The Baseline: Adrian Griffin could be your team's next head coach
BY JOHN DEVENY, THE BASELINE
There was a moment when assistant coach Adrian Griffin was chatting with one of his bosses, and the subject of education came up. Griffin was taking classes, and the assumption was that he was finishing his degree from his collegiate days at Seton Hall. But, uh … not quite.
Oh, a master’s degree? Nope, got that while playing in the NBA.
Try a doctorate, in leadership studies.
Griffin is currently an assistant coach with the Bulls under Tom Thibodeau, and if all goes well, he could soon be Dr. Adrian Griffin to you and me. If all goes really well, he also could soon be Dr. Griffin, NBA head coach.
“It’s definitely my goal,” Griffin said of head-caching aspirations. “I have been learning a lot in this role, this is my sixth year. I learned under Tom, I learned under Scott Skiles and overall, it is great to see how things work in an organization, especially an organization like the Bulls. That’s something I could bring to any team.”
There are just two weeks remaining in the NBA season, of course, which means that soon we will start to see head-coaching vacancies open up. While there will be familiar and well-known faces in the mix for those jobs—Lionel Hollins, Stan Van Gundy and George Karl are available, for instance—there has been a steady move toward giving first-timers a chance. Last year, nine jobs were filled by coaches with no prior NBA head-coaching experience.
That figures to be a boon to a potential first-time coach like Griffin, who has forged a good reputation among players and colleagues—ex-Bucks coach Scott Skiles praised Griffin as head-coaching material. Makes sense. As a player for five different teams (Boston, Dallas, Houston, Chicago and Seattle), Griffin had the kind of career that gave him varied perspectives on the NBA.
He played in Europe, in the U.S. Basketball League and in the Continental Basketball Association. He played for some bad teams (he was part of Kevin Durant’s rookie team in Seattle, which finished 20-62) and some great teams (the Mavericks who made the ’06 Finals). He has been signed during the season, waived and traded three times.
“My journey has taken me through every facet of the game,” Griffin said. “I have been on the outside looking in, working my way up, I have been overseas, I was a starter in the league, I was buried on the bench, I have been cut—everything imaginable in the league, I have been through it.
"It helps me relate to players. I can tell them how to handle different situations. The NBA is a grind, the 82 games, the travel, the pressure, the expectations, so I call on my experience and past knowledge to build a bond with the players.”
During that time, he played for legendary coaches, ranging from Rick Pitino to P.J. Carlesimo, from Jeff Van Gundy to Don Nelson. He has had two stints as an assistant coach, first with Skiles in Milwaukee, and now with Thibodeau and the Bulls.
“Great, great,” Thibodeau said of Griffin. “I am hopeful that he’ll get more consideration, head-coaching opportunities. He has done a terrific job, he is strong in all areas, he is a great communicator, leader, and a great teacher. I’m hopeful, I’m hopeful for him, I think he’s deserving.”
Griffin credits the coaches he played for during his career for his desire to be a head coach himself, but when it comes to his desire to perform as a leader, that runs deeper, back to his father, David Alan Griffin Sr., who served as the pastor at Shekinah Christian Fellowship in Kansas for 25 years.
Griffin’s father passed away in 2000, but left his son with a priority on education and leadership—no matter what happens with his NBA coaching career.
“My father was a minister, so I understand the effects that a leader has on a community, on individuals—he set such a great example of being a servant to others, helping others, and that is something that I aspire to do,” Griffin said. “I want to teach leadership and set up programs for underprivileged kids, especially in the minority community, because I think they need it a lot. To understand what you need to succeed in life.”
Griffin is only 39, and ultimately, he might need more time cutting his teeth as an assistant before he lands a head-coaching job. But he could be active on the interview circuit once jobs open up this offseason.
Might seem like a tall order, coaching an NBA team while pursuing a doctorate. But Griffin said he has plenty of experience with time management challenges.
“I am married with four kids,” Griffin said. “You learn how to juggle stuff. It is only work when you don’t like what you do, and I enjoy coaching and I enjoy learning. This game is always teaching you something.”
• Tom Thibodeau was also lining up behind the MVP status of his star center, Joakim Noah, who is averaging 12.5 points, 11.1 rebounds and 5.2 assists, while ranking as one of the league’s most effective defensive players. Noah won’t topple LeBron James or Kevin Durant, but he should be among the Top 5 in the voting.
“It depends on how you define (MVP),” Thibodeau said. “For us, I think he does. What he has meant to our team over the course of our season, we faced a lot of adversity, he helped lift the team up, and he has improved, I think significantly, offensively, the defense has always been great, rebounding.
"And it’s more than just the passing, it’s his scoring now, making quicker decisions, I think that has helped a lot. But the most important thing is just helping us win.”
• The Wizards joined the Raptors in clinching a playoff spot, meaning those two teams will break their postseason droughts, which were the longest in the Eastern Conference, at five years. When Charlotte clinches its playoff spot, too, the Pistons will wind up with the longest current drought, at five years. Minnesota has the longest drought in the league, 10 seasons, including this one.