the coach. But in reality, the triangle is really just ball movement, player movement, and spacing in such a way that everyone on floor has access to receive a pass.

If I'm a fan watching on TV, how can I tell if the triangle is "working?" How can I tell if you're running it well?
Any time you see that ball is not being dribbled a lot in the half-court set, it's probably working. If you see the ball being moved around, and players making their respective cuts,Kurt Rambis those are good signs.

That said, within the triangle, you can do almost anything that you see other teams do, whether it's a high screen and roll or a wing screen and roll.

You can do all that within the triangle. We can do it, however, without yelling out "FIST UP, FIST UP!" and then the opposing coach is screaming to his players "HIGH SCREEN AND ROLL!"

We can get into a high screen and roll through the reactions of our players.

But you still can send in instructions from the sideline, right?
We have play calls. We can manipulate the offense.

You can still, say, go to the hot hand?
Phil [Jackson] can do that. But he doesn't want to do that, and shouldn't have to do that. We should be able to accomplish that through our offense, and in such a way that the defense has a harder time recognizing what we're going to do.

Are you ever not in the triangle? Are there times you just do something else?
If the staff had their druthers, we'd be using the triangle at all times. And I think that any basketball purist would rather see more player movement, more passing, and less dribbling.

The result of all that should be a quality shot: a layup, or a wide open jump shot within the player's range. Making that shot -- that just depends on the skill level of the player. But if you end up with a shot like that, the offense has accomplished its job, whether or not it goes in.

On the other hand, if a player comes down and misses a shot from three-to-five feet behind the three-point line, they might say they were open, but the answer is "yeah, but who would guard you out there?" Our objective is to penetrate the defense and find high-quality shots.

How does your approach change without Andrew Bynum for the next couple of months?
Well, we have changed our starting lineup, and we have changed our second group. So we have to get Chris Mihm back from ankle surgery, and we have to get Kwame Brown back to where he was [before his strained knee ligament]. Ronny Turiaf will probably take on a somewhat different role where he can play more center.

There is a possibility of playing a little smaller, like a lot of other teams do. We could play with an extra small forward or guard for periods, in a lot of different combinations. That will be determined by matchups, of course.

Also, we need to find ways our second unit can keep its identity. That has been our fast unit, which has been a strong factor for us, and hopefully that can continue.

Beyond that, players are going to have to step up, to find ways to make up the points, rebounds, and blocks that we will be missing.

Our first unit players had grown to be very comfortable with Andrew in the middle. One-on-one he was starting to be productive. And his teammates were comfortable that he would deliver if they gave him the ball. Now they'll have to make it their mission to develop that kind of confidence in Kwame, Ronny, and Chris.

I guess in a perfect world, another big man does get going well here, and then when Andrew returns, the team as a whole is stronger for the experience -- with an extra big man in the groove.
That's kind of how it happened for Andrew. Kwame and Chris's injuries last year opened the door. Andrew didn't earn playing time last year. Don't get me wrong, he worked hard and practiced hard, and was ready to capitalize. But the two guys in front of him got injured, and he was the last big guy standing.

How's the mood now? This season started for the Lakers with so much negativity. And then the pendulum swung the other way, and things seemed to be going so well. Now this Bynum injury. Does that leave you distraught again? Even-keeled?
Camp was full of so much turmoil and uncertainty. Then there was no trade made of Kobe Bryant. And Kobe settled into the role of "OK, I'm here. I'm going to do my basketball thing." And then a lot of guys stepped up, but especially Jordan Farmar and Andrew Bynum, who really started to deliver on a consistent basis, and started playing with confidence.

Things started to click for us. Guys got high on how the team was playing. They can play better, there's plenty to improve, but everyone was really feeling a continuity of effort, and trust in each other.

Now, there's uncertainty, because it seems like what happens mirrors last season. You can look it up, but we had almost the same record at this time last season -- maybe two or three games different -- and then the injuries set in, and it seemed like there was a 180-degree turnaround from the first half of the season to the second half.

One difference this year is that you have Derek Fisher. I can hardly imagine a player that would appear more ready to help steady the ship when things get rough.
He has been absolutely tremendous. Unbelievable. His knowledge of the offense, his undaunted nature, how hard he practices, his maturity -- it's hard to list the number of ways he has helped out our ball club. He's a great example. And when people have been through personal tragedies and different situations like that, they know how to pull through. They can look at things in a more realistic way.

I have been asking lots of coaches about zone d
efense. It seems to me that it has come of age somewhat -- more teams are using it for longer stretches, whereas in the past it has long been seen as kind of a gimmicky or junk defense. Do you think zone defense has come of age in the NBA?

Teams are starting to show some confidence in the zone. But you have to realize that there are man-to-man principles in zone defense, and there are zone principles (for instance, weak side help) in man-to-man defense.

On the NBA level, zones can certainly be disruptive. They have a shock factor, which can distract players and make them hesitant. It can take them longer to figure out what's going on.

Interestingly, the triangle can be helpful here, because one of the best ways to beat a zone, is overload one side, then swing the ball and re-attack, and then you can overload again on the other side, and swing again. The triangle does that anyway.

With the talent level in the NBA, however, where there are a lot of quality shooters, the zone is less effective over the long haul. Those shooters spread out your zone, but the whole idea of the zone is to protect the heart of the court. But if it gets spread out, that opens the middle, and then people can pick the zone apart, get to the seams, move the ball, and attack the back side. So a zone has shock value, but it shouldn't last very long.

It also makes it hard to rebound.

But the reality is that some players in the NBA now didn't play against it in high school much, and maybe didn't play in college, or played a year of college. So it might have more shock value for some.

Remembering your playing days -- as a savvy guy who could do the things without the ball to make your teammates shine -- it seems like teams could use players like you, and I wonder if our basketball system is working well to develop role players.
I have always thought that we should not try to pigeonhole guys by putting them into specific positions. Maybe it should be more like Europe (although I haven't been to see what they actually do). Maybe we could teach everyone to dribble, pass, and shoot, regardless of size. Teach everyone to play facing the basket, or back to the basket. Teach them how to be basketball players, and then let them gravitate to what they are best suited to do.

Even if you end up with a seven-foot small forward.
Sure, I mean look at Andrea Bargnani, or Dirk Nowitzki.

It seems to me that if you want to win you need guys like Bruce Bowen, Tayshaun Prince, or you ... yet to make the NBA you have to pretty much be a high-scoring star. And then some of those stars have to learn this new role. Seems like it would make more sense to be groomed for that role from a young age.
Well, there's no glamour in those positions, and a lot of players don't want to play them.

Do you have players who do?
Well, Ronny is a good example. Lamar can be like that, in that he is very unselfish and would rather pass than score.

That Laker team I was on in the eighties was full of role players. I always felt that Magic could have led us to less success if he had been a greedier scorer. If he was out there looking for points, he might have been much less productive.

But scoring is a role too. You count on scorers to score. It's a role most players would love.

But what role you can play has to do with your personality. Some people really love frustrating people, or the rugged play under the basket.

