An NBA assistant coach’s job is more than just keeping the bench leveled as the head coach continually stalks the sidelines during games.
“Every day before practice, we meet [as a coaching] staff and formulate a practice plan,” explains T.R. Dunn, one of five former NBAers on the Minnesota Timberwolves staff, including Head Coach Rick Adelman, Terry Porter, Shawn Respert and Jack Sikma.
“We all have input, and obviously he [Adelman] has the final decision on what goes down on what we do. We all have roles in instructing a particular player or group of players, and we oversee the practices. During the course of practice, if we want to make a point, we can do it right there.”
Each assistant coach is in a regular “game prep” rotation: “We do the game prep and watch film of the [opposing] team and try to prepare ourselves and our team for who we are going to be playing next,” explains Dunn. “I go in and present to the coach my [assigned] team and what I think we should do,” He then presents it to the team at shoot-arounds.
When asked if the Wolves players are aware of his past as a player, Dunn admits, “I don’t think they know. I don’t think they care a lot about it. It’s been a while…probably before most if not all [the current players] were even born.”
Too bad, because if they did, they’d learn that Dunn, a 1977 NBA Draftee by Portland, was considered one of the league’s best defensive players during a 14-year NBA career — 10 of them in Denver, where he ranks second on the team’s all-time steals list and first in career steals in post-season games.
A three-time second team all-defense and one of the top rebounding guards, Dunn also played one season for Phoenix before completing his pro career back with the Nuggets.
“The first organized team I played on, my coach was very strict… He always stressed defense,” recalls Dunn, a four-year letterman at Alabama (1973-77). “My high school coach was [also] that way. It was something he preached all the time. Then, when I went to college, it was similar to that — defense was something not only that coaches talked about, but we really worked at it all the time. It became a part of what I did, and that really helped me develop as a player.
“Defense was what worked for me, and it was something I took pride in,” continues Dunn, who says he didn’t start thinking about a possible coaching career until late in his playing career. “You’re young and playing and think you can play forever. You can’t, but that’s how your mindset is. Then, towards the end of my playing career, some of my teammates would always say that ‘He’ll be a coach some day.’
“My last year and a half, I started thinking more and more about it,” notes Dunn. “I was just very blessed and fortunate, because when I retired, the timing was just right. One of my former coaches had just become the head coach with the Charlotte Hornets, and we’d had conversations prior to him becoming the coach, so I was able to join his staff.”
After a six-year stint for the Hornets (1991-97), Dunn took the same position in Denver (1997-98), followed by a two-year stint in the WNBA as an assistant coach and then head coach for the now-defunct Charlotte franchise (1999-2000).
He also coached at his alma mater for one season, returned to Denver for two seasons, then coached at Sacramento (2004-07) and four seasons in Houston.
“Sometimes it’s about timing, but my timing was just right,” concludes the Wolves assistant coach, now in his second season in Minnesota.
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