HoopsHype.com Interviews

Terry Porter: "Players need structure, but they also need freedom"
by Gery Woelfel / December 24, 2003

When did you seriously consider becoming a head coach in the NBA?

Terry Porter: I think my last two or three years [from 1999 to 2002] in San Antonio. I really started thinking about my post-playing career. I had been blessed to be around a lot of good coaches and played the game a long time and felt I could give a team and players some insight and be a good coach in this league.'

When the Bucks' head coaching job became available, did you pursue it or did the Bucks pursue you?

TP: This was all new to me; I didn't know you could pursue jobs (laughs). I thought you had to wait for them to call you. But, yeah, they called and got permission from Sacramento [where he had been an assistant coach for the Kings] and that started the process.

What was your reaction to being courted by Milwaukee, especially considering you grew up in the city and spent a good portion of your life there and still have family and friends there?

TP: I was excited about it. For me, part of the process was just to get interviewed for a head job. That was my first interview, so I was definitely excited about it.

There have been a lot of assistant coaches who have done many interviews and come up short. But you came in and interviewed with the Bucks and hit a home run.

TP: Well, there have been coaches who haven't done any interviews. They have come straight from playing or whatever and got the head coaching jobs. I was just fortunate and happy to be given this opportunity. Me, being from here, helped tremendously.

Some coaches might have shied away from taking a job in the city they were raised in because of the pressures placed upon them. Do you feel you have an added burden on your shoulders because this is your hometown?

TP: Actually, I think you're going to get more support coaching in your hometown. Initially, I think I'm going to get the benefit of the doubt by me being from here. I don't look at it as additional pressure because I have friends and family here. They know who I am and they know I'm going to do the best job I can do.

You have played for, or have been an assistant coach, for some of best coaches in the business. Give us a capsule comment on what you learned from each them. Let's start with Pat Riley.

TP: Organization. Pat's very organized. And the way he has a passion for his teams.

Rick Adelman of the Kings?

TP: I like the way Rick has always been a players' coach. He has always tried to look at it from his playing standpoint and how he wanted to be coached. I think he's always tried to be strong but flexible with his players.

Gregg Popovich of the Spurs?

TP: Gregg is a detailed guy and he has a system he really believes in, and he really tries to find players to fit that system. He's blessed to have a big guy like Timmy (Duncan), so he doesn't have to change his system much. Everything is based around Timmy.

Flip Saunders of the Timberwolves?

TP: I would say he's a great Xs and Os guy. He does a great job of getting his guys to execute their stuff. After Jerry Sloan, the next guy that does a great job of executing and getting his players to buy into his system is probably Flip.

Dick Bennett, your coach at UW-Stevens Point who later coached at the University of Wisconsin and is now at Washington State?

TP: He expects the best out of you. He expects you to give everything you got. He's going to push you to that level. He's a coach who won't settle for less.

Jack Ramsay, who was your coach in your rookie season with the Portland Trail Blazers?

TP: His big thing was conditioning and playing hard.

If someone was to ask you what your coaching style is, what would you tell them?

TP: I would say, he thinks he knows that defense is very important, so he's defensive-minded. Yet, he knows offensively there's got to be some structure but freedom for the players. Players nowadays need structure, but they also need freedom. There's not really a lot to my philosophy. In order to win in this league, you have to be able to defend and you have got to be able to score whether in the halfcourt or open court or combination of both.

This team made massive player and coaching changes during the offseason. In light of those wholesale moves, are you surprised your team has jelled so quickly?

TP: I think the guys can get better each game, each week, as they get more comfortable with their teammates' weaknesses and strengths, like where they want or need the ball. But up to this point, I'm very pleased by the way they've jelled and how they've performed.

What does this team need yet to take it to another level?

TP: Obviously, we need a consistent, low-post threat. A big guy. That's the one thing we don't have. We need
someone who you can throw it into and get some quality possessions out of, like a foul or a good opportunity
to set up a teammate or a good opportunity to score himself in the post.

The trading deadline isn't until February, but will you encourage Bucks management to go out and acquire a player? Or are you pretty content with the roster you have?

TP: We're always trying to improve our roster. We're not looking to make a trade now, but if something came
up, we'd definitely listen to it. But we're not looking at this time.

The NBA coaching profession can be fickle. Already three coaches have been fired ...

TP: You get hired to get fired (laughs).

Now that you are a head coach, do you have a better perspective about how difficult the position can be?

TP: This is a players' league, so if something goes wrong, the coach is going to go before the player. It's always been that way. As a coach, you have to go into a situation believing in the philosophy you have and try to instill it into your players. If you do get fired or released, you can say, 'Hey, I've done everything I could do. It just didn't work here.'

Obviously, every pro coach is under the microscope and subjected to close scrutiny. What do you do to escape and relax from this pressure-cooker?

TP: I like to spend time with my family [wife, Susie, and children Brianna, Franklin and Malcolm] and I like
to golf.

On a good day, what kind of score can you shoot?

TP: On a good day, I'll shoot in the low 80s. I love golf. I've played in a lot of pro-ams. I've played with Peter Jacobsen and Nick Price.

Be Nostradamus and predict who'll play for the Eastern Conference championship and the Western Conference championship, based on what you've seen so far this season.

TP: I would say Indiana and Detroit in the East ... and I would say in the West, it'll be Sacramento and,
it pains me to say this, the Lakers.

Why does it pain you?

TP: They've always been the thorn in my rose. From day one, when I started playing in Portland, they've
always been the team that I couldn't get over the hump.

Are the Lakers the best team in the league now?

TP: At this point, the Lakers are. With all the adversity surrounding Kobe, I think they've done a pretty good job.

What has been the biggest surprise with your team?

TP: Without knowing some of our new personnel, I thought we'd struggle on defense. But our defense has
been pretty good. We've worked at that a lot, and the guys have really done a good job of trying to execute
our defensive things.

A lot of people didn't think we'd be able to score. But when I looked at our roster, I didn't really think that would be a problem. I really didn't. Look at our ones (point guards), we got TJ (Ford), Damon (Jones) and Erick (Strickland) and you figure they'll average around 15 points. Look at our twos and threes combinations - Michael Redd, Desmond Mason and Timmy (Thomas) - and you'll get at least 30 to 40 points out of them. So, what is that? Forty five points. Look at our fours - Joe Smith and Toni Kukoc - and they'll give you another 20 points - and then the fives with Brian Skinner and Danny G (Gadzuric) and Danny S (Santiago) and I thought they'd get us at least 15 more points. I thought 85 to 90 points wouldn't be a problem for this team.

What are your goals for the Bucks and for yourself?

TP: This year, we want to be the best team we can be and, if we do that, we'll be in position to fight for a playoff spot come April. For me personally, I want to help this organization go forward and be a perennial playoff-caliber team. Our ultimate goal, obviously, is to some day to win a world championship.

Gery Woelfel covers the Milwaukee Bucks and the NBA for The Racine (Wis.) Journal Times

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