Speaking of that, are there unwritten rules of that kind of stuff?
Yes. There are things that you are not supposed to do. In the heat of the moment, those things do happen anyway, sometimes. You get your competitive fires going. I don't know why it happens, exactly, but players do things they would erase, if they could go back in time.

But you are not supposed to do, for instance, what Kevin McHale did to me when I was in the air. You are supposed to make a play on the ball. There are so many leapers in this league, so many basket attackers. Usually when the defense attacks, they attack the ball, and there might be body contact, but not just body contact.

Also, players at this level understand that elbows can be dangerous weapons, and most know not to swing them.

But they do all the time!
You do see it. But, for instance, if someone has his elbows up at his head, and someone's coming from behind, you're not supposed to swing them into the guy's head. If you hit him in the shoulder, OK, that's another thing.

Anything I haven't asked you about you'd like to add? Anything you wish basketball fans understood about the game that they don't?
Well, I don't know if this answers your question. But when players do something of transcendent athleticism, the twist, turn, jump, pike, flip, or whatever, and they miss the shot, the crowd goes ooh, ooh, oh.

But it's just a missed shot.

To me a much simpler way to play the game is better. The beauty is in the ball movement, the passing, and a lot less dribbling.

Would you like to be a head coach again?
Oh absolutely. That's what I'm working towards.

It seems like coaching, as a head coach or an assistant, is a lot of hard work.
I wouldn't say it's hard like construction, but it takes a lot of time. You meet before practice. Then you practice. Then you watch video, and file reports. It's a 12- or 14-hour day. It's more time consuming than work.

But that's time you're not spending with your kids.
My kids are pretty grown up. My youngest is 15. But I work it around my kids. I'll stay up late watching film after they go to bed. And, depending how you do in the playoffs, you still have the opportunity to have three-and-a-half to five-and-half-months off in the summer, when your kids are out of school. So there's a give and take, but it's not so bad.

(Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images) 

Nate McMillan's coaching staff in Portland has gotten more praise in the last two weeks than in the previous two years combined. Substitution patterns, offensive schemes, matchups ... during this ten-game winning streak, the coaching staff has, it seems, been able to do no wrong.

One of the coaching decisions that has been reaping dividends is the strategic use of zone defense. McMillan's lead assistant, Dean Demopoulos, who coached under Temple's John Chaney for 17 years (he has also coached in Seattle under McMillan, and was a head coach at Missouri--Kansas City), is seen as a moving force behind Portland's zone.

Must be a fun time to be coaching in Portland, huh?
Yeah, it's been terrific. They've got a real good handle on what's been going on, these guys. They've just been playing a together brand of basketball at both ends of the floor. They lift each other up. They're pretty cohesive in the thought processes. We've had some pretty good breaks, which makes for a fun time.

One of the things that's been reported on about your winning streak is that you've been seeing good results playing zone defense. First of all, can you describe what kind of zone you've been using?
Well, it's Nate's zone, really. We've been together seven years, and we've played a lot of different types of defenses. Nate played for Valvano, so Valvano used to junk it up andDean Dempoulos triangle-and-twos and stuff back in the '70s, and '80s. And Nate was a great weak side rebounder. He just understands good defense. It's more a hybrid of all the things that we've experienced, you know, along with [assistant coaches] Monty Williams, Luke [Maurice Lucas] and Bill Bayno, who, you know, played zone at UNLV.

You know, and you have the luxury of having great video, you know, where you can break things down. We've got a guy named Kaleb Canales who just does an unbelievable job piecing everything together. So it's a lot different than it used to be.

I've watched some of these games and it seems that there are stretches when really good offenses, like Utah and Golden State, didn't really seem to have a plan of attack against your zone.
Well, they did. ... You can't take away everything, obviously, and all coaches know that. So there wasn't so much a plan of attack, it's just that, you know, maybe you missed shots in certain areas, and that was the area of the zone or any defense was designed to give up.

It's a funny thing, zone's been played ever since there were double teams in the NBA. If there is a double team, there is a zone, because it's three playing four somewhere. It's just different variations of it. All good defenses have the same thing in common, man or zone.

A lot of coaches kind of frown on the zone. You used the term 'junk it up.' But it seems many feel it's not quite as macho as playing man to man.
Like I said before, a lot of times most things are in common in good man for man and good zone. You have great ball pressure, and good weak side presence, and five guys rebound. And every defense, again, is geared to take away certain things, regardless of whether it's zone or man. So everything gives up something to the offense and vice versa.

Is its effectiveness tied to the element of surprise a little bit? Or does it just work because it's good defense?
I think it's a little bit of both. Just like a good change in your man for man pick and roll defense. You go from going under the screen to trapping it, you know? It's the same type of thing. There are three committed to two on the ball side, okay, and that is zone, you know what I mean?

A lot of different things go into this. The more you can control the ball with just one person, the better off most defenses are going to be. All great players require more than just single coverage.

This roster hasn't had very long together.
Well, this is Nate's third year. But we've just made major changes over the year. You know, Randolph was a great force. And now we've traded him and changed the team up. So far you see growth, you know. That's what we're looking for as coaches. Who knew about ten wins in a row or wins at all for that matter. But you look for growth in your players. Things where they start repeating the things a fair amount of times, so you can call it habit.

Some of the things you're teaching them when you start from that area, the little things are really, really important. The little victories go a long away. We've just lost a lot of games the last two years around here.

There's no one with their eyes in the sky here. We're just enjoying it, but we work to make sure that everyone creates the habit of playing winning basketball. With young players, that takes a lot of work, lot of effort, and a lot of patience on their part also.

Our guys, I tell you, Monty Williams and Bill Bayno and Luke, they really work with these guys. These guys are a lot of little stories in the making. Like Monty Williams with Travis Outlaw. Outstanding.

Travis is someone used to make me nervous every time he touched the ball. I didn't trust his handle, his shot, or his decision-making. Now he's making huge plays down the stretch of close games. He's a great spot shooter now and putting the ball on the floor, he's got a big arsenal of moves, and he's playing good defense, too.
Yeah, Travis is playing really sound basketball. And again, he's done it now for a little bit of time in a row, so it's becoming a habit that you expect from him.

You know, he's not going to do as well as others every night, just like all of them. But for the most part right now, you have to give him a lot of credit as a basketball player. He's grown into a new role this year as being a sixth man and a guy who is as good as I've seen so far this year.

With that second unit, he seems to be the guy that can get his own shots some, which helps. And on the other end of the floor, he really makes a difference. He's part of big defensive stops. Sometimes he's a big part of it where he gets the rebound also.

So Travis has done really, really well. We all couldn't be happier for him, he's a really nice guy.

Another player who has great potential and seems to be more efficient than he has been in the past is Sergio Rodriguez. Can you talk a little about his development?
Sure. Sergio. His eyes are wide open and he wants to attack. He's a player who loves to play basketball and plays it with a flair. Everyone here respects him for that.

He really goes at it 100% at both ends of the floor. He seems to have a younger person's joy for the game. And that's really needed in an 82-game schedule. He's never down. And everybody really respects him, the coaching staff and the other players, and he can play.

