Posts Tagged ‘Jim O’Brien’

Mavs’ Kaleb Canales a true trail blazer

By Jeff Caplan,

Kaleb Canales (Sam Forencich/NBAE)

Kaleb Canales (Sam Forencich/NBAE)

If the name Kaleb Canales doesn’t ring a bell, it likely will soon. Think Erik Spoelstra. No one knew the two-time champion coach of the Miami Heat when he was living in the shadows of the franchise’s video room or as an assistant on the Heat bench.

Now everybody knows his name, as well as the fact that Spoelstra is the first Filipino-American to coach in the NBA.

Two seasons ago, Canales — born in Laredo, Texas and whose father is from Nuevo Laredo in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas — became the first Mexican-American to lead an NBA team when he took over the Portland Trail Blazers as the interim coach for 23 games after the team fired Nate McMillan.

In the offseason, a month after his 34th birthday, Canales was one of two finalists to become the next coach of the Blazers. Despite the support of the players, the club passed on Canales’ youth for the experience of Terry Stotts, who had previously been a head coach and just celebrated winning the 2011 championship on Rick Carlisle‘s staff with the Dallas Mavericks.

Canales remained with the Blazers last season as a lead assistant and helped ease Stotts’ transition with his new players. When Mavericks assistant Jim O’Brien decided to step aside last summer, Carlisle hired Canales at Stotts’ recommendation.

The move ended a long relationship with a Blazers organization that gave him his shot and the tools to grow. But it also delivered Canales back to his home state, just a stone’s throw away from where his unique coaching ascension started on the ground floor as a student and then as a coach at the University of Texas at Arlington.

“So when I was in high school, I’m sure like every kid, I had a list of goals I made with a pen and pad — spiritual goals and professional goals and personal goals,” Canales said. “And one of my professional goals was to be a coach in the NBA. Obviously, when I told my friends that growing up in Laredo, it was like, ‘Yeah right,’ you know?”

What do those friends, most of whom live close enough to hop in their cars to come visit, say now?

“They all come to the games and ask me for tickets,” Canales laughed.

Paying his dues

How did a kid from Laredo, Texas, a heavily Hispanic-populated border city of a couple-hundred-thousand, make it to the NBA, and at such a young age? Those who know Canales say his boundless energy and enthusiasm, belief and perseverance paved the way.

“First of all, he has good spirit,” Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge said. “He’s always into it with energy and he’s wholeheartedly always giving 100 percent. I think he put everybody in a good position and we loved him.”

Like Spoelstra — and, actually, with a little help from him — Canales accepted an internship in 2004 with the Trail Blazers to work in their video room. It was unpaid, but it counted as credit toward the Master’s degree he earned online from Virginia Commonwealth University while coaching at UTA.

“I started doing a lot of research on how coaches were getting opportunities to coach,” Canales said. “I read Erik’s bio, I read a bunch of assistant coaches’ bios, I read John Loyer from Detroit; I saw video coordinator in their background. I knew that was something I could attack. I had some video experience at UTA. My first interview was with the Miami Heat. I know Erik last year [in an article], he was kind of nice because he said I wrote him a letter every week for a year. I think it was almost like every day for a year.”

Canales got an interview with the Heat and nailed it, but they politely told him they decided to hire from within. Impressed with him though, some phone calls were placed and Canales got an interview with, and then an offer from, the Blazers. He would quickly advance from unpaid intern to paid staffer as Portland’s video coordinator. Canales would pore over game film until his bleary, reddened eyes watered.

By the 2008-09 season he was promoted to assistant coach while keeping his duties as video coordinator. And by the next season he was out of the video room and fully immersed in player development as a full-fledged assistant. He was 30 years old.

“It started with Damon Stoudemire and Nick Van Exel for me and became LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy,” Canales said. “And it became Jerryd Bayless, it became Wesley Matthews and Damian Lillard.”

From the start, he earned a reputation for having an insatiable appetite for work, practically living at the Blazers’ practice facility.

“He would watch film and work guys out, and at odd times of the night,” Aldridge said. “He wanted to make sure that if anybody came there at any time he would be there, so he would literally sleep at the practice court all the time. So if you came in at 12:30 [a.m.], he would be there. All basketball.

“When you ask him who is girlfriend is, he always says, ‘Spalding.'”

