The job title is temporary, but the 33-year-old native of Laredo, Texas could remove the interim title soon. Neil Olshey, the Portland Trail Blazers new general manager, said at his introductory news conference last month that the team would be sticking with Canales. League sources believe the team will interview other candidates after the NBA draft.
Canales -- who was a 5-foot-11 power forward who didn't start on the Alexander High School basketball team -- has taken an unorthodox road to the NBA.
He never played college basketball, much less the NBA.
Canales coached high school basketball in his early 20s. He then became an unpaid video coordinator for the Trail Blazers, essentially cleaning camara lenses and charging batteries.
In 2008, Portland hired him as an assistant coach. On and, now four years later, he could be Portland's leader. Players in the Blazers' exit interviews fully endorse his return next season, but that endorsement may not be enough to secure the position. Neil Olshey, Portland's new general manager, announced that Canales is the in-house favorite for the job, but the franchise may wait to make a decision after the NBA draft.
Canales led the Blazers to an 8-15 record, including a win over the Chicago Bulls in his first game after replacing Nate McMillan on March 25. Portland had been 20-23 up to that point.
"Ever since I was a young child, I wanted to be a coach and the day came sooner than what I thought it would. I'm very happy to have the opportunity to be here with the Blazers," Canales said in a March teleconference.
Canales' drive to be an NBA head coach does not surprise family and friends in Laredo.
"I think it's persistence that got him there," said his father, Víctor Canales, an immigrant from Tamaulipas, México.
Víctor only has to underscore the method his second-oldest child of five children used to turn an unpaid intern position to a career in the NBA.
"When I told people that I was going to be here, they looked at me like I was crazy," said Kaleb.
In an interview with The Portland Oregonian, Canales described his life journey as "like a book. I'm extremely blessed. I think I've done it the right way, as far as pecking order."
"I'm just trying to learn and pay my dues right now so I can get where I want to be, a head coach in the NBA."
From the moment Canales was named interim head coach, fans watched ttheir hometown boy whenever the Trail Blazers games were televised. In late May, nearly 300 fans made the 2-hour trip to San Antonio to see the Spurs play Portland.
"A bunch of people are proud here. But, he deserves this because he has the biggest heart; very humble, very religious. He's a great guy," said Valdez, a high school cross country and basketball coach in Laredo.
"He has improved the image for many of us. But, this will help because many more people believe they can do it too," said Valdez. "It will take away the stigma that we have sometimes of being lazy Mexicans. He shows what hard work is all about and where hard work can take you. And he's puro corazón (pure heart), like we say in Spanish."
Bobby Cruz, athletic director for the United Independent School District in Laredo, hired Canales after he graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington as an assistant with the basketball program at Martin High School in 2002. Cruz and Canales then move to the United Independent District in 2003.
"There's no one that's going to outwork 'K,'" said Cruz. "I remember he'd call home (from Portland) and say, 'I'm doing whatever it takes to stay here.' And he'd say that he's eating Ramen (noodles) and tuna because it was not a paying job."
Cruz admires Canales' drive.
"He had no NBA heritage; he just went out and shined. Kids these days, they want to be the head coach, but they don't want to even coach middle school," said Cruz.
Canales, in his March teleconference, gave solid advice.
"They can't be afraid to dream. You know, I was their age and I was dreaming, and hopefully they can look at me and say, 'You know, it can be done,'" said Canales.
Blazers interim general manager Chad Buchanan, in an interview with The Oregonian, explained why he chose Canales.
"The reason we went with Kaleb was, No. 1, I think our team had lost its competitive spirit, enthusiasm and passion for competing," said Buchanan.
"Well if you were to describe what Kaleb is, you would say, 'enthusiastic, spirited and positive.' He has a great approach and passion to the game. I really believe he has a chance to reinvigorate our guys."
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