Mark Price remains the best choice for the Cavaliers to lead the team as head coach.
Everything in the basketball universe is pointing to the logic behind Price being interviewed for and getting a job of head coach in the NBA, and specifically in Cleveland for the Cavaliers. There are certain windows of opportunity for relationships to come together and the opportunity for the Cavaliers to bring Mark Price to Cleveland is now.
MARK PRICE, WHO ONCE FOUGHT BILL LAIMBEER
This could not have happened in 2005 when Mike Brown was hired, as Mark Price had only been coaching in the NBA for one year. It could not have happened in 2010 when Byron Scott was particularly chosen to coach the team. It could not have happened in 2013 when Chris Grant’s singular plan was to immediately bring Mike Brown back. It can happen now, and it should. It’s time to bring Mark Price home.
While the Cavaliers were struggling through Mike Brown’s return season with disappointments in Andrew Bynum, Earl Clark and half a season with a gaping hole at the small forward position, Assistant Head Coach Mark Price along with first year Head Coach (and Coach of the Year candidate) Steve Clifford of the Charlotte Bobcats coaching staff is leading a young team to the playoffs.
Meanwhile, the streak in Price’s long coaching career remained:
Every team that has hired him as an assistant or shooting coach has improved its shooting that season.
He remains the dean of shooting a 29.5 inch circumference basketball through an 18 inch diameter rim. He invented splitting the double team off the dribble, and he remains a commander in the understanding of the pick-and-roll.
“HE’S BEEN THROUGH IT” – KEMBA WALKER, LEARNING
It was the last season for the Bobcats, who will be returning to the name “Hornets” next season. Improving the shooting of a team with future Hornets like Bismack Biyombo, Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was not an easy task. But Charlotte’s point guard Kemba Walker improved this season in his assists, three point shooting percentage, and free throw percentage. He improved developed a floater in the lane which the former Huskie used all season and into the postseason.
Price commands the respect of young players.
It is the preseason. The air feels still in a practice gym in Charlotte, with a court surrounded by exercise bikes and padded walls and Kemba Walker is learning, but the basketball pounding on the floor is are the sound of fresh gears effortlessly turning.
Mark Price is there. Patrick Ewing is there. Steve Clifford, a 13-year assistant coach in the NBA who, along with Price and Ewing, will take this Bobcats team to the playoffs. These Bobcats will go from a team that finished the 2012-13 season as a 21-61 team, that finished the 2011-12 lockout-shortened season with a 7-59 record, to the 7th seed in the Eastern Conference.
Now, preseason, Mark Price is training Kemba Walker, teaching Kemba Walker, molding Kemba Walker. He is throwing Walker bullet passes at the three point line. They are endless. Mark Price’s bullet passes. Kemba Walker spotting up, balancing his legs, firing.
The ball meets the net again and again. A 29.5 inch circumference basketball through an 18 inch diameter rim. Somewhere, in Mark Price’s shooting lab is a computerized device that measures how and where the ball goes through those 18 inches of rim. Here, it is his eyes. These shots, they are endless. Mark Price’s bullet passes are a Gatling gun. Kemba Walker’s stroke, from his shoes on the floor to the tip of his fingers, are being molded into a mechanical poetry.
Mark Price’s eyes, his mind, are a machine that measures 18 inches of rim. Shots are endless. Bullet passes rocket. Stoke, settling into a mold.
Walker is watching and listening to Price. Walker said of Price’s preseason coaching:
“He’s been through it. I know I have the opportunity to learn from him. We were talking about trying to get guys off-balance – going up with the floater rather than (always) going all the way to the basket.’’
ONETIME BULLET: COACHING WALKER PREGAME IN WASHINGTON.
In the playoffs, Walker’s long distance shooting was a staggering 50% from three point range in four games. Biyombo, the seventh overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, lost shots and minutes this season to freshly signed franchise player Al Jefferson, but increased his shooting efficiency from the floor. Jefferson was a direct beneficiary of Walker’s improved play and the resulting spacing on the floor, raising his shooting percentages in shots taken from 3 to 16 feet, with a large increase in his percentage of assisted shots.
