Monty Williams told me last week that he's blessed to be getting an opportunity to be a head coach in the NBA, but isn't having an easy time leaving Portland. He loves the Trail Blazer organization, as you've probably heard him say a number of times, but he's referring to his love for the community.
Williams wasn't sure what to think when he joined the Trail Blazers prior to the 2005 season. He actually admitted that he thought he had made a mistake. Now, he's leaving with a lump in his throat.
We've known for some time that Monty would develop into head-coaching material, and that he would become a hot candidate on the open market. He interviewed for the head coaching job at Minnesota last summer, and you had to figure he'd garner even more attention this summer.
Well, the NBA season isn't even officially over and Williams indeed has his first head coaching job, having accepted an offer from the New Orleans Hornets. To see your staff shaken up is business as usual in the NBA, but some assistants are easier to replace than others. Monty leaves some pretty big shoes to fill. The Hornets made a very good hire, and are lucky to have him.
There are so many things Monty did during his time as a Blazer assistant that could be mentioned, but there's one thing that sticks out in my mind above all the rest. Four seasons ago he saw Joel Przybilla shoot 37% at the free throw line and decided he had seen enough. During the late part of the summer of 2007, Monty spent countless hours with Joel, rebuilding his foul shot, and his mental approach to free throws.
Przybilla had been a career 44% free-throw shooter before his work with Monty. He, like so many NBA big men, had struggled mightily from the stripe. To my knowledge, no one has been turned around as dramatically as Joel. Following the 06-07 season, when he shot 37% at the line, Williams somehow discovered a key. More impressively, he changed Joel's confidence at the line, along with his mechanics. Most importantly, he got Joel to buy in to what he was selling. That's always been Monty's greatest strength- communication, and building relationships.
The season after he shot 37%, Przybilla shot 68% at the line in 07-08. That's a crazy turnaround for an NBA center. Or, for anyone. And, he's maintained this level, shooting 66% two years ago, and 66% last season. Think coaching doesn't make a difference in the NBA?
When reading all of these articles on Monty the past couple of weeks, I've seen him credited with developing guys like Travis Outlaw and Nicolas Batum, but didn't see anything on his work with Joel. It's probably not the sexiest thing to talk about, in terms of numbers, but as far as achievements go, it's got to rank near the top.
-I can't remember an NBA Finals series where I cared less about who won. I know this is the matchup the network wanted (they would have been thrilled with Cleveland as well), and I know TV ratings are way up for this series. Me, personally? I'm sick to death of the Lakers and Celtics. I'm not bitter, and ultimately if the NBA succeeds (in terms of ratings), then I guess it's a win for anyone associated with the league. But, you're a fan of a smaller-market team, it seems like it's a waste of time to dream as big as the NBA Finals in this day and age. That doesn't mean you stop dreaming, you've just got more stacked against you than ever before. The networks would take this year's matchup every season, if they could. Portland vs. Milwaukee would be their worst nightmare.
-The NBA Draft is right around the corner, and I'm just now getting totally up to speed on the available talent. Like you, I'm familiar with the top prospects, I'm just having trouble getting too excited about it. That's probably because there's so much balance. KP, Chad Buchanan, and Mike Born have got it figured out though, and that's all that's important.
-Over the weekend I was with Mike Rice in central Washington. We were on horseback, shooting guns (got off the horse to do that), dodging rattlesnakes (true story), building a fire (without matches), cooking dinner, drinking beer, playing the harmonica, and sleeping under the stars. It was all a part of an upcoming episode of "The Wild Life w/ Jeremy," a reality show on Comcast Sportsnet (Wednesdays at 7pm). I'll let you know when the episode will air, but I'm hearing early July. I was born in Idaho, and grew up in Oregon, so I had done a fair amount of this kind of thing. Rice is from Detroit- 'nuff said. Fish out of water. He and his horse did not have a good working relationship, and that's just the beginning. Our production assistant is going to send me some photos. I'll share once I get them.
-I'm off to the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. I'll be wearing the pinwheel with pride.