He's started to slow down and play situational basketball and allowing his options, his teammates to really get involved and he sees the floor better than a lot of young guards do.

He along with Travis are growing together and Martell Webster.

You know, James Jones has helped that group an awful lot because he brings a little bit of patience and stability to quarterback a little bit from that last position. Buried in the corner, he can see the whole floor and get the weak side moving offensively so his defense can't dig in. He's done some really fun stuff that way, and there is nothing like experience.

Can you give us a typical offensive play and how you, what sort of chess pieces may be involved in what you're trying to
do on the floor to get a good look?

Right now we get down to where we have to win games, obviously, Brandon's handling the ball a lot. He's been pretty close to a triple double -- heavy loaded on the points -- for a long time. So he's been making great decisions with the ball.

We try to get our shooters moving so people can't get a read on them. Most of the good offenses do that. There are few stationary offenses. And you know, guys are making shots. When we make them and we don't turn the ball over and we get the shot, we shoot the ball fairly well at times. You know, when we get a chance, you know, you have a pretty good chance if everyone tries to play defense down the other end.

That's what we're trying to do, we're trying to get a chance. Not throw the ball away because you can't set the defense off a turnover. And when the ball goes in, it is easier to play defense because you can set it and then go through all your schemes and your tricks and all that stuff.

That's why it's a huge cause and effect between what happens on offense, and how you get into your defenses so. An old sage once told me an offense is your first line of defense.

Got to make that bucket. As your players mature, do you feel like you can let them play a little more, work through more mistakes?
Yeah, at times. During the last, well, this is relatively short lived now. Before this we were losing more than we were winning. And it's harder to teach the positive reinforcement when things are ending up in a negative fashion.

As far as losses, that is the trick. For two years we've tried to do that, you know. Steady the course. And go with the changes. Then try to get them into the fold with Nate's philosophy. It's always better to teach through winning, you know? That's where you can get on and really, really push guys.

You know, when you're losing they feel as bad as you do, and it's hard to browbeat. You don't want to do that. It's easy to be negative. That's a challenge when you're rebuilding, both for the players and the coaches.

What kind of teaching-the-game stuff can you do with Greg Oden while he's watching all this?
He gets it through osmosis a little bit. Just being there, feeling it, you know. Making sure that you show him things that are happening on the floor. I know when we were playing bigger, stronger players the Mournings, the Shaqs, Luke was making sure Greg watched how the power players play. And we don't have a power player on our team. There are only a few of them in the world.

Guys always learn better from watching guys. That's how little kids watch and mimic you. They learn better through watching and seeing what players do and stuff like that. You know, being around practice, he's a nice kid, he's a nice guy. Hopefully, he'll come back and get into condition for us and start from there.

You've coached under John Cheney, and you were a head coach in college at Missouri Kansas City. And then you moved into the pros. What are some of the differences between coaching in college and coaching in the pros?
The game's different because of the clock and all the rules. So it makes it a different game technically speaking. Players overall, we had a bunch of guys that played in the NBA. I think 14 or 15, something like that. So it wasn't like I was not used to players that are of that ilk.
It was all of them on the floor together, when there's ten body styles, it's a much more physical because the guys are just big and strong. The court's a lot smaller. So perceptually or spatially, it looks different.

But the things that win basketball games are the same. Whether you go to junior high, you know, which I did coach. I coached at junior high, too. So the things you teach will be the same. But the game's different, and the players are different. But the fundamentals stay the same.

(Photo: Sam Forencich/Getty Images)

The Playbook: Alvin Gentry

December, 17, 2007

The Playbook is an ongoing series of conversations with coaches.

Phoenix Suns assistant coach Alvin Gentry has been coaching in the NBA for nearly 20 years. As an NBA head coach of the Heat, Pistons, and Clippers, he has coached the likes of Glen Rice, Grant Hill, Jerry Stackhouse, and Elton Brand. He has also been an assistant for the Spurs, Hornets, Pistons, Heat, and Clippers. He currently works under Mike D'Antoni for the Phoenix Suns.

You have been a coach of some kind around the NBA for nearly 20 years. Would you rather be a head coach or an assistant coach in the NBA? What's the difference?
I mean, obviously you'd rather be a head coach. I mean, I'd rather be a head coach and run your own program and run your own team and things like that. However, that's a very difficult situation, so I'm happy doing what I'm doing right now. I think I'm on a great team and a great franchise, but obviously I would like to have another chance to be a head coach in the league.

You're talking to me from a hotel in San Antonio, where you were once an assistant coach working alongside Gregg Popovich and RC Buford under Larry Brown.
I was. I was an assistant for Pop for six weeks before I got the head coaching job with the Clippers [years later] too.

The Spurs have been Phoenix's nemesis a little bit. Do you feel maybe you should have stuck with the dark side?
Well, I don't think so. There's a reason that everything's happened, and these guys have hadAlvin Gentry a great run and Pop has done an outstanding job here. I still think that we're good enough that if everything aligns itself that we'll have a chance to win the championship. I mean, obviously winning a championship is very important.

Before the season they always make people like me pick who's going to win a championship, and I picked Phoenix this year. What do you think, are you going to make me look smart?
We're going to try to make you look smart. I think the whole thing is obviously you've got to stay healthy, and not only do you need to stay healthy, you've got to have some luck. If you look at the situations that have happened, you've got to stay injury free. That's the big thing. We lost Joe Johnson three years ago, a guy that's a really tough matchup for anybody. We lost him. The next thing we lost Raja [Bell], and then last year obviously the suspension thing. And that's not to say that we would have beaten San Antonio anyway, but we had a better chance going in with Amare and Boris than we did without them.

I have to ask you about Jack McCallum's book "Seven Seconds Or Less" for a second. It's a behind-the-scenes look at your current team, the Suns. First of all, overall when that came out and you guys all got a chance to read it, what did you think?
Well, I thought he did a good job with it. Obviously everything is not a bed of roses and there was some negative stuff there, but I thought for the most part it kind of depicted what we're all about and our team and our players and the way things were behind the scenes.

We gave total access to Jack. It wasn't one of those deals where, oh, no, you've got to step out, or hey, let's not talk around Jack. We were just ourselves, and I thought he did a good job of showing that.

There were a couple episodes in the book I want to ask you about. You kind of famously called Michael Olowokandi something that I don't know if we can put it on, but it sounds like "Pansy."
Well, no, and that kind of got a little bit blown out of proportion. We were just talking about dunks one day, and it was really just kind of kidding around thing, and it got to be a little bit bigger than it really was. I like Michael, I think he's a good guy, and that was just kind of one of those things that got a little bit blown out of proportion, I think.

But then in the book Jack points out that the next time you guys played them you hid under the stands for a little bit to make sure there wasn't any uncomfortable confrontation.
(Laughing) that didn't happen. I've talked to Michael after that, and I've talked to him a few times after that, and obviously I coached him for two and a half seasons in LA and had some big games. He had some 20 rebound games and things like that. I think, like I said, I think that one was kind of blown out of proportion a little bit.

