If you haven't done so already, you should read Citizen D.J. Foster's post about new Clippers assistant coach John Lucas over at ClipperBlog. I'm not quite as enthusiastic as Deej (after all, it's a one year deal so he could be gone by this time next year), but it's a quite a quality coaching coup for the Clippers (hmmm, that's good alliteration).
You should also check out Lisa Dillman's brief article in the LA Times. Basically, she reports that Dunleavy just decided to ask Lucas to join the staff, and he said yes.
When I first saw the rumors, I suspected there was a personal relationship between Lucas and Dunleavy - I knew they were from more or less the same era. But when I checked, it turned out they were from EXACTLY the same era. Both were drafted in 1977. Both played until 1990 (although Dunleavy had effectively retrired in 1985).
Of course, Dunleavy and Lucas were at opposite ends of the NBA spectrum, at least at the beginning of their careers. Lucas was the Naismith Award winner and the first overall pick in the draft; Dunleavy was a sixth round pick, drafted 99th overall. And despite playing for the same franchises frequently (both spent time in Houston, San Antonio and Milwaukee), they were never actually NBA teammates. But whatever their relationship in the past, Dunleavy and Lucas have kept in touch:
"We talk all the time and we’ve always stayed in touch," Dunleavy said. "It was just one of those situations where I started thinking about guys who were available. Guys that were really good who have a lot of energy.
"So I called him. He said, ‘I wouldn’t do this for a lot of guys. Yeah, I will. For you, I’ll come.’ "
We've been so focused on the Lucas hiring itself, no one has taken a step back to look at the transformation of the coaching staff as a whole. Three assistant's are gone from last season's staff - Jim Eyen, Neal Meyer and Rory White. Added this summer are Tony Brown and now Lucas. In fact, when you consider that Fred Vinson was only recently made a full assistant, Dunleavy has turned over almost his entire staff in a couple of seasons. The only holdover is long-time Dunleavite Kim Hughes.
There are a couple of patterns emerging, which may or may not be significant. Neither Eyen nor Meyer played in the league, whereas everyone on the current staff has NBA playing experience. Perhaps going hand in hand with that, Hughes is considered a 'players' coach, and gets along well with the players, especially Chris Kaman and DeAndre Jordan. Lucas was also considered a players coach in his head coaching tenure.
Given that the team at times appeared to be giving something less than maximum effort last season, possibly because the coaching staff had 'lost' them, it certainly seems significant that Dunleavy has undertaken such an extreme makeover, with an emphasis on former players joining the staff. (A cynic might point out that If Dunleavy himself is the problem, then firing his minions is a smoke screen, but who among us is that cynical?) Will Lucas, a former point guard and high draft pick with an inspiring back story, cultivate a strong relationship with Baron Davis? It certainly seems possible.
It's tempting to look at the current staff and assign roles to the assistants. We know that some of these are more or less true; on others we're just guessing. Vinson is the shooting coach. Hughes is the big man coach. Maybe Brown becomes the defensive coach and Lucas gets the offense and the first assistant's chair.
Given the success of the Celtics with defensive guru Tom Thibodeau, and for that matter the Lakers when they designated Kurt Rambis their defensive coach, this NFL style specialization seems to be wielding results in the NBA right now.
In the end, the Clippers have added a high-visibility former NBA head coach to the coaching staff. It's significant, if only because it indicates a continued seriousness and professionalism in the organization. How will it work out? We don't know. Will Lucas be content as an NBA assistant? He may or may not want another crack at head coaching in the NBA. He seemed to be doing pretty well for himself, training NBA players and running his rehab facilities. But who wouldn't want another chance? In a HoopsWorld article from May, he talked about how tough it is to get another shot after doing poorly in a couple of places, even if the expectations were very low for those teams: "When you get bad teams, it's hard to get back sometimes." Maybe this is his first step back.