Learning from the best

Whatever free time comes his way, he typically spends it seeking out and studying other coaches. While still with the Blazers he made it a point to contact Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and attend summer workouts. He visited University of Oregon football practices before Chip Kelly left for the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles.

“I love studying coaches because I love studying leadership,” Canales said. “Watching and studying the practices of coach Carroll or coach Kelly, you see the energy from them, you see how they interact with their players and then you see them playing on Sunday. I went to an OTA [Organized Team Activities] in the summer with the Seahawks. I said, ‘Coach, it feels like you have a game Sunday,’ how sharp they were.”

Not much has changed in Canales’ hundred-mile-an-hour approach in his first season with the Mavs, a team that has improved throughout the year and is in a dogfight for one of the final playoff berths in the Western Conference.

Giving back

Canales plans to return to Laredo for a couple of weeks during the summer to visit with his mother, Alicia, his father, Victor, and his sister, Chantall, all of whom have become accustomed to rearranging the calendar to fit Canales’ busy schedule.

“We celebrate all the holidays in the summer,”  Canales said. “It’s like July 9 and we’re celebrating Thanksgiving or something. We try to get creative with that, understanding that this is a passion. It’s definitely a lifestyle and I wouldn’t want to do anything else.”

When he’s in Laredo, Canales runs a basketball camp for kids. It’s there he shares his stories and encourages the young campers, almost all of whom share a similar cultural heritage, to dream big. Canales said empowering Hispanic kids is a responsibility he takes seriously.

“You can’t be afraid not only to dream, but to dream big,” Canales said he tells the kids. “It’s a big-time responsibility, and I hope that kids can see my blessings and then see through faith and hard work that they can achieve their dream. It’s something I want them to really believe in.”

Before too long, much like Spoelstra’s rise from anonymity in the video room to the spotlight of the Heat’s lead chair, Canales may soon find himself making history.

“Obviously, looking down the road, I would love to have that opportunity again one day,” Canales said of getting another shot at an interview. “But that’s not where my concern is right now. I understand how blessed and fortunate I am, and I don’t take that for granted.”

Throughout the month of March, the NBA is celebrating Latin heritage through its Noches Ene-be-a program. For more information, click here

Rating The Coaching Picks

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Spend 20 minutes talking basketball with Lawrence Frank and I promise you, it’s impossible not to be both impressed with his knowledge of the game and won over by his straight-shooter personality.

Spend the same amount of time with former Hawks coach Mike Woodson and I guarantee you’d come away feeling the same way. When the Detroit Pistons’ coaching search came down to Frank and Woodson as their final two candidates, there was no way they could lose, right?

Try telling that to Pistons fans (I’m Michigan born and bred, so I’ve got more than a few Pistons diehards dangling from the family tree), who from what we could gather didn’t seem particularly enthused about any of the options they were presented.

Still, for a franchise in need of a strong personality in that head coach’s chair, after several years of misses, Frank offers offer the qualities needed to deal with a young roster that needs shaping.

His selection over Woodson, an offer is coming soon as first reported by Yahoo! Sports, signals more than just an apparent shift in philosophy — the Pistons’ last three coaches have all had some connection to the organization, either player or assistant coach, prior to taking over the top bench job. It’s also a sign of the influence the new ownership group is placing in the hands of Dave Checketts, hired as a consultant by new owner Tom Gores to advise and assist alongside Pistons president Joe Dumars.

Franchises wish the process was as simple the brain trust coming together and choosing between two worthy candidates that also happen to be ideal fits.

But we all know that the only thing tougher than lucking into a transcendent talent at the top of a draft is finding the right coach for the right team at just the right time.


Blogtable: Disappointing players

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.

Which player has let you down like none other this year, expectations-wise? No fair picking someone who’s hurt.

David Aldridge: Nobody’s “let me down–“; it’s not like I loaned somebody $20 and they haven’t paid it back. I would say I’m surprised that Steve Blake didn’t play better for the Lakers this season. I know it takes a couple of years to really learn the triangle, but I thought he’d pick it up quicker than he has and not have to be coaxed to shoot. I suspect he’ll play a lot better in L.A. next year.

