Person of Interest: Raptors head coaching candidate Rex Kalamian

Toronto Raptors assistant coach Rex Kalamian (David Zalubowski/AP)

Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri has said he’s in no rush to find a replacement for Dwane Casey, the winningest coach in franchise history who was fired earlier this month.

Many names have been floated as potential replacements, including three internal candidates whom Ujiri says he will take into serious consideration. We’ve already taken a close look at two of those names — assistant coach Nick Nurse and Raptors 905 boss Jerry Stackhouse — so let’s learn more about the third, assistant coach Rex Kalamian:

Name: Rex Kalamian
Hometown: Los Angeles
NBA coaching experience: 24 years

THUNDER BUDDY

Prior to arriving in Toronto in 2015, Kalamian was best known for his tenure as an assistant coach with the Oklahoma City Thunder, where he played a major role in the development of players like Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and current Raptor Serge Ibaka.

All told, he spent six seasons in Oklahoma City, his last two serving as lead assistant to Scott Brooks.

Kalamian was in charge of player development and game preparation, something he already had plenty of experience with thanks to years spent in the NBA as a scout.

During his time in OKC, the Thunder won four division titles and made the playoffs in all but one season. He got valuable post-season coaching experience in that span. The Thunder were eliminated in the conference finals twice, and in 2012 made it all the way to the NBA Finals before losing to LeBron James and the Miami Heat in five games.

PROMOTED BY A LEGEND

After beginning his NBA career as a player development coach in Los Angeles with the Clippers, then-Clips head coach Bill Fitch promoted Kalamian to assistant, giving him his first opportunity.

Fitch, a Hall of Fame coach, was nearing the waning years of his career but had a long, storied career and is currently 10th all-time in coaching wins. He coached Larry Bird’s Boston Celtics between 1979-1983, winning his lone NBA championship in ’81. After leaving Boston he took the head coaching job in Houston where he coached the ‘Twin Tower’ era Rockets featuring Hakeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson, helping to take the team to the NBA Finals in his first season in ’84, eventually losing out to his old team, the Celtics.

“He taught me the game,” Kalamian said of Fitch, “but more importantly he taught me work ethic. I learned a lot in the four years I was with him.”

HANDS-ON APPROACH

“I think it’s really important to be able to separate when you’re working at a desk, on a computer, and be able to shut that off and get onto the floor and try to get into what the players are feeling and try to help them,” Kalamian said in an interview with the NBA’s Coaching Association. “Because when players know that you can help them with something, they’ll go through a wall for you, and I think that’s very important.”

Kalamian also preaches the importance of maintainig an upbeat and consistent attitude with his players, something he says can be crucial during the throes of a gruelling 82-game NBA season.

He details more about his story and philosophies in this NBCA profile:

WELL-TRAVELED

Kalamian came to the Raptors in 2015 with a wealth of coaching experience already under his belt. He has spent 24 years (and counting) in the NBA, working for seven different teams.

A standout player and deadly accurate three-point shooter in high school, he says it wasn’t until his junior year that he considered coaching as a potential career.

Two years into a collegiate career at East Los Angeles College, Kalamian suffered an injury and was persuaded by the team’s coaching staff to join them.

It led him to an opportunity with the nearby Los Angeles Clippers. At first he’d do basic duties like rebounding for shooters at practice — including future boss Kiki Vandeweghe — until Fitch tabbed him for an assistant role. In 2003 Kalamian joined the Philadelphia 76ers in a scouting role, but was hired by Vandeweghe to return to coaching with the Denver Nuggets the following season in 2004.

That led to a position with the Minnesota Timberwolves between 2005-07, where he served as an assistant coach under then-first-time head coach Casey. After two seasons with the Sacramento Kings between ’07-’09, Kalamian joined the Thunder staff where he achieved his biggest success to date.

READY FOR THE SPOTLIGHT

Kalamian has found success throughout his career in helping to prepare his teams for any given opponent or situation that might unfold on the court. But throughout his NBA tenure he’s been preparing for the opportunity to one day take full reign himself.

“I’m always trying to be the best assistant coach I can possibly be — that’s where my sights are set,” Kalamian said in April. “But I do feel like I’m prepared to become a head coach.”

“I’ve gotten feedback from the players that I coach about how they feel about me, and how I can lead a team. I’d like to take the challenge on of leading an organization and being a head coach of an NBA team, hopefully sometime soon.”

Could it be as soon as next season?

YEAH, BUT CAN HE DUNK?

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