Pelicans Coach Monty Williams talks about the playoffs, death of Jack Ramsay
New Orleans Pelicans Coach Monty Williams was the featured guest on Tuesday's Black and Blue Report. Here is the full transcript of that interview with host Sean Kelley:
How has it been to get back home with the family and reacquaint yourself with their routine?
“Yeah, I messed up my family’s routine just being there. My wife is phenomenal at getting the kids where they need to go, taking care of us all. So me being in the house, destroying the routine, has caused a hiccup in the house. At some time in the future I’m going to be banished to my cave, get back to looking at games and writing notes and getting ready for the season again. I enjoy it. My kids are very active; we’re always outside playing ball. My oldest plays softball, so I enjoy messing with her with the softball a little bit. We really get after it. My wife isn’t as bad as I make her out to be in that respect. It’s good to be home. Unfortunately, I’d much rather be running a sideline right now and running some plays and timeouts because the playoffs have been so phenomenal this year and you want to be a part of all that.”
You and I talked about that, I don’t think your wait will be too long as far as being busy in late April and early May.
“That’s what we’ve been shooting for since our first year playing in the playoffs. Once you get a taste of it, you get a taste for it. There’s a lot of pride that creeps up. It’s hard for me to be happy for some of my buddies who are out there, man, because I want to be out there. Yet, I’m talking to a few of these guys on the phone about little things they can do and they want to pick my brain for things that I see. I find myself watching a lot of games for my own benefit and also to help a few of my buddies out who are playing right now as best I can.”
What have you observed so far in these playoffs? Start with the Western Conference. Has anything surprised you about how this has played out so far?
“Not really, because we’ve played against all these teams so you know what all of the teams are capable of. I’m surprised how many teams have won on the road. That has been a huge deal – and I think it’s a long, drawn out conversation – but I think because of this AAU generation, so many of these guys have come through that system, they’re so used to playing in foreign environments, that it doesn’t really bother them anymore. If you look at how games are being closed out, guys are hitting big shot after big shot. Getting stops is not what it used to be in the NBA. It’s more about offense, and that’s why I think the best defensive teams are going to win as soon as we find out who those teams are. I think the defense is going to prevail. But right now, offensively, the league is playing at such a high level. It’s like good pitching in baseball. You throw the wrong pitch, and you can change the game because the guy can bring in three or four runs just like that.”
With regard to being a great defensive ball club, you have to have some offense because it’s hard to be a good defensive team if they are constantly playing off of your misses or turnovers.
“I always tell our guys that the number one thing for our defense to be effective is that we’ve got to get a good shot because it gives you balance. Whether you’re in transition – if you can make the shot, that’s even better because you can set your (defense). Getting to the free throw line is paramount. You’ve seen teams like Houston who has two guys that can get to the line like nine times per game between Dwight (Howard) and James Harden. That was a benefit for them in the regular season, (but now) it’s not a big deal because Portland scores no matter what you do. They score off free throws, they score off anything. So they’ve been able to nullify what Houston has been able to hurt everyone else with in the playoffs. It’s meant a great deal to Portland because they score no matter what.”
How about LaMarcus Aldridge? Pretty special, huh?
“Yeah. I’m happy for him because this is what we’ve known for a long time. He’s obviously somebody who I’m close to because I’ve known him since he’s been a rookie. He was so paranoid about his career because he wasn’t getting his due because he was playing with Brandon (Roy) and Brandon was getting all the press. I can remember vividly just having these conversations with L.A. like, ‘L.A., you just don’t see it. You don’t see what we see. You’re going to be one of the best players in the league.’ He would just look at us like, ‘What are you guys talking about? All they talk about is Brandon. Nobody even talks about my game.’ And I’m like ‘Just bide your time.’ When I see him doing what he’s doing, it excites me all the more for Anthony (Davis) because I think Anthony has more tools than LaMarcus, and that’s exciting. When he drops 46, that’s surprising. I look at him as a 27-35 guy on a big night, but he’s been able to drop 40 against a pretty decent defensive tandem in Dwight Howard and (Omer) Asik.”
If you play a team every once in a while, you can get away with a few things. But it seems that in a seven game series, all of your flaws can be exposed. It makes Aldridge’s performances that much more impressive.
