Some coaches are programmed to win championships. They have a special touch that can settle egos, fuse talent and help push even the most volatile team over the top.
Phil Jackson had these gifts with both the Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers. So did Chuck Daly, who brought together a group of misfits to multiple titles in Detroit and then led the greatest collection of talent on one basketball team to gold in 1992 at the Olympics.
A few others come to mind: Steve Kerr turned a team with potential into a champion during his first year with the Golden State Warriors. Ty Lue helped the Cleveland Cavaliers overcome one the best regular season teams ever to win a title. Pat Riley proved it at several points in his career, and his protege Erik Spoelstra managed two Miami Heat teams to titles.
Others can turn it on at times. Gregg Popovich knows the secrets of development, but can flick the switch that puts his teams in a position to win it all. And Rick Carlisle showed he has the capability of rising to the top forged on reputation as a tough coach who can get the most out of role players who struggled elsewhere.
Other coaches are great, but haven’t shown the same ability to turn good basketball teams into champions. The van Gundy brothers know how to win games, but not trophies. Mike D’Antoni has perpetually come up short. And Jerry Sloan is perhaps the greatest coach to never win an NBA title.
Then there are the coaches who you can go to with a young roster and know that, within a few years, each player will be better for having played under him. Scott Skiles always managed to galvanise young talent into playing team defense, as proven when the Chicago Bulls became the fourth best team in the Eastern Conference with the likes of Eddy Curry and Ben Gordon in the rotation. And current Orlando Magic coach Steve Clifford has developed a reputation as a good coach that can help nurture youngsters.
But these NBA coaches all have something in common: they made it. Possessing one of the 30 best jobs in the profession is not easy, with the turnover rate for each one being high. Sure, you can keep doing it until you’re beyond the retirement age of the average citizen, but few get the opportunity to coach one team for more than a few years, for various reasons, including the ones above. Some people bring things to the table that others just can’t. So depending at what stage a franchise is, a different coach might be needed to suit the situation.
No other league like it
When it comes to coaching in the G-League, it’s a different ball game entirely. You are recognised by the affiliated NBA franchise, but a G-League team is not necessarily built to win. It is a farm system, a training facility designed to prepare draft selections, rehab injured players before returning to the NBA team, and scout other undrafted talents.
That’s how Nate Reinking looks at these things as the head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers G-League partner team, the Canton Charge. He said: “You always [have sights on a championship] as a coach – that’s the ideal situation – but the G-League is a different animal, there’s no other league like it in the world. There’s quite a few angles to the job, and, yeah a championship would be great, but whatever the top club needs – Cleveland – that’s what we’re there for. Besides that, it’s an individual thing. We work with players to make them better, and hopefully that’s better for the team.”
Listen to Nate Reinking’s full interview on the Double Clutch podcast
While Reinking works closely with the Cavaliers to develop his Charge players specifically, don’t make the mistake of thinking that G-League coaches are glorified skills trainers. He might shuffle NBA prospects in and out of a line-up and hope for the best results but there is more to it than that, and the Canton man has been proving his game management ability on an international level recently. Since Reinking took over as head coach of the Great Britain team, the country is undefeated and secured a place in the EuroBasket 2021 qualifier games, and he has personal ambitions to reach the very top.
“That’s what we do it for,” he said about coaching in the NBA.
“Especially over there, you’re trying to get to the top level, working with elite players every day. If it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. I’m very content and happy with my job, and that’s something I can’t control. I’m just going to do as well as I can on what I’m given to do and see where the future lies.”
Reinking’s immediate future lies in Canton. Now that the season is starting up again, preparations are underway with Cleveland management. He said: “We’re there to support whatever Cleveland wants. The organisation is fantastic and they support Canton as much as possible.
“We learn what the team is going to run and try to implement the same philosophies. Guys are going up and down, so we’re preparing them for when they get that call to go up there. It’s really fun to be around Cleveland and see how they operate, and we try to run things the same way in Canton.
“I love it. I just feel like my purpose in this game is to get players to where they want to be. So I just look at it like, I’ve got guys coming in and coming out, but as long as they’re there, I’m going to work as hard as I can to try and reach whatever dream they have. I’m going to try to establish some trust with them as quickly as I can, and then help them on their journey in this game.”
What Reinking’s future reputation will be as an NBA coach is yet to be determined, but he is making a name for himself as a demanding coach that can get players to buy in to a system quickly.
This mindset has certainly helped secure wins for Britain in recent weeks, and it should help the Charge develop talent for the NBA, and who knows, maybe even win a G-League championship.
Reinking was brought back into the GB fold, but now that the side is entering a EuroBasket qualification window in February, it is still unclear whether or not he will be able to take leave from Canton. He said: “I’m living in the moment. And this was the moment that I got chosen for. That’s really all that I’ve been focused on, and moving forward, who knows what will happen? I’m just going to enjoy this one and figure out the next step.”
Featured photo – David Liam Kyle / NBAE/ Getty Images / Double Clutch illustration – Matthew Wellington