Lakers Q&A: Chuck Person instrumental in developing Lakers' shooting habits
This is the third post in an occasional series of Q&As with a member of the Lakers organization. Below is a recent conversation with Lakers Assistant Coach Chuck Person, who's in charge of game preparations for contests against Indiana, Charlotte, Washington, Philadelphia, New York, Portland, San Antonio and Sacramento.
How does your history with Indiana and Sacramento [as an assistant] help when you're putting together the scouting report?
I think it's a byproduct of knowing the players in those systems because I coached the players. I know the coaches. I played for Paul Westphal. I worked with Nate in Seattle. I know most of the guys who played for the Pacers. It's just one of those things that a coach is very intuitive and instinctively understands what coaches better mesh with the personalities of the opposing teams.
After being a special assistant last season to now an assistant coach this season, what points of emphasis do you stress to the players regarding their shooting?
When the guys are out there shooting, we grab a ball and we just pass it to them. These guys understand what shooting is. They've been taught a number of years what shooting is. If there's something that needs to be corrected or fine-tuned in a guy's shot, then you give him a couple pointers here or there. But to say hey, I'm going to change this guy's shot or this this guy's, I don't think these guys are at a stage where they need much correction with their shot. At this stage, it's just a matter of repetition and they understand what their shooting strokes are and what their release points are and so on and so on. Sometimes players revert back and they create some bad habits if they're not very careful. When I'm actually passing them the ball, if I see something mechanically wrong with their shots, I'll voice those thoughts.
The one thing about Kobe is he always had great mechanics in his shot. It wasn't a mechanical thing. It was a compensation thing where he was really having to compensate with different parts of his body to make up for the pain and loss of his strength that he had in his fingers because of the avulsion fracture. Then he had some issues going on with his knee obviously at that time. We made some adjustments with his balance and what he needed to do to correct some things on other parts of his body that were basically having to carry a heavier load than what the other parts of his body could. Those were the adjustments we made. Kobe's a very smart player and he understood the language I was trying to speak to him, so I think it helped.
So when you say compensation and balance, what's the details with that?
When his index finger had an avulsion fracture on it, we just transferred more of the pressure on his release to his middle finger. It takes him some reminding and some thought process on his part to remind himself [he] can't shoot the ball the same way and that [he has] to put more pressure on [the] middle finger and ... ring finger. But it also helped me correct some things in his shot. When his right knee was hurting at the time, we had him put more pressure on the left side of his body, which he understood some of the things I was trying to do. Some of the shots he couldn't orchestrate, but he knew his spots and where he needed to get to in order to make baskets.
Ron [Artest] has remarked in the past that your work with him in shooting and overall development as a player, he really gave you a lot of credit and said if it wasn't for you that he wouldn't have been an All-Star. From your vantage point, what areas did you emphasize with him?
Ron is a high-energy player and his motor is always running. He has a lot of thoughts going through his mind all the time so he's a unique player in that aspect. He'd sort of multitask on the court. It's always a work in progress with Ron to stabilize his thinking and stabilizing his thoughts during games, before games, during practices to get him to understand that doing things the same way and correct way is the best way to improve. He's battled those thoughts throughout his career. Even today, sometimes he reverts back. You just have to remind him of the good things he does throughout his career, throughout the game and throughout the practice session. It's a constant reminder of how far he's come.
When you say multitask, what does that entail?
Just maybe not focusing all the time on what's at hand. Sometimes we could be in the game and could have a play that happened five plays ago or thinking ahead to what might happen in the fourth or worrying about a guy that's going to come into the game that he's going to have to play, or worried about if he gets fouled, he'll have to go to the foul line. So just a lot of things that he thinks about on a constant basis. He's trying to figure all of them out at once instead of worrying about what's happening in the moment.
Your history with Ron, what have you seen in his evolution as a player?
He has evolved. That's a good word to use. He has evolved and transformed himself into the player and person we all thought he could be when Ron was having some issues following and conforming to rules. On his own admittance, he had gotten some counseling to combat some of the issues he was dealing with off the court, which carried on the court. It's taken some time for him to realize and understand who he is. Now you see the finished product. I think he's very happy with the finished product.
This season, Ron did a lot of work with mental health charities and has made tremendous progress from the brawl incident six years ago. From your perspective, what went into that process into arriving to this point?
