The Thunder have one of the more intriguing teams here at the Southwest Airlines Orlando Pro Summer League. They are the defending champions of the Summer League (with players returning, if that matters). They have players with deep Playoff experience working on individual skills.
That is going to be part of the Thunder’s goal this week in Orlando. That Summer League championship may not matter.
Oklahoma City also surprisingly became part of a new NBA revolution.
Shortly before Saturday’s opener against Memphis, Oklahoma City named Tulsa 66ers coach Darko Rajakovic as an assistant coach and head coach for the Summer League team. It is an incredible opportunity for the young coach.
“This is a huge honor for me,” Rajakovic said after his first game Saturday. “I appreciate the opportunity the team, Coach Brooks and Sam Presti gave me to caoch the team over here. I enjoy this group that we have and working with those guys is great stuff. I want to continue to learn and as I’m trying to teach those guys, I’m learning a lot from them as well.”
Rajakovic was the first D-League coach born outside of the U.S. and recorded a 51-49 record in two season with Tulsa. Before joining the D-League, Rajakovic was a head coach at Espacio Torrelodones in Spain. He started head coaching when he was 16 and led his team in Belgrade to Serbian championships when he was in grade school. He received his degree in coaching from his high school.
Rajakovic obviously really wanted to be a coach and is slowly gaining experience and climbing the ladder.
With David Blatt ending his Euroleague career and signing up to be the head coach of the Cavaliers, the influence of European basketball is making a final jump across the Atlantic Ocean.
Blatt has made a name for himself as perhaps the best coach in Euroleague’s brief history. The other coach you might consider for that title, Ettore Messina, has been an adviser with the Lakers and recently joined the Spurs staff. He was being considered for the open Nets position.
Of course, Blatt is an American who emigrated from the U.S. for Israel and established a coaching empire with Maccabi Tel Aviv. He certainly seems more able to relate to his players than a European coach might — culturally, at least. The basketball culture in Europe is very different and even Blatt has not had to deal with the egos that are likely present in American basketball and specifically in the NBA.
That is not to say Blatt will not be able to do the job. He should be very successful and he has a promising young roster with Kyrie Irving and Andrew Wiggins as anchors. Former players absolutely love him.
The invasion is here though when it comes to foreign-born coaches. Teams are looking for new energy and new ideas. They may need to learn the NBA game and culture some, but that is coming. If you can coach, you can coach.
Clearly the Thunder are getting in on this trend with the young Rajakovic. He will be a permanent part of their staff and has put in some good work for the Thunder’s Summer League team already.