Each weekend Half Smokes Heroes will pay some respect to a group or individual flying under the radar who has gone above and beyond the call of duty during the week.
Despite a close loss in their final game, the Wizards had an outstanding performance in the Vegas Summer League. John Wall showed why he was the top pick in the draft. JaVale McGee improved by leaps and bounds over his inconsistent performances in the first two years in the Summer League. Trevor Booker and Hamady N'Diaye improved as the week went on, and Cartier Martin and Lester Hudson put together strong cases to earn an invite to training camp this fall.
All the players deserve credit for bringing their A-game at a time when they could have wasted time seeing the sights in Vegas, but let's also give some props to Sam Cassell, who led the coaching effort for the Summer League team.
When Flip Saunders was hired to coach the Wizards last season, Cassell was one of the first hires he made for his coaching staff. Fresh off of announcing his retirement, Cassell brought championship experience from his time in Houston and Boston. On a team where only three players have only played in the second round of the NBA Playoffs (Gilbert Arenas, Kirk Hinrich and Hilton Armstrong) his presence is invaluable.
Though its never been stated publically, I believe there's an understanding that Cassell was brought on the staff in the hopes of grooming him into an NBA head coach someday. Typically, the players who end up making the best coaches are savvy, veteran role players who are forced to play the game in different roles, which broadens their perspective of the game. Sam Cassell fits that mold and would follow in the footsteps of coaches like Phil Jackson, Scott Skiles, Avery Johnson, Byron Scott, Jerry Sloan, Don Nelson and Nate McMillan among others who have made the transition from gritty role player to successful head coach.
If the hopes are indeed to groom Cassell into an NBA head coach someday, then you have to be impressed with his first foray in coaching NBA-caliber players. True, he didn't have to install much of an offense or defense, and yes, he had arguably the best player on the floor in Vegas, but still, there's a lot to be impressed with after his first head coaching performance. He kept his team in line, they executed well, avoided under-performing and he was able to integrate players into a cohesive unit on short notice. That's what good coaches do.
For passing his first coaching test with flying colors, and preparing the Wizards' youngsters for life in the NBA, we give Sam Cassell this week's Half Smokes Heroes award.