This is the first post of an occasional series that features a Q&A with a member of the Lakers organization. Below is the transcript of a recent conversation with Lakers assistant coach Jim Cleamons, who's in charge of game preparations for contests against Cleveland, Dallas, Houston, New Jersey, New Orleans, Toronto and Oklahoma City.
Phil [Jackson] remarked at the beginning of training camp that with his expectation that this would be his last season, his hope would be that one of his assistants would be considered to replace him. Would that possibility interest you?
I would be flattered, but I'm at the age where I've got my own bucket list. In all honesty, my bucket list does not include being the head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers.
What's on your bucket list?
I would like to become a head coach in a nice college environment. I want to go back to where I started. I want to pass on the knowledge I have as a player or coach to the next generation. I want to teach them a way to play. I'm not saying I have the penicillin cure for all, but I've been blessed to be around some outstanding coaches and teachers. I know a system that works incredibly well. I want to leave that with the next generation to follow. A collegiate setting is what I'm looking for.
What do you draw from your experience at Dallas? [Finished with a 24-58 record in the 1996-97 season, 28-72 overall before being fired 16 games into the 1997-98 season]
The thing I learned in Dallas is I can coach in this league. It certainly wasn't the best situation. I had a young basketball team. But the thing I learned is I can coach in this league. Oftentimes, you sit on the bench and you think you can coach and you want to coach but until you get the opportunity, you're never quite certain. That's the one thing I take with me about the Dallas situation. My coaching staff and I know how hard we worked. We didn't have the luck to have management understand the obstacles we were facing and bear with us and walk down that path with us a little bit until we got a roster and we got people that would understand what we were trying to do and give us the time.
I go back and look at Mike Krzyzewski's career. People forget his first two or three years at Duke, he wasn't successful at all [he went 13-29 his first three seasons coaching the Blue Devils from 1980-1983]. But he had a chancellor and athletic director who saw what he was trying to do and knew they were on the right path. Ironically enough, when I interviewed for the job in Dallas, I told the owner [the majority owner was Ross Perot Jr.] right then that I have a five-year plan. Year 1 and Year 2 would be rather lean, but then after that I thought as you build your foundation, you learn, grow and assemble players through draft and trades who have a more keen and acute understanding of what you're trying to do, your performance would become better. But they didn't grant me that time. That's the bittersweet pill of the business that we're in. The thing I also realize is that situations that aren't the best sometimes force you to grow. I'm thankful for the opportunity that the Mavericks gave me. I think I definitely grew from that situation.
Both your time as an assistant with Chicago and the Lakers and your head coaching gig in Dallas involved the triangle offense. If you got a head coaching position at the collegiate level, is that something you'd run?
I think I'd run a lot of things. There's a lot of things there. When we first started running the triple post in Chicago, people didn't think it would be successful. There are 30 teams in this league and there are 30 teams in the league that run a piece of the triple post. It is a system, but you don't have to run it verbatim. Imitation is one of the sincerest forms of flattery. You look at your team and if your team can run it, you'll run it. But you don't have to run all the little nuances. You can certainly teach enough good basketball to use that as your basis to let people know where it came from and it promotes teamwork.
With your history playing for Ohio State and being in the Ohio Basketball Hall of Fame, would your ultimate hope be coaching in that state?
The thing I look at is once again is the opportunity to help young people grow. I think that's the most important thing a coach can do. You're not trying to be a father figure or a big brother. But to be in the formative years of the adolescence of young men, it's great to see them grow. There are 30 teams in the NBA and say every team has 15 players. Some of them do. Some of them don't. 30 times 15 -- how many jobs are out there? But what you can talk to young men about is the opportunity to become better people and building a better community and better world and matriculating back to the neighborhood you came from and bringing knowledge back to there. What you're doing is like Johnny Appleseed. Rather than touching 15 guys, to have the ability to be blessed where you can coach eight, nine, ten, 15 years and those guys go back to their communities and you've done what you're trying to do. You're not only teaching them to be better athletes and basketball players, but better people. That's what we need. We need coaches to teach how to work through problems and how to have a great work ethic that gives them the discipline to take those tenets back to their communities and classrooms and families and help to build a better world.