Mike Montgomer/Ryan Anderson; Jerry West/Kobe Bryant
“I can’t advise him because I’m perceived to have a bias in this case,” said Montgomery, as we talked in his Haas Pavilion office this week.”But I do have the experience of 35 years in college coaching and some NBA experience (two mostly unhappy years with the Warriors), so I can tell him what to expect.
“What I don’t know is what he’s looking for. Would being picked in the second round be enough? Does he have to go in the first 15 picks? I don’t know. He has said to me that, whether he stays or goes, he’ll be in a good position, and I think that’s a good way to look at it.”
Anderson certainly wouldn’t be a top 15 pick, and perhaps, not even a first round pick; most mock drafts peg him in the second round. There’s a huge difference in money for second-rounders, and their salaries are only guaranteed for one year, unless they sign a longer contract. A first-round pick has a three-year guarantee, as part of the NBA’s rookie wage scale.
Unless a player needs money urgently, as Leon Powe did because of his family situation, it doesn’t make sense for him to leave school early if he can only be a second-round pick. Anderson has a solid family background, so he doesn’t have that financial urgency. My view is hardly unbiased, but I think he’d benefit from another year, especially since he’d have a much better coach, because he isn’t a good defender at this point. His strengths are rebounding and shooting. “He’s our best shooter,” said Montgomery, who would like to be able to put Anderson on the perimeter, where he can create a mismatch. “If we don’t have him, we’ll have more of an equal opportunity system,” said Montgomery.
With or without Anderson, the Bears won’t have the kind of team that can pound the ball inside, as Montgomery prefers. Anderson is 6-10, but he’s not an inside player, despite his rebounding. DeVon Hardin was definitely an inside player but he’s gone. “I like Jamal Boykin and Harper Kamp,” said Montgomery. “If they were 6-9 and 6-10, they’d be good inside, but they’re 6-7 and 6-8. Jordan Wilkes is a big, but he hasn’t played that way. The Chinese kid (Max Zang) is 7-2, but he doesn’t play that way, either.”
What the Bears have is talented players who are best on the wing, such as Patrick Christopher and Theo Robertson, returning after missing last year because of surgery. “I really like him because he does all the little things you need to do to win,” said Montgomery, “but again, he’s only 6-5.”
Montgomery has been a successful coach because he’s adjusted his style to the players he’s had. There have been some constants, though: His teams have always played good defense, which is a result of hard work as much as ability, and they make the right decisions. Neither of those traits describes last year’s Cal team, which finished ninth in the Pac-10 conference.
“That team could score, but they weren’t very good at defending,” Montgomery noted. “There were a lot of games when, if they’d made a (defensive) stop and then made the right decision with the ball, they could have won. If they’d done that, it would have had a serious impact on their season.”
So, Montgomery will work his players hard on the little things that go into playing defense, while trying to get into the mind of point guard Jerome Randle, who can make brilliant plays and godawful ones, sometimes on successive possessions. “I’ll have to work with Randle so he’s making the right decisions in the last three minutes,” said Montgomery. “You’d like to see that for the whole game, but that’s not always possible. But you absolutely have to have that in the last three minutes.”
Montgomery is clearly happy to be back in the college game; though he didn’t say so, I’m sure he didn’t want to have the Warriors experience as the last on his coaching resume.
His problems with the Warriors were predictable because he was going from college ball, which is a coaches game, to the NBA, which is a players league.
He used an example from college to explain the difference. “One time at Staanford I had a player who couldn’t make a pass to his left. I told him he had to learn to do that or he wouldn’t play, because there were some plays that we couldn’t run if he couldn’t make that pass. So, he learned to make that pass. You couldn’t do that in the NBA because, if you have a player who can’t do something, he won’t work on it because he figures he was good enough to make it and get a big contract, so who is a coach to tell him he has to do it differently?"
The structure of the NBA makes it difficult for a coach to do much. “There’s no time to really practice. I had some plays I thought would work, but I had to give them up. Mike Dunleavy said to me, ‘I thought those were really good plays, coach,’ but we just didn’t have time to work on them.
