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Coaches' Roundtable: How do coaches earn the trust of superstar players?

Coaches' Roundtable: How do coaches earn the trust of superstar players?

NBC Sports Washington brought together local coaches Ron Rivera (Washington football), Todd Reirden (Capitals), Scott Brooks (Wizards) and Mike Thibault (Mystics) to discuss the intricacies of their craft in a free-wheeling discussion hosted by Julie Donaldson. We present six days highlighting different themes of their conversation - experiences, stories and lessons shared from careers in coaching. To watch the full roundtable, click here.  

One of the most important jobs of a head coach of a professional sports team is to build trust with players. This isn’t the pee-wees where coaches are teaching you how to play the game. A head coach must bring several professional men or women together and convince them that he can make that team successful. It’s about selling yourself to the team as much as it is leading it.
 
This is a task coaches like Scott Brooks and Todd Reirden know all too well.
 
Brooks took over as head coach of the Washington Wizards in 2016. Reirden, meanwhile, was promoted from associate coach to head coach after Barry Trotz resigned in the wake of the Capitals' Stanley Cup championship in 2018. Both coaches joined host Julie Donaldson along with Washington football head coach Ron Rivera and Washington Mystics head coach Mike Thibault in NBC Sports Washington’s Coaches' Roundtable.
 
Brooks inherited a team with two superstars in John Wall and Bradley Beal and immediately went about the task of teaching them how good the Wizards could be if those premier talents worked within the team’s structure. But that took work. 
 
“When you have superstar players, you have to form a relationship with them and have them have a good understanding that you need your teammates to help you even become even better of a superstar,” Brooks said. “I’ve always believed in good role players. If you can make them superstars in their roles, and I think the star players and the coaches can do that and allow that to happen, that makes the star players even better. It makes your team better. ... When they understand that your team has a chance to be special."
 
Brooks has now been the head coach in Washington for four seasons, leading the team to the playoffs twice. The Wizards did manage to make the cut for the resumption of the 2020 NBA season on July 30, so Brooks still has a chance to make it three out of four.
 
Reirden also inherited a talented roster with players like Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. The Capitals were coming off a Stanley Cup championship when he took over, of course, and he had been with those same players since 2014 so his task was unique. He already had established relationships.

COACHES' ROUNDTABLE: WATCH THE FULL DISCUSSION WITH COACH BROOKS, REIRDEN, RIVERA AND THIBAULT
 
“I thought the real challenge for me coming in and taking over the defending champion was to be able to relate to that and find different strategies,” Reirden said.
 
Reirden was with the Capitals as an assistant coach for four years under Trotz coaching the team’s defensemen. Now in his second season as head coach, Reirden has led the Caps to two Metropolitan Division titles and the team will be among the top four seeds in the Eastern Conference when the NHL’s season pause ends on Aug. 1. 
 
As a member of Trotz’s staff, Reirden knew the players already. Building the same level of trust with those players that Trotz had while convincing them that he, too, could lead them to the NHL mountaintop, however, remains was an unenviable task.

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“It was going to be a tough act to follow,” Reirden said.
 
But in many ways, that relationship with Trotz helped Reirden. In fact, much of Reirden’s preparation in taking over was learning from his own coaches.
 
“I think trust from players, it comes from honesty and as a player, I was fortunate enough to play for a coach by the name of Joel Quenneville, who is the second-winningest coach in the NHL history,” Reirden said of the current Florida Panthers coach who led the Chicago Blackhawks to three Stanley Cups last decade. “What he taught me as a player, and I didn’t always like to hear it, but it was honest evaluation of my game. And some days were some pretty long drives back to my apartment. I may have even shed a tear after some of the things he said to me. But at least I knew where I stood, and it allowed me to focus on what I needed to do to improve.”
 
That is a philosophy Brooks shares with Reirden after a discussion he once had with legendary UCLA men's basketball coach John Wooden.
 
“I remember middle of my career, like in the middle of the 90s, I knew I wanted to get into coaching, so I had a meeting with Coach Wooden and it was the most surreal experience I've ever had,” Brooks said. “It was like a biblical figure. It’s like John Wooden. You've heard so much about fundamentals, so much about pyramids, so much about the first thing he taught his players, how to tie his shoe and put the shoes on so it wouldn't cause blisters. And I just remember one thing, one word that really just stood out, and he said 'honesty'. You want to be a good coach? Be honest with your players. And some of the tough conversations that I had with players or some of the tough conversations that coaches had with me and honesty was so important.”
 
Brooks added, “Sometimes you kind of want a little bit of a half-truth and the reason why you didn't play was because you couldn't guard anybody and you couldn't pass in positions. But you want honesty, and I think that helps gain your players’ trust.”
 
On the one hand, what is Brooks going to be able to teach Wall or Beal about the game of basketball that they don’t already know? What could Reirden possibly have to tell Ovechkin about scoring goals? They most want to be put in a position to succeed. 
 
As great as those players are, however, they can’t have that success without the team and both coaches agreed it takes that honesty to build up a player’s trust enough that they are willing to listen and play how they are coached. But that is a goal more realistic with buy-in from the top players. If they believe, their teammates will follow, too. 
 
“You cannot fake genuineness to the players and passion and the desire,” Reirden said. “They know whether you're trying to make them better, trying to make our team better. They know whether you're all in or not. They see right through you and I think that it's best to wear your passion on your sleeve and show up with a great game plan that involves everybody, involves your full team. Because none of us are winning without having a team in our sport.”