That's what we do in the media! There's another episode in there, where your team got back from I think a rough road trip as I remember it, and then you went home and your neighbor's alarm was going off and they were out of town so you went to put on some shorts, went over to check it out and the police took quite a bit of time questioning you about what you were doing there and wondering if you were a suspect, right?
I don't know if I was a suspect, but it just kind of happened that way. I'm sure if you see a guy dressed like I was looking over somebody's fence that you might question them, too. I would hope that it wasn't a racial thing, you know. I would really hope. I mean, I don't get hung up on those kind of things very often. I would just hope that it would just be a suspicious looking person that he decided to ask a few questions to and not the fact that I was black. Like I said, the whole racial thing, I would hope that it wasn't because of that.

I can't get a good handle on race relations in the NBA. On the one hand, a lot of teammates love each other, seems like they've made a big melting pot in a lot of ways, and there are a lot of blacks and whites in positions of power, et cetera. I just interviewed Bob Johnson who owns the Bobcats last week. But at the same time there seems to be all kinds of taboos and things. Like I know people joke about black players don't want to be dunked on by white players. Do you feel like there's a lot of racial tension in the NBA or are we past that?
I don't think there's racial tension. I think there's competitiveness in there. I don't think guys want to be dunked on by anybody. I think if you talk with the Collins brothers at Utah and New Jersey, I don't think they would want to be dunked on by each other. I just think it's a real competitive league. I think what we've got is our players are the most visible players in any pro sport. We don't have hats on, we don't have helmets on, so they're the most recognizable athletes that they are.

But I don't see it as any kind of racial tension or anything. I think guys go out and play. There's a hell of a lot of great black players in this league, there's a hell of a lot of great white players in this league. The last two MVPs, when you look at Dirk and what Steve has done, the last three, really, it's been white players.

I think that sometimes we maybe take the race thing a little bit you know, I don't know, overboard would be the right word, but I just think sometimes you've just got to judge people by people and not worry about what color they are.

Your team, just from reading that book frankly and watching them on TV, it seems like your team is just a place people are happy to be, and it sounds like you as a coaching staff go to some lengths to make everybody feel comfortable.
Well, I think that's a direct reflection on Mike [D'Antoni]. I think Mike does a good job of I think he's got a great relationship with all the players on our team, and that's from Steve Nash all the way down to the last guy on our roster. I think the one thing that he does, he's a good communicator, he makes
sure after practice -- really after most of our practices -- he'll walk around and ask every guy, are you all right, are you okay, do you need to talk, things like that.

And so what I think happens is that rather than have the tension grow, he nips most of the tension in the bud before it can even become a problem. I think that's just a direct reflection on Mike and the type of guy he is. He makes it a real comfortable environment for players to do well in. I think he makes it an environment where you feel like if you have something that you can do and it's in your game that you can do that without any repercussions.

One thing I really noticed in the book was that you, as a coaching staff, encourage shooters. I hear so many coaches talk shot selection all the time and they don't want this shot and that shot, but in that book, we heard you saying, look, we want you guys to shoot that shot.
Well, I think there again is Mike's philosophy, which I think it took adjusting as a coach, when you've been in this league kind of 20 years and it's kind of been the same thing. I think what Mike allows players to do is I think Mike's philosophy is if you have an open shot, we should shoot it because it may be very difficult to get that shot again in the next 10, 12 seconds. So our whole deal is if you've got an open shot, you shoot that shot, it's a good shoot, and as long as it's a good shot, it doesn't matter if it comes five seconds into the shot clock or if it comes 20 seconds into the shot clock.

People have tried to give sort of a thumbnail sketch of what the Phoenix offense is, how it works. Can you give me an insider's perspective?
Well, if you want a thumbnail sketch of it, what we try to do is keep pressure on the defense at all times, and that's on made baskets, missed baskets, turnovers. We try to keep the middle of the floor open so that Steve Nash and Grant Hill and Amare Stoudemire and guys that can drive the basketball and make plays have an opportunity to make plays. Our whole deal is that we take it to the basket, and if you stop us then we try to penetrate and pitch to open shooters and if you don't then we lay it in. It's a pretty simple all around philosophy as far as basketball is concerned.

Now can you give me the thumbnail sketch of Steve Nash's defensive abilities?

I'll tell you this, I think Steve is very underrated. I think what happens in this league is they pin something on you and then it kind of sticks with you. I think Steve is one of the hardest working defensive guys that we have. I think that he's a very smart defensive player. Sure, he's going to get overpowered by some of the guys, but those guys that overpower him overpower a lot of other point guards in this league, too. I don't think that's what I would call a negative. It's just a matter of physically that guy may be bigger or stronger than he is, but I think that it's really you know, some of the things that are said about his defense are not true, and I think as long as he's trying like he is and is working as hard as he is, we're fine with the way he plays defense.

I notice you played for [Pete Maravich's father and coach] Press Maravich at Appalachian State.
I did.

We all heard about how he sort of was the genius that created his son, I guess. But what was it like playing for him?
Well, the only thing about it is I went there thinking, boy, we're going to run up and down and shoot the heck out of the basketball and everybody is going to average 20, and then when I got there, I realized that he was more of a defensive guy than anything, and we didn't shoot a whole lot and we didn't run up and down a whole lot.

I just thought he was ahead of his time with some of the things that he thought about. All the stretching and all the exercising that is done now, we were doing that in 1975. I think that he was way ahead from that standpoint and just some of the things that he did basketball wise, and he was a great man. He really was a great man.

Did you do what we think of now as "homework basketball," all these exercises that he developed for his son Pete?
Well, what he did, we have a lot of drills that we did in practice that would and he was a little bit different. The guards did all the same things as the big guys, the big guys did the same drills as the guards, as he tried to make everybody a complete player and he wanted our bigs to be able to step out on the floor and play and do some things like that. Like I said, I thought he did he was a really great basketball mind that was probably a little bit ahead of his time.

He was just one of the people you worked with. You worked with Larry Brown pretty extensively. We've all heard he's a great teacher, but what does that really mean in practice?
I think what Larry does is he demands perfection, and in order to get that he's a big believer that you have to execute and it starts in practice with your execution. So he's tough on point guards. He really knows how important it is for your point guard to run your team and do good things, so he's tough on point guards. But all the guys that have listened to him and all the guys that have kind of gone by what he said have become really good players in this league.

I think if you go back and talk to Mark Jackson or even Chauncey Billups, I think they'll tell you, they'll be the first to tell you that Larry has really helped their games.

Or Allen Iverson ...
Or even Allen Iverson.

I'm going to run through a bunch of names in your biography here. Your cousin is David "Skywalker" Thompson?
He is.

That must have been something to grow up in driveway games with him, wasn't it?

Well, it is, it was, and the only thing I remember is that when I was a sophomore he was a senior, and we both had really good basketball teams in high school. We decided to guard him as a box-and-one, and I think I held him to like 38 or something like that.

