Before Tuesday night's preseason game between the Minnesota Timberwolves and Maccabi Haifa of the Israeli league, Rick Adelman was asked when he thinks an international coach might get a chance to be a head coach in the NBA.
“I would think it could happen, for sure,” Adelman said. “There's a lot of jobs over there, though. But I think it definitely could happen. There are certainly very good coaches over there who can do the job.”
Only a few hours later, Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reported the Oklahoma City Thunder have taken a step in that direction.
In an innovative and historic hiring, the Oklahoma City Thunder have reached agreement with Serbian Darko Rajakovic to coach the franchise's Development League affiliate in Tulsa, sources told Yahoo! Sports.
Rajakovic's hiring with the Tulsa 66ers is still pending his completion of the immigration process, sources said.
Rajakovic, 33, is the first European to be hired as a head coach for an NBDL or NBA franchise. Thunder general manager Sam Presti has had a long relationship with Rajakovic, including a working partnership that began when Presti was an assistant GM with the San Antonio Spurs. Presti targeted Rajakovic for the Thunder's minor-league position out of a strong belief in Rajakovic's ability to develop the franchise's young players who'll spend time there, sources said.
This makes Rajakovic a pioneer of sorts in the NBA coaching profession. As the first European head coach of any D-League or NBA team, he'll hopefully open the door to many coaches around the world whom teams might not have seriously considered previously. He'll have a chance to show the presumed language barrier isn't as serious an issue as many have thought.
This hiring is representative of the exact purpose the D-League has served since its inception. It's a chance for the NBA and its teams to experiment with rules, hirings and allow the development of players, coaches and referees to be taken seriously.