• Former Houston Rockets head of player development Irving Roland sees his redundancy as a blessing in disguise of better things to come in the NBA.
• A religious man, Roland feels his time with the Rockets needed to end anyway as he braces himself for more jobs in the pipeline.
• Roland says he's still good friends with James Harden and someone he has trusted to help the NBA high flier along in his career
One minute Irving Roland was in hoop heaven in the United States and the next he was conducting down-to-earth clinics with a group of teenagers at the humble Hastings Sports Centre.
That, my friends, is the harsh realities of coaching in any sport, let alone NBA basketball, not that Roland harbours any grudges against the Houston Rockets who released him from their stable of mentors this month.
"Look, the organisation was needing to make a change so they let go of myself and four other people so that's part of the business," says the 37-year-old who hails from Oklahoma City and was helping out the U15 to U19 representative players.
A former Rockets assistant coach and someone who mentored the franchise's head of player development, Roland is the skills coach of NBA icon James Harden who was 19 when he first met him in 2008.
Having had success in the past two years with the franchise, he says the Rockets were grappling with their share of the demons in trying to jump past the Golden State Warriors.
"For me, that's a blessing now because I'm going to be in a position where it's going to be better for me personally."
He doesn't look at his and fellow stable mates' redundancies as the Rockets franchise looking for scapegoats to try to find rhyme and reason in their shortcomings this year.
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"I'm a Christian man and I feel like everything in my life I've been in a time like this I've always ended up in a better situation so I've looked at it as a blessing, whatever they've decided to do, but my time there needed to end anyway."
But Roland hasn't given up on living the dream after spending 15 years in the volatile driving lanes of NBA.
"I'll be with another team soon," says the bloke who does his own negotiations. "I have enough relationships in the NBA that something will come along soon."
He believes the Thunder is a possibility but myriad openings in the other franchises beckon.
For Roland his religious faith means he's had no qualms about spreading the gospel on basketball at centres around New Zealand, something he takes in his stride as part of his daily life.
"I've never had the chance before to come across this part of the world to share my knowledge of the game with young people who are willing to work with me," he says, after Taylor Corporation Hawks coach Zico Coronel and his assistant, Morgan Maskell, also joined the clinic last Monday.
Roland, who arrived in Auckland on June 8 and left the country last Friday, went down as far as Christchurch to teach teens ball-handling skills, separation moves and shed some light on tactics NBA players tend to employ.
Stuart McEwen and Tom Saggs, of Auckland, who run a business, Striv3 Elite Sports Management, in linking Kiwis to universities in the US, had brought Roland here.
"New Zealand is amazing," Roland says of "sand beaches" and such. "It's one of the prettiest countries I've seen in my life so each time I get out of the car I'm just in awe."
With Supercity Rangers import Tim Quarterman a good mate, he was hoping to watch an NBL game in Auckland before catching his flight back home although he missed out on watching the Hawks' US import power forward, Brandon Bowman, also a friend, who he was excited to see at the Hastings clinic among other amazing people in this country.
His advice to youngsters wishing to go to the giddy heights of NBA is soberingly simple.
"The biggest thing is improving your basketball IQ," he says. "It's about learning as much about the game, not just watching it as a fan in trying to understand how and why guys are doing certain things."
Roland had struck a chord with Harden in 2008 at the $8 million LeBron James skills academy in Akron, Ohio, which is the top high school for basketballers in the States.
"He was one of the college players alongside Stephen Curry, Patrick Beverley and a number of other current NBA players."
Harden, who has entered the NBA debate as arguably one of the best offensive players, is reportedly having an impasse with big-name teammate Chris Paul amid claims the latter had urged Houston coach Mike D'Antoni to keep the former on the bench longer.
Roland says he and the 29-year-old shooting/point guard, who was typecast as a sixth man before breaking out of that cocoon, became friends in 2008 before OK Thunder drafted him the following year.
"In summer times I would go home so him, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook would get together and train," says the coach who was with the New Orleans Hornets who have mutated to the New Orleans Pelicans.
Roland has assumed the mantle of Harden's exclusive on-court basketball trainer for the past three years.
"I just try to do my best to push him and focus on things that he needs to strengthen on offense such as shooting and ball handling, everything.
"He's still a good friend to this day and I'd like to think our relationship goes past basketball and I'm someone he's trusted to help him with along in his career."
Roland says Harden, who has yet to publicly comment on his release, is no different to any individual trying to carve a niche in a high-octane sporting environment.
"He's matured and he's gone through a lot from a city, where he was more in a back-up role, into now being the face of a franchise ... so he's had to evolve as a basketball player," he says of the 2012 NBA Sixthman of the Year and 2018 NBA MVP.
Harden became the first — and only player in NBL history — to average over 47 points per 100 possessions on the way to All-NBA First Team selection for the third consecutive season under D'Antoni.
Roland played for Southwestern Oklahoma State University (div two) whose most famous son is former NBA super star Denis Rodman.
His career started as a Boston Celtics video co-ordinator with the New Orleans Hornets in 2004 before he moved to the Phoenix Suns to fulfil the portfolio of player development coach. In between he had started his own business of training players in southern Florida.
He carried out that role with the Rockets from 2016.
Roland says the NBA nowadays is more about dropping shots from downtown and less focus on post-up play with emphasis on analytics and evolution.