With so much to offer the game but with little opportunity to implement his strong philosophies, Rick Barry can only shake his head at those who have passed him up.
He is a trail blazer, having served as a color commentator during his illustrious playing career, but that groundbreaking stint may have cost him in the long run. The Hall of Famer has pointed opinions, never bites his tongue, and offers sometimes harsh criticism of today’s players.
Barry, 69, lives in Denver and hosts a nationally syndicated radio show. He is brimming with ideas but is resigned to the fact that he won’t have the proper forum to express them. There are those who believe Barry’s perceived arrogance turned off NBA executives to the point where hiring him as a coach was inconceivable.
He understands that, but his opinions and approach won’t change. He is unhappy with what he believes is the league’s current system of recycling coaches while other former players are left behind.
“I said the NBA is the leader in the ecology movement, they have been recycling for years,” Barry said last week. “Look at what happened with Rick Adelman, he gets fired from Portland, winds up being an assistant with a guy who was a friend of his, then he gets a job [with the Warriors] because [general manager] Dave Twardzik is in Golden State, then he gets a job in Sacramento because Geoff Petrie, his former teammate, is there. It’s just unbelievable. Finally, I’m happy to see they are starting to give some other guys a chance to do something.
“It seems as though the guys who have had the most success are the guys who have been former players. The bottom line of it is, to me, I don’t care how much you’ve studied the game, how much you’ve watched the game, if you haven’t played the game at the pro level, there are things about the game you don’t know. And I think the players relate more to guys who have been there.”
Barry finished with 25,279 points and was an eight-time NBA All-Star and four-time ABA All-Star. He has four sons who played in the NBA, and his youngest, Canyon Barry, just signed a letter of intent to play at the College of Charleston. The elder Barry’s imprint on the game is undeniable.
“Guys hire their friends and I have no problem with hiring your friend but as long as he’s the most qualified person you can get,” Barry said. “But if there’s someone else better to do the job, friendships only go so far. That’s what happens. And then a problem happens when the guy gets to become the head coach and they don’t have the luxury of a Phil Jackson or Gregg Popovich, who are given the autonomy to coach the team the way they want to coach it without being told by owners or general managers who they should play. That happens all the time.”
Barry was truly ahead of his time when it came to broadcasting. He was the former player giving his pointed opinions on the game, but unlike the “Inside the NBA” atmosphere, strong assessments of the game weren’t welcomed 35 years ago. The “Keeping It Real” era had yet to begin, and Barry paid a dear price.
“Back then they didn’t want to hear that [expletive],” he said. “I did it to be informative, not to just be critical. Now guys are just being critical and they get rave reviews. Timing is everything in life. I told the truth. Back then people didn’t want to hear the truth. And if I was doing broadcasting today they probably would hate me because I would tell people the [expletive] that’s going on on the court today. Nobody runs the pick-and-roll play like it should be done; screens are coming from horrible angles. It’s pathetic. They let guys walk all the time. I watch the game analytically and when they don’t talk about that stuff, it just drives me up the wall.”
Asked why he was never offered an NBA coaching job, Barry was, as usual, brutally honest. He knows what others say, and he’s comfortable with his image.
“They were afraid of me because they knew they wouldn’t control me,” he said. “If they would have hired me, I would have been great for these people because I would have helped with promotions. I could have helped make all my players better because I would have brought in assistants like [former Celtics big man coach] Clifford Ray. I don’t think any teams should have an assistant coach working with players individually who wasn’t a former player. To have a guy out there trying to tell my guy how to play center who is 5 feet 10 or 6 feet tall, and he’s going to tell my center how to play the center position in the NBA? Are you freaking kidding me?”
Barry realizes that an NBA opportunity has likely passed him. His on-court résumé is self-explanatory and he is at peace with his decisions following his career.
“I’ve got to be myself; I can’t worry about what somebody thinks,” he said. “My wife says, ‘Honey, I love your truthfulness but the reality is you’re brutally honest so try to get the brutality out of your honesty.’ I laugh at that.”
McCallum aims for stars
Ray McCallum is projected as a second-round pick after being named Horizon League Player of the Year at Detroit and leaving the Titans after his junior season. McCallum’s road to the NBA draft is unusual, having passed on major Division 1 schools such as UCLA, Florida, and Arizona to play for his father, Ray Sr., at Detroit.
McCallum enjoyed a successful college career but played under the radar at a midmajor school and now is seeking to prove he is an NBA-caliber player against contemporaries such as Trey Burke, Shane Larkin, and Michael Carter-Williams.
“I’m a true point guard, but the thing is at Detroit, I really had to take on the role of scoring guard — my dad needed me to get 15 to 25 points a game to win,” he said. “Taking my game to the next level, I’m going to have to be a true point guard and be able to run a team and definitely to be able to score as well when I’m open. But they pay guys a lot of money to score, so I know my job is to defend and get guys open.”
McCallum made the decision to leave Detroit in April, passing up a final opportunity to play for his father. McCallum is a steady player, mature for his age, and helped lift the Titans to the NCAA Tournament during his sophomore season. The decision to move forward was not so easy.
“It was definitely difficult and very tough,” he said. “When he could tell me face to face as a man to his son, ‘I think it’s best for you to take your talents to the next level,’ it gives you all the confidence in the world. And once he told me that I knew I was really ready, but it was a tough process because as a dad he wanted me to go, but as a coach I think he wanted me to come back. I don’t regret my decision; I think I made the right one.”
Ray Sr. told his son the two would discuss the decision after the season, which ended when the Titans were eliminated from the National Invitation Tournament. McCallum averaged 18.7 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 4.5 assists during his junior season.
