Vegas Vocation

In light of recent events, the national press has placed the Cavaliers coaching staff squarely behind the eight ball. Those coaches, however, don’t quite see it that way.

Byron Scott has turned squads around in the past, and with the Wine and Gold as a team in transition, he’ll have his chance to make his mark again in Cleveland. Scott and his staff are in Vegas right now, getting a firsthand look at some of the youngsters they’ll be working with this season.

Among Scott’s confidantes is the man coaching this year’s Summer League squad – Paul Pressey.

Pressey – possibly the league’s original “point forward” – brings nearly 30 years of experience, as either player or coach, to Cleveland. He’s spent the last few seasons alongside Scott in New Orleans. Before that, he was on the bench with Golden State, Boston, Orlando and San Antonio – helping the Spurs take their first title in 1998-99.

During his playing days, the tough and versatile Pressey was named to the NBA’s All-Defensive First Team twice and Second Team once. He played the balance of his career with the Bucks, who drafted him 20th overall, but also had stints in San Antonio and Golden State.

Pressey even briefly intertwined both roles. As an assistant coach with the Warriors in 1992-93, a rash of injuries prompted Pressey to return to the hardwood for 18 games.

The NBA stalwart now rejoins the coaching ranks in Cleveland – although he’s currently toiling 2100 miles away in the heat of the Nevada desert. That’s where caught up with the first-year assistant …

Byron Scott’s outlook has given fans a reason to believe this team can win. What can you tell us about Coach Scott that validates that confidence?
Paul Pressey: I know he’s done it before, because I’ve seen it firsthand and from the other side – watching him push New Jersey to two Finals and building the Hornets into contenders, making some strong runs in the playoffs. Byron knows how to put a team together, and he knows how to get that team to perform at their highest level.

He has the eye for that and he’s done it. So, I think this situation is the perfect fit for him.

J.J. Hickson has looked great so far – and is confidently shooting the jump shot. Is that something the staff has encouraged and what do you see as J.J.’s role this year?
Pressey: Well, I think it’s all predicated on the game that’s being played. J.J.’s been shooting the ball well, but the thing we’ve been pleased with is that he’s been really efficient. He’s been able to get inside and score and drift out onto the perimeter and hit open shots and be consistent. So, that’s the biggest thing right now.

And you have to give him credit for coming to summer league and trying to work on his game and try to improve.

J.J.’s not a verbal guy, but he can lead by example and that’s what we’re going to look for in him: let him lead by example and let him grow into his role and become more verbal and more of a communicator. But really, I just want to see him play at a high level. And I think he will.

Christian Eyenga has been the mystery man for Cavs fans since he was drafted last June. What does he need to work on to make the leap into the NBA?
Pressey: Christian is a very good athlete who can play on the wing. He’s a very good transition player.

I think, right now, he’s trying to figure out how to fit in with the four guys around him and trying to play within a system that will not only let him have open shots, but also learn to set your guy up, come off the screen and get an open shot. When you don’t have the ball, set the screen.

Those kinds of things are in a learning curve for him, because he just doesn’t have that experience on our level yet. It’ll be a gradual process for Christian, but Summer League is a great opportunity for him. And he’s taking advantage of it.

Coach Scott spoke of wanting to make this a running team. Does it have the tools to do so and how do you convert a defensive-minded half-court team into a defensive-minded running team?
Pressey: Well, I think you want to always be able to take easy baskets first, and we’d like to push the ball up the floor first. That’s always been Coach Scott’s philosophy.

If you don’t have all the pieces there, I think we have enough pieces there – with Mo Williams and Andy and J.J. We have guys who can get up and down the floor fast enough to run a fast-paced game, and you can add a couple new guys who can definitely fit in with what Coach is trying to get done.

It’s something we’ve talked to the guys about – to get them into that running mindset. That’s definitely something we want to instill in the guys’ minds – to take easy buckets first and try to get up the floor as quickly as possible. If nothing else, it’ll give us an extra four of five seconds on the shot-clock to run our offense.

You and Coach Scott are former players in this league. What’s advantage does that give you?
Pressey: I think the biggest thing is that we’ve already been in their shoes. We know how hard it is and the work you have to put in, what it takes to win.

We’ve already seen that it’s not about you; it’s about the team, and you have to figure out a way to be part of it. Some of the things you were accustomed to doing in college, you have to put those things back on the shelf and learn how to play with equally-skilled players. All of us were First Team All-Conference and were First Team All-Defense and things like that. We’ve all been there. But how do you hone those skills in a team environment and be able to fit in and have an impact on that team.

Those are things, as an ex-player, you can use to help these guys. They know: ‘Hey, I’m not asking you. I’m telling. I’ve been here before. I’ve done it.’

Has anyone else from this year’s squad caught your eye?
Pressey: Tasmin Mitchell from LSU. He’s a guy right now who’s playing at a high level. And, for pretty much all the minutes that he’s played, he’s been terrific.

I don’t know what’s going to happen with him (with the Cavaliers), but I like him a lot. And I think he’s got a chance to play in our league, whether it’s with us or someone else. I think he has a great chance.

You were an assistant with the Warriors in 1992-93, but a rash of injuries forced to actually suit up for 18 games. We have an opening at “point forward” in case you’re interested.
Pressey: (Laughs) That was part of my deal with Don Nelson when I joined his (coaching) staff. He said, ‘Come join my staff and if someone calls you to play, I’ll release you and you can go. Or if one of my guys go down, you’ll be the first one I call up.’ And all those things happened!

But my playing days are done. I can’t tear up an ACL anymore.