Earlier today, ESPN NBA analyst P.J. Carlesimo discussed the NBA Conference Finals on a conference call with members of the media. ESPN’s exclusive coverage of the Western Conference Finals continues with Game 3 on Saturday, May 25, when the Memphis Grizzlies host the San Antonio Spurs at 9 p.m. ET. KIA NBA Countdown – with Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Jalen Rose, Bill Simmons and Michael Wilbon – will be on site from Memphis at 8 p.m. to preview the action. On Friday, May 24, ESPN Radio’s coverage of the Eastern Conference Finals continues at 7:30 p.m. with Game 2 between the Indiana Pacers and the defending NBA champion Miami Heat.
Here is the replay of today’s conference call.
Q. Is the TV deal a short term gig or what are your plans? I know obviously there are always going to be jobs out there. Do you have any desire or idea what you want to do?
P.J. CARLESIMO: I’m always day to day, you know that. That’s what I’ve become. But this was a great opportunity. But only definitely until the end of the playoffs and then we’ll see what the future holds. It’s something that could be obviously something I’d love to do long range. If there’s coaching opportunities and if there’s interest, obviously, I’d think about it. But the last couple times when I’ve been fired/relieved between jobs, I’ve had the opportunity to fortunately do TV or radio, and I’ve really enjoyed it. So hopefully that will happen again.
Q. Give us a breakdown of what you expect to see the rest of the series, and can you react to what you saw last night with the failure to guard LeBron on the inbounds pass and resulting in the final shot?
CARLESIMO: I think it’s going to be a great series. I think these two teams are very well matched up. They’ve played four times now. Each team has won two. Obviously, last night was a great game. They did have a break down in the last play with LeBron. You don’t want to lose a game with the best player in the game getting a layup.
Indiana can take a lot of positives out of the game. Game 1 in Miami, a team they had beaten two out of three in the regular season. They take them to the wire again and were in position that one stop and they’d be up 1 zip in the series.
I think Miami is still clearly the team to beat. They’re the defending champs and they have the best record over the 32-game season, but I think Indiana is a very tough matchup for them. Indiana is very strong inside, which is not Miami’s strong suit. They can hurt them on the boards. They didn’t kill them on the boards last night, but they hurt them. It’s going to be important for Indiana not to turn the ball over, which is always a problem for them. They were kind of a high turnover team and usually against Miami, that’s death.
Miami converts turnovers. I don’t know if statistically they’re number one, but they’re better than anybody in the league.
Fortunately for the Pacers, Miami turned it over a bunch last night themselves. So it was a very entertaining game. I expect it to be a great series. I’ve been wrong before, but I think these two teams match up well against each other, and I think we’re going to see a number of games like last night the rest of the way.
Q. How interested would you be in sticking around broadcasting for something beyond this interim term?
CARLESIMO: Very interested. I’ve been lucky. I’ve done it a number of times. Way back in early 2000 NBC’s last two years. I did two years with NBC, one studio, one doing games. And before I hooked on with San Antonio, I did a bunch of games for the Spurs covering them, and I’ve been lucky over the years. I did some ESPN radio with Jim Durham. I did some great [Western Conference Finals] and did a bunch of stuff for FOX Sports West and I’ve been lucky. I’ve had a lot of good opportunities and I’ve really enjoyed it.
I’ve always gotten dragged back into coaching, and I hope it’s something that I’m going to be able to continue to do, the broadcasting. But it’s not a lot different than coaching. I don’t know how much turnover there’s going to be. There are a lot of people looking for not that many jobs, but hopefully there will be an opportunity for me there after the playoffs are over.
Q. Couple Nets questions if you don’t mind. Are the expectations reasonable and do those expectations make it difficult for a coach, whether it was you or Avery or whoever is going to get the job next?
CARLESIMO: Well, I think it made it difficult to keep the job more so for Avery, because Avery was brought in, and he did the dirty work. You got the two years of getting your head knocked off while they were getting the roster together and getting the salary cap right and all that. Then when the team had a very representative team to put out there and you had all the great things that we all enjoyed this year in Brooklyn, he didn’t get a chance to reap the benefits of those two years, which was unfortunate.
For me, it’s disappointing only because it’s such a good job. I think you know how I feel about it. There are only 30 jobs in this league, but there are a handful that are better than others, and I think Brooklyn is one of those jobs because it’s a team that’s got a chance to win every night.