“There are so many defensive restrictions. Everything is focused on the stars because they’re the ones people pay to see. There are a lot of good players in secondary roles, but nobody’s coming to see them.”
More that any other sport, the NBA is geared to individuals. A famous shot from about 1948 shows the marquee at Madison Square Garden featuring, “George Mikan Vs. NY Knicks.” The popularity of the NBA has been boosted by individual duels, from Bill Russell-Wilt Chamberlain to Larry Bird-Magic Johnson. Not a good atmosphere for a coach who stresses team play.
Montgomery went back to Stanford after he left the Warriors, working mostly in fundraising while hoping to get back into college coaching.
“I didn’t want just any job,” he said. “I’d had a great job at Stanford; we were No. 1 in the country my last year. I wasn’t going to go from that to a bad job, just to be back in coaching. At the same time, I knew, at 60, I had a small window of opportunity.”
Coaches and schools don’t have any direct contact because schools don’t want the word to get out that a coach has turned down a job and a coach who has a job doesn’t want his employers to know he’s looking for a better one. So, coaches hire agents and schools hire head hunters to do the legwork. That hasn’t stopped media speculation, of course. There was speculation on other coaching candidates at Cal but, when it became clear that there was interest on both sides in the idea of Montgomery coming to Cal, the deal came together quickly.
Though I was surprised when it happened, I’m also delighted. Montgomery is a huge step up from Braun, and he will soon have the Bears competing with the best in the Pac-10 – especially if he can get Anderson back for this season.
THE ANTI-WEST: In the spring of 1996, Lakers general manager Jerry West worked out Kobe Bryant, then a high school senior, and was so impressed that he immediately started working on a way to draft him.
At somewhere near the same time, I was sitting in the office of Dave Twardzik, then the general manager of the Warriors, listening to him predicting that Bryant had little future in the NBA. Kevin Garnett had jumped directly from high school to the NBA the previous season and it was already obvious he’d be a star. Bryant was nothing like that, said Twardzik, who thought Bryant would quickly be exposed as just another player in the NBA.
West had to work to get Bryant because the Lakers were drafting 24th. He finally worked a deal with Charlotte to trade Vlade Divac for Charlotte’s No. 15 pick, if Bryant were still on the board. He was, and the Lakers got him.
Fourteen teams passed on Kobe. There were some who got good players: Allen Iverson, Stephon Marbury and Ray Allen were among those chosen, all of whom had comparable skills and have had good NBA careers.
The Warriors? At No. 11, they picked Todd Fuller, a slow, white guy. I never talked to anybody who thought Fuller would ever be more than a backup. Except for Twardzik, who saw him as a capable starter. He was as wrong on that as he was on Bryant.
In the NBA, a star player can make a tremendous difference. By drafting Kobe, and then trading for Shaquille O’Neal, West set up the Lakers for a long run of success.
By passing on Kobe…well, we know the Warriors story since.
YOUTH FUND: The inductees at the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame get all the attention, and deservedly so, but Lou Spadia’s chief motive in starting the program was to provide money for the Youth Fund, which provides money for various young sports groups in the Bay Area.
Spadia’s dream has been a great success. This year, more than $253,000 will be distributed to boys and girls sports organizations for equipment. Overall, the amount distributed is more than $3 million.
GIVE ME A BREAK: Bengie Molina was disturbed when Giants’ general manager said his “clock was running down” after the Giants had drafted catcher Buster Posey.
Sabean backtracked, saying he was referring to Molina’s contract, but we all know he was thinking Molina is not far from the end of his career. Frankly, Sabean shouldn’t have had to apologize. Molina has played hard and well for the Giants, but he’s also getting a much higher salary than he could have dreamed of earlier. So, now he needs love, too?
UNINTENDED HUMOR: Maybe it’s just my weird sense of humor but I thought it was funny when an usher at a Seattle Mariners game approached two lesbians who had been kissing and told them they were distracting other fans from the enjoyment of watching the game. Enjoyment? At a Mariners game? Those elements don’t belong in the same sentence.
NOTE TO READERS: I’m taking some vacation time so this is my last website column until July 2. I will be writing my Examiner column on these dates in that time: June 13, 17 and 27, and July 1.
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