Kaleb Canales (Getty Images)The Portland Trail Blazers are an absolute, unmitigated mess. They did well to score a likely (protected through the top three picks) lottery selection from the New Jersey Nets on Thursday, but they've also decimated their roster, lost their second franchise player of the season, all without a working general manager to oversee things. The group also fired their well-respected (if not by the team) head coach Nate McMillan. And who best to take over from here as the team's latest fall guy? A 34-year old. Makes total sense, especially when you consider that the team might end up starting a 39-year old center for the rest of the season.
Except that, for all we've read about interim head coach Kaleb Canales, it seems like the relative youngster might be the absolute perfect choice to lead this team through a proper rebuilding project. Because even at that age -- a few years older than your typical NBA blogger, 44 years younger than the guy who worked as the color analyst during Wednesday's Chicago Bulls/Miami Heat tilt -- he appears to boast a pretty significant basketball mind. His ascension has been quick, but that tends to happen when you work twice as hard. Here's a snippet from a column written about Canales when he was named Trail Blazers assistant two years ago:
Crazy, because Canales is not a former NBA player and his father is not a former NBA head coach. Nope, he got to the big time by starting his coaching career in high school at 22 and then coached college ball at 24. At 25 he landed a video internship with the Blazers and some say he hasn't slept since.
"My rookie year I caught him sleeping on the couch," said all-star guard Brandon Roy. "I was like, 'You didn't go home last night?' And he's like, 'Naw.' So he's definitely like the hardest working dude."
Canales wasn't even born when the Blazers last won an NBA title in 1977, but you know what? Some of the brightest minds in basketball weren't even born the last time the Trail Blazers won an NBA title. Some of them are on a bench in Fort Wayne, Indiana; some of them are dodging top-20 lists at Bleacher Report, and some of the will get to guide what was once a proud franchise (and hasn't been, through no fault of those injury woes, for over a decade) through an extended training camp between now and the 2012 offseason.
Joel Freeman, also back in 2010, gathered a telling quote of his own:
"His enthusiasm is amazing," Blazers forward Dante Cunningham said. "Every day he pushes you, regardless of the situation. He knows you're tired. He knows that you just put in a two-a-day the day before. He knows that you've been working hard. But he still wants more. He wants you to be better. And as a coach, I think that's a great trait. Plus, his knowledge of the game is tremendous."
Things could flame out, from here. Hard work and a big ole pile 'a gray matter won't always translate to sound communication, patience, appreciation of opposing tactics, trust in one's abilities, or a willingness to grow. And, on a roster like this, none of Canales' traits will lead to many wins. And, on a team that has blown up its roster, and refused to hire a full-time GM, there is the worry that the new coach is being thrown to the wolves, and to take the full public heat for the team's missteps while owner Paul Allen boards a helicopter to somewhere far, far away.
This isn't the point, here. Even if the Blazers are setting Canales up to fail, they've still handed a gig to someone that deserves one, even at his age. As far as fall guys go, this one has quite the impressive resume. And even if he only lasts in the organization for a few more months, a few months from now won't be the last time we'll hear of Kaleb Canales, NBA head coach.