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Saturday, September 26, 2009

Interview With Dallas Mavericks' Assistant Coach Del Harris

This interview was originally published at Suite101.com on April 11, 2005.

Del Harris, the NBA Coach of the Year in 1994-95, won 556 games in 14 seasons as an NBA head coach. He guided the Houston Rockets to the NBA Finals in 1981, his second season as an NBA head coach. Harris later led the Milwaukee Bucks to the playoffs for four straight seasons (1988-1991) even though the Bucks were decimated by injuries during that time. Harris worked as a consultant for the Sacramento Kings before becoming head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers in 1994-95. He is the second Los Angeles Lakers' coach (Pat Riley was the first) to win 50 games in three consecutive seasons, including a 61-21 mark in 1997-98, his last full season with the team.

Friedman: "What approach do you take as a coaching staff heading into the postseason?"

Harris: "It's preparation for the opponent, to be ready on both ends of the court--to have studied them well enough that you know what they do best so that you can try to restrict the few things that they really excel at and then identifying the areas where you think that you can capitalize against their defense. It's really all about preparation when it comes to a seven game series, so it's different than the regular season. In regular season play you are more focused on trying to develop a system of play--a style of play on both ends of the court that players can feel comfortable with night in and night out. You don't want to get so specific on Friday that you play that game one way and then specific again on Saturday to play a different way. But in the playoffs you use that base that you formed to adjust from, so that you have a core of stuff that you really can do well--your style, your system--but then you develop the ability to keep true to that, yet to adjust here and there from it to suit the particular opponent that you will face in the playoff series."

Friedman: "Is that a process that you can start now? You don't know exactly which team you will be playing, but you can narrow it down to two or three by looking at the standings. Do you start the process now of looking at DVD and focusing on particular teams or is the focus now still on that general process of winning regular season games?"

Harris: "Our seeding won't change but we don't know who we're going to play (because other teams could move up or down). It could be any one of literally four teams. Because of the change (Avery Johnson taking over as head coach for Don Nelson), we're still trying to cement in our adjusted style. We're playing a little bit differently than we did prior to Avery taking over. We have not had two of our most important ingredients--our starting center, Erick Dampier, and our leading sixth man, Jerry Stackhouse--for over a month. Each of them is playing right now on about a 15 minute string, but we hope that sometime next week we can get them back in (for their regular minutes). Our final ten games will be used to really cement in our style. We won't worry about who we play until right at the end. We're probably not going to play (the first playoff game) until Sunday (April 24) and we'll find out who we play on Wednesday (April 20), so that gives us enough time to make those adjustments because we already know that whoever we play, we have a pretty good idea of their game because we have played them four times already. But this is a critical time for us and we have to make valuable use of the games and practices to integrate our new players into the adjusted style that we have."

Friedman: "Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki were such an incredible tandem when they played together. What do you think the reason is that now that they are on different teams they are both having career seasons?"

Harris: "In Steve's case he has a better group of players to fit his style, to run with him. We didn't have the same kind of athletes to run with him that Phoenix has. When you look at Stoudemire, Marion, Richardson, Johnson, this is like going to a race track. We had different kinds of players--we had very good players or we wouldn't have been winning 50-60 games during the years that he was here--but we didn't play that way and this (running style) really fits his game best. As for why Dirk is having a better season, in the past it was mainly Steve and Dirk working off each other and Finley fitting in there. We didn't have the overall team balance, so opponents could pretty well zero in on those three guys. Particularly if two of them were involved in a play action, they could load the defense in that direction. This year Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson were able to bring nine new players into our mix and what we now have is a team that is so much more balanced that if you load up on Dirk we've got four or five other guys who can get 20 or 30 points on you. We didn't have that before."

Friedman: "The other teams can't just assume that Nowitzki is going to get the ball in the same areas all the time and run the same pick and roll. They can't focus in on stopping one or two key plays, so that enables him to have greater individual success."

Harris: "Also, he has elevated his game on both ends of the court. He has really developed his inside game, his post game is better. He is no longer hesitant to drive the ball. He can take the ball to the basket as well as anybody. By the time the season is over he will have shot about 300 more free throws this year than he did last year. His whole style of play is so much more aggressive. Last year he depended on Steve for a lot of pick and rolls. This year he doesn't get his points off of pick and roll that much. He gets them through various play actions, posting and driving the ball. While it doesn't show up statistically, he has also elevated his defensive game to the point that he is probably our second best defensive player behind Josh Howard. The league has been slow to catch on to that, but if they observe, if they really watch, you see a very, very well rounded player in Dirk Nowitzki this year."

Friedman: "Where specifically is his improvement on defense?"

Harris: "All around--his steals, his blocked shots, his footwork one-on-one against the ball, his help side defense attacking penetrations, his pick and roll defense. There is not an area that he has not improved."

Friedman: "You mentioned that Nowitzki's free throw attempts are way up. Do you think that the rules change or the interpretation change (limiting defensive contact against perimeter players) has helped him? Obviously, he has to take advantage of it, he has to drive to benefit from it, but when he drives do you think that the way things are called differently now helps him and some other players who drive to the basket?"

Harris: "It hasn't helped Dirk as much as it helps the guards. The guards are the ones who benefit more because those calls are generally made way out in front, guard to guard. When you are down below the foul line they just seem to let you bump and grind. The fouls he gets are not those fouls (hand checking fouls on the outside). The fouls he gets are when he attacks the basket and they put him into the stands--but he just keeps coming back."

