HoopsHype.com Columns

Father and son or neither one
by Jon Finkel / June 23, 2002

Hundreds of millions of Americans are going to sit down and eat dinner this Tuesday night. Millions of families. Millions of mothers, millions of daughters, millions of fathers and millions of sons, sitting down, eating and talking to each other. Now, of all these millions of families, guess which father and son will be having a conversation like this:

SON: Hey, Dad, you want to pass me the Kung Pao Chicken? (They're eating Chinese food, I don't know why, they just are.)

FATHER: We're out of it. You'll have to choose between Beef Pad Thai or Chicken Lo Mein.

SON: Man, that's a tough choice.

FATHER: (laughing) Not as tough as choosing between the Memphis Grizzlies or the Golden State Warriors.

SON: (laughing) Right back at you, Dad.

I'll give you one guess and a hint - their last name rhymes with bunleavy. I don't know why the father and son with a last name that rhymes with bunleavy sound like such dorks, it just sort of happened. Anyway, if you haven't guessed yet, the little exchange you just heard was a scene from Dinner at the Dunleavy's coming this Tuesday night.

Think about it. How many fathers and sons in the history of professional sports, especially basketball, have ever had an opportunity to seriously have a discussion along those lines. This isn't drunk Shooter and young Everett Flatch talking about what's best for Hickory High. This is real life. This is a father, with a legitimate shot at making millions coaching one of two NBA teams talking to his son, also about to make millions and with nearly a sure shot of playing in the NBA for one of those same two teams. If someone made both these scenarios up, I'd be much more likely to believe the first one, especially if Dennis Hopper was the drunk.

Let me explain how it came to this. Since we're dealing with actual generations on an NBA timeline, we'll start with the first generation of our tandem, Mike Dunleavy Sr. Senior, who got his first head coaching job in the NBA with the '90-'91 Los Angeles Lakers. He took over after Pat Riley left and inherited most of the same great players. In his first season he led them to a 58-24 record and an appearance in the Finals, where they lost to Michael Jordan and the Bulls. I won't go and say that you or I could have coached that team to the Finals after Riley left, but I will say that your or I could have coached them to lose to Jordan's Bulls. After a sub-Laker finish of 43-39 in the '91-'92 campaign, Senior left to take over the head coaching and Vice President of Basketball Operations job in Milwaukee.

Coach Dunleavy was a lawn mower and the Bucks' winning percentage was the grass. This is not to say that the grass was particularly high when Older Dunleavy got there, its just that he did a stellar job of keeping it trimmed low. Not quite putting green low, but definitely as low as the rough. In four season, from 1992 to 1996, his record was 107-221. Not good, but good enough to land him the head coaching job at Portland for the next season.

The zenith of Mike Dunleavy Sr.'s coaching career in Portland came in the 2000 NBA playoffs, with a 15 point lead and ten minutes left in a game seven in the Western Conference Finals against the Lakers. The nadir of Mike Dunleavy Sr.'s coaching career in Portland came roughly ten game-clock minutes later in that same 2000 NBA playoffs after squandering the 15 point lead and losing to the Lakers by 4. Yes, Dunleavy stayed for another year and had one more chance at winning a title, but his team was swept in the first round of the 2001 playoffs and he was swept right out of town.

Meanwhile, a few months before Dad's team got swept in 2001, Son's team was sweeping through the NCAA tournament on the way to a National Championship for Duke University. Granted, Mike Dunleavy Jr. was more of a role player on that team, but he was a major contributor and he was only a sophomore. This past season, Duke did not win a second straight title, but what did happen is that Junior developed into one of the most versatile and skilled players in all of college. So much so, that this past week he has decided to bring his array of talents to the next level, the NBA. He see-sawed for a while on whether to stay in the draft or not, but apparently, a 6-10, 220 pound baller with the shooting range of a guard, the mobility of a small forward and an understanding of the game taught to him by his NBA coach Dad and Coach K, makes for a high lottery pick.