“A lot of the questions [teams] ask me is what it was like playing for my dad and the experience about my father and how he coaches me,” McCallum said. “The interview process has been good. I think it’s been giving teams an opportunity to get to know me. They know who I am but really don’t know me as a person.
“[On the court] I would tell you what my dad was going to tell me before he even opened his mouth. That’s just how close we were. For me growing up and watching all of his teams over the years, we had a strong bond off and on the court.”
The senior McCallum was in Chicago to watch his son at the combine, but didn’t interfere. It’s Ray Jr.’s time to shine after years of teaming with his father for success.
“He’s been extremely supportive; we talk every day,” McCallum said. “He’s always trying to correct any little thing I’m doing wrong, but at this point it’s like I say, when you go to take a test, someone can tutor you, and when you take the test all you have is the pen and the paper. The same thing here. On the court, it’s just me and the ball and the hoop.”
Bobcats seek culture change
The Charlotte Bobcats are again making changes, feeling as if they have to approach a level of significance after years of dismal play under owner Michael Jordan. Jordan’s first move of note was an attempt to increase the interest of the fan base by changing the team’s nickname back to the Hornets.
Charlotte was one of the toughest places to play in the NBA in the early 1990s, when the Hornets featured Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning. But ex-owner George Shinn, seeking a new arena, moved the team to New Orleans.
While commissioner David Stern rewarded the city with a new expansion team — the folks of Seattle would love the same courtesy —
“We listened to a lot of feedback coming from the fans and it was overwhelming — a commitment and a dedication to wanting the Hornets name back,” Jordan said. “When I first used to come here, the fan base and the energy from the fans were unbelievable. We never wanted to regionalize the Hornets, we want to expand. We hope that this is going to energize our fan base.”
Of course, the Hornets/Bobcats have to make more of an impact on the court, and Jordan hired longtime NBA assistant Steve Clifford, his third head coach in three years. Mike Dunlap seemed to have all the right intentions when he took over a year ago, but he put too much emphasis on developing the younger players and essentially ignored the veterans.
The locker room was split, and players such as Gerald Henderson were left underdeveloped. Clifford comes with an impressive résumé, but the Bobcats are a serious work in progress, with their most identifiable player being second-year guard Kemba Walker. The Bobcats have potential but need more veteran presence.
“You either have the right kind of guys or you don’t,” Clifford said. “And when I watch younger guys who naturally are competitive, you have the opportunity to build the culture we had in New York, we had in Houston, we had in Orlando. I’ve been very fortunate to have worked for, and with, some of the elite coaches in this league for the past 13 years. There are a lot of ways to grow as a coach, and that’s one of them. I have seen what the right amount of communication can do for a group of players.”
Clifford has been an assistant to Jeff Van Gundy and Stan Van Gundy, and just concluded a stint with the Lakers. It’s not a sure bet. Clifford has never been an NBA head coach and the Bobcats have been through a plethora of inexperienced guys who have not worked out.
“As we did our due diligence, it was clearly evident that Steve’s work ethic, his preparation, his personality, his game management, player relations, everything you want in a coach — those are the things we were looking for,” general manager Rich Cho said. “It was unanimous with all the people we talked to that Steve was the right guy.”
The Bobcats are about $13 million under the salary cap if Ben Gordon accepts his player option at $13.2 million. Look for Charlotte to attempt to move out of the fourth overall pick and use its cap space to acquire an All-Star-caliber player from a club looking to dump salary.
It’s not an easy first job for Clifford, but the Bobcats appear on their way to making the substantial changes required to be significant. While the nickname is a factor, the organization has to do something to attract a standout player to represent the franchise. That hasn’t been the case since the Bobcats were reincarnated in Charlotte eight years ago.
Don’t be surprised if the Celtics nab a point guard with their first-round pick. They are taking a long look at Miami’s Shane Larkin, who is a master at running the pick-and-roll, as a potential backup to Rajon Rondo. Rondo has two years left on his contract and his condition and performance next season is uncertain coming off surgery to repair an anterior cruciate ligament. German point guard Dennis Schroeder is also a consideration. He has been compared favorably with a young Rondo . . . Despite averaging 17.3 points in the final 29 games of the season and 20.3 during the Celtics’ six-game playoff run, Jeff Green did not receive an invitation to Team USA minicamp, which features Olympic team hopefuls for 2016. Other emerging players such as Golden State’s Stephen Curry and Utah’s Derrick Favors were invited . . . The Bucks made a tough decision in hiring Larry Drew as coach after he was considered a long shot. Drew impressed the organization in his interview, having led the Hawks, with nine free agents, to an unexpected playoff appearance this season. Former Milwaukee assistant Kelvin Sampson, once one of the hottest coaches in the college ranks before misappropriations at Indiana University, was the other candidate and was considered the early favorite. The job is interesting given Milwaukee’s salary cap space with Monta Ellis likely to opt out of his contract and Mike Dunleavy, Samuel Dalembert, and J.J. Redick off the books . . . A player potentially rising into the first round is former Michigan guard Tim Hardaway Jr. The son of the former NBA guard, Hardaway measured a solid 6 feet 6 inches at the combine and impressed scouts with his maturity and versatility. He didn’t produce the type of junior year scouts expected, but Hardaway said he sacrificed his personal game so sophomore Trey Burke and freshman Glenn Robinson Jr. could thrive. Hardaway is a shooting guard who will have to prove he can consistently score in the NBA. His perimeter shooting is a question. Scouts were impressed with the shooting of Cal’s Allen Crabbe, but he may slip to the late first round. Crabbe is a legit 6-6, but didn’t wow scouts with his lack of enthusiasm at the combine.