From Lisa Dillman of the Los Angeles Times:
The idea of hiring John Lucas had been percolating in Mike Dunleavy’s mind for quite a while, and finally it came time to put it out there.
“It was one of those ideas,” said Dunleavy, the Clippers’ general manager and coach. “Hey, unless I ask him, I won’t know.”
Dunleavy said Thursday morning that Lucas, a respected former NBA player and coach, was at the team’s offices in Playa Vista and would be joining the Clippers’ coaching staff.
Lucas has a long-standing relationship with Dunleavy, and many of the current Clippers have worked out with Lucas at his Houston base.
“We talk all the time and we’ve always stayed in touch,” Dunleavy said. “It was just one of those situations where I started thinking about guys who were available. Guys that were really good who have a lot of energy.
“So I called him. He said, ‘I wouldn’t do this for a lot of guys. Yeah, I will. For you, I’ll come.’ “
Dunleavy said that the agreement would be for one year.
Lucas’ head coaching record in the NBA was 174-258 at stops in San Antonio, Philadelphia and Cleveland.
It’s impossible to overstate how great of an addition John Lucas is to the Clippers coaching staff. Lucas is highly respected among players and personnel alike, and has a reputation around the NBA as being one of the premier developers of talent and one of the best educators the league has.
If you’re looking for some proof to these statements, look no further than K.A.’s recent profile of Lucas and the work he is performing with the troubled Michael Beasley. The amount of patience, motivation, and support that are required to help a recovering addict is unbelievable, but Lucas has all the tools and has rightly devoted his life and talents to helping others. If there was ever a person overqualified for being an assistant basketball coach, Lucas is it.
Remember that teacher you had in high school that you really liked? Remember how bad it felt to miss a homework assignment, or do poorly on a test in that teacher’s class? You just hated to let that person down, and the feeling that struck you when you did made you never want to do it again. John Lucas is that teacher. Motivation isn’t always about fancy speeches or crazy tactics; sometimes it’s as easy as earning the respect of your players. It’s not unlikely to see athletes associated with John Lucas run through walls for him, simply because they respect him and don’t want to let him down.
The stories about Lucas and his great motivational skills are everywhere. Considering his work with T.J. Ford, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, and his own son, there are no shortage of believers in Lucas’ talents as a coach and trainer. Lucas has the pedigree of a fine basketball coach; the playing background (former #1 pick in 1976), the educational background (Masters in Education), the experience (432 games as a head coach), but most importantly, the mental makeup.
Doubters of Lucas will point to his poor head coaching track record, but those numbers deserve further inspection. In Lucas’ first two coaching seasons (one interim, one full time) he compiled an overall record of 94-49 with the David Robinson led Spurs in 93 and 94. The Spurs were a talented team, and Lucas did a fine job leading that talent in those two years. Due to an early playoff exit in 94, Lucas would be let go and move on to one of the worst teams in the NBA; the pre-Iverson Philadelphia 76ers. The love child of Red Auerbach and Vince Lombardi wouldn’t have led that collection of players to the playoffs, but still, Lucas was let go after two years. Lucas wouldn’t get another head coaching gig until he partnered up with the pre-Lebron era Cleveland Cavaliers in 2001, another terrible team devoid of any real talent. Again, there probably isn’t a coach out there who could lead those teams to anything but losing records. So while Lucas’ career record isn’t impressive, it would be foolish to label the man a poor coach because he had some bad stints with some truly terrible teams. A successful head coach record is hardly a requisite for being a successful assistant in the league anyway.
Anytime you can bring on a man who regularly trains some of the league’s top talent on to your coaching staff, it’s a no-brainer. Dunleavy is widely regarded as a good X’s and O’s guy, but isn’t much of a “players coach”. Regardless of whether or not you believe in the good cop – bad cop strategy, it’s still pretty easy to see that Lucas will relate with players better than a dual title, overworked Dunleavy could. For a young team, having an outlet other than the head coach is important, and no one understands the potential pitfalls the NBA life presents young men with better than Lucas. Even if Lucas brings nothing to the table from a basketball perspective (which obviously won’t be true), his role as a mentor, confidant, and counselor to the some of the younger and/or troubled Clippers is valuable. Adding Lucas to the staff, who already has relationships with some of the current Clippers roster and staff, is simply a steal.
Maybe an overlooked as aspect in this signing is that Lucas is a new face on the Clippers staff. The mind of a basketball player, especially one who endured a season like 10 of the 14 Clippers players did last year, is complex. From a player perspective, it’s often easy to assume that the coaching staff doesn’t appreciate your talent, that you should play more or get X more amount of shots, and that the staff may simply not like you. A new coach on the staff offers players with this convoluted view a fresh start and a chance to get someone in their corner. Everyone learns and is reached in different ways, and it’s hard to say that the Clippers staff has anyone remotely similar to Lucas on it.
Many people close to the team speculated that Dunleavy lost control of the team and was largely tuned out by players last year. If that is indeed true, then maybe Lucas can help rein some of those players back in. Judging from Lucas’ prior life experiences and track record, that task should be nothing more than a walk in the park.