And here we are.

The scenarios are pretty simple. Either both Dunleavy's go to Memphis or both go to Golden State OR one goes to Memphis while the other goes to Golden State or vice versa. That's it. Figuring out what may happen, on the other hand, is a little more complex.

The ball is in the Warriors court. They have the 3rd pick in the draft which is one ahead of the Grizzlies 4th pick. So, they have the choice and since it looks like they're going to pick the player before the coach, we'll look at that first. I know it's their choice and I know in the dinner conversation earlier I made it seem like it's Mike Jr.'s choice and it kind of is. If Junior went to the Warriors management and told them that he wouldn't be happy playing in Golden State and that he doesn't want to spend years losing and rebuilding, they probably wouldn't draft him for fear of another trip down 'let's get Chris Webber even though he doesn't want to play here' lane. So that's how he kind of does have a choice in the matter. As far as we know, he didn't say that to them, so let's pick up with the Warriors.

The Warriors have actually done pretty well in the draft the last few years, considering they're the Warriors. They've picked up Antawn Jamison, Troy Murphy, Gilbert Arenas and Jason Richardson. They've passed on their share of good players, but these guys aren't bad players and in fact, Jamison is a star and Richardson will be. Dunleavy could easily play in this mix of players and up until very recently, this is where he was projected to go.

The GM of the Warriors, Gary St. Jean spent last Sunday with the European small forward prospect Nikoloz Tskitishvili and was quoted as having said, "when you see greatness, you've got to strongly consider it." Of course, that could be draft talk, but with the whole draft open to them except Yao Ming and Jay Williams, there is not reason for him to lie unless he's working a draft and trade deal with another team. So, he's enamored with Tskitishvili, but Dunleavy may still be the best choice, right? Maybe. This past Friday, Drew Gooden was supposed to appear on Jim Rome's radio talk show but couldn't make it because he was having last moment talks with the Warriors. You really couldn't argue with them if they took Gooden. He's just as versatile as Dunleavy and he's more athletic and may be a little more mature on the court. They could end up taking any one of these guys. Maybe the younger Dunleavy is the favorite, but that's all he is. He's not a lock.

If the Warriors don't take him, the Grizzlies will. They have a young, up and coming team where a guy like Junior could thrive and mesh with the other young talent, mainly his old teammate Shane Battier. Never mind that they play basically the same position, they'll work it out. So, assuming Dunleavy Junior either goes to the Warriors or Grizzlies, what about Dad?

First off, both teams currently have head coaches on their pay roll. Brian Winters with Golden State and Sidney Lowe with the Griz. It is also no secret that both head coaches would likely be fired either this season or next season, depending on what coaches become available. Mike Dunleavy Sr. is available now. Jerry West, who is now running things for the Grizzlies, gave Senior his first job in Los Angeles, so that connection is there. West could also afford to pay a coach like Mike Sr. Golden State will most likely not shell out the kind of money that Senior would ask for and that in itself may rule out the Dunleavy's both ending up there.

What does this all add up to? Nothing and everything at the same time. Dunleavy Junior could fall to the end of the Lottery and Dunleavy Senior may never coach again. Really, he is only 398-390 lifetime in the NBA as a coach and although there are few good coaches available, those numbers are a whisker above average and bringing him in isn't an automatic turnaround. Just ask Milwaukee.

Since that is the least likely scenario, we'll dismiss it for now and talk about most likely. Most likely the Dunleavy's are going to end up on one of these two teams, together or separate. I think if they end up together, they'll be in Memphis. If they split, Junior is in Golden State and Senior is the Griz head coach, this coming season or next. For the record, the name Dunleavy appears over 15 times in this column and despite my alternating attempts with references like 'Dad', 'Son', 'Junior' and 'Senior', that's still too many, I apologize, but it's better than having to read through 30 Fatherleavy's and Sonleavy's, which is what I was going to originally dub them.

Jon Finkel is a regular contributor to HoopsHype.com

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