It's all the things. It's the evolution, transformation, multitasking. That's still part of it. Ron has a lot of things on his plate with all the charity work, which is all great work. But you have to balance the time you are dealing with the humanitarian part of your career versus doing your job. Basketball, that is our job. That comes first outside of your family. Ron understands that, but at the same time, he's such a good person that he puts other people before himself. Sometimes that leads to some distractions, but you can't fault the guy for working hard.
When Phil [Jackson] brought you in here, what expectations did you have of yourself?
I didn't have any expectations. I knew what my skill-set [was] and coming in I knew what I could bring to the team. They were just coming off a championship and the bottom line is what can you add to that success? It wasn't me forcing my way in or saying, 'Hey, we can do it better this way.' The pedigree is already there. There are certain things that once you're there and you understand the system, there are some things that make sense that you get better at, and it's thought out and you put it into a plan. Phil will accept it and use it. That's who he is. I credit him and his coaching staff for accepting me in, especially with not knowing who I was.
What was the balance in understanding and respecting their territory, but also feeling assertive enough to show your expertise and what you can bring?
In my opinion, the only way to be a good player or a good coach or anything good in your profession, you have to be able to listen and to understand the specifics of what is being taught. If you understand it, you can inject what you know into the equation and not be met with resistance. That's the approach I took. I came in and listened. I tried to learn the system as quickly as I possibly could even if there's new terminology in Phil's system with the triangle. There's a lot of mechanism with learning the triangle. I studied my behind off every day and listened to the coaches. I talked to [Lakers Assistant Coach] Brian Shaw, who's a great friend of mine and he really helped me find my way within Phil's system.
In what ways?
Teaching me the offense and talking to me about Phil's personality and the players' personalities on the team. Basically, everyday I talked to him and he opened up to me and showed me the way. Phil was very open to me as well. He talks to me a lot. It was kind of intimidating at first, like everyone is, because you don't know if he's going to speak to you one day or not. Every day, he had very kind words and teaching points that he would share with me once or twice a week.
I'm going to decline to talk about the things we talk about because they're very personal about his approach to the game and his approach to life. Those are personal things that you can't get in a book. You get it firsthand. I'm very fortunate enough that he allowed me to be a part of it.
Outside of anything personal, is there anything that sticks out that you'd say you learned from him?
The one thing that I know about him is he's a great manager of people. He's very intelligent. He commands his troops. He's a great general. He allows his coaches, lieutenants, to work for him. He gives them an assignment and he allows them to go out there and implement and fulfill it.
He remarked at the beginning of training camp that his expectation that this is his last season. He had said that his hope would be one of his assistants would be considered to replace him. Is that something you'd be interested in, if they approached you about that?
The one thing I know about people and about coaches is that when you're in a profession that demands competition and demands that you coach or perform at your highest level, any coach would want to lead his own team, to be able to organize and delegate responsibilities and ultimately win with a team that's his own. At the same time, that's what I've learned here under Phil on how to do that, how to win, how to organize, how to discipline players, how to delegate responsibilities to coaches. Having said that, if an opportunity presented itself and I'm not talking about here, I'm talking about somewhere else, yes I want to head coach but I understand there's a plan Mitch and his guys have laid out if Phil were to leave. I just would want to continue to be a part of that plan moving forward.
So later down the line, ideally you'd like to be a head coach in any capacity?
Again, at this level, everyone is in this job to want to be the best, whether it's winning with a team as an assistant or getting your own team as a head coach. To me it's all the same.
I read a cool anecdote that Donnie Walsh mentioned that you keep an index card of every drill that you had done when you were playing. What does that speak to you about how you studied the game?
I live and breathe basketball. This is what I love to do, outside of my family. In order to be the best, you write down everything that you absorb as a player and as a coach. You put it down on paper and you study it in case you need to reference back to some of those thoughts and some of those drills that you learned from other coaches I had over the years. The good things, you take it and move forward with it. The bad things, you kick it aside. You know what to do and what not to do. At the same time, you can develop your own system in how you want to play. I've been with some coaches and played for and played under, I think this triangle is the best system you can run. I've been on a number of systems. This is the only system everyone else plays out of. But everyone can't run the triangle out of their system. This is the one system that incorporates all 29 other systems in the NBA. I know that for a fact. When I was working for Rick Carlisle as a defensive coordinator there in Sacramento, I had to learn all the systems in the NBA. This was one system that's always given me problems when you have to coach against them.