And you were probably happy with that, huh?
(Laughing) No, but he's a tremendous player, and I don't know if the younger generation can appreciate everything that he did or everything that he was in the NBA for a guy his size. But he was a tremendous shooter, tremendous leaper. I mean, the guy averaged almost 40 points a game as a freshman in college, and then he came into the league. I think any time you can line up and get 73 points in an NBA game and the way that he plays and the things that he did, he was a terrific player.

You also worked with Doug Collins.
I did work with Doug Collins. I'll tell you, I think Doug is the most intelligent person that I've ever been around in my life just intellectually and basketball-wise, when you put it all together.

I thought that he just had an unbelievable grasp of the game from a coaching standpoint. I just don't think coaching is for Doug, and I think he'll be the first to tell you that.

But from the standpoint of knowing the game and being able to put guys in situations of success, if you go back and look I mean, when he was at Detroit we came into a situation where basically I think they'd won 22 games or something the year before, we won 46 and then 54, and he did a great job of putting guys in position where they could be successful.

He's just got an unbelievable knowledge of the game and an unbelievable feel of the game. You know, I mean, the guy was the first pick in the NBA draft, so he's got to know how to play. But to me I'm still reall
y close to Doug, and I almost look at Doug as a brother. I'm really close to him. I just thought that he was just he's just a brilliant guy, and I don't know how to explain that other than there's not anything intellectually that you can ask him about that he wouldn't know about, and basketball wise he's just a real I just think he's a real student of the game.

He has an appreciation. He can go all the way back to the Bob Pettits and those people of the world and even back farther than that, and he appreciates the evolution of the game.

Another person I want to ask you about is your former colleague who's now head coach Marc Iavaroni. Can you tell us a little bit about him?
Yeah, I think Marc is the most organized guy I've ever been around in my life. I think he does a great, great job of I think covering all the areas. I think he's going to do a great job in Memphis. Obviously it takes a little while, but I think he'll get guys to play hard for him. I think he has an unbelievable grasp of the game. He's worked for some great coaches. He's been in the system for Pat Riley, he's been in the system for Mike Fratello, two great coaches in this league.

I think what Marc has done which is really good is that I think he's taken something from all of those guys, from Pat Riley, from Mike Fratello, from Mike D'Antoni, and then I think he's kind of incorporated those into the type of coach he wants to be, yet he's still himself. And I think that's the most important thing.

I look for Memphis to do good things here. Obviously it's not going to happen overnight, but I think Marc will do a great job there.

Anything else you want to tell me about that I haven't asked you about?
That's about it, other than when you've been in the league as long as I have you're going to work for a lot of teams and you're going to be fired a lot, okay? But I wouldn't trade it for anything. To me I think it's the purest form of basketball there is.

I think what happens is that in the league, which is really discouraging, is that it's a league of over 400 players and you may have ten guys that are bad apples, and those are the guys that are being written about, and you don't have guys writing about the Grant Hills or the Tim Duncans or the David Robinsons of the world, and to me those are the guys that everybody should be writing about and not the ten bad guys or whatever that are in this league.

For the most part all the guys in this league are good, solid guys. They're easy to coach and they do exactly what you ask them to do. If you take that out and you take 450 guys or whatever and there's only ten bad guys, that's a pretty doggone good percentage.

Actually one thing I want to ask you about really fast is there's only a couple really long tenured coaches in the NBA. Would the league be a better place if coaches got to sort of keep their jobs through the down periods a little bit more?
Well, obviously I'm going to say yes to that (laughing). But it's hard because it is a league of instant gratification. I do think that if you look around, the most successful franchises are the franchises that have longevity with coaches. If you look at Utah and what they've done over the last 15 years, they've won a ton of games. When you look at San Antonio, they're the winningest franchise of any pro franchise over the last ten years.

Obviously I think when you look and you keep continuity within your franchise and be able to just to be able to get by the bad periods at times, I think you can't be judged on one bad year or two bad years. I think you've got to give the coach a chance to kind of get that thing turned around and headed back in the right direction, but a lot of times the patience is not out there with management and they decide to make changes. Obviously that's their prerogative.

But I just see the teams that are winning the most in this league are usually the teams that have continuity within the coaching staff and within the players on the floor.

And they kind of build a culture, I guess?

(Photo: Noah Graham NBAE/Getty Images) 

We're ramping up with a series of interviews with people who actually coach basketball. Imagine that! We talked to Celtics Assistant Coach Tom Thibodeau a while ago. And on Friday I spent some time with Milwaukee Assistant Coach Tony Brown.

Coach Brown knows the NBA. He has been on the coaching staff in Boston, Toronto, Detroit, Portland, and Milwaukee twice. As a defensive stopper, he played for Indiana, Chicago, New Jersey, Houston, Milwaukee, both Los Angeles teams, Utah, and Seattle. He also played in Italy.

You can listen to whole conversation rigt here: Listen to TrueHoop's Playbook: Henry Abbott talks with Tony Brown of the Bucks

(The audio is in large part thanks to the nice people at NPR's show The Bryant Park Project, who generously let us record the interview in their New York studios.)

And here's the transcription of the entire talk:

Thank you for joining me, Tony.
All right.

In 1994 you did something a lot of players I think would like to do but failed at, which is to step from a playing career to a coaching career. How did you pull that off?
Well, I played for the Bucks in the early 90's with Larry Krystkowiak, and the head coach at the time was Del Harris, and on his staff was Frank Hamlin, Mike Dunleavy.

And during the course of that season, you know, they would say little things because I was always asking questions about game planning and stuff like that and they would say, you know, you might have a shot at coaching in this league, you got to think about it. You're getting close to the end of your career, you might want to consider it.

So I said, you know what, let me think about it. The last couple of years I was playing in Italy, and during the summers I would always talk to Mike Dunleavy. Hey, I'm still interested in doing that. So he said let me know when you're done, and I'll give you a job. And sure enough, he gave me a job.

Started out in the ground level, video editing. Got out and did some college and high school scouting. Worked my way up to advanced scouting. So my three years there were very beneficial.

Is anyone playing in the NBA right now who you think has an NBA coach future?
Yeah, there's probably a few guys out there. I would think Eric Snow, he's a pretty good candidate. Obviously, a point guard, but just seems to know what's going on on the floor. Has a good feel. Always seems to be talking to teammates about what's going on in the game. He would be a candidate of mine if he were to get into coaching.

It's a tough job. It's not very glamorous. The hours are long, the money's not great, tons of travel. Getting fired all the time.
Exactly. You're going to be away from your family a lot. And it's no different than being a player, obviously, but there is a little more work involved as far as doing game planning and watching film and trying to come up with ways to beat the opponent. But yeah, I enjoy doing it. But yeah, it is hard work.

It is a real job.
Yeah, it's a real job. You have tough hours, you're getting in in the middle of the night or early in the morning, I should say. 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning, and you have to get up and do work for game planning for the next opponent.

It's constant work with players on the floor, obviously, that's just part of it. But there is a lot of behind the scenes stuff that can take quite a bit of your time.

