On January 5, 2012, the Sacramento Kings fired head coach Paul Westphal and handed the team over to Keith Smart. With majority of the Kings roster filled with guys in their early 20s, this was perhaps the best move.
In all sports, championship caliber teams require a mix talent, chemistry, hard work and positive leadership.
NBA coaches such as Chuck Daly, Phil Jackson, Pat Riley, Gregg Popovich, and Red Auerbach won numerous titles because of this.
Despite winning only a handful of championships between them, NBA coaches such as Don Nelson, Lenny Wilkens, Jerry Sloan and Larry Brown are all-time winning coaches because of this.
Brown, as you may recall, was the same guy who won an NBA Championship with a Detroit Pistons team full of what was considered no-name talent.
As a player, Keith Smart was fortunate enough to be mentored and coached by Larry Brown as well as the legendary Bob Knight.
The Kings front office obviously felt Smart possessed the ability to mentor and get their young talent on track, especially the controversial DeMarcus Cousins. Smart will also need his veterans, John Salmons, Chuck Hayes and Francisco Garcia, to step up as leaders.
When players are young and used to being a part of winning teams, being on struggling teams is hard to handle. They need people around to provide strong discipline and be constantly tough. It helps in the maturing process.
Today’s NBA lacks strong mentorship. Well truly, sports in general lack strong mentorship.
Is Mentorship a Top Issue in the NBA?
The problem is, there is no balance. You have a coach and staffs who want to win, so they work to get the players to come together and stay together as a team. However, with so much egotistical talent on the roster none of them are willing to inspire each other and buy into what the coaching staff wants. They hear the word win, and the rest is blocked out.
Or there is the team with players who possess strong leadership quality. Those players inspire their teammates, but the coaching staff cares more about doing whatever it takes to win than seeing their players’ personal growth off the field, court or ice.
So it becomes evident why between 1999-2011, the San Antonio Spurs and the Los Angeles Lakers have made frequent trips to the NBA Finals. Their respective coaches, Gregg Popovich and Phil Jackson, have built that winning formula. Most of all their players get it. Positive mentorship is found throughout their organizations.
Sure the Spurs have Manu Ginobili, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, and the Lakers have Kobe Bryant. Without a winning formula, all four players would just be talent on an NBA team that constantly makes the playoffs but always fail to win a ring.
The Cleveland Cavaliers are a great example of that. They technically should have won at least two NBA championships within the last few years. Yet the Cavaliers did not win any. Why?
Mike Brown is a good coach. He had LeBron James. Despite his complaints, James had a decent enough supporting cast to win the big one on several occasions. The issue was always LeBron and his ego. He clearly cared more about winning a championship for himself than for his teammates and the Cavaliers as an organization. That’s why the Cavaliers kept getting close, but came up short.
The Miami Heat may make it to numerous NBA Finals. To win, Chris Bosh, Dewayne Wade and Pat Riley have to work together and get it in LeBron's head that they need to do this as a team. They may have three All-Stars, but there are other guys on the team who can help us. Teach those guys what you need out them.
Look at Michael Jordan. Six championship rings. Yes, he had Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Steve Kerr, and so on. What people don’t talk about is that the Chicago Bulls front office strongly considered trading Jordan due to his ego and unwillingness to be a team player.
When Jordan saw he could be traded, the ego was put under control. He listened and allowed himself to be mentored by Phil Jackson. Jordan became the team player he needed to be and it paid off.
All these NBA superstars should take note of that. It is not about forming super teams and having superior talent surrounding you. It is about being among the team leaders who listen to what the coach is trying to do, take the things you've learned as a player and relating that to your teammates. You take the time to make them better, not allowing yourself to worry about the ring you may never get.