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With Kaleb Canales, Pacers add more positivity to coaching staff

If Bjorkgren is a clone of Nick Nurse, then Canales might be a clone of Bjorkgren.

Dallas Mavericks vs D-League Selects Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images

Nate Bjorkgren’s coaching staff continues to take shape. In addition to former NBA big man Greg Foster, the Indiana Pacers are hiring long-time assistant Kaleb Canales, reports ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

Tellingly, Canales got his start in coaching with the Portland Trail Blazers back in 2008 during Kevin Pritchard’s tenure as General Manager, and even served as interim coach for 23 games in 2011-12 after Nate McMillan was fired, when Chad Buchanan was Acting GM.

Sharing his thoughts on Canales in an interview with David Aldridge in 2012, Pritchard described the now 42-year-old in nearly identical terms to Bjorkgren, who impressed the Pacers with his ability to push players while also knowing when “to put his arm around (them) and say, ‘We’ve got this. It’s important that we do this together.’”

“He’s just a bundle of positive energy,” Pritchard said reflecting on Canales and his time in Portland, while serving as Assistant GM of the Pacers. “When we were going through our hard times, he was there. He was happy. He was always saying, ‘We’re going to be all right.’ And you can never have too much of that, especially when you’re going through a rebuild. He’s really positive, and it’s not fake. He legitimately is positive every day. And the big thing was, it was consistent. There’s not a fake bone in his body ... I have no doubt that they’re going to play extremely hard, and they’re going to play the right way for him.”

Uncanny, right? Well, according to Chad Buchanan, Canales also has a similar reputation to Bjorkgren for being a grinder as well as a basketball junkie.

“Kaleb started from the bottom of the totem pole and worked his way up,” said Buchanan, via the same interview. “He slept on the couch. He put all his clothes in the locker. We have a kitchen here, and he would say, ‘Why would I ever have to leave? I’ve got my clothes, I’ve got a couch, I’ve got a place to eat. This is my life.’ I would ask him, ‘Are you ever gonna get a girlfriend, or a wife?’ He said ‘I do have a wife. Her name is Spaulding.’”

Since then, in a video posted to Facebook by the NBA’s coaching association, Canales mentions that he’s found time to start a family, but his commitment to Spaulding, and the comparisons that can be drawn between his flexible coaching style and that of Bjorkgren, still shine through.

Kaleb Canales - Knicks Assistant Coach Stays True To His Laredo, TX Roots

New York Knicks Assistant Coach Kaleb Canales grew up with ambitions similar to most kids in Texas: to play sports professionally. When that didn't pan out, he turned to the next best thing to keep himself close to the game he loves – coaching. After 8 years with the Portland Trail Blazers, his career took him through Dallas and now to the Knicks' front bench. Through it all, he hasn't lost sight of where he came from and has continued to give back to the community that raised him by co-founding Assist 13. Assist 13 is a program committed to serving, contributing, and developing youth in Laredo, Texas through basketball camps. When Kaleb's not on the court, he invests his time into his wife and young son Bower. Watch Coach Canales' Coaches Story to hear his advice for up-and-coming coaches, his coaching philosophy, and much more!

Posted by NBA Coaches Association on Friday, May 15, 2020

“My philosophy, at this point, is I think you really got to adapt to the team that you have,” says Canales. “I think you have to be very flexible. You got to understand the strengths and weaknesses of your team. But, at the end of the day, the most important thing is to build relationships with your team and to put them in the best possible position to succeed.”

Following his stint in Portland, Indiana’s newest staff member spent five seasons with the Dallas Mavericks, coordinating the offense alongside Rick Carlisle, prior to taking an assistant coaching job with the New York Knicks. For that reason, perhaps in joining the Pacers, Canales will be able to add offensive brainpower sourced from a different variety of coaching trees, while still managing to be cut from the same cloth as Bjorkgren in what appears to be the team’s preferred hiring mold.