Courtesy of Ronald Tillery
Q: What was the theme today and how do you guys continue to dig through this?
A: As long as I see that we’re getting in the gym early, staying connected, staying positive and getting shots up then I’m encouraged. Obviously, we’ve got to iron some things out and get us playing better basketball. But I just keep looking at the body of work. Obviously, we’re disappointed because we feel like we’ve let the fans down some with these losses at home. But if our fans knew how hard these guys were working behind the scenes on being a better basketball team they’d be happy to know that. We’re going to work our way out of the mud. That’s all it is. We’ve hit adversity. Its punched us in the face. We have to figure out how to get up.
Q: What’s the answer?
A: Now, it’s consistently doing it for 48 minutes because we play in spurts right now. For whatever reason, we have these lulls, especially in the third quarter. These third quarters are destroying us. We can’t recover. And at the end of the day, you can’t miss 12 uncontested three-point shots and expect to win. I can’t remember a game when we got that many good looks for our team and with our shooters. And so we just don’t have that margin for error. We missed 10 layups in the paint (against the Hawks). That just puts so much pressure on your defense until a certain point when you break. That’s really what happened over the course of that third quarter (against the Hawks). But that’s something we can fix — the mentality behind when we’re missing shots and how to hold the fort so that it’s not a 12-0 run and cut it to a 5-0 run to stop the bleeding. Those are lessons we’ve got to learn in this process. As long as I see us doing our work the way we’re doing it, it makes me feel hopeful about this group and I think we’ll find our way out of it.
Q: Has it reached the point to going back with lineups that make the players comfortable?
A: Absolutely. For sure. Tony Allen is back in the starting lineup. He was awesome. We just talked about it. He starting laughing when I said to him “I went and got this sullen attitude. I appreciate you taking the hit. But you’re back in the starting lineup.” He said “Coach, whatever you want. When I tell you I’m all in, I’m all in.” As a coach, that’s all you want to hear.
Q: Tony said it’s not lineups. Everybody knows their role. Is that true?
A: Absolutely. It’s not about that. We were struggling before this. I was more looking for lightning in a bottle with putting the right pieces out there. Could it give us that spark? We were already in the mud anyway so it’s why not while we’re in the mud? Because if we were rolling we wouldn’t be talking about that. I got to see some things and it shows guys I still have great confidence in everyone and I’m willing to go anywhere with it. It really helped our team. Some good things came out of it that I won’t talk about publicly. Behind closed doors some guys really sacrificed and did some things I was really proud of. Fans don’t see that stuff. That’s culture building and usually the things they’ll see later on in results. As a coach, that makes me feel good that it’s happening right under my eyes.
Q: Who do you lean on in times like this?
A: My wife (@natasha_sen). But she doesn’t do it in like a nice way. She just tells me to stop (complaining). She goes “You grew up in South Central, Los Angeles. You weren’t good enough to play in the league and now you’re a head coach in the NBA. Why are you (complaining)?” And it immediately brings me back to earth. I actually become present at home. I’ve got a wonderful wife, a big house and four great dogs, and a son. So, I don’t have anything to complain about. That’s always my up-lifter — how she gives me perspective. And, going through this struggle, I’m getting so many text messages. People know I’m over here going through it trying to get these guys to click. I’m in my bunker so I probably don’t respond to 95 percent of the texts.
But all my guys are reaching out to me to say “It’s adversity. You’ve gone through it. You’ve seen it. You know what it’s about. Lead the team.” I’m getting great advice from a lot of good places. Even the coaches I’ve been losing to have been sending me advice, which has been crazy. Doc (Rivers of the Los Angeles Clippers) talked to me at half court for like two straight minutes. I was the last guy off the court. I didn’t want to be because the crowd was booing me. I would have hit myself with a tomato after that one. But Doc was awesome. His advice was awesome and I cherish that because they don’t have to do that.
I’m driving home (Saturday night) and I pull up to the light on East and my phone buzzes and it’s (Atlanta Hawks coach Mike) Budenholzer. It’s a two-page text saying “Hey, we went through a stretch when we lost nine out of 10. And I thought it was never going to end. Hang in there.” And we still play them. But that just goes to show you that I’ve got some great guys in this league that really care about my success here and want me to do well. That makes me feel better in moments like this. Ultimately, wifey is the prodder of “you don’t get to mope.”
Q: People know you as being very direct. Some now call you stubborn. How important has it been to be flexible?
A: I have been flexible. I don’t feel like I’ve been totally stubborn. What have I really changed? Other than us shooting more threes, what have I really changed? Z-Bo’s getting his highest usage rate than he’s ever gotten and it’s all in the post. Marc’s having his best year as a pro. Mike’s having his best year as a pro. We don’t play any faster. I can’t get them to run any faster. Their bodies don’t do it. That’s just not how our team is built. So, it’s not like I’m being stubborn about a style of play.
