Mike Procopio Rumors
Procopio is in his first full season as director of player development for the Mavericks. Team owner Mark Cuban is paying Procopio to take castoffs like McConnell and second-round pick Ricky Ledo—players who, relatively speaking, cost the team pennies—and turn them into contributors, players who can move from the end of the bench to coach Rick Carlisle’s rotation. If Procopio turns a single pupil into a reliable player, or even merely good enough to serve as trade bait, he will give the Mavs a great return on their investment. After all, people like Cuban become billionaires and build championship teams not only because they land players like star power forward Dirk Nowitzki, but also because they find ways to maximize their assets—even those at the bottom of the roster. Need proof that Cuban takes this seriously? Consider that he is personally responsible for hiring Procopio, the trail to his door blazed by Cuban asking, “Who’s the best guy not in the NBA that I need in my organization?” “He is a great asset,” Cuban says. “He is the best player development coach in the NBA.”
So, how did someone known in the basketball world as “Sweetchuck”—because, as a teenager, he resembled that character from the Police Academy movies—get this far? Or, as Nowitzki says following a verbal zinger from Procopio, “Where did we get you?”
All along, Procopio kept working at summer camps, especially one at trainer Tim Grover’s Chicago gym. In ’06, Celtics forward Paul Pierce was walking in to lift weights with Grover as Procopio was walking out, and Pierce and Procopio agreed to meet later for an on-court workout. Grover witnessed that session and approached Procopio. “That was great work,” Grover told him. “I’ve never seen a guy who looks like you work out a guy like that.” “Take a ticket and stand in line, because you’re not the first guy or the last guy to tell me that,” Procopio responded with a smile. “Would you like to work for me?” Grover offered.
In February 2009, Michael Lewis (of Moneyball fame) wrote an article for The New York Times Magazine about Houston’s Shane Battier being the preeminent Kobe-stopper. Bryant told Grover he needed to counter this for an upcoming game against Battier—and he wanted that Sweetchuck guy’s help. Procopio discovered the issue wasn’t Battier, but Bryant. See, Battier funneled Bryant toward Rockets star Yao Ming, daring Bryant to shoot over the 7-foot-6 center. He fell for it way too often. Telling Bryant he was taking too many shots, and a lot of dumb ones, was tough, but Procopio did it.
All this played out while Procopio was visiting McHale in Minnesota, where he was coaching the Timberwolves. They were at a team function the night of the Kobe-Battier showdown. Procopio slipped away to watch Bryant make 14 of 23 shots for 37 points in a 102-96 victory. “You ever going to hear from the guy?” McHale asked. “Probably not,” Procopio predicted. Five minutes later, this text message arrived from Bryant: “We got San Antonio tomorrow. I want the same thing.”
“He’s my Jack Bauer,” Bryant said, referring to the fictional hero of the TV show 24. “He gave me all the edits and scouting reports and wrote defensive rotations of the Celtics. He was my eyes and ears, so when I played the game, I’d use all the scouting reports and all the information. And it was huge for me.”