Sonics Q&A: Ralph Lewis
New Sonics assistant coach Ralph Lewis returns to the NBA after spending four years with the NBA Development League's Huntsville Flight, the last three as head coach. In that role, Lewis led the Flight to the 2003 NBDL Championship Game. An assistant coach for the Sacramento Kings in 1997-98, Lewis spent parts of three seasons in the NBA, playing for the Detroit Pistons during part of their 1989-90 Championship season. Lewis sat down with SUPERSONICS.COM to discuss his new role and the transition from the D League.
SUPERSONICS.COM: How did this opportunity come about for you?
Lewis: I received a phone call from Bob Weiss stating to me that he needed an assistant and that he wanted to sit down and speak with me - would I be interested? I told him yes. They ended up flying me out here and I interviewed with him and went back home. I came back out and interviewed a second time with Wally Walker and then they offered me the job.
Did you know Weiss before interviewing?
I didn't know Bob at all. I was referred by several different people, because he was looking for qualified people to fill out his staff. My name came up in those conversations, and he was intrigued enough to give me an opportunity.
I enjoy being around players - development and watching players grow as players as well as people. I think it's important that they're developing not just as players but as people. To watch that transformation is nice to see. To know that you possibly had a part in that, but ultimately it's the player accepting their situation and whether they are and being willing to work hard and grow as a player, I think is a great thing. To take that experience from the D League, to bring it to the NBA situation, I think it makes me more of a well-rounded coach. I'm a former player; played in the NBA, played in minor-league situations and played in Europe. I've seen a lot of basketball, and I've coached basketball, so there's not too much I haven't seen or done. It makes you a resource to the players. It brings credibility when they don't understand certain situations or when you're trying to tell them certain things that they're willing to listen, which is important because you have a certain amount of experience that you believe that they can use to help them. You would hope that they would take advantage of that.
What are some of the major differences between the NBA and the NBA Development League?
From a coaching perspective - while I haven't coached as an assistant in the NBA since 1997-98 - I would say, one, you're coaching different types of players. In the NBA, the players are a lot more skilled, a lot more talented than the players in the NBA Development League. That's why they're there - because they're developing and trying to learn how to play consistently and improve on their weaknesses. From that perspective, as far as players, you're dealing with a lot more talented players. You have a lot more resources in reference to personnel or when you do scouting and different things like that. Facilities and a lot of stuff in that regard.
Does having head coaching experience make you a better assistant?
I think so. Having the opportunity to coach my own team, to put together my own training camp and my own practices and to be involved in game situations and making decisions, things of that nature, it's given me more experience from a coaching perspective. I have an idea what Bob would be going through as a head coach and some of the things that he would be facing. I can give him advice from the different experiences I've had, so that would help him in making decisions, whether it's a game situation or whether it's in practice, just sharing information.
How would you describe your coaching philosophy?
I think that my coaching philosophy is play together as a team and to play the right way. What is the right way? The right way is working hard. It's trying to play within yourself, trying to play within the team concept and towards a common goal, and that's to win the game. That's what I believe in and I would hope that my players would believe in that same philosophy.
What coach has had the most impact on your style and that philosophy?
I would definitely say Chuck Daly. Being a player for the Pistons and having the opportunity to watch him coach and how he handled our team, which was a veteran team with experienced players - Isiah (Thomas), (Bill) Laimbeer, Joe Dumars and those guys - how he handled everyone, the professionalism, his knowledge of the game and management of the game. It was intriguing to me and something I wanted to emulate.
Are you at all surprised so many of the Pistons from that era - notably yourself, Dumars, Laimbeer and Thomas - have gone into coaching or front offices?
I don't think so, because being a part of that organization and being a part of that team at that particular time, you had a lot of guys that were driven, that were successful in their own right and that you knew were going to go on to bigger and better things. Just being a part of all of that rubs off on you.
What were the highlights of your time in Huntsville?
I would say developing players, which is the goal of the league. When I was there, I had several players get called up to the NBA - Mike Wilks, who was recently on the Spurs Championship team; Ron Dupree, who is on Detroit this year; Damone Brown, who got called up; Brandon Williams; Mateen Cleaves; all those different players. I think that was the goal of the league, trying to develop guys to put them in a position that they would get an opportunity. I think that was a highlight. Also, being able to participate in postseason play - we went to the NBDL Championship. Unfortunately, we didn't win it, but we were able to make it there. Two consecutive years of playoff appearances; the last couple of years were the best records that the Huntsville Flight has ever had. I had some success there.
How will affiliation with the NBA change the D League this year?
I'm not really sure. I think that it's a start. I think a minor-league system is needed for the NBA to develop players. I believe in the system. I believe that guys that don't get an opportunity to play at the NBA level have an opportunity to play at the NBA Development League level to develop as a player. I think that's all beneficial. I know it's still in the works, all the intricacies of how direct affiliation is going to work and all those things. Baseball has a lead on us; they've had their minor league for 100 years. We're still in the infancy of our minor-league system with the NBA, but I think it's a start. I think it's something that can be beneficial to the league.