Defensively, it’s the same system that got us to No. 1 in defense. It was just that I had committed young guys who were fighting for their life to stay in the NBA during that time. Now, I’ve got these veteran guys who I’ve got to prod to get them to do the job. So, yeah, people can call me stubborn and I think most head coaches are to a certain extent.
I’ve been trying to be as flexible as possible with trying to mold this together. What folks have to understand is that we’re at a war between culture and comfort. Everybody wants to get comfortable and go back to doing what’s always worked. Well, let me tell you something: Try to score what they were scoring and keep up with what? The league has doubled now since two years ago. It’s just not the same and I don’t how to get that point across. If people want to stay the same… You think it’s bad right now, we would be looking from the outside in right now. I promise you that.
It’s not me being stubborn. The numbers just don’t add up. It’s mathematics. It’s not me. That’s the truth. You have to adapt or die. Just adding the three ball to our arsenal alone and the spacing to give Mike that room to operate has helped us take a step forward in that direction. But we’re still a long way away to catching up in the NBA.
The lineup thing wasn’t a stubborn thing. I just had to know. That’s my job. I know people don’t like it. And sometimes they get attached to players. But my job isn’t that. My job is to see what works best together and what gives us the best chance to win. And that’s why I was so adamant with my comments. I don’t care if you say “You shouldn’t have started HIM.” OK. After the fact that’s great. Why is he changing the lineup? Well, we’ve been .500 since January. That’s my job. Whether you like it or not, whether you don’t like the player I took out or the player I added, I get that. But I’ve got a job to see. Because you just don’t know sometimes what clicks, what combinations work. I’ll stand in front of the firing squad. I don’t mind that. I’ve got thick skin when it comes to that stuff. I’ve been built by some good ones to stand here for that and have conviction about what I’m teaching and what I’m trying to get our team to do. And if it doesn’t work, I’ll own it. But it’s not out of stubbornness at all.
I’ve been flexible and I guarantee if you talk to the guys, they’ll say that. It’s just that when you get hit with adversity, all people resort back to is comfort. Nobody was saying go back to the old stuff when we were playing great. Everybody was like ‘Oh, they’re No. 1 in defense, they’re this and that.’ It was great. Oh, man, Marc Gasol is changing the position. Now, all of a sudden we hit a bad bump and we have to go back to grit and grind, and slow that thing down. Put everybody in the paint. No. No. But that’s what habit is. I know people are going through this frustration with us. But this is the process of change. I’m fighting for this culture to be built, for the foundation to be built for longevity winning. I’m trying to win big for a long time. You’ve got to go through a serious process of self-evaluation and team evaluation and culture building and adversity.
Q: You’ve made a number of changes but the two you haven’t tried yet are Z-Bo in the starting lineup and Chandler Parsons off the bench. Why the reluctance to pull that trigger?
A: Right now, the Chandler thing is organizational. I’ve been taking a lot of punches for that and I’m OK with that. But that’s all of us saying let’s give it a look. This isn’t just me being stubborn. Chandler’s not my favorite. I don’t have favorites. I’m trying to win. But we see that Chandler has a ceiling. With Chandler coming back from injury, our best players protect him. You put him in the second unit and all he’s got is Z-Bo there, then he’s going to be exposed more. So, our best players are protecting him in that starting unit and allowing him to come along.
Yeah, I get it. But it’s not like I’m waking up every day and being stubborn saying, “I’m going to start Chandler.” This is a decision that we’ve made to give it a body of work and time to see where he can get to. If he does get going, he’s the one guy that can actually take us to a different place. We know what everybody else can do. We know who Andrew Harrison is. We know who Tony Allen is. Chandler still has questions there on where he can go. I know right now it looks like he’s not going to get there. But we don’t know yet. Coming off an injury like that it takes time and that’s why we’re doing it the way we’re doing it.
And we just need Z-Bo in the second unit. I don’t have that luxury. … Most nights Z-Bo’s usage rate is through the roof. It’s pretty clear to everyone he’s established a role he can play for at least two or three more years. At least. I don’t want to put a cap on my guy. A lot of that is coming off the bench and facing the guys he faces when he comes in the game. He still faces starters but coming in and playing against second-line guys out of the gate he can really get going. It’s helped him and he’s given himself a chance to win that (Sixth Man) award. … I asked the team the other night “Raise your hand if you’ve sacrificed for this team.” One guy raised his hand and he had a right to. That’s a powerful thing when the other 14 guys are looking around. Everybody’s hand is down by their side. That says a lot. So, immediately it created a chain reaction because nobody wanted to leave Z-Bo out there like that.
And so, although the lineup change didn’t necessarily show productivity on the court, what it did do behind closed doors it guys to start thinking outside themselves. As a coach, that’s the stuff that means more to me than anything else. That eventually, with the work on the court, means it’ll turn around.
Q: Final word?
A: We can’t feel sorry for ourselves. We’re not victims. We’ve just got to get this thing done together.