This is Part Two of our interview with Coach Marc Iavaroni.
3SOB: You have Marc Gasol and also Darko at center, quite a few options at power forward but the interior is considered an area of weakness on the team. You have a lot of experience coaching with with big men. Are you going to be directly involved with coaching the big men this season and what improvements do you hope to see?
MI: Well I think one of the things I learned my first year is that you have to delegate and you have to trust them and not micro-manage them but I think you also have to know what your expertise is and that was one of them. I think this was very important in the recruitment of Marc Gasol - because he had options and we had to recruit him - was the question 'was I going to be on the floor for him?'
I learned that the first year. You have to have delegation, but at the same time if they think your really good at something why wouldn't you be supervising that? Why wouldn't you be overseeing that? Why wouldn't you be actually in the trench? And I am willing to do that.
You know before games head coaches usually walk around in coat and tie and get their mind set for the strategic things going on in an hour or two. I've decided I am going to break that mold a bit. I'm going to get a little more prepared earlier in the day. I am going to get out there in my sweats for half an hour or so and work with our bigs. I'll work with our bigs at the end of practices because they are all young. They are all 23 years old. I'd like them to be on the floor with me 45 minutes before practice. Now I know there will be others at practice 45 minutes or so that I will work with also but that is less so. I want these guys to know that I will be expecting this of them. They are going to be on the court with me. Last year when we did perimeter and big guys I took turns supervising them. This year I'll be in there every day.
3SOB: Last year you said you saw players as perimeter and interior players and you don't worry about specific positions. Is that going to continue this year?
MI: Yeah, I do think you need to have versatility. I think you do need perimeter skills and big man skills are different. Now perimeter players need to work on their post up defense because people are going to try and post them up but they need to work on their post up game offensively. I think with the bigs if you can play 4/5 you have an advantage. Guards if you can play the 1/2, or 2/3 or if you're good enough to play a 1/2/3 then you got an advantage.
The real tough position is the one we are asking Rudy to do and that is play the 3/4. Now you have to have perimeter skills and perimeter knowledge of our offense and you also need interior skills and interior knowledge of what we're trying to do. That's going to be the challenge that we're going to put on him. We know Rudy led us in scoring last year. What other areas do you want to lead us in this year. That is going to be very important and defense is going to be one of those. This is an area where we are going to count on him. This is a team leadership need.
But getting back to your question, I think the key is that the guys have the skills we need on the perimeter and on the inside. They need to know what we want and they need to do it on a more consistent basis. They have to be more successful.
3SOB: You traveled this summer to Europe to see Darko. What did you talk about and what do you want him to improve on this season and how is his Achilles?
MI: Well we wanted to see how he was doing and make sure he was going to come into camp in shape. He didn't finish last season with a splash because of injuries. He was having problems with his heal so we wanted to make sure he was doing things that were obviously going to make him stronger and in better shape but we're not going to do things that exacerbate that. We wanted him to think more like a 4 in terms of his training. You know we had a sort of informal date of May 12th as in terms of when we wanted him to get back in there and start getting into condition where ever they were with the supervision of Mike Curtis.
So that said when I went to see him in Italy for their training camp in Costa, Italy I saw him for two workouts out of five and unfortunately after the second workout of 2 a days - and they had been there since July 4th and I got there on July 15th I believe so they had been there quite a long time and they go pretty hard in national team workouts - that's when it started flaring up. So we did a lot of talking but unfortunately not a lot of working on the court. Their coach is sensational. He welcomed me with open arms. Let me know what was going on with the team and Darko and what his expectations were.
So it finally got to the point where it was not getting better. So they decided it was best to let him go back to Belgrade and get that taken care of. So unfortunately he was inactive for about 20 days before he got back into light training. We wanted to make sure that that thing had toned down. So it's going to be very interesting how he shows up. He's do in any day. He's got somewhat of a visa issue. Hopefully we are getting him in this weekend. It's going to be very important to see what shape he is in because we want him in the 4 spot because as you said we might be a little light there.
Hakim Warrick is known as an NBA player but he isn't known for his bulk and size. We want to Present different looks.
3SOB: Well my next question was going to be if you see Marc and Darko working together...
MI: Well sure. I mean that is a definite possibility.
3SOB: That's very interesting. How do you see Marc Gasol fitting into this system? What adjustment issues do you see with him?
MI: (laughing) Well I think normal for any guy who lived a couple of years in Memphis watching his brother play and then went overseas and to become an MVP despite not being able to get a major Division 1 scholarship.
Other than that I think its a continuation of him asserting 'I'm not Pau Gasol and I'm not going to try and be him. I really like myself and I like what I've done so far but I'm no where near satisfied.' Those are the vibes I've gotten from him. I've gotten a real good spirit from him. He's a 23 yr old who's kind of on a mission. What he did in the ACB last year I think reflected that. He's now asserted himself after helping a team win a world championship two years ago in 2006. He's asserted himself on that team as a player with real value. He's a player that has gotten the attention of other people outside his country. People like Kobe Bryant who said we got Pau and he is great but we gave up a player that could be great.
Of course I'm paraphrasing but I think he's going to understand that he needs to stay in great shape in this league. There has to be a toughness not only in your mind, which I think he has, which is the place to start but he's going to have to translate that quickly into physical toughness and develop his mind even more maybe up another two or three levels to get to the higher level. Certainly before his career is over.
