Lately, I've been kicking around the idea of doing my own start-up. In preparation for this, I've been reading about other people who have started businesses to learn from their experiences. One consistent theme I've picked up from this research is that the person who is perfect to lead company in the beginning stages may not be perfect to grow the company once it becomes a mature business. Very often, the founder of the company eventually takes another role and hires a new CEO to lead the company into a different phase of the businesses development. This was the situation at Google for instance, although one of their founders regained the reigns of the company in 2011.
I'm a known Monty supporter, but that's not really because i'm in love with Williams as a coach. It is more because I think he is sometimes wrongly blamed for the errors and poor decision making of the players. Also, I think fans generally overestimate the competency other coaches around the league. Continuity is king, just ask the Spurs, but that doesn't mean that the Pelicans should simply stand pat and assume that things will get better. It's very possible that just like in a start-up business where the original CEO often isn't the right leader to take his or her company to the next level, Monty Williams may have taken this team as far as he can. If that is the case I can see no better replacement than John Calipari.
In my last piece, I gave many of the reasons why Pelicans fans should reserve judgement on Monty Williams coaching ability. Judging from the feedback, I wasn't able to talk sense into many of you, so this time around I decided to delve into who might replace Monty Williams if the fire Monty brigade wins the day. I believe that's called giving the people what they want, also I thought it would get a lot of clicks, so here we go.
But He Only Wins Because He Has Good Players!
By now everyone should know that i'm a fan of continuity and prefer the Pels retain Monty Williams as the head man, but if you force me to replace him my preference by far is John Calipari. Calipari doesn't often get the credit he deserves as X's and O's guy because he recruits so well. His recruiting prowess certainly has a lot to do with his success, but the truth is coaches need players. Every coach that is considered to be great has had great players without exception. John Wodden had Kareem-Abdul Jabbar and Bill Walton. Mike Krzyzewski had J.J. Redick, Corey Maggette, Christian Laettner, Shane Battier, Kyrie Irving, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer, Elton Brand, and Grant Hill. Now, I went kind of long right there for effect, but I think it proves the point i'm getting at which is you should not penalize coaches for having talent.
A coach should be judged on what he does once he has top flight talent because we've all seen coaches that manage to squander talented teams, looking at you Doug Collins and don't laugh too hard Vinny Del Negro. People always criticize Phil Jackson for coaching extremely talented teams in Chicago and Los Angles but he got eleven titles out of those teams and "three peated" three times. It is incredibly difficult to motivate a team to maintain that level of production.
This is evidenced by the San Antonio Spurs. Greg Poppovich has long been considered the best coach in the NBA, but his teams have never been able to repeat as champions even once, despite there being very little turnover on the Spurs roster. For instance, after having the best record in the league and winning the title in 2013-2014, the Spurs are seventh in the Western Conference. Sure they've had some injuries but that's never stopped the Spurs before.
With the talent criticism of Coach Cal dismissed, we should focus on a few areas which should be considered when hiring a professional basketball coach: style of play, personality, and track record.
Style Of Play
One evening in late 2003, John Calipari sat down to dinner with Vance Walberg, who is credited with developing the dribble drive offense. At that point, Calipari, who was at the University of Memphis, had already won five conference titles at the University of Massachusetts, three Alantic 10 coach of the year awards, and one National coach of the year award. Calipari had absolutely zero reason to change anything about how he approached the game of basketball, but he displayed something I love in coaches -- flexibility.
After Walberg explained the principles of the dribble drive offense, Cal decided to implement the offense at Memphis before the 2005-2006 season and what followed has been one of the greatest stretches of on the court success in college basketball history. Since implementing the offense in 2005-2006 Calipari's teams have finished outside of the Elite Eight only twice (2009, 2013). If your bad at math, that's seven finishes of at least Elite Eight appearances in nine years, resulting in a national title in 2012. When you are playing single elimination basketball, that is damn impressive.
More importantly, his dribble drive offense is the direction the NBA is headed. Calipari's offense is based on spacing the floor, penetration and generating shots, either at the rim or behind the three point line. The Pelicans core talent are already elite in this area, so the fit between philosophy and talent appears seamless. According to NBA.com, the Pels led the league in shot attempts under 5ft at 35.9 per game. Conversely, the Pelicans take the 18th fewest shots between 15-19ft. This should not be a surprise since two of the Pelicans top five players played for Calipari in college (Anthony Davis and Tyreke Evans).
John Calipari's defensive strategy centers around putting pressure on opposing guards, forcing long two's and creating turnovers which allow his team to use their superior athleticism during fast breaks. Those principles fit perfectly with Jrue Holiday's exquisite defense at the point. (Btw, stop me when you hear something you don't like about Cal's coaching style.)
