Stephen Silas Proves He's His Own Man
OAKLAND, Calif. -- When Stephen Silas realized he wanted to be just like dear old Dad, to coach basketball players at the highest level and make the game he loved part of his daily life, he had a decision to make.
Would he opt for the glass-is-half-full approach, realizing that being Paul Silas' boy would come with a few fringe benefits and a lifetime pass to the hoops library that is his father's brain? Or would he take the rebellious route, resenting the perception that always surrounds the kids of prominent figures and deciding to go it alone?
As he saw it, it was hardly a tough choice.
"There aren't a lot of people who have that kind of resource," said the 37-year-old Silas, a Golden State assistant coach (above left) whose father was 355-400 in 10 seasons as an NBA head coach with the San Diego Clippers, Charlotte and New Orleans Hornets and Cleveland. "But I was the coach's kid, so I just had to work and work and work to the point where that perception that I was just the coach's kid was shifted to it being just me."
The positive approach came in handy again this summer, when Silas found himself faced with a most-unique predicament and a similar question of how best to handle it.
As if not knowing whether Don Nelson and his coaching staff would be retained by soon-to-be owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber wasn't stressful enough, Silas' offseason to-do list grew at least three-fold when he looked left and right and realized he was the only assistant still on the clock. Former Warriors assistant coaches Russ Turner, Rico Hines and Scott Roth were all gone by mid-July, all of them taking other opportunities that offered the sort of stability not found in the Warriors' world these days. Then lead assistant Keith Smart wound up on the injured list, undergoing a hip replacement in early June that limited his availability for the better part of the offseason.
True to form, Silas did what he has done in nearly 10 years as a coach and scout with the Cavaliers, Hornets, Washington Wizards and Warriors: he just kept on working.
He orchestrated 10 pre-draft workouts in June, then ran the Warriors' Las Vegas summer league team in July as head coach while Smart and Roth (who was the final assistant to go) were assistants and Nelson was in the stands. When Nelson was heading off for his annual Hawaiian getaway that has yet to end, Silas was answering the first of two calls for help from Monta Ellis. He left his own family of four in Louisiana to stay with the sixth-year player, his wife and one-year-old boy at their seven-bedroom home in Memphis, Tenn., both times conducting a week's worth of workouts inside the full-court facility that is on Ellis' property.
"He came and we did two-a-days; I'd say an hour and a half in the morning with some drills and then going harder at night," Ellis said. "We got good work in. That was big for me."
There were more house calls of sorts in between -- extra floor time with Team USA member and rising Warriors star Stephen Curry that was squeezed between summer league practices in Las Vegas, as the point guard prepared for the national team tryouts; a second trip to Sin City in early August for the renowned summer camp of Denver assistant Tim Grgurich, with Silas working with the Warriors' Jeremy Lin, Reggie Williams and Dorell Wright; routine check-ups with players who had been given offseason blueprints to follow, Silas' reports detailing the respective weaknesses in their games and discussing the work needed to fix them; daily workouts and occasional video sessions inside the team's downtown Oakland practice facility starting in late August, when players began to arrive extra early for upcoming training camp.
"Every day, he came into the gym with a smile on his face -- ready to work and ready to help us get better," said Williams, the second-year swingman who was called up from the Sioux Falls Skyforce of the NBA's Developmental League late last season and averaged 15.2 points in 24 games. "His passion for the game is contagious. He's definitely a player's coach, and he knows what he's talking about."
By mid-September, Silas -- to the surprise of no one who knows him well -- was still smiling.
"Being able to do all of this (extra) work this summer has been great," Silas said while taking some time away from the practice facility floor recently. "I just love being out on the court. I love what I do. To work and play basketball on the court every day is awesome."
And if Silas is lucky, he just might have impressed his new bosses along the way too.
Lacob has already made it clear publicly that Nelson will be gone after next season, but the question remains whether they'll send him home with the $6 million he is owed in the final season of his contract. The ownership transfer is not expected to be approved by the NBA's Board of Governors until mid-October, at least a couple of weeks after training camp begins.
The timing is extremely problematic if they were looking for wholesale change, and the more feasible solution of replacing Nelson with Smart for the final campaign is certainly being considered. As for Silas? Well, you could probably guess what sort of attitude he's taking with the whole situation.
"For me, this is easy -- I do what I do," Silas said . "I've been through (ownership change) before (with the Hornets and Cavaliers), and I didn't make it through either.
"What owners do is their prerogative, but the one thing I learned was that (getting let go) didn't taint my reputation as a coach. What I do on the court and my reputation is what carries me through. I understand the business. I've lived it basically all my life."
Before Stephen decided he wanted to one day be an NBA head coach, there was a time when he hoped to follow his father's path on the court instead of next to it. Paul averaged 9.9 points and 9.4 rebounds in 16 NBA seasons, making the most of his 6-foot-7, 220-pound frame to win three titles (two with Boston and one with Seattle) and play in two All-Star games.
The shorter and skinnier Stephen couldn't quite hit the glass like his pops, though. And while he could hit a jumper, his playing days peaked with a four-year career as a guard at Brown University in which he was the team captain in his final season.
Coaching became the goal once playing was no longer an option. After spending three years as the executive director of the National Basketball Retired Players Association, Stephen joined his dad in 1999 as an advance and college scout for the Hornets.
"I really wanted him to start at the bottom and work his way up so that people couldn't say, 'Well that's Paul Silas' son. He's doing something for him that he wouldn't do for others," Paul Silas said.
Paul (right) wasn't truly impressed with Stephen until Year No. 2, though, when his promotion to assistant coach made him the youngest of his kind in the league (27) and he retained scouting duties as well.
"He would travel to games and scout for me, then come back to just about every game we played," Paul said. "I think he missed two or three (Hornets) games the whole year. You talk about travel. That really impressed me, and I just said, 'This kid is going to really do something special if he keeps this kind of attitude.'
"That's the one thing I'm so proud of is his attitude. He has a great attitude about the game, about who he is, and he's making a mark for himself. He just works beyond the call of duty, which is exceptional."
Paul Silas may be retired and living in Charlotte, N.C., but he is still working with his son in a less-official capacity. Stephen sent him his summer league plans in advance of the Vegas action to get his feedback, and the two talk frequently about how best to handle the varied challenges that so often arise.
"I lean on him all the time," Stephen said. "He'll be completely honest with me, and he has been doing it for 30-something years, been in the NBA since '64. I'd be stupid to be like, 'Nah Dad, I'm going to do it on my own.' "
Because going it alone is just never the way to go, this Warriors summer notwithstanding.
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