I’ve had very good jobs, and I’ve been as a head coach and an assistant coach obviously when I was in San Antonio in particular, we had a chance to win the whole thing.
When you have a job in this league that you have a chance to win every night, that’s very special, and Brooklyn is one of those jobs. Having said that, the expectations to win a championship in two years, that’s a heavy load for anybody, not just for Brooklyn.
I don’t know if that’s realistic the way the roster is right now. I would not say that team could not win a championship. We thought we could this year if things broke a little better for us. But if you have that on your plate, that you need to win a championship in two years, I think it makes it a little challenging. But, again, everybody starts the year saying we want to win a championship. Brooklyn has more reason to say that than a lot of the other teams in the league.
But I still would not call them one of the favorites. I wouldn’t put that on whoever is lucky enough to get the job. I think it’s a team that could win a lot of games. I think it’s a 50-win team, a playoff team and a team that could do well, particularly in the Eastern Conference. But to win a championship is a bear. Those 16 wins are hard to come by at the end of the year, but the Spurs have ten of them right now, Miami’s got nine. It’s hard to get to 16.
I still do think it’s a good job. I think the expectations are maybe not totally realistic, but you’d rather have that from your owner and you know he’s got the wherewithal to back it up.
That’s his goal. We talked about that from day one. He doesn’t make any bones about it.
He doesn’t want to have a nice team. He doesn’t want to sell just [tickets] in Brooklyn and make the team competitive; he wants to win an NBA championship. And as a coach, you can’t ask for more than that. If what comes with that is a short leash, then so be it.
Q. Talking to a lot of the players after the season in the exit interviews, the sentiment was they felt they needed an experienced coach, somebody that could get their respect and establish an identity. Do you think that’s what this group of players need?
CARLESIMO: No, I don’t think so. I think when you ask players what they want, it’s like spin. This time I think there was a little bit of I wasn’t hard enough on the team. Every other time I’ve coached in the league, I was too hard on the guys. So I think people spin things the way they want to do it.
Whoever comes in here, he’ll get at least a short chance. By the time training camp is over, by the time November December is over, he’s either going to have proven to the players how capable he is and then they’ll go forward from that, or for whatever reason, it will go sideways or stutter a little bit in the beginning.
I don’t think there is a magic person in terms of a profile. I don’t think it’s got to be somebody that’s coached in the league for ten years. I don’t think it’s somebody that has to have been a head coach. There are too many examples of guys with no coaching experience thriving right off the bat. I think you’re not going to win in this league much less win a championship unless you have a veteran team. I think for the most part, it’s a good group. I really do. I think you’re never going to get 15 guys that you love their attitude; you love the way they work and the way they listen. But in general, I think it’s a good group, and whoever is lucky enough to get the job will like working with that group.
But maybe I’m being unrealistic, but I would not say it can’t be an assistant or can’t be a young guy or can’t be somebody that hasn’t been a head coach in the league before. I think when you get in there and get a chance to be face to face with guys and get through training camp with them and coach some games, they’ll know. They’ll sense at that point this is the right guy or this guy knows what he’s doing or he doesn’t know what he’s doing. I don’t think it will be that.
Q. Just kind of touched on it, but is there a lesson to be learned for the new coaches? Do you think there is kind of a changing of the guard? What is the climate for a veteran coach like yourself who wants to coach, but people might use the past against you or might think, well, you’ve been through three or four teams, and that’s not going to work with these guys?
CARLESIMO: I don’t think there is. I think it takes an owner or a general manager or a combination to feel that you’re the right guy. I don’t think there is a cookie cutter to coaching.
Phil’s older than I am. Well, you say he’s won 11 championships, so he’s different. Popovich is not a young guy, and he’s extremely successful. Doc has pretty much held up to be, and I would agree with that, would be one of the more popular choices anywhere in the league. Those guys are very different, very different guys. Mark Jackson did an incredible job this year at Golden State.
What is not good in the league right now, and it’s just reality – it’s a players league; there is no question about that. But it can’t be the point where players hire and fire coaches because that’s not going to work. If you look at the places that have been successful, it’s where the best players – look at Miami. It’s because Dwyane and LeBron have Spo’s back. Spo, a lot of people when he got the job people said how can he coach this big three, this famous group? What makes it work is those guys empower him.
