Steadying force

New Cavs coach about substance, not style

Posted: Wednesday, June 25, 2003

The new coach of the Cavaliers looks you right in the eye. He listens to your questions. He is a huge man, at 6-foot-7 and at least 250 pounds, who doesn't seem very comfortable sitting behind a desk.

He's a pure basketball coach.

He is not about clothing contracts or radio shows. He's not interested in dressing for success. On this warm Tuesday afternoon, he wears an informal coaching shirt with a collar, a pair of shorts and sandals.

He just came from working out. First, with players Darius Miles and Chris Mihm. Then from sweating a little of his own in the weight room.

Paul Silas will be 60 in July. He has been married to Carolyn for 36 years. He likes to make macaroni and cheese. He is as normal as anyone you'll find in the hyper-pressurized world of NBA coaching.

In many ways, he is like former Cavaliers Coach Lenny Wilkens - he is exactly how he seems. He has a certain peace about himself, a sense that he has been called to coach and the confidence to know he can do it well.

"I'm not a holler guy, but I can get volatile when it's necessary," he said. "I might be a little more emotional than Lenny, but I appreciate that comparison. He's a great coach who has won more games than anyone else. I played with him and then I played for him. I have tremendous respect for Lenny."

Wilkens was the coach during the Cavaliers' last good run in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Like Wilkens, Silas understands players win games. And like Wilkens, he knows it's best for a pro coach to stay in the media background, to let the lights of praise illuminate the players whom he hopes to develop into stars.

That's why he targeted the Cavaliers after being fired from New Orleans at the end of the season - despite winning records in all five of his seasons and trips to the playoffs in the last four years.

"I can see a team on the way up," he said. "I wanted this job even before I knew where they'd draft. Even with the No. 5 pick, they still would get a good player and they still have a lot of potential on the roster."

It's also a group that was 17-65 last season, a team that has chewed up four coaches in the last five years. It's a franchise in search of someone like Silas, the former rock of a no-nonsense power forward who earned respect by the sweat of his brow, the angle of his elbows and the sheer will to snare every rebound during his 16 NBA seasons. He'll leave the headlines and sound bites to someone else.

It's time the Cavaliers hired a proven, experienced coach who commands immediate respect from the players simply by walking into the dressing room, especially with young phenom LeBron James officially being drafted by the team Thursday night.

A new challenge

Silas obviously loves the idea of coaching James, but he wisely preaches patience. He says he likes James' willingness to listen and consider advice. He shakes his head at the thought of an 18-year-old who is worth more than $100 million before lacing up his shoes for his first NBA practice.

"There has never been anything like this," said Silas. "But I don't care about the money. I care about LeBron's heart. Does he want to improve? Does he want to win? So far, I like what I see and hear."

Silas stresses the team leaders will be Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Ricky Davis.

"We need to build around them," he said. "We also need a veteran point guard."

Silas mentioned no names, but the Cavs have talked to Philadelphia about 30-year-old Eric Snow. No deal appears close, as Philadelphia has some other things it's working on during the draft.

But the two teams are expected to talk again next week.

Also on the Cavs' list is Antonio Daniels, the veteran free agent whose last stop was Portland.

"We're going to give LeBron a chance to handle the ball a lot," he said. "I'm not sure what position he'll eventually play, but we will look at him as a point in the summer league."

Silas might consider James as a shooting guard. He says he'd like Ricky Davis to play small forward. He believes Dajuan Wagner also can play in the backcourt. Juneau-Douglas High School alumnus Carlos Boozer Jr. is looking to build on his successful rookie year at forward.

"There's a lot to sort out and I just got here," Silas said. "I need time."

Silas knows enough to know what he doesn't know - and wise enough not to make any promises or write any impression in ink at this early stage.

"I'm a coach who talks to players and I want to hear what's on their mind," he said. "I'm not just my way or the highway, but in the end, I'll do what I think is right."

Defense, shot selection

What's right to Silas?

"We will defend," he said. "That may be new to some of these guys, and it may take time for them to understand what I want - but we will work hard and we will get better defensively."

What else?

"We will take better shots," he said. "We will work on good shot selection, which has not been a high priority for some of these guys. But they will learn they can't just jack up any shot they want."

Anything else?

"We will rebound," he said. "We will develop toughness."

In his final season with New Orleans, his team led the NBA in rebounding, was fifth in defense and 19th in scoring.

"We are going to run," he said. "With a team like ours, we have to run. I want to see LeBron in the middle with the ball while Ricky (Davis) and Darius (Miles) are on the wings for a fast break. But we've got to learn what it takes to play that way."

Which begins with stopping the other team and getting the rebound.

"This will take time, and we'll probably struggle early," he said. "But my teams have always played better in the second half of the season. We tend to grow together."

And don't be surprised if a steady dose of Silas grows on you.

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