PHOENIX — As much as the NBA Summer League has become a stage to develop and evaluate young talent, it has also become a proving ground for aspiring and first-year head coaches.
It’s where Tom Thibodeau cut his teeth before eventually landing the Chicago Bulls job.
It’s where Jeff Hornacek and Jason Kidd received on-the-job training ahead of their initial seasons as the head guy in Phoenix and Brooklyn, respectively.
And it’s where Steve Kerr and Derek Fisher will get their first taste of coaching when they lead Golden State and New York, respectively, in the 2014 NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, which gets underway on Friday.
Assistant Mike Longabardi, fresh off his first season with the Suns, would like to add his name to that list and hopes another summer on the sidelines in the desert gets him closer to fulfilling that dream.
Longabardi will coach the Suns Summer League team in Las Vegas.
“Selfishly, yes, I want to be a head coach one day,” he said. “If the opportunity happens, great; if not, if I can stay here and be Jeff’s assistant forever. That wouldn’t be such a bad thing either.”
The Suns play their first game against Golden State on Saturday.
“I’m taking it very seriously,” Longabardi said. “We prepared. We put the time in, the entire staff (Corey Gaines, Irv Roland and Nate Bjorkgren). The players have done a great job and hopefully we’ll be competitive and be in every game and try to win, which is what we really want to do.”
Last summer, under Hornacek’s direction, the Suns went 6-1 and advanced to the inaugural NBA Summer League Championship game.
In other words, the bar has been set pretty high for Longabardi.
“Last year’s roster in summer league had nine guys that played in the NBA this past season,” he said smiling. “This year, I don’t think we’re going to have nine. Hopefully, the expectations will be lowered because of that.”
The 12-man roster includes holdovers Archie Goodwin, Alex Len, Miles Plumlee and Dionte Christmas, draft picks T.J. Warren, Tyler Ennis and Alec Brown, undrafted rookies Taylor Braun and David Stockton, plus free agent signees Seth Curry, Elias Harris and Alex Oriakhi, the team’s 2013 second-round pick.
“(Longabardi is) a competitive guy,” Goodwin said, before breaking into a smile and adding, “He’s little so he has little man syndrome. It’s cool though because he competes and the competitive fire, I feel like, will rub off on us, too.”
Longabardi is entering his 12th year in the NBA. This will be his ninth summer league appearance and second stint as head coach. He went 2-3 with Boston in 2009, a record he explained by saying, while smiling, “We got decimated by injuries.”
Longabardi, again, wants what every assistant wants, to sit in the lead chair.
“It’s a lot. You got to go over every situation and you’re thinking both ends of the floor,” he said of the head coach’s role. “My responsibility here mainly has been defense, but now I got to think offense and be prepared for every type of situation, whether it’s a jump ball, a free throw block out, a baseline out of bounds, short clock.
“Unfortunately, this year our season ended early, but I had a lot of time to prepare so that’s been probably the only bonus.”