Timmy Duncan and David Robinson did that for Pop in San Antonio, the three guys that were in Boston did that for Doc. It’s not going to happen unless those guys do. For years, to me Jerry Sloan, it was about Carl and about John, because you knew if you went there. Was Jerry Sloan different than a lot of coaches in the league? Yes, he was. But that’s the way it was. They respected him, they practiced hard, they tucked their shirts in, they did all the things now that some people may say are idiosyncrasies or a little different, but it worked.
So I don’t think there is any magic person. What makes it tough right now, you see Vinny Del Negro with the most wins in the history of a franchise and take them to the playoffs back to back, and for whatever reason there’s going to be a coaching change?
It doesn’t make it easy to coach when you don’t feel that your general manager or your owner have your back. Doug Collins, I think he said it when he was doing TV, he said the GM and the coach should be hired together and fired together. They should come at the same time and leave at the same time and be forced to work together and be forced to make something work.
It’s just the nature of the league. You have this inevitable; this guy drafted him; this guy traded for him; he’s my guy. I want him to play more. The coach is like I’ve got to win now, because if I don’t, they’re going to get somebody else in here. It’s hard.
The good thing about college in comparison to the pros is you were the GM and the coach. So you brought the guys in and they had to get along with you and you had nobody else to blame but yourself. Sometimes the structure of professional sports can make it a difficult arrangement between a coach and general manager, and that is moreso true today because the players are more vocal. And particularly the franchise guys don’t hesitate to step up and say what they feel.
When you’ve got $100 million invested in a guy, it’s really asking a lot for an owner to say, hey, I don’t care. This guy’s my coach. You get along with him. It’s not easy. I think it’s a more challenging job now than it was even five to ten years ago.
Q. Do you think that there’s a possibility that Chris Paul said to ownership that for me to stay with the organization I want to see Vinny Del Negro go?
CARLESIMO: I don’t know that. I hate when people like sources or speculation. I have no knowledge of that whatsoever. But if the decision was made based on what Vinny has done as a coach, his record, all the records of all the Clipper teams in history and what they’ve done in two years and what they did in the Western Conference this year, you would think it would be hard for someone to convince me it was a basketball decision. I would find that a little hard to understand.
But I’m 3,000 miles away on the other coast, and I don’t know what went into it. When you own a team, you can do whatever you want to do. You can hire and fire whoever you want, but it seems the norm is more coaches in this league have always had to get along with players. If your players don’t want to play for you and back you up, if they don’t respect you enough and like you enough, you’re not going to be coaching very long.
But I didn’t see evidence of that in L.A. I really thought Vinny did a hell of a job. If you had said when he took over that position a couple years ago here’s what his record is going to be in the next couple of years, people would have said get out of here. They’re not going to do that. And then to do it and be told, hey, we’re going to go in a different direction, it makes you wonder a little bit.
The coaching profession right now, don’t get me wrong, it’s a great job. And I’m going to cut off my arm because there are only 30 of them, and that’s one of the better run ones. My job this year in Brooklyn and Vinny’s job in L.A. are two of the better jobs in the league. But it’s not an easy way to make a living.
Q. When you hear someone say that maybe a coach like Vinny that he didn’t have the locker room, what’s that mean to you? How is that different from the X’s and O’s out on the court?
CARLESIMO: It’s spin that the players or agents or general manager trying to rationalize as opposed to saying, hey, that’s my coach. I back him a hundred percent; end of discussion. When you have anything short of that kind of backing, you get people throwing out things like that well, he’s lost the locker room.
That’s because an agent is upset that his player isn’t playing, or a player don’t doesn’t like the way he’s being asked to do something or the general manager is trying to sense would it be a popular thing if we got rid of this guy? Say what it is. Let them say what it is.
This particular player won’t play for him or something like that, doesn’t like him, this guy’s a player. When you fire a player’s coach, it’s because he’s too easy on players. That’s all spin or what you say when you make a change or how you’re trying to sell a change when you’re trying to make it.
Q. The Clippers being one of the best organizations to coach, how do you see it that way?
CARLESIMO: I just think it’s a very talented roster. It’s a players’ league. What did they win this year? I don’t know the number whatever they won. But to win 56 games or whatever that number was in the Western Conference this year, that is a very good basketball team. They’ve got very good young players; they have nice diversity. They’ve got size; they’ve got perimeter people. It’s just a good roster.
