When the 2013-14 NBA campaign concludes for the Portland Trail Blazers, the 13-year NBA veteran point guard, Earl Watson, will have a difficult decision to ponder: Does he try for one more year of playing or enter the NBA coaching profession?
Just last offseason, according to a league source, Watson turned down an offer to be an assistant coach for a Western Conference team. He ultimately decided he still had something left in the tank. At the current moment, Watson, 34, will continue playing both roles for the Trail Blazers – coach and player.
Youngsters, Will Barton and Thomas Robinson, refer to the vet as the player-coach of the squad and credits him for keeping their minds right when buried in frustration over lack of playing time.
“He’s the one guy that I know that’s going to keep things in perspective,” Barton said. “He has a calming influence. When you’re young in this league, it’s good to have a veteran who has been down that road already. You can respect that, knowing he’s trying to help you out.”
He’s watching over the youngsters and the Trail Blazers’ coaching staff is watching over him. During games, you’ll notice Watson sits right next to the coaches on the bench. Every single game, he’s parked next to the assistants as he picks their brains, asks questions, talks strategies, and makes suggestions.
Knowing the career path Watson is headed for, the coaching staff, consisting of Head Coach Terry Stotts and his assistants Jay Triano, David Vanterpool, Nate Tibbetts, Kim Hughes, and Dale Osbourne, have taken it upon themselves to make sure they inject as much of their coaching knowledge into Watson before he’s out roaming the sidelines in a three-piece suit.
“This coaching staff has helped me the most out of any other staff I’ve been around as far as preparing me to one day become a head coach in this league,” Watson told CSNNW.com. “I don’t have a coaching title, but the staff stays on me, challenging me, quizzing me, testing me. They are helping me out a lot.”
What goes around comes around. Watson mentors the youngsters and the coaches mentor him.
“Just how I’m giving back to the young players, the coaching staff is giving back to the young, potential coaches. It’s a cycle of preparing each other for life and this profession,” he said.
If he does decide to retire during the upcoming offseason and is offered a head-coaching gig, the first call he’s going to make is to Hall-of-Fame coach Hubie Brown, offering him a job as his lead assistant.
Brown, 80, hasn’t coached since the 2004-05 NBA season and he is currently an accomplished color analyst for ESPN and ABC. Watson, who gets with Brown every summer to steal some plays, believes he’ll have a shot at luring Brown away from the television camera.
“I think I can get him out [of retirement]” Watson said. “Just to help me through that first year would be huge. I love him and he loves me.”
That love wasn’t always two-sided. Watson recalls Brown verbally challenging him on the regular during his time in Memphis, in which was merely his second year in the league.It became so toxic in Watson’s mind that he approached Jerry West, the team’s general manager at the time, and demanded a trade. Realizing the important role Watson played as the team’s young, backup point guard, West did his best to defuse the situation.
As a matter of fact, he completely talked Watson out of it.
“If you sold Jerry West some water, he knows how to sell it back to you. Then you’re like, ‘What just happened?’ That’s how smooth he was,” Watson said. “But he kept me calm and explained that it was something that I needed at the time. He was so right. I’m glad I stayed. I wouldn’t be the person I am today if it wasn’t for Coach Brown.”
Coach Brown was of great influence on Watson, but Legendary UCLA coach, John Wooden, is the most influential individual outside of his mother and father.
Watson carries Wooden’s philosophy of love, nurture and teach after being a disciple of Wooden and becoming a believer in his motto. After seeing proof of the motto, love, nurture, and teach is what Watson lives by and will incorporate in his coaching philosophy in the future.
During his time as a Bruin, Watson soaked up whatever came out of Wooden’s mouth. He has been fortunate enough in his basketball career to be amongst some of the greatest basketball minds you could imagine.
But most importantly, these coaches were greater people who wanted their players to be successful in life, believing it would translate to on-the-court success.
“What I’ve learned from Coach Wooden, Jerry Sloan and Hubie Brown is that we can teach kids how to become better basketball players, but we got to somehow relate it to life, accountability, being men, fathers and husbands,” he said. “That’s bigger than a game. I’m not big on using people. I want players to make it in life, not just basketball. You can teach the game of basketball by teaching the game of life. You correlate the two.
“I’d often converse with Coach Wooden about life and before I knew it, I would learn everything I needed to know on how to become a better leader on and off the court. I’ll say ‘Man, coach, how did you do that?’ And he’ll just wink at me. I’ve been blessed to be around great coaches.”
Whatever path Watson chooses over the summer, will have to wait until he spends some quality time with his daughter, who lives in Los Angeles, Calif. He doesn’t get to see her as often as he’d like during the season, but is diligent and committed to making up for it in the off-season.
And when it comes to that crucial decision he’ll face that’s drawing near, he says he’ll deal with it when the time comes.
“Right now, I’m focused on helping the Trail Blazers and doing what I can to assist,” Watson said. “I’m a player right now and my mind is on that. When the summer comes, I’ll tend to it then. But it does feel good to know you could have options.”
He most definitely will.