The NBA is a players league. If the players don't like and/or respect you as a coach, you might as well not even show up to the gym. This is an often criticized reality in the Association, but when all the top players make more money than the coach and have fully guaranteed contracts, the reality is it's easier to get rid of the coach than the players. This is where John Calipari really shines because his teams are so talented -- Calipari doesn't get a lot of credit for getting his teams to gel so quickly, especially in the age of the 1 and done prospects.
Kentucky generally recruits a ton of highly touted one and done players. Developing team chemistry under these conditions is extremely challenging; however, Calipari has been able to rise to this challenge time and time again. Last season was a perfect example. Kentucky struggled out of the gate and even stumbled down the stretch in SEC play, yet the Wildcats were able to peak at just the right time going into the NCAA Tournament. Kentucky advanced to the NCAA title game before losing a close game to the UCONN Huskies.
How would John Calipari fare if he were to have roster continuity? Look no further than this season's Kentucky team that has returned their top players, Aaron and Andrew Harrison. Kentucky is off to a scorching 15-0 start. The Wildcats are currently ranked the number one team in the nation. UK has a has beaten #5 Kansas, #6 Texas, #21 North Carolina, and #4 Louisville by a combined 66 points (277-211). Those type of results build credibility at any level.
Scores of players, including Anthony Davis, speak openly about how much they loved playing for Calipari. Cal even maintains his relationships with former players that have gone on to stardom. Whenever his schedule permits Cal can be seen on NBA sidelines cheering on the likes of Eric Bledsoe, Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Derek Rose and Tyreke Evans. Don't think for a second he's not doing that for a reason.
Anthony Davis is a big Monty Williams supporter, so if the team were to replace Williams, the Pelicans top concern would be finding a coach that would satisfy Davis from day one. Not only would Calipari make Davis happy, the scores of relationships he has with NBA stars, that either played for him or were recruited by him, would be a powerful lure for potential free agents down the line. In the current "Power Puff Girls Unite" NBA star universe in which we live, having a large personality that can get buy in from stars is an invaluable resource. Ask the former Miami Heat championship rosters whether having the accomplished and charismatic Pat Riley helped them lure free agents, or former Lakers if Phil Jackson helped when they were trying to get veterans to accept less money to chase a title.
You might think it's sacrilege to compare Cal to Phil Jackson and Pat Riley and you're probably right, but that's not what the young stars in the NBA think. To them he is a legendary coach who has been winning for as long as they can remember, and quite frankly they're right.
John Calipari's track record should speak for itself at this point: five Final Fours, two National Titles and National Coach of the Year twice. He won big at UMass without much NBA talent registering a 193-71 record. Once he was handed NBA talent at Memphis and Kentucky, his teams went into hyper drive 376-103, with too many conference titles to even bother listing.
So, is it the the coaching or the players? Make no mistake it's the players, but that's the case at Duke, Syracuse, UCONN, Louisville, North Carolina and any other powerhouse program you want to mention. The right question is what does he do with those players?
The criticism of Monty Williams has been that he doesn't win enough with the talent given. Personally I don't think he's had enough talent to win big, but that's just me. Calipari has proven that if you give him a talented group of players he will not only win, he'll dominate. When is the last time you saw a Calipari-led team underachieve?
Elephant Meet Room, Room Elephant
Ok, so i've gone on and on about how wonderful and perfect John Calipari is, but there is one less than stellar notation on his resume. In 1996, he was hired as the coach of the then New Jersey Nets. He coached the Nets for two and a half uninspiring seasons. This was pre-Jason Kidd and Richard Jefferson, so the Nets roster wasn't anything to write home about. New Jersey did have Keith Van Horn and Kerry Kittles (St. Augustine Purple Knight by the way. Go Big Purple!), but those players were very young at the time, both were 22.
With a young but talented team, the Nets went 26-56 during the 1996-1997 season. That campaign was followed up by a surprising playoff run in 1997-1998 that saw the young Nets make the playoffs only to be dismissed by Michael's Bulls (I wanna be like Mike). Unfortunately, the Nets started 3-15 in 1998-1999 after having almost no training camp due to the NBA lockout. In my opinion, that's a tough situation for a young team and the Nets probably pulled the trigger a little quickly.
Even Coach Cal's worse stint as a coach included a playoff appearance with a young team, which in my view is a positive sign. When Cal took over the Nets, he was in his mid 30's and had only been a coach at UMass previously. Calipari didn't have much experience coaching NBA players and was given way too much power by the Nets organization. However, acquiring the aforementioned Kittles and Van Horn under Calipari's watch, both players proved later to be instrumental in New Jerseys' two runs to the NBA finals during the early 2000's.
