New Orleans Pelicans Head Coaching Tournament: Stephen Silas vs. Ime Udoka

Published: May 18, 2015

The Case for Stephen Silas

By: Michael McNamara

When Stephen Silas was first hired by this organization (I know the Hornets history has gone back to Charlotte, and the name has changed, blah, blah, but it was THIS organization), many people thought it was just nepotism rearing its ugly head and a father getting his son a job. Since then, however, the junior Silas has been putting together an impressive resume that figures to lead to a head coaching job sometime in the near future. So why not here? Why not now? With the Pelicans.

Silas was the youngest assistant (27) in the history of the NBA when he joined the Hornets in 2000, and after spending three years with them, he moved on with his father to be an assistant for the Cavaliers, where he worked with Lebron, amongst others. He then became an advanced scout before moving on to Golden State, where he became an assistant again. His most recent stop has been Charlotte yet again, where he has spent the last 4 years, and where the current coach Steve Clifford has said Silas is ready to be a Head Coach and even Kemba Walker championed for him to be coach before Clifford got the job. 

Silas has been a part of the game all of his life, and has been credited in multiple stops for helping to develop young players – particularly guards. He spent a lot of time with Stephen Curry early in his career (see below)

This offers a striking contrast to the raw, unpolished Curry who joined the Warriors in 2009. Then-assistant coach Stephen Silas worked with Curry and Anthony Morrow, among other young players, on basic two-ball dribbling and passing drills.
Curry struggled at first, Silas recalled, and his movements weren’t nearly as smooth and natural as they are today. But Curry stuck with it. He credits Silas for his early development and still uses the coach’s pregame ballhandling routine

He has 14 years in the NBA, doing everything from scouting to player development to game preparation as an assistant. He even developed scouting systems at multiple stops that teams still use today. He is a bright young coach that is respected by his players because he makes them better. He has even done some coaching overseas in multiple camps, and has done some Summer League and Pre-Draft camp coaching as well.

The truth of the matter is that both of the men in this matchup lack a resume that guarantees success as a future Head Coach, but Silas has been developing and scouting players for more than a decade now. He understands the X’s and O’s of the game, and has helped develop two of the greatest players in our league. He has learned from Paul Silas, Don Nelson, and Steve Clifford amongst others. He has been a part of dominant offenses and dominant defenses as an assistant.

The knowledge is undoubtedly there, but anybody who has been employed that long in the league will have that. The question then becomes whether or not he will be able to be the manager of a team. Not a coach, but a manager. Players have egos and there are 15 personalities in the locker room. On top of that, you have to deal with your staff, the media, your supervisors, and the fans. All that must be managed, and Silas has the ability to do that. Not only has he seen it all, but he has his Bachelor’s in both Sociology and Management.

The X’s and O’s will likely come from some sets he has taken from his stops and from a top notch supporting staff. I am not going to say that is the ‘easy part’, but it is certainly not the most important. What is important is getting buy in from the players, putting the players in the best position to succeed, and improving their skills on a daily basis. Silas has the ability to do all of these things, and he has the ability to grow with the teams young superstar for the next decade and a half.

Silas is not the safe play when you consider all of the guys in this bracket, but he is both the safe play and the smart play in this particular matchup. And he might be the best play of all these guys long term.

The Case for Ime Udoka

By: Ryan Schwan

Hard work.  Perseverance.  A will to succeed.  Love of the game. To reach the top level of the coaching tree in the NBA, these skills are almost required – at some level.  There are some guys out there, who are still simply special cases.  If you take Ime Udoka’s basketball career, it’s a case study in determination.  After being lightly recruited and playing his way through the University of San Francisco and Portland State University in college, Udoka played for no less than five teams from 2001 to 2004 in the IBA, NBDL, USBL and internationally before getting a brief call up to the Lakers. Hhe then played for another 4 teams over the next 3 years around the world before getting another brief shot with the Knicks.  Cut again, Ime still didn’t give up, and made it into Portland’s training camp the following off-season.  Despite dealing with the death of his father, he was so locked in and impressive that he earned a full season (and 75 sites) from the Blazers and parlayed that into a contract from the Spurs for the following two years.

The talent wasn’t necessarily there.  The defense, the toughness, the professionalism?  He had that in spades.  He worked so hard that Greg Popovich came calling in 2012 when he had a spot open up on his staff.  At age 35, Udoka joined the most celebrated coaching staff in the NBA and has learned at the feet of the ultimate master for 3 straight years.  He has run their summer league team for two years straight.  With Budenholzer gone to Atlanta, Ime has had to manage more of the offensive planning duties – an offense that continued to be one of the best in the league.

Some will point to the Hawks, the Warriors – or even previous iterations of the Heat and Mavericks as the most efficient versions of the modern NBA offense.   The true genesis, however, is driven by this Spurs team that Ime currently works for.

Udoka is 37 years old now.  If you are going the route of a young assistant coach who can relate to players today and grow with a young superstar, this is exactly the sort of profile you should be looking for.

And if you don’t believe me, believe Popovich.  Here’s his response when asked if he thought Ime could be a head coach.

“Ime has the toughness and the mind to where he understands how to maintain discipline. A lot of coaches will give in and do what’s easy. He knows how to handle players. He has been able to stroke them and stay on them at the same time. That’s a really good quality.

“The players know he cares about them, but he can make demands and they respond to him. That’s important for a head coach. Players have great ‘BS antennae.’ If they think you don’t know what you’re doing, they’re going to call you out immediately.”

Could Udoka fail?  Certainly.  No coaching tree is always the right answer.  Popovich has spawned Doc Rivers and Budenholzer, but he also has Jacque Vaughn and Vinny Del Negro in his tree.

But it’s still the right place to start – and if you know anyone is going to work hard to make it succeed, you can rest assured Ime Udoka will do that.  Isn’t that what we need?

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