“Yeah and you look at the way their team is made up. They have so many shooters everywhere. I think Robin’s (Lopez) presence on the floor has helped LaMarcus. Now people forget that before Robin got there, LaMarcus was playing against both guys – he would play against the guy guarding him and the other defensive big on the back side. Now since Robin is there, and because he rebounds on the offensive end at a high clip, you can’t leave him. That frees up L.A. to do his thing. And you’ve got (Damian) Lillard who can go for 30-35 at any given moment. I’m not surprised to see L.A. go off the way that he has gone off.”
It’s really interesting to look at that dynamic and put it in perspective of what you have across the parking lot in your facility and the question of, ‘What does Anthony need next to him?’
“Yeah, well think about the first time we played Houston here at our place. AD is going off and destroying them. In the fourth quarter, they throw Dwight on AD and they clog the paint with the other big. That‘s one of the things that if you don’t have Ryan (Anderson) on the floor, you need another guy that can occupy, score, and offensive rebound. Most of the teams that you’re watching in the playoffs right now, they have two guys down there that can get it done. If you look at Indiana, one of the reasons why they’re struggling is because you can key on David West because (Roy) Hibbert is not playing well and (Luis) Scola has been spotty at best. So now David, when he drives to the basket, there’s two guys there. That’s a struggle for teams when you don’t have a tandem down there. It used to be ‘The Twin Towers’, now it’s usually one major guy like AD in a stretch four, or an adequate center who can probably give you 10-15 points on any given night.”
Help me understand what Frank Vogel is going through right now.
“Tough deal. We’ve all been there having the criticism of fans and the media, and he’s out there doing his best. His players aren’t playing at the level they played earlier in the season, but this has been a long time coming. This isn’t something that has jumped on them in the last week or two, this has been the last couple of months for the Pacers. For him, I can imagine he’s in meetings with his coaching staff trying to think of any adjustment they can make to not only help their team, but give them confidence, because right now they look like a team that doesn’t have a lot of confidence. Look at the way they played last night. A guy like Mike Scott goes for 17 points in a quarter. You don’t wake up in the morning thinking Mike Scott is going to give you 17 points in a game, much less a quarter. Those are the surprises that a head coach can’t plan for. He’s thinking about how he can handle (Jeff) Teague or how he can handle (Paul) Millsap, and how he can keep (Kyle) Korver from coming off screens. I’m not so worried about Mike Scott. So then you couple that with the knowns, I know his mind is probably all over the board. And then to be a number one seed and be in this position against the eight seed, that’s a tough deal because their expectation was to get to the conference finals and then get to the finals, not to play in this position where they have to go on the road and win a game six to bring it back home in the first round. That’s a tough spot.”
Youth is being served across the board, but I can’t help but look at veterans and what impact they’re having when I look at the Dallas/San Antonio series, the Memphis/OKC series, Brooklyn to some extent. It’s amazing that, while we like to focus in on all the new cats around the league, it’s these guys that have many years of experience that are having this much impact this time of year.
“Well I think the best example is Miami. LeBron has been in every situation possible, Wade’s got three championships, Bosh may be the most underrated big in the league. Those guys, while everybody is talking about what’s going on in the West, LaMarcus, the Brooklyn/Toronto series, Indiana, Miami is just down there going about their business under the radar. And now they’re going to get about five or six days rest, which is what every veteran team wants in the first round. That’s the experience from the coaching staff, from a playing point of view, you want to see your team go out there and handle their business right away so we can move on. I think they’ve exemplified more veteranism than any team in the league. Last night I think they were down by one or it was tied at halftime against Charlotte. They come out in the third quarter: bang, bang, bang, bang, bang. They handle their business. Game over. Let’s move on. To me, they’re still the most dangerous team because they know what to do in an efficient manner. They haven’t had to do it at a high, high level yet. They didn’t expend a lot of energy against Charlotte. Charlotte played well, but Miami moved through them the way that we thought they would.”
In the west, did you have a team that you thought would come out of there? If so, has your opinion changed based on what you’ve seen so far in the first round?