When you compare that to everything in the NBA, what makes it difficult to study and grasp?
Because it's a system that's put in with all calls. But yet, it operates out of no calls. It's what we call automatics. It's the one system in the league that teaches you to go away from pressure. The majority of systems teach you to play with a direct line drive and take it to them. You hear the terminology all the time: 'Take it right to his chest. Take it right at him.' This system is an opposite offense. If you feel pressure, move the ball along then. We'll get something done on the backside of the offense. It's constant movement. It's not a run-and-gun system. It's not a walk-it-up system. It's a flow system that's predicated on the passer being able to pass to his other four teammates. It's the only system where spacing is geared toward that.
For players that are just learning it, what's the main key in understanding the concepts as quickly as possible?
It's more than just the spacing. It's the footwork, preparation and timely passing. It's a two-count offense where you catch the ball and hold it for one-thousand one, one-thousand two to allow the other four people to make their cuts as appropriate to allow the other four people to make those cuts where appropriate so that player can make the next pass. Hopefully I'm not getting into too much that's not going to be legible or understandable. In short, that's what it is. You receive it at the wing, two count, other four players in unison. By the time it's in flight to the next player, it's another two count and the players are in constant motion and constant movement. It's hard for the defense to set up defensively. It's a read within that two-count. You have to learn terminology. We do have plays, but if the defense takes away the play call and the open man gets the ball, there's another action. The defense can dictate what we run and not what the coach says.
Back to the attention to detail and keeping the cards with the drills; how do you see that carry over with your coaching experience?
It carried over from college [at Auburn]. Sonny Smith, when I was a freshman, he allowed me in coaches' meetings. I brought a pad in and I wrote down the plays as they were drawn up with our offense and defensive systems. I listened to language and terminologies that the coaches were spewing out and some of the things they liked and disliked about the language. They basically built the system in front of me. It was truly amazing to absorb that. Same thing with Indiana. I played for Jack Ramsey as a rookie. He allowed me to sit in on coaches' meetings as well. I asked him to allow me to and it was very refreshing to see how different coaches implement, organize and delegate roles.
Through that process where you're absorbing everything like a sponge, what do you take away from all those coaches and use on your own?
The one definite thing that separates the winning coaches from the losing coaches is not Xs and O's. It's not the practice play. You have to have a good system. But the main thing in my opinion is you have to be able to manage people. You have to deal with people. You have to understand them. These players are not kids. You can't treat them like 15 years old. But they're not 4 years old, so you don't expect them to have the knowledge and experience of a true adult. They're young adults from ages 20 to 32. Their mind is forever changing and they're still learning on the fly.
So you have to learn how to deal with a young man you've given millions of dollars, but at the same time, understand they're going to make mistakes. So you're actually teaching. You manage them. They only have a four-hour time period when they have to be with us so the other 20 hours they manage that time by themselves. Are you willing to be that figure for them, their mentor and father figure if it's not there for them? Are you willing to listen to their problems and truly listen and give them your advice and tell them what they should do? A lot of coaches don't do that. That's where a lot of coaches fail in my opinion. But Phil is great at it.
Your background as a basketball player, where does that come into play with all this with managing people and your overall expertise?
It evolved in the game. When I came into '86 with the league, there was only a head coach and two other bench coaches. Now you have a coaching staff of five or six people. There were only 12 players. Now you have up to 15. You have a charter plane. The game is evolving and ever transforming so you have to be able to adjust. A guy like Phil, I've talked to him on numerous days, he's had to adjust to the players as well. Some of the coaches that won't adjust and won't make changes in the way they deal with people, those are the people who ultimately fail.
Photo: Lakers assistant coach Chuck Person talks to Derek Fisher on the bench during a game against the Trail Blazers. Credit: Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times
Photo: Bucks guard Carlos Delfino knocks the ball from the grasp of Lakers guard Kobe Bryant in the first half of the Jan. 10 game. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times
Photo: Lakers forward Ron Artest drives against Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony in the first quarter Friday night. Credit: Rick Giase / EPA
Photo: Ron Artest, then with the Indiana Pacers, is escorted out of the Palace by Chuck Person following a melee in 2004. Credit: Getty Images
Photo: Lakers Coach Phil Jackson impressed assistant coach Chuck Person with how he deals with people. Credit: Jim O'Connor/US Presswire