You look top to bottom at the 30 jobs in the league, that is one of the better jobs in the league, not just today but going forward. So I would think a lot of people are going to say, wow, I’d like to take a chance on coaching that team, get along with those players, whatever it’s going to take to maximize that roster. But Vinny did a hell of a job, I thought. It’s not going to be an easy act to follow.
Q. Wondering since you were basically here all those years, do you have any insight as to how or what are your basic thoughts of how the Spurs have done and been able to maintain getting in the playoffs every year and giving themselves a shot at winning a championship every season?
CARLESIMO: I can’t speak to the other sports. They’re the best run organization in the NBA and have been for a long time. The people making the decisions, and I put Pop one, and RC, 1(a), and Peter Holt right there with them.
The decisions that are made starting with David and Tim, and they’re very fortunate. They’ll all be the first to tell you when you have the opportunity to draft those two guys. But it’s not just for their ability. You know them better than I know them. They’re both Hall of Fame players, they’re both all-time in the history of the game of basketball players, but they’re both better people than they are players. That’s what that organization is all about, that’s been the back bone of it from day one.
They have good people. They’ve got guys that care about the team more than they care about themselves, and that’s why you can wheel in the Bruce Bowens and Steve Kerrs and Danny Ferrys, all the different guys that have been in there. And that’s why you can have a Stephen Jackson come in there and be productive.
I don’t even know what happened. I didn’t ask Pop and those guys what happened this year. It’s a special thing. We had more conversations talking about drafts and talking about trades, and the question was is he a Spur? They do a better job getting their type of person.
And I was talking before, I don’t know if you were on the call, but Timmy and David have empowered Pop from day one. Pop can tell people to stand on their head, and the first two guys that are going to do it are going to be Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili right now. In the old days, it was David and Tim.
So when your best players support you like that and play for you and respect you the way those guys respect Pop, that’s the formula. So, no, given that formula, is it surprising they go? No. What’s surprising to me is people every year write these guys are too old, what are they going to do? And they go win 55 or 60 games and have the best record in the West every time and they keep saying these guys are too old.
Well, all NBA team came out and Timmy is first team, and I think Tony was second team, and Manu was dinged up and banged up the whole year. I think that may be the key going forward in the playoffs. If Manu’s healthy or anything close to what we knew Manu is capable of being, they may hang another banner up before this year’s out.
Q. I guess that’s my follow up question. You’re right, that’s where Pop’s going to go with that first and foremost. We’ve had good core guys. But beyond that, Tony has had lousy playoff games in this run. Tim has had lousy playoff games. For whatever reason they have a knack of finding guys that not only fit the profile that you just said, but also can contribute and on any given night can go out and bust off a nice game for you. I guess that is the core of my question. Do they do that better than anybody else? Finding these fringe guys that other teams either gave up on or didn’t see? Where does that success come from? Who is the talent and the brains behind all of that?
CARLESIMO: R.C., Pop has unbelievable confidence in R.C. and trusting R.C. R.C. deserves an enormous amount of credit for that. But the same way they hire or draft or trade for good players, look at some of the guys R.C. has had working for him. The job Sam’s doing in Oklahoma. The job Danny Ferry did in Cleveland and he will do in Atlanta. Lance, all the guys that have been through there. There is Rob Hennigan now in Orlando.
There have been so many talented guys that come in there, work hard, and are very, very intelligent and have a good feel for the balance not just between the athletic ability but the quality of the person and the ingredients that are going to allow a team to come together. They don’t always look good every night, but they find a way.
How about the young guys the job they’ve done bringing along Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green? The mileage they get out of these guys, how improved Tiago Splitter is from last year, Matt Bonner, how productive he’s been for so long there.
So Bruce is still one of my favorite Spurs, Bruce Bowen. I mean, that guy, I sat there nights when Kobe Bryant got 40 points and Bruce is guarding him with the exact same energy in the fourth quarter the last play as he guarded him the first play. Whereas other guys when they’re getting lit up, they pack it in. They just have so many special players. You have to give them credit. They figured out the kind of guys they’ve got there.
But Pop is borderline genius the way he handles people. Forget about his basketball knowledge which is off the charts and how much he knows about wine which is off the charts. He knows more about people and how to handle people, both the people that work for him, the assistant coaches, the Mike Budenholzer, the Brett Brown, Mike Brown, Hank Egan, and the guys that have worked there over the years.
It’s not an accident; it’s a whole big program that’s really a juggernaut. It really is, and there are so many facets to it.