NBA

MONROE: Bzdelik, Musselman signify new trend

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Mike Monroe

 
   
 
One hire out of the NBA norm is an aberration. Two hires of the same nature become a trend. The are ready to make Jeff Bzdelik their head coach, and consider that Bzdelik — just like Eric Musselman, who was hired by the in July — had never played in the NBA and was previously an up-through-the-ranks assistant coach and longtime scout. For openers, it shows that persistence pays. Bzdelik and Musselman have paid big-time dues to get to the hot seat on an NBA bench. In Musselman's case, his resume includes stops in the CBA and the USBL, as well as the NBA, with titles ranging from account executive to assistant player personnel director to assistant coach to president of basketball operations to scout and, yes, head coach. He's been head coach of the CBA's Rapid City Thrillers and Florida Beach Dogs and the USBL's Florida Sharks and an NBA assistant coach for the and . Bzdelik's career began teaching physical education to 6-year-olds (maybe we'll have to call him Kindergarten Cop). He coached at the junior high school, high school and college levels before starting near the bottom of the NBA basketball ladder and working his way up, rung by rung. He's been an assistant coach and a scout in the league since 1988, once was named the league's best advance scout by its general managers, and worked for Pat Riley as a scout and assistant coach for seven years. What these two appear to have in common is a willingness to work harder than the next guy at whatever it is they're asked to do, not to mention to take on tasks others might find unappealing. It's no coincidence these two relative unknowns ended up as head coaches of two of the worst teams in the NBA, but that's another story. "As this process went on," Musselman said, "people would ask me, 'Are you going to take the job if they offer it to you?' And my response was always, 'Of course I'm going to take the job.' "The bottom line for any head coach is simply maximizing what you have on your roster and understanding it's a tough job." Musselman and Bzdelik are going to be at or near the bottom of the list of highest-paid NBA coaches. George Karl and Larry Brown and Phil Jackson might be able to command upward of $6 million a year, but these two will be satisfied with deals that average slightly more than $1 million a year. And job security? Neither has the kind of long-term deal some other, more established types thought a requirement to even consider what they believed would be long-term rebuilding jobs. Bzdelik, while still reluctant to talk about the job until it is made official, understands that it took guts for the and to give untested young coaches these rare opportunities. "I certainly applaud the powers that be like Garry St. Jean and his owner (Chris Cohan) and Kiki Vandeweghe and (Nuggets owner) Stan Kroenke to go out on a limb, so to speak, and give opportunities to people that have worked hard in tough jobs and come up through the ranks," Bzdelik said. "We're not press conference hirings, so to speak. We're guys who just want the press conference to get over with so we can get to work. With the youthfulness of the players nowadays, it's essential that coaches be teachers so these young players can develop their skills and learn the game." Bzdelik is going to have one of the league's youngest rosters, what with two 19-year-old first-round lottery picks, and , on his team. Musselman has , and as a core for the future, all of them 22 or under. "I try to be a teacher, first and foremost," Bzdelik said. "I'm always looking to improve myself in the teaching area. I think that's really important. I had a great experience when I graduated from college to teach elementary school my first two years, and then to be able to coach at every level. "It showed me how to teach. You teach P.E. to 6-year-olds and then teach junior high and coached junior high kids, and right then and there you learn how to teach. You have to teach kids to dribble, pass, shoot layups. Trying to get the message across isn't easy, even in its simplest form. "That really helped me to organize my thoughts, to keep it simple, to be efficient in how I would teach someone. "I'm not saying I have all the answers, not at all. But that experience was invaluable." May I suggest that teaching junior high schoolers may seem like a piece of cake to Bzdelik once he starts trying to school NBA veterans making four, five or even 10 times his salary. The primary job of NBA coaches, then, is to convince such players to play hard and play within the team concept every moment they're on the floor. With teams of limited talent, that can be difficult. The only way to win is by overachieving, and the recent model is the 1999-2000 Orlando . That team had marginal talent, but in Doc Rivers' first year as a head coach for any team, it went to the final game of the regular season with a chance to make the playoffs. Musselman was an assistant on Rivers' staff, so he understands what overachievement can mean. "We played the on our court in that final game, winner to the playoffs," Musselman recalled. "Even though we lost the game, as we walked off the floor we got a standing ovation from our home crowd. "It was all about the team playing with maximum effort, and that's what coaching is about." Is there pressure on Bzdelik and Musselman? Nobody expects either the or to contend for the playoffs next season, so merely being competitive and improving on last season's records ought to be enough for management. There is, however, extreme pressure from another area. "I've heard from so many of my friends from the CBA and minor-league days," Musselman said of the hundreds of notes and phones calls he's answered since getting the job, "and here's what they've all said: 'Don't screw it up. If you do, none of us will ever get that kind of chance.'" Indeed, when you're part of a trend, it can work both ways. Mike Monroe can be reached at his e-mail address, mmonroe@foxsports.com.
Tagged: Nuggets, Warriors, Bucks, Magic, Jason Richardson, Gilbert Arenas, Nene Hilario, Mike Dunleavy

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