O’CONNOR MAKING FIRST GO-AROUND AS SUMMER LEAGUE COACH
Eric Patten, Clippers.com
LAS VEGAS – Clippers Summer League coach Brendan O’Connor stood with his hands on hips about 20 feet away from his team warming up on the Thomas & Mack Center floor.
O’Connor, who is entering his second season as an assistant coach under Doc Rivers, was charged with heading the Summer League squad. He would be leading practices, making substitutions and in-game adjustments, sweating the final minutes of a close game and managing everything for the first time.
It’s all an adjustment for O’Connor, a basketball lifer who started in the NBA 14 years ago as an advance scout with the Pistons.
“Fortunately, Doc has entrusted me with it and there are a lot of things that you never think about as an assistant that you have to think about as a head coach: bus times, practice times, all that stuff you have to worry about as an assistant,” O’Connor said.
“You never realize how much other stuff there is. The stuff on the court, that’s stuff I’ve been doing anyways. That part of it wasn’t hard, but it’s a little different when you’re overseeing everything. I’ve been very fortunate, in terms of [Assistant Coaches] Armond [Hill], Dave [Severns], J.P. [Clark], [Natalie Nakase] have been phenomenal. All those guys have really helped us, but it’s just a totally different aspect of it trying to worry about all the other stuff.”
O’Connor has worked closely with Rivers, who helped groom last season’s Summer League coach Tyronn Lue into one of the most sought-after assistant coaches in the NBA. Lue left the Clippers for an associate head coach position with the Cavaliers this summer, and while O’Connor does not have his eyes on becoming a head coach just yet, the four-day minicamp leading up to Las Vegas and the two-week summer league has him pining for it a little more than the past.
“I love my position that I’m in right now, but it has been a lot of fun this week,” O’Connor said. “It’s been eye-opening in a lot of ways. I think everybody at some point would love to be running their own team.”
For now, though, O’Connor is focused on molding a 12-man Clippers team without a single player on its regular-season roster into something of a contender in Las Vegas.
“[I just want to] try and make these guys better and make sure we’re doing the right thing and playing our system,” O’Connor said.
If that sounds like Rivers, it’s likely no coincidence. The Clippers’ President of Basketball Operations and Head Coach has a significant impact on O’Connor throughout the summer.
“He’s been great,” O’Connor said of Rivers. “He’s like, ‘If you want to try a few different things that we haven’t done, then go ahead.’ And then he had a few things that he wanted to look at that we may possibly be doing this season. It’s been a lot of the same stuff, keeping to our system on both ends of the floor, but we’ve also put in a few things that we want to try out.”
And in a way, that’s what the entire two weeks in Vegas is: a tryout. The roster of free agents trying to capture the eye of someone around the league and O’Connor trying his hand as a head coach.