Monty Williams isn’t worried about hurting the feelings of a player.
He doesn’t want to a player’s buddy, pal or friend.
He has an old school mentality and his coaching philosophy that has been molded by working with or playing for ornery coaches like Gregg Popovich, Larry Brown, Nate McMillan and Pat Riley.
“I’m probably hard on everybody, except my wife,” Williams said to a chorus of giggles from the media gathered for his pre-game media scrum prior to a game against the Toronto Raptors.
“It’s just the nature of coaching. Great players want you to coach them. It just depends on who you are. Some people look at it as me being tough on them. Some people look at it as coaching. My job is to make guys better. I don’t get caught up in being, you know, somebody’s friend. I guess now it’s called a player’s coach and I’m probably the furthest thing from that. I just know I always have to make guys better so I’m always demanding the things that I think they need. The last thing I think guys want is somebody to tell them that everything is okay and I don’t want to do that as a coach.”
Tyreke Evans hasn’t taken warmly to this style of coaching so far and has butted heads with his head coach at times. He arrived with the New Orleans Pelicans after spending his first four NBA seasons playing for the Sacramento Kings and being allowed complete freedom on the court. Evans has had to adjust to a new role coming off of the bench and playing for a coaching that holds him accountable.
To say there have been growing pains is an understatement.
Shortly before Evans erupted for a game-high 23 points and 12 dimes off the bench, he was in a reserved mood sitting at his locker eating french fries.
When I approached him to talk he was apprehensive about talking with a member of the media and when the topic of Williams came up he wasn’t impressed with me.
“Umm… uhh… it’s just a good challenge” Evans mumbled while keeping his eyes down and refusing to make eye contact with me. “He will push and challenge you and you have to run with that.”
After answering two more questions, Evans was rescued by assistant coach Brian Gates who came into the locker room to get Evans for his pre-game workout.
Evans bolted out of the locker room and appeared happy to find solace from a reporter’s questions while working through his pre-game routine on the Air Canada Centre court.
While Evans was elusive while talking about Williams, other young teammates, like Jeff Withey and Austin Rivers, have had their share of growing pains in the NBA but were quick to praise Williams.
“I like it, personally,” Withey told me when asked about what it’s like playing for Williams. “I’ve always had coaches who have pushed me so I’m used to it. At Kansas, Bill Self pushed me and helped me get better. I’m happy that he’s always on my butt because it shows he cares. It’s hard at times, but in the big scheme of things, he’s just trying to get you better.”
Rivers struggled through a rough rookie season which saw a large contingent of the media and fans peg him as a bust. He averaged 6.2 points per game in 23.2 minutes while shooting 37.2% from the field.
This season, however, he has fought his way to playing time in a crowded backcourt and is averaging 6.1 in only 15.9 minutes per game.
“That’s who he is,” Rivers explained when asked if felt his coach was hard on him. “He’s a very competitive person and he demands a lot. Which is fine because that only means he wants the best out of all of us. Especially from us point guards. He’s really hard on me and Brian (Roberts) which is great because I know he just wants us to get better. I’m used to that anyway. Coach K wasn’t, umm, the easiest… I can’t really say too much, but he’s tough on us because he demands greatness. That’s why he is who he is and that’s why Monty is going to be who he is going to be.”
Williams may come across as mean or callous, but former players like Greivis Vasquez are quick to embrace his coaching style.
“It will be (a nice reunion for me) but Greivis (Vasquez) probably doesn’t want to see me,” Williams joked with the media. “I was really tough on him. He will probably start itching or sweating when he sees me because he will probably think I will yell at him or something.”
It’s because Vasquez was willing to work hard and take to constructive criticism that he had a career year for Williams and New Orleans last season.
Vasquez has shown flashes in Toronto, but in Sacramento he was a completely different player than the one who was third in the NBA in assists last season.
“He is a guy who came in and worked his tail off,” Williams boasted about Vasquez. “He had his best year with us and I feel fortunate to have been able to coach Greivis (Vasquez). He’s another guy I was really tough on. But I tell the guys we can be friends later or you can get better now, so which one do you want? We can be friends now and you’ll suffer. He was a guy who took hard coaching. He’s a great kid and I know the people up here feel the same way.”
Moments after Williams said those things, Vasquez crashing Williams’ pre-game media scrum and gave his former head coach a big embrace.
— Ryan McNeill (@ryanmcneill) February 10, 2014
While Evans may be struggling to adjust to a coach like Williams, once he grasps that his coach is trying to help him through tough love, the growth will occur.
Players like Withey, Rivers and Vasquez have realized that Williams is only trying to challenge them to grow as players and it has helped them grow as NBA players.
Hopefully for Evans’ sake he’s able to buy in soon, too.
Just don’t expect Williams to become buddies with Evans like John Calipari did when Evans was a college freshman or be someone to give Williams a big hug like Vasquez did.