Q&A With Dean Cooper
Rockets assistant coach discusses coming home, defense and team goals
McALLEN, TEXAS - After a wild, whirlwind offseason, training camp is officially underway for the Houston Rockets. This is the time of year when coaches can truly begin to make their mark upon a team, so to get a feel for what the Rockets' staff has planned for the next few weeks, Rockets.com's Jason Friedman will sit down with each of the club's assistant coaches to find out what they're focusing on with this particular roster.
Taking his turn in the hot seat today is assistant Dean Cooper. What follows is a transcript of the conversation that ensued.
JCF: I haven’t had a chance to catch up with you since rejoined the Rockets. You’re obviously very familiar with this organization; how has the re-acclimation gone so far?
DC: It’s been great. I’ve obviously worked with Kevin McHale and J.B. Bickerstaff in Minnesota, but having worked in the past on the personnel side with Daryl Morey, Gersson Rosas, Sam Hinkie, and all the other people in the organization, too, has really made it feel like I’ve just come home. It’s a comfort level, you know.? This is home for me and everyone has been so welcoming and warm, so it’s been great from that standpoint and it’s been great from a basketball standpoint, too.
JCF: I know it’s important for players to feel comfortable, but is that something that can have an affect on coaching as well?
DC: Actually, I think it’s really important for coaches. I had to get to know Kelvin Sampson and Chris Finch and Greg Buckner a little bit, but the fact I knew just about everyone else on the coaching staff and of course all the personnel guys, it makes me more effective I think because I know their personalities and how they think and they know my personality and how I think.
Having gone away for four years and coming back, I've learned things that I think I can bring back and help because, as good as any organization is, there’s always something else out there that you can find here or there to bring back with you. So it’s been good; we’ve had a lot of open discussions and shared a lot of ideas and it’s been great.
JCF: I know you’re familiar with many of these players, but there’s a massive difference between seeing a guy play a handful of times here and there, and seeing them up close and personal day after day. With a guy like Chandler Parsons, I know you saw him some last year, but I’m curious to get your thoughts on him now that you’ve seen him every day. He looks like a six-year vet out there right now but I can’t tell if it’s because he’s just so advanced or because he’s playing against so many other young guys.
DC: I’ll tell you, in all honesty I didn’t know a lot about Chandler prior to him playing last year, but I knew coming into the first time we played the Rockets, watching some film and seeing him play, I was like, “Wow, that guy was a great second round pick.”
It’s more typical of a four-year (college) player to be mentally ahead in the game because they’ve been around longer and seen more, so in some ways it really doesn’t surprise me that he seems, as you said, more like a five- or six-year vet. In some ways he is, when you consider his four years at Florida and then his experience last year because there is a different level of basketball maturation that takes place when you stay in school that long.
JCF: I’ve been asking all the coaches this so I want to get your thoughts on it as well: What would you like the defining characteristic to be of this team on the offensive end?
DC: The things we’re trying to accomplish are trying to be an up-tempo team that moves the ball and plays a fluid game. Then inside of that, whatever your system is you want to see it be efficient. I think it’s a fun way to play, I think it’s a fun way to coach, and I think J.B. and Chris have done a really good job – that’s kind of their department; Kelvin and I try to concentrate on the defensive side of the ball; we’re all involved but we have our stock duties.
I think those guys have done a really good job of laying the foundation, but it’s just like anything: there’s some play dough or silly putty to it where you figure out what works and what doesn’t work, what works with this personnel and what doesn’t. And when you play the way we want to play, it probably takes a little bit longer than just, say, a team that runs set after set after set, because you can quickly discern what sets work and what don’t. So this is a little bit more ebb and flow per se, but if we play with pace, move and share the ball and be efficient, I think that’s our ultimate goal and I think we’re going to be hard to guard when we get that figured out because teams aren’t going to be able to hone in on a bunch of sets that we run.
JCF: You mentioned that your focus tends to be on the defensive end, so what are your defensive goals for this team?
DC: Definitely keep the ball out of the paint. Every NBA team wants to keep the ball out of the paint. We know what shots are the most efficient shots in the league and which are the least, and we’re trying to form the defensive principles to accomplish that.
And some of defense has to do with your personnel, too, more so with the bigs than the smalls. Some guys are effective playing pick-and-roll coverages staying back; some bigs are more effective playing pick-and-roll coverages if they can get up and out and impact the ball. I think we have a pretty good feel for that, but it’s going to be a work in progress for that, too.
As with every camp across the country, unless you’re Miami or Boston or San Antonio where you’ve had a group of guys who have been together for awhile, your defense tends to be further ahead of your offense at the start of every camp. As you can see when you watch exhibition games, the scores tend to be lower. Some of that, too, is guys just getting their legs back in their shot; it’s not just the defensive execution. Offensive timing takes longer to develop.
But I’ve really been pleased with our guys and the concepts that we’ve tried to instill. (Thursday) night was the first time we’ve had for extended scrimmage time, and going back and watching the tape you can tell we did some really good things. We’ve obviously got some things to clean up but you can tell they’re starting to get it.