Did you ever have a real job before this?
I can't say that I've had a real nine to five job. But of course, during my college career in the summertimes I've done all that stuff like working at the Stock Exchange.

You didn't just fly around playing on the AAU circuit?
No, didn't do any speaking engagements or anything like that. I got dirty doing some construction jobs. So I worked my way through a lot of those situations and finally got into coaching. But that's not a typical nine to five job.

You're part of the new coaching staff in Milwaukee, working with your former teammate, Larry Krystkowiak. This season for your team, rebounding is up, blocks are up. You've had some great wins already. Do you have a new approach you can tell us about?
No, I wasn't around this team the last few years, I was in Boston. But I think the overall feel for the organization was they wanted to get better defensively and, obviously, the rebounding was a big part of that. And defensive field goal for the opponent, I think they were like 29th in the league. And we were trying to work that number down.

Our goal is to have opponents shoot around 45%, and they feel like that's going to turn into some more wins. But our focus from the beginning of the year was trying to get better defensively, and so far, that's been working.

You know, with the addition of Yi, a healthy Charlie Villanueva, Andrew Bogut putting up some good numbers. We have a foundation. We just need to continue to get better.

Every team wants to get better defensively, but how do you actually do it?
It's hard work. You've got to want to. The defensive mindset is really important. If you're not having the mindset that they want to slow down the opponent and make it tough for them to get shots, tough for them to get catches, not making it easy for them to get post up position. A lot of those factor in.

Milwaukee Bucks Assistant Coach Tony BrowBut all five guys have got to want to stop the ball. There is not just one guy that can guard the ball in this league. Guys are too good. You've got to have five defenders. You've got to try to get that approach over to your players.

So far, we've had some letdowns in some games, but, overall, I think consistently our guys are trying to get better defensively.

You're starting Yi Jianlian, and Desmond Mason, where previously Charlie Villanueva and Bobby Simmons had started. Is that a defense for offense substitution going on there?
Not really. We wanted to give the guys an opportunity at the beginning of training camp. We felt like coming out of training camp that Desmond gave us energy at the small forward spot and some defense. We just felt like Yi, at the time, his knowledge of defensive schemes, he seemed to grasp pretty quickly. And I think that was probably the biggest reason why those guys are in the lineup.

Obviously, Yi's skill as an offensive player is there, just like it is for Charlie Villanueva. But from an energy standpoint and defensive standpoint, it just gave our team a better chance to start our ballgames.

TV ratings in China show Yi is already one of the most popular players in the world. What's it like to travel with this guy and to coach this guy?
It's a dream to coach him. Obviously, there were, in our mind, maybe some barriers that might slow his growth a little bit coming over to America. But he seemed to knock them down quite fast. Just picking up terminology. Talking to him on the
floor. Didn't need an interpreter there. We seemed to communicate well with him, And he picks up everything.

I think his knowledge of speaking the English language is very good. I think some reporters thought that would be a big problem. But he seems to be doing quite well in that department.

His skill level, his poise, his composure on the floor, it's just amazing a kid from China could come over in his first year and have an impact so early in his career.

I think when we watch the game we think of a player like Yi, and you can imagine you have all this time for skill development. Spending eight hours a day teaching him about the NBA game, but with the NBA schedule, you don't have that kind of time, right?
No, not really. We generally get to spend some time before and after practice with a lot of our guys. Either with skill stuff on the floor or maybe sitting down, showing them some edits of some games. There's always something you can do to help improve them.

But his work ethic is probably top notch for a kid that is so young and I think that's going to bode well for him in the future.

What did you know about him and what was your impression of him on draft night?
I didn't know much about him, to be honest. Just from what I was reading in the paper or on the internet. But when we saw edits of him before the draft and, obviously, the length and athleticism, the skill level. You know, he's intriguing.

We didn't get a chance to see him workout before the draft, but our scouting department did a pretty good job of following this kid the last two to three years, so they had a good idea that this kid was one of the top potential picks in the draft.

So I would have to give them credit for sticking to and following him, and making sure they had a good foundation and knowing what kind of kid he is.

Are you the guy that spends time with him? Or is there someone on your staff that is dedicated to the Yi project?
I think we all spend a lot of time with him on the floor. Off the floor, it is probably a little different. We added Jarrin Akana to our staff, who has spent a bit of time with Yi developing him over the years in China. So he has a relationship with him. I think before the draft, he spent some time in L.A., and Jarrin was there.

So I think he helps kind of buffer some of the road bumps that Yi might have. But overall from a coaching standpoint, all of our guys have engaged him in some way or another, whether it's on the floor or off.

Another international high draft pick on your team is Australian Andrew Bogut. Is it just me or is it he a lot feistier this year?
Yeah, I would say he's feistier. He's a little more productive this year. And as a coaching staff, we made a conscious effort to make sure that we get him touches. Whether it be, just using his ability to pass or getting him down to the post where he can be effective for attacking some of the bigs in our league. And all of his numbers are up, and his production is up.

This is pretty much his fourth year. He should be looking to be more productive or maybe it's his third, I'm not sure but he should look to be more productive. He's one of our better skilled big men in the league, so we should get more out of him.

There was a play against Dallas -- you had a missed a free throw late in the game, and he was a big part of corralling the offensive rebound. When I saw that play, it was just a gritty, gritty play. I thought wow, he looked great doing that. This is what everybody wants out of him ...
Yeah, absolutely. With his length and his timing he should be making plays like that a lot in games. He's just the tip of the iceberg, Andrew. He's a kid that wants to be better and wants to improve his team. It's just a matter of time. Hopefully, we can continue to get him touches early in ballgames to be more aggressive.

Yesterday for the 15th or 20th time, they said I can't believe he's ripping his players in the press like that. Is that helpful or is that not helpful?
I'm sure there is a way to do everything. I think Andrew learned his lesson by some of the comments he's made. These are the guys he's going to have to roll with for six, seven months. And you know to have that kind of friction in your locker room probably doesn't bode well for you.

I think Andrew's gotten better in that department. He's backing his teammates, they're out there fighting together. So I think he's learned his lesson on that.

There is a little bit of a code that you don't go trash your teammates in the press?
Yeah, yeah, same with coaches.

Yep, yep. All right, the star of the Bucks is an American player, Michael Redd. Despite carrying some extra weight (That I heard was due to the fact that he matched his pregnant wife snack for snack. I read that, or that's what I heard, because she had a baby in June or something. And he was running out late at night getting ice cream for her. I know how that could happen. I've had a pregnant wife.) But this season, he played with team U.S.A. He's in great shape. He's been quoted saying he's sick of losing now and he's determined to do all the things it takes to make his teammates better. He seems that he's progressed from a scorer to a much better all around player?
Michael's improved a lot this year, especially playing with the U.S.A. Basketball team, being around other great players like Kobe Bryant, Jason Kidd. And just finding out the commitment to try to stay on top of your game each and every night. It's tough. It's a long season. The grind is long.

