Thursday, September 20, 2012

Kevin Ollie Helped Mentor a Young LeBron James

Howie Dickenman was recently quoted in some media outlets saying that Kevin Ollie was signed by both Cleveland (in 2003) and Oklahoma City (2009) to help mentor LeBron James and Kevin Durant, respectively, early in their careers.

Dickenman is a Jim Calhoun disciple, however, which means statements like this can sometimes be ... well, a bit of an embellishment.

I put in some calls to people who were with the Cavs and Thunder at the time, and while I haven't heard back from anyone with the Thunder, I did get to talk to Jim Paxson, the former NBA all-star who was Cleveland's GM when it signed Ollie to a five-year (yes, five-year), $15 million deal.

It's really been the only long-term deal Ollie has signed (including now, of course, what with his one-year deal at UConn).

“I think for him,” recalled Paxson, “it just gave him more motivation to prove he deserved that.”

Hard to believe Ollie won't have the same motivation now at UConn.

Anyway, turns out Paxson did sign Ollie with the expressed desire to help mentor and tutor LeBron. Here's some of what he had to say:

“We thought he could come in and be a bridge for us at the point guard position,” Paxson recalled, “and also be a good influence on our younger players, the primary one being LeBron.”

And what made Paxson believe Ollie would be a good influence on King James?

“I just think his professionalism and approach to the game is what players followed,” he said. “Even though LeBron was a great player when he first came in the league, along the way, in my first couple of years around him and even after that, (LeBron) was always looking for veterans in the league that did it the right way. Kevin had a good approach with LeBron and other young players – being a professional, showing it on a day-to-day basis that you’ve got to show up, work on your game, work on your body.”

Ollie played all 82 games that season, the only time in his NBA career he ever did so. He only started seven times, however, and averaged a mere 17.1 minutes per game as he never quite fit in with coach Paul Silas, who was in his first year at the helm.

Interestingly, when Ollie went through spells of little playing time, he was picked up by some of the very same guys he was signed to help mentor.

“When at times he didn’t get to play a lot, LeBron and the guys kind of rallied around him and kept his spirits up, too,” Paxson recalled. “They appreciated how he came to work every day, how he was still trying to help them. He helped pick up some young guys, and was also picked up by them because of the type of person he was.”

Paxson always believed Ollie had the potential to be a head coach someday.

“It was more based on some of the conversations I would have had with him,” Paxson said. “He was looking at the game as a team, what was best for the team. You just kind of had that feeling that, if he wanted to pursue that and follow that path, he had the right demeanor and way about him and would have a chance to have some success.”

While Paxson has faith Ollie can handle the job, he knows it won’t be easy.

“At any level, when you move over from the assistant’s chair to the head coaching chair, you have to make the final decisions – whether to substitute, take timeouts, etc.,” he noted. “The pace and flow of the game is a little different than when you’re sitting there as an assistant.

“But I think he will relate well to the players and find a way to get the most out of them.”

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