Meet the Staff: Brian Keefe
Brian Keefe was hired as a player-development assistant for the Seattle SuperSonics in late August 2007 — just two months after they had drafted a 20-year-old named Kevin Durant.
“I was with him when he first started,” said Keefe, now an assistant with the Lakers. “He was drafted when I was first there, so we were there together a long time. I worked with him a lot. (Our relationship) developed over time. I probably learned a lot more from him than he learned from me.”
After a 20-62 season, the team left for Oklahoma City the next year and drafted another future superstar, Russell Westbrook.
That first season in OKC ended with a 23-59 record, but the team drafted yet another franchise player in James Harden and subsequently made the playoffs.
Now on another team building its young core, Keefe knows the growing pains that are bound to happen — as well as the potential rewards waiting in the future.
“We started off a little slow, didn’t have a lot of success right away,” Keefe said. “Those guys kind of created an organization, because it was really a new organization when it went to Oklahoma City. They really put an imprint on the whole thing. … Obviously it was an unbelievable experience. We had a lot of success, a lot of deep playoff runs.”
Of course, since Keefe started in Oklahoma City, Harden was traded to Houston and Durant left for Golden State. But the coach left his mark on the players while working with the organization from 2007-14, including when he called out Durant after the Thunder lost three straight home games in 2014."That was probably one of the most realest conversations I've had with a coach, ever," Durant told NBA.com’s David Aldridge. "He let me know how bad I was -- my body language, my attitude. I just decided to look at myself and self-evaluate. And he was right. I had to change how I was thinking, how I was acting toward my teammates. Everything.”
Perhaps that willingness to speak his mind stems from his NBA coaching roots, as he started as a video coordinator under Gregg Popovich.
Keefe had previously worked as a college assistant at South Florida (2000-01) and Bryant (’01-05), but his first NBA role came in San Antonio, where he even won a ring for the Spurs’ 2007 championship in his second season.
“That was a blessing to be able to start your career at a place to see how it really should be done,” Keefe said. “Obviously starting with R.C. (Buford) and Pop and those guys — but just how to do things the right way and being around all those great players. You just feel like a kid in the candy store trying to learn as much as you could. It was a fantastic environment for a young coach.”
From there, he joined the Thunder for the next seven years before spending the last two seasons with New York.
A 1996 Second Team All-Big West selection and captain of the UC Irvine basketball team, Keefe is now happy to be back in Southern California.
Part of that has to do with the opportunity to work under head coach Luke Walton.
Though Keefe didn’t have an especially close relationship to Walton prior to joining the Lakers, he nonetheless testifies to the path that the first-year head coach is carving for the team.
“He has a great presence,” Keefe said. “He has a great way of working with the guys and relating to them. He knows what he wants to do, how he wants to go about it. He knows how to create a good environment to improve.”
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