For Barangay Ginebra’s Tim Cone, the most successful coach in PBA history, a chance to coach in the NBA Summer League is a dream come true.
“Honestly, this is like a bucket list,” Cone told reporters after the Gin Kings defeated the NLEX Road Warriors on Wednesday night. “You see from the TV or even when you go to an NBA game, you see all that stuff on the court.
And then they leave the court and you wonder, ‘what the heck is going on in that locker room? What are they talking about? What are they doing? What are they doing pregame? What are they doing postgame? How do they handle those things? Is it like us to do the same things?’
“And for the first time, I might get a small preview of what goes on in that locker room.”
Cone, who has won a record 24 PBA championships, got the opportunity after receiving an invitation from old friend and fellow champion coach Erik Spoelstra of the Miami Heat to serve as an assistant coach on the NBA franchise’s 2022 Summer League team.
“I’ve been invited to work with the Heat from the Summer League team, which starts in San Francisco and goes through Vegas,” Cone told One Sports earlier on Wednesday.
“The bottom line is I’ll be an assistant coach to their head coach, who’s going to be Malik Allen. He will coach the Summer League team. This is very humbling for me and I’m willing to go in there and do whatever it takes.”
As of now, Cone doesn’t know yet what his duties will be as an assistant coach.
“I don’t really know everything that’s going to be going on until I get there,” Cone said.
“I’ve been in some conversations. I know I’m going to be treated as one of the staff, which is really amazing. And I’m going to stay with the staff and I don’t know exactly what my duties are.
“But I I’ve been told I’m going to be an assistant coach. So whatever the assistant coach duties are, I assume I would take over.”
The 2022 NBA Summer League runs from July 2 to 17 in San Francisco, Salt Lake City and Las Vegas, starting with the California Classic to be hosted by the Golden State Warriors.
The Heat will play the Los Angeles Lakers and the Sacramento Kings before facing the hosts Warriors on July 5. After that, the Heat fly to Las Vegas to take on the Boston Celtics on July 9, the Atlanta Hawks on July 12, the Philadelphia 76ers on July 13, and the Toronto Raptors on July 15. The team can play more games if it qualifies for the knockout-format playoffs, which start on July 16.
During this stretch, Cone will miss Barangay Ginebra’s games against the Converge FiberXers, Terrafirma Dyip, TNT Tropang Giga, and Meralco Bolts. Assistant coach Richard Del Rosario will take over for the team.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for Coach Richard,” Cone said. “Nothing’s gonna change. He’s not gonna put in a whole new system when I leave.
“He’s the No. 1 adjustment coach on our team, anyway. He’s basically the guy that does the adjustments. So he’s actually more valuable than me during games.”
The NBA Summer League is a chance for teams to test their draft picks and some free agents, as well as give some playing time to their younger players, and Cone was quick to dispel any notions that he will be dealing with the Heat’s star players.
“I don’t know if the general public realizes what the summer league really is,” he said. “They think it’s me going and coaching the Miami Heat — Jimmy Butler and Tyler Herro and all those. No, it’s not that at all. Summer League is a different animal altogether.
“I’ll probably be getting a lot of coffee, and picking up laundry, and only speaking only when spoken to. But whatever they need me to do, I will do. And so that’s really the deal. It’s just a tremendous opportunity.
“And that, to me, is the most exciting, that they’re going to build a team that is going to come together. And those players do not know the system or the foundation. So the coaching staff is going to have to build that.
“So it’s something I’m going to be able to observe watching them build that foundation. So those are the things that are really exciting for me, from a coaching standpoint, and things that I hope that I can learn from and then bring back to Ginebra.”
This gig was actually in the works as early as 2020, according to Cone, but the pandemic got in the way.
“I was actually supposed to do this two years ago in 2020. But the Summer League was cancelled because of the pandemic. And then there was talk about me doing it last year. But we were just entering the playoffs at that time.”
Cone will become the second PBA coach to serve as an assistant with an NBA team in the Summer League.
Former Bolts and San Miguel Beermen assistant coach Jimmy Alapag was an assistant with the Sacramento Kings in the 2019 Summer League after being invited by then-Kings general manager Vlade Divac.
He returned in that role last year, when the Kings won the Summer League title, and was later named to the Stockton Kings coaching staff in the NBA G-League.
Like Alapag, it was a friendship with an NBA figure that led to the opportunity for Cone, who revealed the offer came up after Spoelstra himself had brought up Alapag in a recent conversation.
“I think it’s no secret that I’m a good friend of Erik Spoelstra and it’s a relationship that we’ve developed over maybe 10, 12, 15 years,” Cone explained.
“It actually all started with Jimmy Alapag. He became a guest coach with the Sacramento Kings in the Summer League, and then after the Summer League became an assistant coach with their G-League team.
“So one day I was speaking to Erik Spoelstra, and Erik said to me, ‘Hey, I heard Jimmy’s here doing something with the Sacramento Kings’ and I said ‘yeah’. And he said, ‘Why aren’t you doing that with us?’ And I go, ‘Well, I’ve never been invited’.
“But I told him I would love to do something like that one day, just to immerse myself, be a fly on the wall, go get coffee, whatever it takes.”
Summer League teams are usually handled by assistant coaches, so Cone does not expect to see Spoelstra very often.
“Erik Spoelstra does not involve himself with Summer League,” he added.
“He comes just to visit for three or four days just to say hello to the coaching staff, but he doesn’t attend the games, really, in a serious manner.
“He doesn’t sit on the bench. So the connection with Erik is not there. It’s really gonna be with Coach Allen.
“Coach Allen is a 10-year NBA vet, and he’s been an assistant coach in various NBA teams. He has been Coach Spo’s assistant coach since 2019. So I will be somehow assisting him.”
Cone also clarified that this is not a stepping stone to a bigger gig in the NBA. Once Summer League is over, he’ll be back on the PBA sidelines.
“First of all, you know, if I ever went to the NBA, it would be at the bottom and at the bottom and you work your way up. I’m not just gonna walk in and be a star coach or first assistant or whatever.
“Erik Spoelstra was a video coordinator and worked his way up to where he is now. I don’t have enough time to do that. And Coach Spo knows that I’m not interested in that.
“If I was, I think that he would not allow me to do it. This is truly a guest coaching thing. I’m not being paid. I’m coming home. Four games, I’m coming home, and I’ll be happy to get home and I’d be happy to do my own thing.”
Aside from the NBA Summer League stint, Cone will also return to the Gilas Pilipinas bench after program director Chot Reyes announced on Tuesday night that the Ginebra coach will serve as an assistant for the 2023 FIBA World Cup.