There was that night in Cleveland. April 5th, an overtime game. The Bobcats have clinched the playoffs and slowly, painfully, Clevelanders who were still banking on evaporated playoff hopes, are now hustling out of the arena.
Price has seen Kemba Walker hit a three pointer with 32 seconds left in regulation to give Charlotte a two point lead. Price is sitting on the Bobcats bench and sees Walker free throws push Charlotte to a three point lead with 17 seconds left and then split free throw attempts with 11 seconds left to give the Bobcats a lead they will not surrender. There’s a mark on this game left by Price and, for the first time in this rebuild, Charlotte is in the playoffs.
KYRIE IRVING AND DION WAITERS SAW THIS IN PERSON APRIL 5TH.
This is the Mark Price of today, the one that learned to persevere by shooting his own endless shots as a young man in Enid, Oklahoma. Who learned to coach under his father, an Oklahoma basketball legend. Who discovered the concept of a spread team play on offense and defense under Lenny Wilkens. Who was taught defensive theory under Mike Fratello and Rick Adelman. Who played for Hall of Famer Chuck Daly on the Orlando Magic. Who won a gold medal on Dream Team II with the winningest coach in NBA history Don Nelson. This is who Kemba Walker will miss if Price moves on and into a head coaching role.
The Mark Price of today has been coaching in the NBA for a decade, and his time in the NBA as a coach is quickly approaching his tenure as a player. His NBA coaching resume, which began in 2004, was preceded by coaching both high school and college ball. Price has coached at every level. He is as ready to be a successful head coach as any name that will be mentioned in this offseason as a potential head coach, and likely as qualified for the job as many who are already employed.
Before being hired by the Golden State Warriors yesterday, Steve Kerr had never held any coaching job at any level. He replaced Mark Jackson, who made the playoffs two years in a row despite never coaching at all at any level ever before being hired. This now makes it 19 of 27 current NBA coaches in their first head coaching job. Just like Jason Kidd, who just lost Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals as the coach of the New Jersey Nets who had barely been retired for a few weeks before he was offered the position. Doc Rivers, who is currently coaching the Los Angeles Clippers, had never coached basketball at all at any level before he was hired by the Orlando Magic in 1999. Gregg Popovich, widely regarded as the best coach in basketball, is currently serving in his first head coaching job.
DAVID GRIFFIN LOOKING TO ADD OFFENSE. MARK PRICE, AN OFFENSIVE GURU
When David Griffin introduced by himself as the new General Manager of the Cleveland Cavaliers, he briefly commented on what he was looking for to build the team. To paraphrase, he said that he was looking to play smarter in terms of basketball IQ, to play tougher, to be a better shooting team inside and out that played bigger and with better “fit”.
Griffin, who has now been with the Cavaliers organization for almost 4 years, has himself seen some of the worst moments of Cavaliers offensive basketball. As a result of what was largely a tremendous failure of Chris Grant’s front office to bring good players on the team, the Cavaliers offense was pitiful:
There’s really no way of looking at those numbers from a positive light, and believe me, if you saw the defensive numbers for those years you wouldn’t feel much better. In fact, you would definitely feel much worse. Recall that when Byron Scott was introduced as Head Coach, it was assumed that he would run an up-tempo offense and score a lot of points. You could dwell on how bad the offense has been, because it’s an easy target. Relative to the league, the Cavaliers actually had a worse eFG% this season, despite playing with actual NBA players Luol Deng and Spencer Hawes in critical minutes for half a season.
I don’t think Mike Brown did a terrible job coaching the Cavaliers in 2013-14. They improved in a number of defensive areas and also, most notably, improved their record by 9 wins compared to 2012-13. The Cavaliers season struggled behind the team’s inability to adapt to the more complex defensive strategies that Mike Brown brought back to Cleveland. Also, perhaps the exertion of effort required to rise to mediocrity defensively caused the offensive numbers to sag, despite having more offensive talent than any team in the past four years.
All things the same, if the roster remained identical, would another year of coaching have helped the Cavaliers to improve again with Mike Brown? The answer to that question doesn’t really matter anymore.
Before anyone could ask him, David Griffin preemptively addressed why Mike Brown was fired by not explaining why Mike Brown was fired, and only stated: “This is not about what anyone has done wrong.”
