|P.J. Carlesimo returns as a NBA head coach, ready to mentor Seattle's young stars|
|Written by Admin|
|Friday, 26 October 2007 11:06|
OK. Miffed is putting it kindly.
He's frustrated and angry, seething as his Seattle SuperSonics slog toward the end of a grueling practice, mistakes mounting by the moment. Exhausted by the countless miscues, Carlesimo does what has come naturally since he started coaching in 1971.
``What the ... are we doing here?'' Carlesimo bellows in his raspy voice, above the squeaks of shoes and huffing of his players.
Yes, P.J. Carlesimo has changed since he was last a head coach in 1999, when his much-publicized and scrutinized stint heading the Golden State Warriors mercifully ended.
But his demanding style and willingness to chew out a player, or his entire team, hasn't changed at all. It's his way of developing accountability and part of the new culture he's trying to be create in Seattle.
``Players want that. There is a misperception about this league that players don't want that,'' Carlesimo said. ``Players want that as long as you're fair. They don't mind being held accountable as long as everyone is held accountable.''
Eight years removed from his time in Golden State, Carlesimo is back as a head coach. Now it's his task to develop Kevin Durant and to revitalize a once-proud franchise rife with questions about its off-court future.
It's not a simple endeavor. And it's one Carlesimo and the Sonics understand won't be accomplished in one year. Especially on a team with no established stars and just two playoff appearances since 2001.
Patience is key for everybody, especially Carlesimo.
It was Carlesimo's demanding style that clashed with Latrell Sprewell 10 years ago in Golden State, culminating in one of the most infamous coach-player clashes in sports history.
The tensions between Carlesimo and his star player boiled over at a practice Dec. 1, 1997, when Sprewell responded to Carlesimo's terse command of ``put a little mustard'' on a pass by choking his coach. It took several players and team officials to break it up.
Carlesimo understands he forever will be linked with the Sprewell incident. But he's also grown from his previous experiences.
He's a father now, with two young children demanding his attention at home, and teaching him a new approach to patience.
``My wife certainly doesn't think I'm as patient as I should be with our little guys,'' Carlesimo says with a smile.
He also spent five revitalizing years in San Antonio working with Gregg Popovich, who instilled the idea of taking time away from the court to enjoy personal interests.
``Pop is really good at keeping things in perspective. He's pretty good at focusing what he needs to, but he's also pretty good at slotting time for his other interests,'' Carlesimo said.
``Now it's more my family than anything, but having that perspective helps a lot.''
Entering new surroundings, Carlesimo has friends around. He previously worked with general manager Sam Presti before both were plucked from San Antonio.
He also added Paul Westhead to his staff as an assistant, luring him away from a WNBA title team in Phoenix, for another shot at coaching in the NBA. Westhead was an assistant for Carlesimo at Golden State.
``He has if anything increased his awareness and confidence of the things he's always done,'' Westhead said. ``Probably because like anyone when you have great success winning championships and everything becomes clearer to you. I think his San Antonio experience was a terrific asset for him.''
Their relationship dates back to the 70s, when they were starting as college coaches and spent their offseason coaching summer league teams in Puerto Rico. One year, the two split coaching duties, with Westhead taking one month, and Carlesimo the next.
Having Westhead on staff helps keep Carlesimo grounded and adds another ``graybeard.''
``The friendship factor is very, very important,'' Carlesimo said. ``It doesn't override his ability to coach, but when you have somebody you are close with and have known as long as I've known Paul, you know you've got somebody who's not going to hesitate to tell you when you're out in left field or when you're nuts. He's not going to pull any punches.''
Having Westhead's voice on the bench surely will help Carlesimo deal with a season that likely will be rocky.
Gone are Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis, Seattle's two leading scorers from last year, and the two strongest voices in the locker room. They've been replaced by Durant and fellow rookie Jeff Green, and veterans Wally Szczerbiak, Kurt Thomas and Delonte West.
Durant doesn't mind having an intense, sometimes gruff voice in his ear. After all, he played for Rick Barnes in his one year at Texas.
``They get after it, but when they step off the floor they're your best friends,'' Durant said. ``When they step on, they have that mentality you have to listen and do what you have to do to get better.''
Ultimately, the most influential voice until the Sonics' youngsters mature will be Carlesimo's. Screaming and yelling sometimes comes with that, but that style is all Carlesimo has known.
``We have good guys ... and if you have good people they will accept what you ask them to do,'' Carlesimo said.