Jim Cleamons Rumors

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The stars are starting to align for an eventual reunion of Phil Jackson and Jim Cleamons in New York. Cleamons, the former Knicks starting point guard, and Jackson were teammates in New York in the late 1970’s. From there, Cleamons became Jackson’s right-hand man on the bench for nine of the Zen Master’s 11 coaching titles — four with the Bulls and all five with the Lakers. Cleamons, now a Bucks assistant coach, would seem a perfect fit as top assistant — a veteran and master of the triangle who could help potential new head coach Steve Kerr. Kerr has emerged as Jackson’s leading head-coaching candidate. According to an NBA source, Cleamons is interested in rejoining Jackson’s Knicks in any capacity. Already, former Bulls personnel man, Clarence Gaines Jr. is on board with the Knicks in an unnamed front-office job and was in Portsmouth, Va. with team brass this week for the second day of an important pre-draft camp.
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Cleamons was leery of speaking at length about Jackson since he already has been linked to the Knicks. Cleamons played two seasons for legendary Knicks coach Red Holzman as a point guard from 1977-79 and was Jackson’s teammate. “Phil is bright. He understands the game. He’s going to put good people around him,’’ Cleamons said. “That’s my feeling. I know nothing else.’’
One constant presence remains, however, in Kobe Bryant. But the Lakers expect him to stay sidelined for four more weeks while healing a fractured left knee. “He knows his body, so I can’t tell him what he should be doing,” Cleamons told this newspaper. “But I just wish he doesn’t push hard on a body that’s not completely ready. “Then again, he’s going to do what he’s going to do. That’s what makes him one of a kind.”
General Manager John Hammond announced today that Jim Cleamons, Scott Williams and Josh Oppenheimer will complete Larry Drew’s coaching staff as assistant coaches. They join Bob Bender and Nick Van Exel, who were named to Drew’s coaching staff earlier in the summer. In addition, Scott Barthlama has been named head athletic trainer, Chris McKenzie has been named director of physical therapy and athletic trainer, and Robert Hackett has been named strength and conditioning coach.
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Also Tuesday, Drew acknowledged he has offered the top assistant coaching position to a former NBA coach and is waiting for a response. Drew wouldn’t reveal the name of the individual or the names of anyone he has interviewed for the position. The Journal Times has learned, though, that Drew has interviewed Jim Cleamons, who has extensive coaching experience including being Phil Jackson’s assistant with the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers. Drew has also interviewed Dean Demopoulos, another respected longtime coach, who most recently assisted Vinny Del Negro with the Los Angeles Clippers.
Cleamons: Believe you me, traveling on a charter is a lot easier. Traveling in those days was pretty horrendous. Don’t get me wrong: It was better than the guys before me had. But just to show you how compacted it was: I was home by Mother’s Day that year. We had gone through all of our playoffs and the championship round and I was able to drive from Los Angeles to Columbus, Ohio, and get there prior to Mother’s Day. But I’m not trying to cry foul. Each team can only do the best they can do what with what’s in front of them. … Once we got past the record — Milwaukee had it before us with 18 (wins in a row) or 20 or whatever it was — every game we won we were setting a new record. So we were really able to enjoy it. We weren’t trying to catch anybody. We were just taking care of our business.
Q: Which of the two records will last longer? The 33-game winning streak or the Bulls’ 72-10 season? Jim Cleamons: I’ve got two things out there I’ve been a part of that I think are going to live for a while. Obviously the 33 in a row has been out there for a while, but the 72-10 … that one might go on for a really long while. That 33 is not a cakewalk, as time begins to testify for me. But 72-10 … it’s going to take a real juggernaut to top that one.
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Q: How much did you celebrate when Miami fell short? Jim Cleamons: Nah, nah, nah. I give them credit. They had a lot of stamina. A lot of heart. And I know they will appreciate what the ’71-72 team did, because you’ve got to be lucky and good to do that. Their 27 [wins], I take my hat off to ’em. And if they would have gotten to 33 or 34, I would have taken my hat off to ’em then. Sooner or later, one of these days, somebody’s gonna get it. But 33 … it’s gonna roll on for another year.
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Jackson, according to a source who knows him well, is in good shape after having a knee replacement last March. The likelihood is that if Jackson returns to coach, he’d want to bring back many of his longtime assistants, including Jim Cleamons, Frank Hamblen and Kurt Rambis. Most observers around the league think it would be easy for the team’s current personnel that weren’t in Los Angeles when Jackson last coached the Lakers to pick up the triangle offense Jackson has used since his days in Chicago in the 1990s. The offense would be especially good for Howard, who could thrive in the low post the same way Shaquille O’Neal did when the Lakers won three straight titles from 2001 through 2003.
Within a one-year span, Jim Cleamons went from serving as an assistant to the NBA’s most accomplished coach in Phil Jackson to suddenly looking for work. He spent this summer coaching Zhejiang Guangsha of the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA), but he doesn’t plan on returning. “One of the reasons the Chinese job was intriguing to me is the season is over with and I have this opportunity to look, secure and interview maybe at the collegiate level,” said Cleamons, who coached former New York Knicks forward Wilson Chandler. “I’m still hopeful and optimistic that may happen.”
That skepticism appears to be based on the failure of coaches other than Jackson to implement his offense of intricate team play. Jackson’s assistants — Jim Cleamons (with the Mavericks from 1996-98) and Kurt Rambis (with the Timberwolves from 2009-11) — tried and failed to install it elsewhere. “I interviewed Brian four years ago and we talked about that,” Bird said. “He said, ‘I like the triangle, it’s great, but you’ve got to have the right players to run it. I would use part of it, but it’s according to the talent that we have. You’ve got to have the right guys.’ “
Former Los Angeles Lakers’ assistant coach Jim Cleamons had been hired by the Zhejiang Guangsha of the Chinese Basketball Association league (CBA) on Sunday, local reports said. Guangsha’s general manager Ye Xiangyu told media that Cleamons had arrived in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, on Saturday. “There were several offers from teams of the National Basketball Association (NBA), but Mr. Cleamons finally chose the Guangsha,” Ye said.