And I think he learned that, especially as you get older in this league, you have to take care of your body. I think one of the big things that he mentioned to me is he lost weight and got his body fat percent down, and it's huge. I think it helps fight off injuries.

He's just playing at a much different level right now. I think defensively is where I've seen his biggest improvement. We know he can score the basketball, but each and every night so far this year, Michael has displayed the ability to get out and guard people. And I can't say from afar, after some of the teams I've been with, that's something I thought he could do.

But I am deeply impressed with the way he's approached the season, getting his body in shape physically, and mentally being ready to play every night.

Hopefully, our guys on the team are seeing that, and seeing the turnaround that Michael's making and maybe it will bode well for some of our other players.

Help me out with this. I watch a lot of NBA games like I'm sure we all do. In the last couple of years, I feel like I've noticed way more than ever before, crunch time, timeout. Coach draws up a play, and they inbound the ball, and you guys don't do this, but a lot of teams what you get is a star isolated, three point line, and everyone else watches. It's like that's the play you called time out to call?
Yeah, I think in coach's minds in a lot of those situations, they feel like they have to get the ball in the best player's hands. And if you don't get the ball in the best player's hands, you're down a point or two and someone else on the team will end up shooting that ball.

Then you tend to hear some criticism from the press that, oh, how come you didn't give the ball to your best player? So I think you find a lot of that happening.

In our situation in Boston the last few years, Paul Pierce has pretty much been that guy. And he's pretty good one on one. He's good getting separation from the defender, and freeing up a shot. But I can't say that a lot of guys have that ability. So it just depends on the make up of your player.

In Michael Redd's situation, I think we probably w
ant to free him up with some screening action or some kind of pick and roll to where he can get some separation from the defense to free up a shot. But I think it's different for each star player.

I hear like 10,000 high school coaches in my head going, What about picks? What about team play? What about movement?
Yeah, yeah, you need that action. A lot of times in those situations, especially in the late seconds in games, you can tend to get away with a little more screening if you lay one on a guy. Your referees don't jump up in June and call the call.

I think back to the old days when Charles Oakley was playing for the Knicks. He was a guy that took advantage of those situations. If he had to free a guy up to get him open, nine times out of ten, he was going to open up and get that catch because Oakley laid some guy out.

So in those situations, yes. Screening is very important and you've got to do it, you've got to make contact. And nine times out of ten you're going to free up somebody to get an open shot.

Who is your guy for that? Is that a Bogut job?
Yeah, I think it is. Andrew's been pretty good at screening. Yi is good at landing some screens. But it's something that needs to improve. Not just on our team. You just don't see it a lot in our league now. What we call slips. Guys attempting to set a screen, but he slips out quick because some teams like to switch. And if he's not a true screen, it's hard to switch, you know?

So it just depends on the make up of your club. But I think right now screening and passing are the areas of the game that probably need some work.

Does the player everyone's talking about in the NBA is Kevin Garnett. I noticed you went to the same high school as him. So you probably knew about him earlier than the rest of us.
Yeah, I went to Farragut. And Kevin was blessed enough to play at my high school. It was just for a year. But at that time they had some good, young talented players on that team. Kevin was a nice addition to that club. We were fortunate to play at the same high school.

Were you aware of him then? Did you go watch him?
Absolutely. That's when I started scouting for the Bucks. I spent quite a bit of time watching him play that year. I may have watched ten games up there at Farragut that year.

My opinion of him was he's an NBA player. He's lottery material, if he puts his name in the draft, he would be a guy I would want to draft. He was so fundamentally sound back in those days. Obviously, today. But for a kid that young to be that fundamentally sound, have a good basketball IQ, I thought it was very rare.

What pick did you guys have that year? I don't remember.
I can't remember.

Did you draft above Minnesota? Did you have a crack at Garnett?
I don't think we had a shot at him. But if we did, I recommended taking him.

Let's talk a little about zone defense. It's been legal in the NBA since 2001. I can't look inside coaches' heads, but just now it seems some coaches are thinking it's a good idea. Now this is the first season I've seen maybe a whole quarter of zone, or a whole half. Everywhere else in the world, at every level of basketball, zone is a staple. But the NBA guys just don't like it.
The old NBA coaches probably wouldn't even consider using zones. I think back a few years ago, I think Don Nelson maybe one of the few coaches to try it. Flip Saunders in Minnesota was one of the few coaches that may give you a steady diet of it. But most coaches thought it was taboo. We don't need to play no zone, play man to man defense.

It's just not macho enough, is that it?
You know what, that was my forte. I was a defensive player. Put me on the guy, and I was going to try to slow him down. You just don't see that anymore.

Like you said, there are a lot of teams out there using more zone. You just have to think about it because some of the teams don't spend that much time in practice going against the zone or using the zone.

I think at first it was kind of a gimmick to try to disrupt the other team. But like you said, now you're starting to see more teams give you a steady diet of it. I don't think we have that many offensive sets as far as zone sets to attack it. You'll find more teams probably using man to man plays to attack the zone, which is not a bad idea.

But just you talk about a timeframe in your practice where you're going to spend time with zone, I think a lot of teams don't do that. So it becomes a weapon.

Team U.S.A. has been encountering that problem, too, where they just don't have tons of experience against the zone, right?
Yeah, yeah. You figure some of the kids that are on that team. How many of them went to college and actually spent some time working against zones? Probably not that many.

Not those big stars.
Yeah, not the big stars. The LeBron's of the world and the Dwight Howards didn't see a steady diet there for a year or two in college. So it becomes a weapon for opposing teams.

All right. Before I let you go, I want to ask you some quick questions, give me a quick answer. I'm trying to catch you off guard ...

Is Boston the best team in the NBA this year?
I'd say yeah. They've got the best record.

If you could pick one player right now in the NBA to build a team around, who are you going to take?
That's a tough one. But you know what, you look back at the years with all the NBA Championships, the number one factor in a lot of those situations was they had a big man on the floor and a quality big man. So I think I would probably have to start with a big guy. You're talking like a Garnett, Dwight Howard, Tim Duncan, Shaq. It's got to be a big guy, because they help to win championships.

The best coach in the NBA history? Past or present?
Oh, wow. That's a tough one. But you know, Phil Jackson has to go up there around the top, Red Auerbach, obviously. They have the most titles. But more than anything, their ability to deal with star players probably puts them up at the top.

Larry Krystkowiak just called, he's wondering what in the hell's going on.
He'll be there soon.

Who is going to be this year's NBA Champion?
I've got to go with the Spurs. They've shown the ability over the years that they know how to get it done in the playoffs. Until somebody knocks them off the pedestal, I think they have the best formula to get there and win it.

All right. Coach, Tony Brown, thank you very much for joining us today.
All right, thank you.

(Photo: Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)

Tom ThibodeauTom Thibodeau has an NBA coach for nearly twenty years. For many of those years, he worked under Jeff Van Gundy, who has called him a strong prospect to be a head coach one day soon. When Boston's Doc Rivers looked for a new assistant this summer, Thibodeau is said to have been at the top of the list of coaches who could help Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce succeed together. His move from Houston to Boston was something of a homecoming for Thibodeau, too, who is from nearby New Britain, Connecticut, and once was an assitant coach at Harvard, and at Massacusetts' Salem State, where he both graduated and coached.