And in reality, the real question is how to improve the situation.
MICHAEL KIDD-GILCHRIST, RE-LEARNING TO SHOOT
Mark Price’s primary strength, even considering his background of working under defensive coaching legends like Chuck Daly and Mike Fratello, is that he is one of the strongest teachers of shooting in the NBA. It’s not a question, it’s a fact. Mark Price will improve the shooting of the players he coaches next season.
Of course, that’s an oversimplification of his ability to coach and teach offense. Price wasn’t added by the Charlotte ownership group to the coaching staff just to be a shooting coach. Price is known to be a pick and roll expert. He understands and manages spacing. He can work with young players, and demands the respect of a veteran and an All-Star.
Three point shots represent approximately 25% of the shots attempted in the NBA. When Mark Price was a rookie, three point shots were about 5% of the shots attempted in the NBA. Even in the ABA’s last season, three point shots, considered by the NBA at the time to be a gimmick, were only about 4% of shots attempted.
This shift towards high percentage shots in the paint and high reward shots outside the three point line, were exactly Mark Price’s strengths as a player. It’s hard to conceptualize, but Price was a more efficient shooter than Stephen Curry. In today’s league, with a value shift towards his strength, Price would be a much more valuable player than he was as a four time all-star who was voted in the top 10 in the MVP race for 4 years and received First Team All-NBA honors in an era with incredibly talented point guards.
Does this mean that Price could or would coach the style of play that would have most successfully exploited his own talents as a player? That’s unclear. What is clear, however, is when one of the greatest shooting gurus ever to live has also shown that he can coach and teach that style of play and that style of play also happens to be the prevailing offensive theory in analytics, it’s worth taking a close examination of whether he’s the right coach for your young team.
MARK PRICE, TEACHING
This is particularly true when your plan is offensively inclined, where your theory of team-building includes a strong consideration of analytics that drive this very discussion of a move away from mid-range basketball and towards a more efficient “inside-out” offensive game.
He’s not just a shooting guru, he’s an offensive basketball guru, an innovator that changed the game once as a player and could do the same thing as the head coach of the young Cavaliers.
POST-PLAYING CAREER RELATIONSHIPS WITH PLAYERS IS AN IMPORTANT PART OF SUCCESSFUL NBA FRANCHISE
The Cavaliers famously traded into the second round of the 1986 NBA Draft, acquiring the first pick of the second round from the Dallas Mavericks. Mark Price, who was watching the draft with his family at their home in Oklahoma, left the living room and went to the restroom after he was not taken in the first round. He emerged from the bathroom to discover that he had been taken by the Dallas Mavericks. Shortly thereafter he received a phone call from his agent, who advised him that he was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
This historic trade was made by Gordon Gund, who was working with the front office, but with no General Manager in handling the 1986 Draft. Gund has suggested that the reason he made the trade was based on comments that were made to him by Wayne Embry during Embry’s interview for the GM job before the draft wherein Embry said that he thought Price was an underrated talent.
Later that night, in the same round, the Phoenix Suns selected an Iowa State sharpshooter named Jeff Hornacek. Hornacek was loved as a Sun, where he played six years before he was traded in 1992 with two other players for Charles Barkley, who would become an MVP of the league. Young David Griffin, from west Phoenix, was a diehard Suns fan. David Griffin, who himself owned a Hornecek jersey, became a Suns employee in that 1992-93 NBA Finals Run reason.
The Suns organization, where Griffin would work for the next 17 years, was known for creating a family atmosphere in its locker room that persisted for most of his almost two decades with the Phoenix Suns. That’s the kind of culture that brought back Jeff Hornacek to coach the Suns this season. It’s that culture that made Danny Ainge head coach just a year after his retirement from the Suns.
YOUNG HORNACEK, SUNS FAMILY
That’s the kind of culture that can’t be obtained in a trade or through the draft. That’s the kind of culture David Griffin wants to bring to the Cavaliers.
That’s a perfect fit. The Suns have always been the Cavaliers Western Conference cousins. Al McCoy is their Joe Tait. Paul Westphal is their Austin Carr. The Suns were the team the Miracle Cavaliers should have met in the 1976 NBA Finals, were it not for the broken ankle of Jim Chones before the Eastern Conference Finals.
