On Saturday, Canton Charge head coach Steve Hetzel will take control of the "Futures" team in the NBA D-League All-Star game. Despite being a rookie head coach, Hetzel is a veteran of the Mike Brown system after starting his basketball career as a video coordinator for the Cavaliers during the 2008-09 season.
Because of the relationship with Brown and his past experience as Detroit's player development coach under Lawrence Frank, Cleveland looked to Hetzel to be the new coach of the Charge to help develop Cavs rookies Carrick Felix and Sergey Karasev.
While the continued development of Felix and Karasev remains the main focus for the Cavs, Coach Hetzel has helped lead the Charge to their current position as the second best team in the D-League. With D-League vets Jorge Gutierrez and Kevin Jones leading the way, the Charge have used a solid defensive foundation to become the minor league's best defensive team. While the solid core of players deserves a majority of the credit, Hetzel has done a great job in terms of having a successful defensive-minded squad in a league filled with offensive powerhouses.
Ridiculous Upside recently spoke with Coach Hetzel to discuss his relationship with Coach Brown, the success of the Charge, his selection to the D-League All-Star game and the possibility of Anthony Bennett coming to Canton. Continue reading below for more.
Ridiculous Upside: You started your NBA career by working under Mike Brown as a video coordinator. What's the overall relationship progressed between the two of you as you've transitioned into being Canton's coach?
Steve Hetzel: We've always had a good relationship since I worked with them as a video coordinator. He was very successful in the time that I was there and his staff has had success away from him with Mike Malone coaching Sacramento. He was very happy when I came back because he had somebody that he had a relationship with.
Part of the reason I was hired was because the organization felt comfortable with me due to my experience with Mike Brown's system. We spent the months of October and November in Cleveland at training camp to make sure that we were on point, so that the Cavs and Charge would have the same systems.
RU: Can you describe the connection that you have with the Cavs organization, as it relates to them assigning a player to Canton with the goal of your team helping them along?
Hetzel: I'd say it's very close because of how the Cavs organization is run. I have to give reports to the Cavaliers' staff, as well as Mike Gansey (GM of the Charge). We all talk and communicate about when they'll be sent down, their overall expectations and how they'll be able to be coached.
They allow me to coach these guys as if they're my players. It's a good relationship in the sense that we give constant feedback to each other on when we're going to have those players and what they want the players to work on in-game. It's a real benefit to be directly affiliated with the Cavs because it's a struggle for teams who don't have a direct NBA affiliation.
RU: As a coach, how difficult is it to transition Cleveland's assignees into Canton's rotation?
Hetzel: Initially, it's very difficult because it's unlike a trade where you acquire a player who's new to your system. When you first have them, you don't really know how long they're going to stay. You generally don't get them for practices, you just get them for the game(s).
So hopefully during shootaround, you can take that little time to adjust to how that player plays and how our team initially adjusts to the change. It's difficult during the first couple times they're down there, but it isn't so bad that you wouldn't want to do it. The more the player gets adjusted to the system, the more they'll get comfortable with the team.
RU: If Anthony Bennett gets assigned to the D-League and the Charge, how will yourself and your staff help him in terms of trying to build himself back up?
Hetzel: That's completely up to Coach Brown and the Cavs organization. If they want to send him down, we'd be open arms. Right now Bennett is getting time with Cleveland and if you're getting minutes in the NBA, then that's the best experience that you can get. Whether he's flourishing or struggling, he'll improve with the playing time that he gets.
If that time comes, we'll cross that bridge as it happens. For now, we're going to focus on the team that we have and try to make everybody into better players.
RU: Both Kevin Jones and Arinze Onuaku are players who share similar skill-sets. How are you able to work a rotation around that group of players?
Hetzel: We try to give them the best chance possible to showcase what they can do. With Kevin, we run a lot of pick and rolls to showcase his skills as a knock down, pick and pop shooter. For Arinze, we run a lot of post-ups to showcase what he can do in the post. We don't try to go to them on every play because we believe that ball movement and player movement will find the best shot. Hopefully the scouts can see that they're NBA players, not by taking 16-20 shots per game but by being efficient in the shots that they get.
On this level, there aren't that many players who are going to become a go-to player in the NBA like they are in the D-League. They need to be able to fit right in, be efficient with the shots they take, space the floor in the correct way and have a great understanding about how to be a solid defender.
RU: With a team that changes players and rotations on a night-by-night basis, how beneficial is to have a solid defensive-minded point guard in Jorge Gutierrez?
Hetzel: He's our backbone, floor general and leader. When he's healthy, Jorge is as good as it gets in this league. He's just the right opportunity away from being in the NBA. I can't say enough about Jorge because he's a huge part of our success.
RU: Later his week, you'll be heading to New Orleans to coach the "Futures" team, how will you approach that game compared to your role with Canton?
Hetzel: I'll probably sit down a lot more than I usually do. I've been telling myself that I need to relax because the game is ultimately about the players having fun. We (Canton) pride our self on being a defensive team but I'd be a fool if I requested the same thing in an All-Star Game. I'm going to try to enjoy the experience, the talent of the players and let them be able to showcase their talents.