Thibodeau has been praised for everything from his tutelage of Yao Ming to making the Celtics a much-improved defensive team. He agreed to talk a bit about the Celtics' season so far:

First of all, Boston was one of the worst teams in the league last year, now you're the only undefeated team left. It has to be kind of fun.
It is fun. It's just the start of the season. We know there is a long way to go, but obviously, we're pleased with the start of the season.

The story of this team, it has been written a million times, is that you have these three superstars, these three primary scorers which not a lot of teams have. But I know you're a defensive guy. I don't want to talk about these particular players, but, in general, superstars aren't known for their defense in most cases. They often try stay out of foul trouble and keep fresh to be scoring on the other end. Is that a particular challenge you face with this team?
The thing that they've done, and it's a credit to them, all three came in early, and they were in great shape. And I think the big thing for any team with your best players, along with carrying the load to score, I think that their leadership qualities have to help set the team apart in terms of the commitment to defense. And I think they committed to it right away. The fact that they were in great shape. They got here early. And I think they united and inspired their teammates.

What are some of the things that you actually see on the court that let you know these guys are committed?
Well, I think right from the start, the fact that they came in in great shape, and I think when you talk about their talent and their ability to score, and, of course, Garnett has been on the all defensive teams, first team several times. So that's the obvious. But I think what has probably gotten overlooked is the fact that Paul and Ray have done a very good job with their defense as well.

I think when you watch them in practice, the fact that they practice extremely hard every day. So it's not only the obvious is during games when you see their performance, but the way they prepare for each practice, the way they conduct themselves during practice, I think it allows for the team to have a real good, solid practices.

I noticed just watching the Nets game the other night, Kevin Garnett seems to have a real ability to poke the ball out of people's hands, too.
Yeah, I think he's as versatile a defender as you'll find in this league. His individual defense is terrific, obviously, his team defense is terrific. His ability to guard multiple positions is a great asset to the defense. He can play 94 feet. He gives you the ability to do some switching that normally you might not do. So I think it's a great asset to have.

Of course, he's high energy, and he's a multiple effort guy. And he seems to be everywhere, all over the court. He's done a great job of anchoring the defense and shutting the lane down.

Those three guys have played a lot of minutes. And I get emails from TrueHoop readers saying, "What's with this? Why aren't they sitting a little more?" Is that something you're worried about?
I don't know if we're worried about. I think all three are around 38 minutes. You'd like it to be a little less. We had one overtime game already. But we're pleased with our bench play. Eddie House is doing a terrific job, as has James Posey, and Scalabrine, and Tony Allen's starting to come around.

Some on the bench -- Scalabrine and Posey -- missed a game, so we were a little shorthanded there, but Glen Davis stepped up. So we're pleased with the bench. In terms of their minutes, you know, 36 to 38 minutes, that's what they're accustomed to playing.

With all the attention the stars are getting, is it hard to keep those bench guys prepared? What do you do when all the media is crowding around those three players?
I think that's the great thing about those bench guys. I think Eddie House, Pose and Scal, have been around, and they've played on good teams so they stay ready. And Tony Allen's done a terrific job rehabbing, coming off an injury. He keeps getting better and better each day. And of course, Glen Davis has been very productive for us as well. So we're very pleased with our bench play.

I think a big part of that comes from the fact that with the main three guys that the way they practiced, it prepares everybody because you have to compete hard in practice.

Looking at your roster, you kind of had to have somebody emerge. It turns out Glen Davis has been that guy in the frontcourt. But it seemed you didn't have enough real proven big men that everyone was saying, well, you know, how are they going to fill these holes? But he's been pretty remarkable, huh?
Yeah, Glen's done a solid job, and also along with that Kendrick Perkins gets overlooked. He's a solid individual defender, and he also shuts the paint down so he's protecting our basket. So he's done a terrific job.

And Rajon Rondo at the point has been very, very active. Of course, he plays passing lanes very, very well. So those two guys sometimes get overlooked. But I think, overall, the bench play has been terrific.

Now your point guard situation, if you talk about Rondo, a lot of teams will give significant minutes to two or even three point guards. You really only have one real point guard playing any significant minutes, and that's Rondo.
Well, Eddie's played a lot of the back up point guard minutes. But I think the fact that Kevin is such a terrific passer and you can run your offense through him at times, and when you look at how unselfish Kevin is and, along with Kevin, both Ray and Paul are terrific play makers as well. So the ball is moving very freely.

I think we're playing unselfishly. Maybe at times a little too unselfish. We'd like to get our turnovers down a little bit. But, overall, we're very pleased with the way the ball's been moving.
When Rajon is not in the game, what is your philosophy? It seems that you're kind of letting Ray and Paul and Kevin create a lot. Then sort of they end up finding guys like Eddie House wide open?

I think philosophically where we'd like to be, is we want to be an inside/out team. The obvious is with Kevin inside. But also, you know, we want to penetrate and get the ball into the paint and then kick out.

We feel the three-point shot could be a great asset for us.

Of course, Eddie's been terrific behind the arc, and Ray is one of the great shooters in the game. But Posey has hit
a number of big threes for us. And Scalabrine can stretch the defense also. That is also a big part of our offense.

Is there some obligation with these three players to make sure everybody gets enough touches? Is that something the coaching staff has to worry about, or do you sort of let the shots come where they may?
No, no one's worried about shots. The one thing we want to do is, we want to set a tone as to who we are and how we're going to play.

So, we started off in training camp. We knew we wanted to be a defensive team first, a rebounding team second. Low turnovers, get the ball inside and share the ball.

So, when you have players like Kevin, Paul, and Ray, oftentimes they're going to come upon more than one defender. When that second defender comes, we want that ball to move freely, and they've done a great job of kicking that ball out, finding the open man. And I think we're doing a good job of making that extra pass.

Maybe it's too early, maybe it's too late is there a moment you start thinking to yourself, wow, this is a special thing we have going here?
Yeah, like I think the big thing is you don't want to get ahead of yourself.

I think what we're trying to do, is each and every day we want to do the right things. We feel that if we can improve each day that that will prepare us to play the best at the end of the season. And that's what we're striving to do.

I know your winning margins have been fantastic. And you guys are the best team in the league by any statistical measure. But what's giving you trouble?
Well, I think the big thing is he we want to get the turnovers down. That's the big thing. I think the other thing is maybe a little less fouling, you know, keeping the ball in front of us. Those are the two big areas for us right now.

Anything I haven't asked you about that we should know about how your team runs?
Well, it's pretty simple. When you look at it, we have three primary scorers that command a lot of attention. Offensively, we try to play through them. But that being said, we also want the ball to move, we want our players moving.

Of course, defensively, we know there are going to be some nights in which we don't shoot the ball as well as others, and we want that defense to be a constant. Each and every night we want to commit to it and keep building on it.

It looks good so far.
Well, thank you.

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