March 15 was a franchise-shifting day for the Portland Trail Blazers.
Starters Marcus Camby and Gerald Wallace were traded for draft picks and cap space.
Head coach Nate McMillan was fired.
And former unpaid intern Kaleb Canales was promoted from assistant to interim head coach.
Now, Canales deserves interim removed from that title.
Canales won only eight of his 23 games as head coach, but along the way, he won over nearly all of the players in a Blazers locker room that had seemingly given up on McMillan.
Instantaneously, this team wanted to play again—and play hard. They wanted to do this because they wanted Canales to succeed.
Canales was the coach on the floor working players out before games. He was the one players texted with their issues about McMillan. He was the one studying film all night to find some advantage.
And the players respected that.
Matthews wasn’t the only one endorsing Canales in that video.
Locker room leader Joel Przybilla said bringing Canales back would influence his decision on whether to return to Portland.
“I definitely love playing for him,” Przybilla says in the video.
Emerging superstar Nicolas Batum also gives a ringing endorsement.
“I would really love to have him back next year. If we can go through training camp and have practice time with him, we can do good things,” Batum says.
Practice time was a luxury not afforded to Canales in his stint this time around.
He did not have a training camp to put in his sets, his offenses or his schemes. Instead, he had to install them on the fly—during meetings, flights, morning shootarounds.
Next year, with training camp and a full, 82-game season, Canales will be able to establish his own identity as a coach.
His win-loss record as an interim coach is no indication of his coaching ability.
Tyrone Corbin was 8-20 as the interim coach for the Utah Jazz in 2010-11. This year, Corbin guided the Jazz to a 36-30 record and a spot in the playoffs.
Canales has earned a chance to make that same sort of turnaround.
Offering him a one-year contract maintains the incentive to win now. If he fails, don’t renew his contract.
But if he succeeds, which seems more probable, he could be manning the sidelines in the Rose Garden for a long time to come.
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