“I really thought they the way San Antonio was playing, that they would move through the west at an efficient rate, not as easy as I think Miami will move through the east. What has changed for me as far as San Antonio is concerned is Tony Parker’s play. He hasn’t been the Tony Parker that we’ve seen all year long. You couple that with Danny Green and Marco (Bellinelli) not playing at a high level. They won 62 games this year because their bench was phenomenal. Now their bench is a bit spotty. Boris (Diaw) has been great. Patty (Mills) has had his opportunities. But Marco and Danny are guys who space that floor, and they were taking shot after shot. You remember at our place, Marco closed out a game. It’s a tight game. He shoots a three and he’s ten feet behind the line. He’s passing up shots that I’ve never seen him pass up over the course of this season. I think that’s the thing that has hurt San Antonio. (Manu) Ginobili is playing well, Tim (Duncan) is being Tim, Tony hasn’t been at a high level. Their bench has kind of changed me up a little. I’m not sure it’s going to be as easy for them. Dallas is Dallas. They are a veteran team. If you look at the game-winning shot that Vince (Carter) hit, you can only run that play if you have four guys on the floor, along with a great passer, who they all know they have an opportunity to make a shot. Because the way they talked about it after the game, it was set up for all four guys to be ready to take that shot. You can only do that with a veteran squad.”
That’s quite a luxury for Rick Carlisle isn’t it?
“Yeah. Rick is a great coach, and well-documented. But when you have that kind of championship experience, you got Dirk (Nowitzki), you have a number of guys who have been in big games, you have (Jose) Calderon who has played in a number of games from a world championship perspective, those guys aren’t afraid of the moment. They know what it takes to get it done. And then you look at Devin Harris, he didn’t play at this level in the regular season. He’s won two games for them; that’s amazing. (Samuel) Dalembert’s been solid against Tim, which is a tough task.”
When did your relationship with the late Dr. Jack Ramsay start?
“I think anybody in the league can attest to this: if you’re in the NBA you have a relationship with Dr. Jack just because he was so accessible and he was about basketball. So if you were a basketball guy, he knew who you were even if you didn’t know him or meet him. I hadn’t met him until I started coaching in Portland. After I met him, and to hear the way that people talk about him in Portland, it only takes one meeting with him. His presence, his awareness, and his physical shape was phenomenal. You almost feel embarrassed to be around him. You hear the stories of how he was still swimming across Lake Oswego in Oregon. Lake Oswego is a city there, a bit of a community, but there is a Lake Oswego. If you’ve ever been to Audubon and you look across the Mississippi, it’s about that wide in some parts and he would swim across the lake for workouts. He did that for a lot of his life. You hear story after story about his basketball knowledge. When I met him, it was one of those shock and awe kind of meetings where you just shake his hand and shut up and listen to him talk. He came to a couple of our practices. He was a big fan of Nate McMillan and so he would come to our practices and it was amazing to see somebody like that who had accomplished so much sit there and take notes or sit there and watch practice like he was trying to learn something. It’s one of those things that impacts you as a young coach that no matter how old you are or what you’ve done or what you’ve accomplished, you can always learn something. You hear now about him starting grass roots basketball programs in Africa at his age was phenomenal to hear those kinds of stories about guys like that who have done so much for not just the Portland Trail Blazers, but the basketball community at large”
Give me an example of something you see in the game today that you can directly attribute to him?
“His intensity for every situation. I was listening to people describe him and they were like, ‘Man he was the most competitive, most intense coach.’ When you look at him, you don’t see that. If you watch the old films of the NBA and back when they were winning in Portland, you see the loud jacket and the crazy pants and think, ‘Wow, that guy’s got some crazy stuff on.’ You don’t think about him being this intense coach who never takes a day off. If there’s one thing that I pride myself on, it’s not taking many days off and bringing that intensity to the court, to the meeting, to the plane. I’m not always the easiest guy to be around during the season, and to hear people talk about Dr. Jack in that way gave me confidence that that is a way you can go about doing it, by approaching your job with a ferociousness every single day because it is a privilege to be in this league and that’s what you tend to see from guys like Dr. Jack, that being in the NBA is a privilege.”
It’s a wonder how he could be so ferocious, so intense, so passionate, but yet so magnetic.
