Seattle Hires Carlesimo As Coach

Friday, July 6th 2007, 8:36 am
By: News On 6

SEATTLE (AP) _ During his first couple of years away from the bench, P.J. Carlesimo questioned if he'd get the opportunity to be a head coach again.

With the inquiries he received the last few years, Carlesimo knew it would just be a case of finding what he believed was the right situation. When the Seattle SuperSonics made their offer earlier this week _ with the chance to coach Kevin Durant looming _ Carlesimo didn't hesitate.

``It changed so dramatically in years three, four and five that it seemed to me that it was probably going to happen again,'' Carlesimo said. ``I wasn't obsessed with it that I had to be a head coach again. I was perfectly happy in San Antonio ... it was enjoyable, but I thought it might happen at some point.''

Carlesimo was hired Thursday as the SuperSonics' new coach, after spending the last five seasons as an assistant with San Antonio. It's his first head coaching job since the 1999 season, when he was fired by Golden State after the Warriors started 6-21.

Carlesimo replaces Bob Hill, who was fired on April 24 after Seattle went 31-51 in his only full season as coach.

``One of the reasons P.J. is the guy is his ability to teach. And I think we have a number of players on this team who want to get better, and want to be coached and have come from programs where they have been coached,'' general manager Sam Presti said. ``Ultimately, at the end of the day, it's about improving your ball club.''

Carlesimo takes over a team still in the midst of a roster overhaul, being orchestrated by the 30-year-old Presti. In the past week, the Sonics traded seven-time All-Star Ray Allen to Boston on draft night, and free agent Rashard Lewis agreed to sign with the Orlando Magic, erasing Seattle's top two scorers from its lineup.

Carlesimo's directive will be overseeing the growth and development of Durant and Jeff Green, two of the first five picks from last week's draft, while also developing a current roster that has no player older than 30. Seattle selected Durant with the No. 2 pick, then got the rights to Green, the No. 5 selection, in the trade of Allen.

Carlesimo is also charged with instilling defensive principles on a team that has barely played any since Nate McMillan left for Portland after the 2004-05 season.

Presti settled on Carlesimo as his top choice for the position, determining that Seattle needed a teacher who fell in line with the rest of the organization's principles.

``To me, as a coach, one of the highest compliments you can pay a coach is to say he is a good teacher,'' Carlesimo said.

Seattle becomes the third stop in Carlesimo's NBA coaching tenure, the previous two marked by tensions between players and the coach, and of course, one infamous run-in with Latrell Sprewell almost 10 years ago.

Carlesimo took the Trail Blazers to the playoffs three times in the 1990s, but never advanced out of the first round. It was at Golden State where Carlesimo garnered headlines for his intense, in-your-face approach that almost immediately became an issue when tensions developed with Sprewell, his star player.

The emotions boiled over at a practice Dec. 1, 1997, when Sprewell responded to Carlesimo's terse command of ``put a little mustard'' on a pass by choking his coach. It took several players and team officials to break up the attack, which an angry Sprewell renewed 15 minutes later.

Carlesimo lasted two more years with the Warriors before his firing.

Presti and Bennett narrowed the field to Carlesimo and former Minnesota coach and Seattle assistant Dwane Casey. On Tuesday, Casey was informed the Sonics were ``going in a different direction.''

Bennett, the Oklahoma City-based owner of the Sonics, repeatedly has said he wants to model his franchise after San Antonio's. He has plucked two key pieces from the Spurs: Presti, who was San Antonio's assistant GM, and now Carlesimo.

``I feel really, really good with the kind of basketball mind we're bringing into the program with P.J.,'' Presti said.