Jason Terry knows how to have an NBA career, complete with an NBA Championship.
Terry brings that knowledge this basketball season as the new head coach of the Grand Rapids Gold, the NBA G League team formerly known as the Grand Rapids Drive. No longer affiliated with the Detroit Pistons, the Gold still will please plenty of Michigan expats as the affiliate of the Denver Nuggets.
The team tips off this season in a new era, but it’s in good hands with Terry. The first home game at the DeltaPlex is Nov. 23, after the team opted out of the 2020 season.
Terry spent 19 years in the NBA — the No. 10 draft pick in 1999 — and is perhaps best known for his time in Atlanta and Dallas, the latter of which he helped win an NBA Championship in 2011. During his career, he was well-known for his high socks and mid-range jumpers, yet he also ranks sixth all-time in 3-pointers made and won the 2009 NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award.
His No. 1 goal whenever he laces up his shoes as a player or suits up as a coach and steps on the court is to win. Winning will be welcome for Grand Rapids G League fans. The team has never made it past the first round of the playoffs, despite finishing with a winning record in four of its six seasons.
“Competition is still what drives me,” he said.
But now, Terry’s secondary goal is to help young, developing players in the G League reach the ultimate goal of playing in the Association. His proven track record — which also includes an NCAA Championship at the University of Arizona — suggests he is well-suited for the task.
“We want to develop the total athlete, not just physical skills, but the mental skills as well,” he said. “Those are what separate the guys who last in the league, the Hall of Famers, from others. It’s the mental ability to overcome adversity. That is a tremendous skillset that’s often overlooked.
“We’re always evolving and trying to get the physical and mental to align.”
Despite retiring from the NBA in 2018, Terry is no newbie when it comes to coaching. For 15 years during his playing years, he coached girls AAU basketball during the offseason. He prepared his teams with detailed scouting reports, in-depth game planning and intense practices.
“I prepped them, ran them as though they were high-level college teams,” he said.
By 2015, his second season as a Houston Rocket, Terry was watching film and in coaches’ meetings with Kevin McHale and J.B. Bickerstaff.
“That’s what lit the fire for me, that’s when I knew,” he said.
Following his retirement, he was named assistant general manager of the G League’s Texas Legends. He spent a year there before returning to his alma mater last season as an assistant coach in Arizona.
He’s pushing past the Xs and Os as a coach, he said.
“One thing about basketball as a coach, for me, is it’s all about people and relationships,” he said. “It’s about being able to aspire to something and be something greater than where they are in the present moment.
“I want to mentor the next generation of hoopers.”
That was a little easier at Arizona, where he was back on a campus with which he was familiar. In the G League, a level that did not exist when he transitioned from college to the NBA, things were a little bit more unusual. But he said his time with the Texas franchise was great for trial and error in the trenches as an assistant general manager.
“If it didn’t work out, it wasn’t the end of the world,” he said.
But at each of those stops, the players had the same mentality as the ones he’ll work with in Grand Rapids: hungry to get to the next level.
He’s also hungry to get to the next level. While he said he lives in the moment and wants to make sure the Gold thrives in its first season, he still has an eye forward.
“I’m definitely an in-the-moment type guy, I’m in that day-to-day grind to see where it takes us,” he said. “But eventually, I’d like to be at the head of an NBA bench or Division I college. But I’m here at the task, ready to get to the grind.”
A push to either of those two levels isn’t unheard of for a player like Terry. Plenty of current and former coaches took over the bench after lengthy playing careers. In particular, there are several players Terry crossed paths with during his playing days at the helm of teams now.
Former Detroit Piston Jerry Stackhouse, a close friend of Terry’s, had a quick stint with the Toronto G League team before finding his way up the ladder and landing at Vanderbilt University. Other coaches from his era include Jason Kidd and Damon Stoudemire.
“I lean on them for advice all the time,” Terry said. “There’s a myth about former players that had long careers and NBA success and coaching: That they don’t want to work.
“I’m a worker. That’s how I made my career and I’m going to keep working.”
Joining Terry on the Grand Rapids coaching staff will be Travess Armenta, Tamisha Augustin, Nathan Babcock and Jim Lyman Jr. Augustin is a highlight, as it shows the growing trend of woman coaches in men’s professional basketball reaching West Michigan.
Grand Rapids Gold President Steve Jbara said at the time of Terry’s hiring, “His body of work in the NBA, his body of work in the community, things he does on and off the court fits in perfectly with what we are trying to do in Grand Rapids. He is not only going to be a huge benefit to our players and our staff but to the community as a whole.
“We’ve been able to spend some time together, and I can’t tell you how excited I am to get him in the market and get him ingrained into the community. He is such a gift to the franchise. Hats off to everyone who got this done. His pedigree speaks for itself, and we are excited to chase a championship here with the Grand Rapids Gold.”
In chatting with Grand Rapids Magazine, Terry said he was not too familiar with the city. He believes at one point in his career he played a preseason game at a convention center in town.
He did play his final two years in Milwaukee, so he knows the winters can be cold. Despite the chill, he’s heard great things about Grand Rapids — even before he came to town for the Gold’s tryouts in September. A Seattle native, Terry spent time with the Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets along with his stops in Atlanta, Dallas, Houston and Milwaukee.
“The people are friendly and there’s a great fanbase and a good community,” he said of the market that regularly supports the Grand Rapids team with several thousand fans per game, compared to some markets that see fewer than a 1,000.
As he tries to prepare players to make the jump to the NBA’s Nuggets, Terry also is set on trying to turn some Pistons fans into Nuggets fans. He hopes the transition from a Pistons affiliate to a team more than 1,000 miles away doesn’t deter spectators from the trek to the DeltaPlex.
“We’re in the market to entertain,” Terry said. “We want to win, and we want to be competitive. Every time you show up to the game, you’re getting your money’s worth.
“I’m hoping we see some of those Pistons fans change their colors to the blue and gold of the Nuggets.”