Notes: Bickerstaff, Ociepka, Williams weigh in about McMillan, Blazers
Notes following a press conference Tuesday during which the Portland Trail Blazers introduced new assistant coaches Bernie Bickerstaff, Bob Ociepka and Buck Williams at the team’s practice facility in Tualatin, Ore.
Bickerstaff said he has worked 36 years in the NBA. During that time, he has been honest and loyal, and learned how to say the right things the right way. Now, his job working with Blazers head coach Nate McMillan will be to “provoke thought.”
“What we’ve been telling Nate is, this is a good basketball team,” Bickerstaff said. “I think the changes have to be very subtle, in terms of what you do. We’re coming in to assist him, not to make any drastic changes. But he’ll get a different voice. He’ll get an honest opinion.”
Bickerstaff added that his ideal situation will be one in which all of Portland’s coaches sit down in a room and have open conversations. Disagreement is fine. But the final decision will always be McMillan’s.
“Nate’s done a terrific job,” Bickerstaff said. “There’s nothing broken about this situation at all.”
He added that Portland’s length and size are major assets, as is a roster that contains three legitimate starting centers in Greg Oden, Marcus Camby and Joel Przybilla.
“If they’re healthy, it’s a pleasant problem,” Bickerstaff said. “I think it’s a problem that the other 29 teams would like to have.”
McMillan’s on Bickerstaff:
Notes: First coach … kept in touch throughout career. … Recently watched him coach on ESPN Classic channel during NBA Finals against Golden State.
“I’ve always had a great deal of respect for how he coached the game; his approach towards the game. He has a great deal of experience. This guy just doesn’t seem like he ages at all.”
Williams said when he retired from the NBA in 1998 he had opportunities to coach. But he turned them down to spend time with his children. He decided to accept McMillan’s offer because he retired without winning an NBA title.
“I see this team here is primed — there’s a lot of talent on this team,” Williams said. “It’s a great organization. Great community.”
Williams wants to bring a particular mindset to the Blazers, highlighted by an intense work ethic and taking the right approach to the game. He believes that his 17 years spent competing in the league and his numerous playoff appearances have provided him with a unique viewpoint, and he wants to pass on the knowledge.
On Rip City: “This has been a very special for place me. … It’s like playing in college. It’s a one-town team and they really love the Trail Blazers.”
Williams said Oden and forward LaMarcus Aldridge are “extremely talented.” He plans to work with Portland’s big men to help them put a system in place and improve their overall approach to the game. Williams cautioned that he will not just be a big-man coach, though.
Ociepka said he was very impressed with the Blazers’ defense the past two seasons while he served as an assistant with Chicago, adding that Portland “smoked” the Bulls twice.
Ociepka recalled the Blazers applying heavy pressure last season and intentionally taking the ball out of point guard Derrick Rose’s hands. It was a strategy Chicago had not seen before; one that took the Bulls out of their game and quickly put the team on its heels.
Ociepka had an initial three-hour meeting with McMillan that lasted until 12:30 a.m. The coaches showed each other DVDs of their respective teams and “time flew by.”
“We had a terrific connection,” Ociepka said.
The following morning, McMillan had Ociepka illustrate how he would handle the pregame drawing board. McMillan was again impressed, and ended up driving Ociepka to the airport — Ociepka was supposed to take a limousine.
Ociepka said it was not guaranteed that Bickerstaff was going to take the job while he was interviewing with McMillan. Still, Ociepka had a great relationship with Bickerstaff in Chicago, and knew there was a lot of potential if they could join up in Portland.
Ociepka’s defensive-minded focus started when he was an assistant in Detroit under Rick Carlisle. Then it transferred to Milwaukee under Terry Porter. After coaching 10 teams, Oceipka has learned to gain insight from coaches and players. And during his recent run with the Bulls, he had a “large say” in the team’s defensive schemes.
McMillan on Ociepka:
“He gets excited when he talks about basketball. When he was talking to me about the game and what he felt he could bring to the staff, I could hear the excitement in his voice.”