“He had great balance I would have to say. I think one of the things I learned is that as bad as I want to win a championship, I have to have a good relationship with the people I’m around. If they don’t know my heart and know where all of this comes from, then it’s not worth it. I think the guys like Dr. Jack, Coach (John) Wooden, they figured that out a long time ago, that the relationship is probably more important than the X’s and O’s and the wins and losses. It can be a tough deal, especially today with all the criticism and people who aren’t qualified to talk about your job who (when they) get a chance are always whacking you all the time. Guys like Dr. Jack had this infectious thing about them, but I think a lot of it was because everybody knew where this was coming from. Everybody knew that his goal was to not only win games but also to help people get better at life and on the floor. He was one of those guys that could help you do it. When I met him, he called me by my first name right away. I was like, ‘Wow, I didn’t even know he knew who I was.’ That is contrary to what it’s like when I was a young rookie in the NBA starting for the New York Knicks and I have to go against Clyde Drexler. We’re at the jump ball and Clyde looks at me and says, ‘What’s your name again?’ I didn’t realize it then that he was messing with me, but at the time I thought, ‘Man, he doesn’t even know my name.’ Well contrast that to Dr. Jack. Dr. Jack was one of those guys that wanted you to feel good about who you were, not just as a basketball player or coach, but he gave you that respect as a human being. With all that he accomplished as a basketball lifer, to have somebody like that who knew your name, I thought that was pretty cool.”
Do you view Dr. Jack Ramsay as one of the lions of this league? Are there any new lions emerging?
“Yeah you have to. I don’t have great history with him, but when I listen to the Hubie Browns, the guys in the league like Coach Pop (Greg Popovich), Phil Jackson talk about Dr. Jack, they almost talk up to him. That, to me, is a sign of what he meant to the game. He didn’t win 11 championships like Phil Jackson or four like Pop, but those guys reverenced him. If you listen to George Karl talk about him…I’m pretty sure if you had Nate McMillan sitting here right now, he could go on and on about stories that they had that only those two could share. But if the world knew all of the exploits and the way he made people feel and what he did for basketball…Obviously he was a father of the league and we’re going to be worse off not having him around. Going forward, I think we do have these caretakers of the game. Pop is one of those guys. He really cares about the game. Doc Rivers is another one. Rick Carlisle. When I’m around those guys, you understand that they really care about the game and how to make it better. Not only just the game, but how to make people better enjoy the game and help them become better people. Erik Spoelstra is a guy that when I’m around him is a serious dude and is about basketball and about people. There are a number of guys. I think we’ve all learned that we have to take care of the game. Had not Dr. Jacks and Larry Browns of the worlds, the Dean Smiths, John Thompsons, had those guys not come along before us, I don’t think we’d care about taking care of the game. I think we would just be about winning and money. The more you are around this game, you understand that there is a responsibility to take care of the game so that people – not just people in America, basketball is global – so people around the world can enjoy what we’ve enjoyed.”
Is there any thought to share that maybe you have a new outlook on things or maybe epiphanies at the end of the season like, ‘I want to try this’ or ‘I want to use this.’ Is there anything that has kind of struck you in these few weeks?
“Yeah. I’m looking at our games and my notes. The one thing I learned this year is that giving guys freedom to play to their strength isn’t a bad thing. I’ve always tried to create an atmosphere where guys can get better and then try to put them in positions to where they can do it on the floor. The one thing when I’m looking at my notes and I’m looking at how some of our guys played above and beyond what I thought they were going to play with all the stuff that we had going on. To watch AD blossom once I kind of took the gloves off him a little bit and let him go, a bit of an epiphany there. Watching Tyreke blossom once we gave him the structure, put him in our atmosphere, and then it was like ok now go. There’s a part of me that is at this point now to where we have created the atmosphere. We have the structure. We’ve got to get healthy; we all know that. It’s not a letting go as much as it is giving guys more freedom to be themselves. I don’t think I’ve been really good at that my first three years as a coach with my players. I coach everybody. It doesn’t matter how much money you make or who everybody else thinks you are. Along with that, there’s a lot of things that I have to do or say that not everybody wants to hear. But at the same time, I’m learning that it’s ok to give guys freedom to do their thing…as long as they don’t break our absolutes. There you go. As I look at my notes and I’m watching some of our games, I’ve seen how I’ve matured in that way and I kind of got that from Coach K (Mike Krzyzewski) last summer. Watching him with elite guys, he really allows those guys to be themselves. When you’re a young coach, you’re not always willing to do that. I struggle with it.”
It seems like you are on the brink in regards to that.