To watch the full Coaches' Roundtable with Coach Brooks, Coach Reirden, Coach Rivera and Coach Thibault, click here.

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New York Rangers land No. 1 pick in 2020 NHL Draft Lottery

New York Rangers land No. 1 pick in 2020 NHL Draft Lottery

Just a few days ago, the New York Rangers were competing for a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Now, they are the owners of the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft.

New York landed the first pick during Phase 2 of the 2020 NHL Draft Lottery on Monday, as they were the lucky team to have their ping pong ball sitting at the top of the order. 

The league switched it up this season, as teams that fell in the qualifying round of the NHL restart were all eligible for the first pick. This was decided during Phase 1 of the NHL Draft Lottery when "Team E" ended up in the top spot. Here's how the draft shakes out now, before other teams are added after playoff results:

  1. New York Rangers
  2. Los Angeles Kings
  3. Ottawa Senators (from San Jose)
  4. Detroit Red Wings
  5. Ottawa Senators
  6. Anaheim Ducks
  7. New Jersey Devils
  8. Buffalo Sabres
  9. Minnesota Wild
  10. Winnipeg Jets
  11. Nashville Predators
  12. Florida Panthers
  13. Carolina Hurricanes (from Toronto)
  14. Edmonton Oilers
  15. Pittsburgh Penguins (optional to Minnesota)

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There was an interesting moment leading up to the selection, as the ball with the Rangers logo was dropped prematurely before commissioner Gary Bettman was able to confirm that it was the correct ping pong ball. Twitter immediately went into conspiracy mode, given that the Rangers had the second pick last year, but the fact of the matter is New York is now on the clock.

For the Rangers, that most likely means the addition of Alexis Lafrenière, an 18-year-old Canadien winger who is considered to be the bell of this year's ball. While Lafrenière is certainly talented, he's not yet viewed as a franchise-altering selection such as Alexander Ovechkin or Sidney Crosby.

Still, there is reason for excitement in New York. A team that contended for a playoff spot in 2020 will now add another important piece for next season. 2019 first-round pick Kaapo Kakko, who struggled at times during his rookie season, is another talented scorer that carries lofty expectations. On paper, the future is bright for the Rangers.

However, dominating the lottery doesn't guarantee instant success. Dating back to 2015 when phenom Connor McDavid was selected by the Edmonton Oilers, the owner of the No. 1 pick has only made it past the first round of the playoffs once. That includes the New Jersey Devils, who have picked first overall in two of the last three years.

In terms of how this impacts the Capitals, it does potentially make Washington's matchups with the Rangers more challenging in the future. It's never ideal to see a division foe pick up another talented individual. Yet, the Rangers winning the lottery means the Pittsburgh Penguins, who were eligible, did not. That's always good news for the Capitals.

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Capitals could sit Lars Eller even if he is cleared in time for Game 1 against the Islanders

Capitals could sit Lars Eller even if he is cleared in time for Game 1 against the Islanders

The Capitals may be without forward Lars Eller in Wednesday's Game 1 against the New York Islanders even if he is cleared by the NHL in time to play. That was the thought of head coach Todd Reirden on Monday who expressed he would have to make a decision to avoid any possible injury that could keep him out longer.

Eller left the bubble in Toronto for the birth of his second child. He is now back in Toronto under quarantine in his room and cannot leave until he tests negative four times over a four-day period, per NHL protocols. It is unclear when Eller took his first test. If it was Monday, he will not be ready in time for Wednesday's game. If it was on Sunday, there's a chance he could be cleared to play by Wednesday.

"The NHL will be the ones that decide that, have the overall final call on it," Reirden said.

But even if Eller just manages to clear before the 3 p.m. game time on Wednesday, there's a chance he still may not play.

While under quarantine, Eller is not allowed to leave his hotel room at all.

"He’s not allowed to leave his hotel room, so he hasn’t been doing any exercise outside of his room and until we’re told differently that will be how it is," Reirden said.

That could be a problem.

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Eller first left the bubble on Aug. 5. By Wednesday, he will have gone a week without being on the ice or being able to exercise, beyond whatever he can do in his room. Typically in these situations, players get a practice in before getting back into the game lineup and Reirden made it clear on Monday that he may have to consider sitting Eller for Game 1 to prevent any sort of injury after missing a week.

“I think it’s something you have to consider is the player hasn’t been on the ice," Reirden said. "He obviously plays a huge role on our team and if you remember a few years ago the success and kind of the X factor that he was for our team when we won against Vegas. So I think it’s important that we handle this situation and make the proper the decision to give this player the best chance to be able to, if it’s not Game 1, then he’s ready to go for Game 2 and he’s as close to healthy in terms of conditioning-wise, he’s ready to go on the ice and be able to add the things he can add and do it safely so that we can have him for an extended time here in this playoffs because he is definitely a big factor in our team success.”

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If Eller is out, Travis Boyd will likely play in his place. Boyd centered the third line in Eller's absence in the last two round robin games.

Luckily, that is the only real question mark down the middle for Washington. Nicklas Backstrom, who missed a practice last week but played against the Boston Bruins on Sunday, said Monday that he had "no concerns" in terms of his status heading into the playoffs.

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