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posted by David Friedman @ 1:45 AM



At Friday, October 02, 2009 10:55:00 AM, Blogger madnice said...

I know you have seen that new Dr J book that is coming out next month by Vincent Mallozzi.

At Friday, October 02, 2009 3:19:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


From what I've seen and heard, all Mallozzi did is cobble together quotes and stories gathered and written by real authors, including Sports Illustrated's Peter Carry (whose name is misspelled "Garry" in the book).

Mallozzi used quotes that I obtained during interviews with Erving, Mike Gale, etc; one of my Erving quotes is correctly attributed to Basketball Digest--though it would have been nice if Mallozzi had mentioned my name since I did an exclusive interview with Erving--but Mallozzi does not indicate that he took the Gale quote from my HoopsHype article about Gale.

Mallozzi does not appear to have done much original thought or research; his book looks like little more than a cut and paste job--and a sloppy one at that.

At Saturday, October 03, 2009 12:11:00 AM, Anonymous Renee said...

HI Friedman,

Even though it's not related with what you wrote here, I just want to know how do you think of Q&A with Wayne Winston. It is in ESPN Truehoop on today Oct 2.

At Saturday, October 03, 2009 12:13:00 AM, Anonymous Renee said...

I mean what he said about Lakers.

At Saturday, October 03, 2009 12:44:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I don't visit True Hoop, so I have no idea what you are talking about.

At Monday, October 05, 2009 12:03:00 PM, Blogger madnice said...

TrueHoop is garbage.

So Mallozzi is a fraud. Thats lazy on his part and if true that changes me buying the book.

Heard anything about the Bird/ Magic book by McMullan?

At Monday, October 05, 2009 3:47:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


The truth about True Hoop is obvious but some people are afraid to say it because they want Henry Abbott to link to their websites, promote their work and include them in his "network," a conglomeration that appears to be Henry's attempt to corner the market on crappy NBA blogs.

I don't know if Mallozzi is a "fraud" or not but his Dr. J book is largely--if not entirely--a cut and paste job relying heavily other people's reporting/research.

I don't have any details about McMullan's book but I know that she is doing her own research; after the Hall of Fame press conference during the 2009 All-Star Weekend I stood next to her as she told Dr. J that she was working on a book about Magic and Bird. She asked Dr. J questions about the time that Erving hosted Magic at his (Erving's) house when Magic was trying to decide whether or not to enter the NBA draft.

At Tuesday, October 06, 2009 8:35:00 AM, Blogger madnice said...

McMullan does her work so I believe that book will be decent and a purchase.

Mallozzi is a fraud if he is doing a cut and paste book. He has a book Asphalt Gods about the Rucker, which also has Dr J on the cover, that now that i think about it may be similar. A great read but whose doing the work?

At Thursday, October 15, 2009 10:24:00 PM, Blogger vednam said...

I hadn't heard about the new Dr. J book by Mallozzi. I have to say, even if it is a cut and paste job, it will be nice to finally have a comprehensive biography of Dr. J available. I don't think there has been enough written about his career.

Anyway, considering the apparent shortcomings of Mallozzi's book, I'd like to urge you, as I have done before, to write a Dr. J biography. I think you would do a great job, and it is something basketball fans need.

By the way, Dr. J mentioned a forthcoming autobiography during an interview a few months ago. If I remember correctly, the interview was conducted at an event related to the closing of the Spectrum. Have you heard anything about this autobiograpy or when it will come out?

At Friday, October 16, 2009 5:14:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Based on what I know about Mallozzi's book, I doubt that it will add much to what we already know about Erving and I have no intention of paying money to someone else to read quotes that I obtained.

I certainly think that I could write a great Dr. J biography but I would not really want to do so without his active cooperation. Also, there is no point in undertaking such a project unless you have backing from a publisher who will aggressively promote the finished product. Mallozzi has great connections (New York Times, St. John's University), so he is able get backing even for his by the numbers cut and paste job.

From time to time Erving has mentioned doing an autobiography but I am not aware of him actually actively working on such a project. I used to wonder why he never formally cooperated with any biographers--he was courteous toward Marty Bell but did not actively help Bell write the Legend of Dr. J--but after some of Erving's skeletons tumbled out of his closet I suspected that he does not really want to subject his personal life to the close examination that most serious biographers would want to undertake. I actually would be glad to collaborate with Erving on a book that would focus entirely on basketball since I have no interest in delving into the details of his private life but I am not sure how many publishers would be interested in that kind of book.

Erving is a very private individual off of the court, much different from his Dr. J persona, so I find it difficult to believe at this stage that he will ever cooperate with a biographer and/or produce an autobiography; I doubt that he wants to discuss the details of the breakup of his marriage with Turquoise or the death of his son Cory.

At Friday, October 16, 2009 2:00:00 PM, Blogger vednam said...

Julius Erving mentions starting work on an autobiography this year at about 2:40 in this clip:


Writing an autobiography (rather than cooperating with someone writing a biography of him) would allow him to control what aspects of his life are discussed. So perhaps we will see an autobiography despite his private nature.

At Friday, October 16, 2009 3:38:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I had not seen that clip, so thank you for providing the link.

Certainly if Erving writes an autobiography he can control how much his personal life is discussed but I still doubt that he is going to actually write an autobiography.


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