“I’ll tell guys that I want you to go out there and shoot the ball with confidence, and if they take what I deem to be a bad shot, I rip them. For some guys that is confusing. A guy who is tough mentally knows what I’m talking about. If David West was here and he took what I thought was a tough shot, I would be like, ‘D West, take him to the basket!’ He would know what I’m talking about because he’s tough mentally. Most guys aren’t D West, so if I tell them I didn’t like that shot, that doesn’t mean don’t shoot next time you’re open. It means take a better shot, play with confidence, and do what you’ve worked on. You have to learn how to talk to guys and how to reach guys. I felt like I did a better job of that this year. Darius Miller, case in point. He had a tough time playing for me because he couldn’t get over the fact that I was getting into him. I could see talent that he couldn’t see. He just got to a point to where he could deal with me coaching him and play his game, and you started to see him blossom into this guy that we were like, ‘Man, I didn’t know he had all that.’ A lot of that was just me backing off of him a little bit, but it was a lot of him understanding that, ‘Darius, I’m not against you. I’m the guy that wants you to get paid. I also want you to help us win games. Now go out there and do your thing.’”
Are you a good Little League dad or do you struggle with it?
“I would have to say that my wife and I – and it’s going to get a bit personal – I’m almost ashamed at some of the things I see at little league sports games now. It’s embarrassing. The one thing that I have done with all of our coaches that have coached our kids is, after every game, I walk over to them and tell them, ‘Good job, Coach.’ Because I know how hard it is to deal with criticism, but to see some of the things that are going on in little league sports now, it’s bad. I don’t want to be that parent. I know because of my position, that when I come into a gym or a field, there’s something that goes with that. I want to make sure I’m part of the solution and not the problem. The other thing is that I don’t want to embarrass my kid. Just me being me is enough. My kids, I know they’re waiting for me to say something crazy. When I go to a game, I’m quiet. I want to encourage all of the players and I really enjoy getting to know all of my kids’ teammates. That’s what it should be about. I don’t want to be the parent screaming at the umpire or screaming at a ref or yelling at a coach. That’s not what little league sports, high school sports is all about. My high school coach was like my dad. He took me to get my license. He took me to basketball camp. He took me home from school when I didn’t have a ride, fed me when I needed to be fed. To this day, still sends me text messages giving me tips on what I can do to help our team. To me, that’s what it’s all about. I don’t want to destroy the relationship that my kid can have with their coach because I’m coming to the games screaming at everybody like a Third World dictator with a machete in my hand running around my castle. That, to me, is not going to help my kid or the program get better.”
I think it’s important and I was curious as to how you handle that.
“Well sure, I’m just like everybody else. I see things and I’m like, ‘Man, okay coach do this do this…ok…ok.’ But at the same time, I’ve got to trust that they’re going to do what’s right by my kids. Like I said, after every game when I get a chance to, I try to walk over to whether it be high school basketball, track, softball coach and let those guys or gals know that I think they did a great job and that I’m with them.”
Good to see you, Coach.
“Thank you bro. It’s been a long time. I miss doing my job, man. I can’t wait to get back on the sidelines and get rolling again. It’s great to see you guys also. Another shout out to the Heisley family. They lost a great owner, a great person, a guy who did a lot for Memphis basketball, and our prayers go out to Craig Sager as he’s fighting for his life. A lot of storylines in basketball right now, but a number of things that are going on that we need to pray about.”
Alright, Coach. I hope you get a little more time with your family before you are banished the cave as you said.
“Yeah. I did catch a 30-inch redfish though, on light tackle too. That was really really fun. I was down in my favorite spot in all of Louisiana which is the bayou, down in the marsh.”
You’re not going to give us specifics though are you?
“No no no. Not giving up my spot. We found a new spot that holds a number of reds and trout. I caught the biggest flounder I’ve caught since I’ve been here. Yeah, it was pretty cool. That was like my second day fishing. I’m looking for that monster 35-40+ red. I haven’t gotten that baby yet, but one of them has my name on it and I’m going to get it.”
You used to be a golf fanatic, I think you’ve changed over.
“Golf is done. It’s over, man. I can’t do it with my kids. Anything that I can’t do with my kids in the offseason is off my list. My kids like to fish. They like being outside. They like when we go fishing and we stop by a certain store and get them all the stuff they want to eat. More importantly, we get to spend time together. They didn’t like golf much, so I couldn’t do it. If they don’t like it, I can’t do it.”