He's a player who's demonstrated that he's got skills with both hands and he has good footwork and moves. He's a very unselfish passer sometimes to a fault and he's got an almost deceptive quickness to him. He will make a jump shot on a pick and pop or stepping off the low block, but at the same time he has a quick first step which I really like. Foot speed is important at this level. He's got to be challenged athletically. Only because we have great athletes not good athletes at this level. So there's going to be people like Dwight Howard, Shaquille and Yao Ming who are going to go after him. I think it is going to be very important that we support him and stay with him through thick and thin because that is what a rookie year is all about. He's going to be challenged early. In the first pre-season game he's going to be right there in the hunt with Yao Ming. I don't know how much Yao will play in that pre-season game but we've got them on opening night as well. So it will be trial by fire because he's going to play.
3SOB: After your first year with head coaching experience has your coaching philosophy changed significantly and if so in what ways?
MI: I think number one you need to know who you are. I don't think you can't be a chameleon. I think there was a real interesting dialogue about me. People said Iavaroni was a defensive player. He played with Billy Cunningham and Cotton Fitzsimmons. He came into the league with Mike Fratello who's a defensive coach. He then goes to Miami with Pat Riley after the Lakers showtime when everyone was starting to realize this guy was a defensive coach. Then he went to more of an offensive system in Phoenix. So people wondered what I was going to be like.
I look at the personnel. My philosophy has always been you have to look at your personnel to get the most you can but know what you're about. I think last year rightly so we got attacked for not being defensive enough. I committed to looking at our defense a little too late. That's not a problem admitting that. I can learn from that. I just felt if we didn't run with the personnel we had, we had gazelles, if we didn't run we were really going to have some troubles. With players like Juan Carlos Navarro we're not going to walk it up. We're going to let him go. Rudy Gay is a tremendous runner. I didn't want people to lock in on him. Mike Conley we drafted for a reason and that is speed. Kyle Lowry can probably get up the court from one pass around the free throw line and have it in the other lane in about 3 seconds or less so I wasn't going to take that away from him. So I've learned that you have to be who you are while knowing the talents you have on your team.
3SOB: Last year you mentioned you didn't want the team committing fouls. Do you think that philosophy accounted for the defensive problems and are you more willing to tolerate fouls especially if it doesn't affect what you are doing on offense?
MI: Well again I think we want to emphasize the defense more. For many reasons it was not very good. I think I am less concerned about fouls affecting the flow of the game as I was last season.
Now I don't want to see fouls because people got beat all the time. That's not defense. That's a bailout. We want to make sure we are so into stopping our guy and being physical and yeah we may pick up some more fouls. I wouldn't have a problem with that. I don't want silly fouls but I think you have to establish in the referees minds that we are going to be aggressive. That you are not going to back down. I think our guys are going to have a chip on their shoulder. They really are. We are trying to change the culture here. We are perceived as a soft team last year and the only ones who can change that is us.
3SOB: What is Kevin O'Neill's role as assistant coach, how is your relationship working with him and how involved were you in his hiring?
MI: I was very involved. I mean we are talking about someone who is going to be on my staff. He's got a reputation for defense. I have a very good close relationship with Rick Carlisle. He's probably my most trusted confident in the league. I don't have a lot of guys I talk to but Rick is right there and he also spoke very highly of Kevin. So I am excited we were able to do this and get him in here. This is a perfect opportunity for him. I feel very comfortable introducing his defense. We are going to change some principles. We are going to be doing some things differently. More forcing the ball to the side. We're going to be tougher on the ball tougher on pick and rolls and we're going to simplify things. These are all things that let me to just relax, coach and see the game. Kevin can do his job as well. I don't want to micro manage.
3SOB: Hubie Brown coached the rookies during the summer league. Last season you coached the rookies in the summer league. This season you didn't. Was there any particular reason for that?
MI: Oh well I am happy for Hubie Brown but I'm not Hubie also. I coached two games the first year so there really wasn't much of a change. Last year we spread it around amongst the assistant coaches. It's all about having development. Like player development I like to have coaches develop. I think I did that more for my staff as opposed to me not wanting to do it. After all they are going to hear me all season.
Last season was my first year and I wanted to establish myself with the team. That wasn't the case this year.
3SOB: Last question, how many starting positions are set in your mind?
MI: I think it is best that I don't go in with mind focused on who should start.
I think it would be a shock if Rudy doesn't start but beyond that I think people realize that it's wide open. I trust Rudy enough to know he's done his work this summer not anticipating anything. Everyone still has to go out and earn their spot.
At this point the practice was really starting to get going and Coach Iavaroni excused himself to get back to work. I thank Coach Iavaroni for fitting us in for the interview and for the honesty and bluntness he responded to our questions. I haven't seen any other coaches willing to do that for their fans. I was impressed in how many of the Grizzlies were at the 'voluntary' workout. Sure Darrell Arthur, Mike Conley and O.J. Mayo were there but so were more established veterans like Hakim Warrick and Kyle Lowry. With the anticipated arrival of Marc Gasol, Darko Milicic and other veterans over the weekend Coach Iavaroni should have nearly all his players in town and working out way before the official start of training camp.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
This is Part Two of our interview with Coach Marc Iavaroni.