Steve Aschburner: Seeing as how I picked Indiana center Roy Hibbert to be the NBA’s Most Improved Player and Hibbert, in many ways, has actually regressed, he’s my pick again for all the wrong reasons. Hibbert did not boost his game in significant ways — his shooting percentage is way down, his scoring and assists are off on a per-minute basis and his rebounds have ticked up only a little. The Pacers’ pivot man did not take responsibility as a leader on or off the floor, and his inconsistent, largely lost season was a major factor in coach Jim O’Brien’s firing. He did get in a great shape and worked hard last summer, but a couple of days working with (and hearing about John Wooden’s pyramid of success from) Bill Walton didn’t have much carry-over.

Fran Blinebury: Though he’s played better lately, Hedo Turkoglu has the distinction of under-performing for two different teams this season.  He never was a fit in Phoenix and overall hasn’t been the same Hedo who was a key factor in Orlando’s run to the Finals in 2009. (more…)

The Knicks’ Worst Nightmare

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Danny Granger delivered the final dagger.

His step back jumper with :00.3 left to play gave the Pacers their second straight win over the Knicks since, the first Sunday in New York ended the Pacers’ six-game losing skid. They’ve now moved a half-game ahead of Charlotte for eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

But the man the Knicks really need to fear is Tyler Hansbrough.


O’Brien: Hibbert ‘not having good season’

CHICAGO – Roy Hibbert might have to win the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award two years in a row.

That’s what it might take for Hibbert, the Indiana Pacers center who has made what many observers see as significant progress in his third pro season, to elicit the same sort of reaction close to home. For now, to hear Pacers coach Jim O’Brien tell it Monday, Hibbert ain’t done nothin’ yet.

“I think that Roy would say – and I certainly share this belief – I don’t think he’s having a very good season,” O’Brien said to a surprised cluster of reporters before the Pacers’ game against the Bulls at United Center. “I think that he can play at a much, much higher level right away than he’s doing right now.”

Not having a good season? At 14.8 points, 8.7 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.91 blocks in 29.8 minutes, Hibbert appears to be having a breakthrough season across the board. He earned praise for his offseason workouts, which lowered his body fat, and he has accepted responsibility as one of Indiana’s team leaders. The team’s own Web site touts him as a Most Improved candidate and, in the season’s first week, so did this guy.

But O’Brien was like The Great Santini, all tough love and apparently unimpressed, on this night.

“I don’t think he’s being the facilitator of our offense that I think he’s going to become; I think he’s a great passer,” O’Brien said. “I think he can be a much better rebounder. And my expectations probably aren’t as high as Roy’s expectations. So even though he could be mentioned as Most Improved, I think he has a long way to go and he has a long way to go this year.”

That might have been O’Brien’s way of keeping Hibbert focused and hungry with another 60 games to go. It might have been payback for the shaky performance the former Georgetown center had at Atlanta Saturday, when he managed just six points, eight rebounds and two assists in a 97-83 defeat.

This is the same coach, remember, who gives up compliments about young point guard Darren Collison as eagerly as most of us give up bicuspids. O’Brien did have a few kind words about Hibbert’s activity this season at both ends, but he even followed up the good stuff with some backhanded praise.

“The good thing about Roy is, he was drafted by a team that was not a very good basketball team and needed him to play his first two years a lot of minutes,” O’Brien said. “If he slips another 10 spots, he’s playing his rookie year and his second year on a contender and he doesn’t get the repetitions that he got with us.”

UPDATE: After scoring six points on 2-of-7 shooting with three rebounds, no assists, no blocks and two turnovers in 20 minutes of the Pacers’ 92-73 loss to the Bulls, Hibbert called O’Brien’s bet and raised him some. “I’m playing like crap now,” he told Mike Wells of the Indianapolis Star. “It’s been like that since we got back from out West. … I have to get my head back. Mentally I’m not there. I’ve got to figure something out.”

Hibbert talked to the NBA TV crew before Monday’s loss. See what he had to say:

Some Love for the Pacers

The Miami Heat are the talk of the NBA universe this morning, and deservedly so. They have two of the best five players on the planet and they’re 8-6.

But along with the criticism for the talents in South Beach, there should also be a little love for the fellas from Naptown. Yes, the Heat played turrible on Monday, but the Indiana Pacers had a lot to do with that.