Some people still flaunt Calipari's time with the Nets as an example that Cal isn't an NBA guy. I would submit that Calipari's Nets experience is now a full 19 years ago. Is there anything that you've done consistently in your life that you aren't better at than you were 19 years ago? He understands the NBA player mindset because he pretty much only recruits players who have aspirations of playing professionally. Also, his personal relationships with high caliber players already in the NBA gives him a unique insight into what professional basketball players are thinking. I'd be willing to bet his former players talk to him about things they would never tell their NBA coaches.
I'm Almost Done
I've said it before, and i'll say it again, continuity is king. In my opinion, the Pelicans should hold on to Monty Williams as long as possible, unless it becomes obvious that he simply can't motivate the players to put a consistent performance out on the floor.
That time has not yet arrived.
My main problem with the people that are so eager to get rid of Williams is that they never suggest a viable replacement. Even if you believe Monty is a terrible coach (which I do not), it does the team no good if he's replaced by someone who ends up being worse. So, the conversation really shouldn't be about Monty, rather it should be focused on who fans feel would be a better fit with the Pelicans organization. In my estimation, John Calipari could be the ideal coach to lead the Pelicans onto the next stage of their development.
I Lied I'm Not Done: This Is A Kind Of Related Super Interesting Bonus Part Of The Article
Recently, I've noticed a lot of people suggesting the Pelicans will hire Joe Dumars and Avery Johnson simply because they have been seen hanging around Pelicans/Saints brass. I find this assertion to be mind-numbing paranoia. I turned 30 a couple months ago, so I've been following NOLA sports for about 25yrs. Now, i'm not saying that makes me some all knowing expert, but I know a few things about the sports scene, and by sport scene, I mean Tom Benson. Let's face it, other than a brief stint with George Shin, Benson is basically all we've had in NOLA sports since he bought the Saints in 1985.
The Saints/Pelicans empire is essentially run by two men, Dennis Lauscha and Mickey Loomis, with Benson having the final say. These men have done a masterful job of turning a laughing stock franchise at every level into an organization that is relevant on any NFL stage. The notion that Tom Benson is simply some Louisiana homer that only wants to see hometown boys running his franchise is flat out laughable. If you've followed NOLA sports long enough, you know Tom Benson loves New Orleans but he loves his money more. Louisiana love didn't stop him from trying to move the Saints to San Antonio in what felt like hours after Hurricane Katrina.
Joe Dumars and Avery Johnson (St. Augustine Purple Knight by the way. Go Big Purple!) are Louisiana natives. This means they have family within the state and spend at least some of their time in New Orleans, and in Avery's case he is somewhat active in the community. These men also love basketball, specifically professional basketball. If they want to see professional basketball in Louisiana, the Smoothie King Center is their best bet. Dumars and Johnson are also respected within NBA circles, so if you are them and you want to go to a game you don't go on StubHub and get a ticket. You make a couple calls and you go sit in the owners box. Their appearances among Pelicans Brass is that simple.
Still not convinced? Ok, lets keep going down the logic brick road. Both Avery Johnson and Joe Dumars have a tremendous amount of respect for Monty Williams and Dell Demps. Johnson was actually a teammate of both Williams and Dell Demps in San Antonio. Given this fact, I would have serious doubts that Johnson is angling to replace Williams. Quite the contrary, Williams and Demps are probably the reason he's around at all. Additionally, the Saints and Pelicans are notoriously tight lipped. We can watch a player break his arm with our own eyes and they will tell us that they aren't sure what the injury is and can't rule him out for the next game. Why then would they stray so far from their well established clandestine behavior and start gallivanting (I promise that's the last big word) about openly with the replacements for their coach and GM?
The answer is they wouldn't. This would not only be out of character for this franchise, but it would be down right disrespectful and would undermine everything they are working to build with the Pelicans. Dell Demps and Monty Williams are about the same age as Johnson and Dumars, meaning they run in the same circle of former players. They share many friends and past teammates. Any move Dumars and Johnson made to undermine the current regime would almost certainly get back to Demps and Williams (I feel like this is getting juicy).
I think the whole Avery Johnson and Joe Dumars phenomenon among Pels fans comes from simple paranoia. The fact of the matter is, not much has gone well for this franchise, especially since they have been in New Orleans. The Charlotte Hornets drafted Kobe Bryant and they blew it, the New Orleans Hornets drafted Chris Paul and they blew it. The Pelicans now have a player that has the potential to surpass both Paul and Bryant, and the truth is, deep down Pelicans fans believe we are going to blow it again with Anthony Davis. Maybe the Johnson/Dumars paranoia is well founded, but i'm a fan of logic, and logic tells me Joe Dumars and Avery Johnson just wanted to watch some basketball.
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