Eyes opened, Montgomery looks forward to next season

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» Thu Apr 21, 2005 8:40 am
By Jon Wilner, Mercury News

Mike Montgomery has never been big on introspection. He has never viewed coaching as fun. A grinder by nature, he takes satisfaction in steady improvement. And he's not much of an optimist. His glass is neither half full nor half empty. It's usually cracked, contents gushing.

All of which made for a telling 20 minutes Wednesday as Montgomery leaned against a wall at the Oakland Coliseum Arena and took stock of his first season with the Warriors.

He quipped about having learned enough to write a book, laughed about not being smart enough to have "witty answers" and joked about having been "a pledge" in the NBA coaching fraternity. (Insert hazing joke here.) And on more than one occasion, Montgomery talked about the future with what CIA analysts have identified as a hint of excitement.

"I think we started with the right idea but didn't make as much progress as we needed to," he said before the Warriors' season-ending 106-89 victory over Utah. "We'll be much better next season. There will be a clean slate. I'll have a much better understanding of what we have to go through to get better."

Clearly, he can't wait to become a sophomore.

"The fact that we finished strong and were able to compete is an encouraging sign," he said. "But there are a lot of things we have to do better to be a playoff contender."

After six months, 48 losses and 82 games, Montgomery has a much better sense for life in the NBA. For the length of the season. For the lack of practice time. For the personnel (his and the opposition's). For the defensive rotations and the rules.

He thought he knew what was coming when he left Stanford last May. Turns out, he only had a faint idea.

"I think it has been harder than we expected, and that's pretty clear," said assistant Russell Turner, who coached under Montgomery at Stanford. "That's my theory about why college coaches in the NBA have struggled. Because it's harder than you think. It's hard to overstate how different it is in the NBA, and especially different from Stanford."

Even the 11-second difference in the shot clocks caused problems in the opening weeks. The offense Montgomery installed was based largely on the college shot clock (35 seconds) and did not translate to the NBA.

"We had a perfect sequence at Stanford," Turner said. "Fast break, early offense, then run the set play, then go into late-clock situations. And we could do it all in 35 seconds. But you can't do it in 24. And we had to change because of it."

Montgomery, who ran essentially the same offense at Stanford for 18 years, revised his attack several times during the season -- from the training-camp version to the shot-clock-adjusted version to the Baron Davis version. Montgomery has always believed in a balanced, frontcourt-oriented approach. But once Davis arrived, he became the focal point of a perimeter-dominated scheme.

"I'm really impressed with how much Coach has changed," Turner said. "I've said to him a few times, `I can't imagine being you and having to lead from a point of inexperience.' He's a rookie, and he's leading guys who have been in the NBA for a long time."

Montgomery also talked about being tougher on the players -- kicking it up "an octave." He realized the necessity of a hard-line approach during the season but thought it would be counterproductive to change his ways. Next season, he plans to spend less time worrying about offending the players and more time getting his message across.

"You have to hold them accountable," said strength and conditioning coach John Murray, who also accompanied Montgomery from Stanford. "That's how Larry Brown and Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich operate. They're fair, but they don't mess around."

Montgomery had a few run-ins with his players, but on the whole, relations were solid. Turner and Montgomery believe it's a good group to work with. Whether it remains that way if the Warriors start slowly next season remains to be seen. Not surprisingly, Montgomery made several references to the importance of Davis and guard Jason Richardson leading by example in the fall.

"If they don't want to practice," he said, "it will be very difficult for the rest of the guys."

And for him.

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