Getting to Know New Clippers Assistant Rex Kalamian
Rex Kalamian joins the Clippers as an assistant coach after spending three seasons in the same capacity with the Toronto Raptors. Entering his 25th season in the NBA, he makes his return to LA, where he began his career as a video coordinator with the Clippers in 1994. Kalamian, who has also spent time coaching in Philadelphia, Denver, Minnesota, Sacramento and Oklahoma City, recently sat down with Clippers.com at the team’s training facility for a wide-ranging Q&A to discuss his return to the organization, his journey around the league as an assistant coach and his initial thoughts on the Clippers heading into the upcoming season.
Q:What most excites you about this opportunity?
RK:The opportunity to work for Doc Rivers is an amazing opportunity. He’s one of the best coaches in the NBA. For me to be able to coach with him and learn from him, is very exciting. And then, to be back with the organization a second time, it is extremely special for me.
Q:Can you describe your experience during your first stint with the team in the early 1990’s?
RK:I started as a video coordinator here. I was coaching at East Los Angeles College and Elgin Baylor, who was the general manager at the time, offered me a full-time job as the video coordinator working for head coach Bill Fitch. After my first or second year, coach came to me and said, ‘I’m going to make you one of my assistant coaches and put you on the bench. I’m going to start you out in your coaching career.’ He said, ‘You’ve put in a lot of work with me, and I really like what you’re doing. I want you to progress and keep doing this.’ I really didn’t understand the life-changing decision he had made for me, putting me on the bench. It was certainly a huge move for me. That led me to be able to do more things. I started working Tim Grgurich’s camp in the summertime. That was a huge platform for me to be able to meet other people, to network with other coaches, to see how things are being done around the league. I really improved in the summertime, personally, from going to Tim’s camp and getting with [Grgurich] himself as well as all the other coaches.
After the change was made where there was a coaching change , Chris Ford came in during a lockout year and kept me on as an assistant coach. Two years after that, when he left, Alvin Gentry came in, and I worked for him for three years. Luckily, the day he got hired and was brought to LA, I was in the gym. We were practicing at Southwest LA College. He was in the gym and I was working out Elton Brand and Lamar Odom at the same time. He walked through, it was just the three of us and he pulled me aside and asked me how the summer workouts were going with those guys. I said, ‘It’s just me and after these two guys, I have Quentin Richardson, Michael Olowokandi after that... I’ve got probably like four hours of work here with these workouts.’ He said, ‘Well listen, get back to it. I just wanted to let you know, you’re going to be on my staff.’
Q:What about the team has changed the most since you last worked here?
RK:At the time, they had three bench coaches and there was myself as one guy behind the bench. There was really no player development department. There was one trainer and one strength coach. We practiced at the Victoria Recreation Center in the city of Carson, so it was a community rec center that we would go to, and we’d get it for two or three hours a day. So, you’d be able to come in and it would be ours from about 9-12 every day. Things have changed dramatically from my first year in the NBA, which I think was 1994 – Bill Fitch’s first year here as the head coach.”
Q:What about the NBA in general has changed the most over your 20+ year assistant coaching career?
RK:The biggest thing that’s changed in the NBA, with this team and around the league specifically, is the player development aspect of things. In years past, there was no real summer development plan. You had young players and you’d see them in summer league and you’d see them throughout the summer periodically, but there wasn’t as much dialogue between management, coaches and the players. Now, it’s almost like the day the season ends, there’s a plan already put in place for how we’re going to develop over April, May, June, July and into the season.
Q:Do any specific seasons stand out to you in your coaching career?
RK:I think the one particular season that stands out was the year we made the NBA Finals in Oklahoma City in 2012. It was a great season in terms of where we got to. Obviously, it was very painful not winning in the Finals, but that’s a season that for me, stands out. I think also being in Oklahoma City the first year we made the playoffs in 2010, was a really neat thing, because that community had never experienced anything like that. There was so much emotion and passion that came from the fans. That season was pretty special, too.
Q:Have there been any players or coaches along your journey that you’ve found to be particularly rewarding to work with?
RK:Players that I’ve worked with over the years that I’ve bonded with and really like include DeMar DeRozan, James Harden, Russell Westbrook… All guys that are not only exceptional players, but exceptional people. And then, some of the coaches that have helped me and influenced me are Tim Grgurich… Scott Brooks was huge in my development over six years in Oklahoma City. He helped me grow and gave me more of a voice with the team than I had ever had before. Alvin Gentry… watching him coach offensively was special for me. Bill Fitch taught me work ethic. I try to steal something from every coach I’m with, even as recently as working with Dwane Casey. Everybody has different things that they’re teaching and different ways that they’re doing it, so I’m trying to steal as much as I can.
Q:Can you describe your strengths as a coach?
RK:I think the first thing I try to do every day is bring positive energy into the gym. I think that’s really important. As long as the season is, there are a lot of ups and down. Sometimes you get really low on the losses and really high on the wins. Bill Fitch taught many years ago that the key to this whole league is consistency. That’s what I try to thrive on… come in every day as a consistent coach with a consistent message and a consistent work ethic. The first thing I know I have to bring every day is the energy. As soon as the players see you bring the energy, then they’ll bring it. That’s kind of, in a nutshell, who I am as a person and as a coach.
I think even more specifically, I try to be fair with players. I like to listen to what they’re saying. I like input from the players. I think it’s important. There are certain players that you listen to, because they understand what’s going on and they have a high IQ for the game.
There’s also a certain amount of players on your team every year that are going to eventually become coaches. I coached Kevin Ollie, who became a really good coach. Derek Fisher got into coaching. There are so many guys when I look around and I say, ‘I coached that guy,’ like Mark Madsen. I coached Scott Brooks with the Clippers many years ago.
Q:What are your initial thoughts on the Clippers’ roster?
RK:Since I’m concentrating a little bit more on the defensive end of things, I look at our team first from a defensive standpoint. And we have some really good defensive players. The biggest thing about our identity as a team is that we’re going to play hard, we’re going to be tough, and we will have a physical presence and a high collective basketball IQ. When you look at our team and the players we have, that’s what you see.