Having a close connection to former great players is a hallmark of successful NBA franchises. David Robinson is a part owner of the San Antonio Spurs. Jerry West and Magic Johnson have both been head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. Years after his first and second career Phil Jackson is now the president of the New York Knicks. The Boston Celtics legends commonly attend the team practices, just walking into the building without having to call anyone, to give advice to young players and make sure that the history of the franchise they built is respected.
CALLING JOHN STOCKTON WAS “NATURAL DUE DILIGENCE” FOR THE JAZZ
On Monday, it was reported by ESPN that the Utah Jazz had reached out to John Stockton about their opened head coaching position. The Jazz have already employed Karl Malone as a development coach and actually brought Jerry Sloan back after firing him as a head coach to serve the team in an advisory capacity. Stockton not only has absolutely no coaching experience, he also has no desire to be in the spotlight. But the legendary point guard got a call from the Jazz anyway to “gauge his interest” in the position. They called it their “natural due-diligence”.
There’s a Cavaliers family out there, the Nances, the Prices, the Daughertys, the Ehlos, the Ilgauskas, the Brandons and the Hot Rod Williamses. They exist with a relationship to the community and to Cleveland. It’s important for the franchise to maintain these relationships, not just because they can provide a direct benefit to the organization immediately, but also because each one has a vested interest in the success of the team, of the franchise, and of the city.
Players and teams and front offices are made of people and families, of events and memories and not laundry and numbers. This is not an analytical void where humans are brought in and shipped out and gauged by replacement value. There’s solidarity and unity, and that’s the value to a true winning culture that spreads from the locker room out into the crowd out the exits, down in the streets. David Griffin understands this. These Cavaliers will be Cavaliers not just while they wear the jersey, but their entire lives.
There is another moment in this game April 5th game that will be remembered by everyone who was in the giant room where it was being played.
Down and on the other side of the court from where Mark Price’s jersey is hanging in the rafters, he is sitting on the Charlotte bench. A camera pans to him and the jumbotron lights up with his image. There is no ambiguity in the crowd reaction, which is loud, which itself remembers its own echoes, its own voices. He waves to the crowd, who swoons with more, even louder responsive applause.
PRICE COACHING IN CLEVELAND, WINNING
Nostalgia isn’t the reason that he should be brought back and given the enormous responsibility of being the next head coach. Price should be considered for and given this job because he has earned it with his experience and his skill set and his fit with the group and with the franchise. His skills and experience merit it. Plus, there’s something else here, something no other candidate for this particular job will have. There’s a sleeping giant of continuity, family, and community waiting to be re-assembled and kept into the future.
David Griffin’s primary charge is to win games, and that’s how he’ll be judged, season to season, hopefully to bring a championship. At the end, if in 5, 10 or 20 years we can look back and say that David Griffin built something important and something real, that they won some games and trades and drafts and lost some others, but that he brought together 50 years of community together for 41 regular season home games and some playoff games each year, he will be considered a success. And if he can do that and win a title, it will be his name will be at the front of each mind that recalls this franchise in this city alongside Mark Price. And there will be nothing sweeter.
Picture of Price coaching in huddle is via Quinn Rooney/AP
Picture of Price coaching Kemba Walker in Washington is from the Flickr account of Truth About It
Picture of Kemba Walker after clinching a spot in the playoffs is Getty Images/NBAE
Pictures of Price coaching and working out with Kidd-Gilchrist and Kemba Walker are Chuck Burton/AP Photos
David Griffin is an AP Photo
Picture of Austin Carr with Moondog via Moondog Mascot flickr account
Picture of Jeff Hornachek via Getty Images
Picture of Price sitting at the Bobcats/Cavs game, credit unknown – if you do, let me know I will credit immediately
Picture of John Stockton via Salt Lake Tribune
Picture of Mark Price with Bob McAdoo in the NBA Playoffs via Jeff Siner/Charlotte Observer/MCT
Oh, you didn’t see that last one? Here…
TWO VICIOUS SHOOTERS SHARE A MOMENT OF LEVITY
Thanks to Alex Raffalli for his assistance in editing this piece