For someone like Juwan Howard Jr., summer league is a chance to experience his dream job.
Same goes for his dad.
Juwan Howard played 19 seasons in the NBA, but this summer he’s been a rookie again. Howard, the Miami Heat assistant coach, is serving as the team’s head coach for summer league – a job that comes with long hours, little sleep and a chance to learn what it really means to oversee a roster.
“My goal is to get better and better as a coach,” said Howard, whose son of the same name is also on the Heat summer roster. “This is my first time being a head coach at summer league. I’m happy that I had two years experience as an assistant so I had an idea as far as what it would be like … but I want to be the most well-prepared coach as I grow, year after year until I get my chance.”
Such is the quest for plenty of people who were on the sidelines in Orlando and Salt Lake City, and now in Las Vegas this summer. Everyone is getting experience in this hectic few weeks of games – that goes for players, referees and coaches, many of whom are hoping that what they do now might eventually get them into the NBA job they want.
“This is an experience you can’t really get during the regular season,” said Utah assistant Johnnie Bryant, the Jazz summer league coach. “You can go work camps and it’s kind of not really real, per se. To have NBA referees, to have NBA fans in the building, NBA players out there on the floor – there’s no better experience than actually coaching summer league.”
The vast majority of summer league head coaches are assistants in the NBA. Some have been college head coaches, like Detroit’s Bob Beyer, the former boss at Siena. Sacramento coach Dave Joerger coached the Kings’ first games in Las Vegas before handing off the proverbial clipboard to move into more of an overseeing role, and newly hired Los Angeles Lakers coach Luke Walton has been on his team’s summer sideline as well. San Antonio’s Becky Hammon made headlines last summer for being a female coach, and then she guided the Spurs to a title.
There is also something to the notion that when someone like Howard speaks, guys who are on summer rosters and looking for jobs will listen. Howard doesn’t need to be working; he signed contracts worth more than $150 million in his playing career, and the guys on Miami’s summer team are more than a little aware of who is taking time to teach them the nuance of the game.
“He’s new to head-coaching,” Heat guard Josh Richardson said. “But when he says something, you know he’s been through it. When I got drafted by Miami he was the example they would use as a professional. So his credibility, you can’t question it.”
Howard wasn’t the only coach with an elite-playing pedigree this summer. Basketball Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing – a longtime NBA assistant who has been a candidate for bigger jobs several times in recent years – was Charlotte’s summer-league coach again, as he continues to wait for that opportunity to one day be a head coach for real.
“I use every day to develop myself as a coach. Right now I’m the head coach, so that feels good,” Ewing said. “It’s all about learning. I keep on learning. I try to learn every day, with every chance I get, and just try to be the best coach that I possibly can be.”
Howard can totally relate.
He could be golfing or relaxing this summer. Instead he slept through July 4 fireworks that were going on not far from his window in Orlando because he had been up most of the night before working on sets and out-of-bounds plays, and confessed that it’s not uncommon for him to get only about four hours of sleep a night because his mind is spinning.
“I love basketball,” Howard said. “This is a passion of mine, from the time I was in sixth grade. I feel like this is my calling. I always said when I was done playing that I wanted to stay around the game. And before I arrived in Miami I always said front office, front office, front office. That might be something I explore later on, but for now I want to be in the trenches with this organization. I want to be a coach.”
AP Sports Writer Kareem Copeland in Salt Lake City contributed to this report.