Yesterday, I moved the Pacers up five spots to No. 14 in the Power Rankings because none of the other teams around them could win a game, not because I thought Indiana was one of the best 14 teams in the league. About 10 hours later, it looked like a brilliant move.

The Pacers are just 6-6 with last night’s win, but statistically (point differential per 100 possessions), they’re the 10th best team in the league, ahead of teams like the 10-4 Thunder and 10-5 Jazz.

The first thing you might notice about Tuesday’s box score is the Pacers’ 35-point second quarter. But it was the other end of the floor where the Pacers dominated, forcing the Heat into their worst offensive performance of the season (even worse than the season opener in Boston).

And even though the Pacers’ other quality win came thanks to an 85-point half, it’s their defense that has been their strength this season. Currently, Indiana ranks eighth in the league defensively, allowing just 100.3 points per 100 possessions. They were actually decent defensively last season (ranking 15th), but are the third most improved team on that end this year.

Mike Wells of the Indianapolis Star writes on last night’s win

The hype surrounding the Heat all season has been centered on their Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

Pacers coach Jim O’Brien countered their threesome by changing his starting lineup and inserting Brandon Rush in place of Mike Dunleavy so Rush could defend Wade.

The move paid off because Rush and [Danny] Granger hounded James and Wade into a tough shooting night.

James led all scorers with 25 points, but he shot less than 50 percent from the field.

Wade was 1-of-13 from the field, including 0-of-5 on 3-pointers, and he missed four free throws on the way to three points.

How impressive was Rush’s defensive job on Wade? Well, never before in his career had Wade taken at least 10 shots or played at least 32 minutes and not made at least two field goals. He was 1-for-13 in 37:32 of playing time on Monday.

And the Pacers deserve a little love for that.


John Schuhmann is a staff writer for Send him an e-mail or follow him on twitter.

The Magic Number is 45

Is there a magic number when it comes to defense? According to some coaches, there is.

Mike Wells of the Indianapolis Star talked to Pacers head coach Jim O’Brien about his team’s goals defensively…

O’Brien said his team has to hold opponents to less than 45 percent from the field while also getting better play from team leader Granger. Opponents shot better than 45 percent against the Pacers 39 times and scored at least 110 points against them 27 times last season.

“We want to be in the top 10 in the league in field goal defense,” O’Brien said. “If you can be a team that holds opponents under 45 percent for the year, you’d be a playoff team. That’s our defensive goal.”

Sixers coach Doug Collins has the same target.

“If we keep our opponent under 45 percent shooting, we think we have a chance to win some games,” Collins told me on Saturday.

Avery Johnson doesn’t just talk about it. He’s got a sign up in the Nets’ practice gym that reads “Defensive FG% = 44%.”

Now, this is obviously a simplistic way of looking at things. For one, saying that holding opponents under 45 percent doesn’t account for how well your team does offensively. And second, there are other factors that affect how good your defense is: your opponents’ 3-point shooting, forcing turnovers, fouling, and rebounding.

If you keep your opponent under 45 percent shooting, but allow them to get to the line 40 times in a game, they’re probably still going to score a lot of points. You’ve also got to control the boards, obviously.

It’s possible that neither O’Brien nor Collins are versed in advanced statistics and would rather talk points per game and field goal percentage than points per possession. It’s also possible that they have autographed copies of Basketball on Paper, but prefer to keep things simple for their players and the media.

Either way, for the purposes of this blog post, I went over the 10 years of data, and found the following…

In the last 10 years, 135 teams have held their opponents under 45 percent shooting (actually 44.950 percent) over the course of a season, and 102 of those teams have made the playoffs. So if you hold your opponents under 45 percent, you’ve got a 76 percent chance of making the playoffs. That’s pretty good, but not quite a magic number.

But perhaps we’re looking too far back. After all, league-wide offensive efficiency has come a long way in the last 10 years.

And indeed, over the last four seasons (2006-07 through 2009-10), 29 teams have held their opponents under 45 percent shooting, and all 29 have made the playoffs. The last teams to finish under the magic number and fall short of the postseason were the Rockets, Timberwolves and Jazz in 2005-06.

So yeah, I’d say that 45 percent is a good target. The numbers back it up.


John Schuhmann is a staff writer for Send him an e-mail or follow him on twitter.