The Texas Legends’ season begins tonight, and though there are a number of NBA prospects on the roster (Sean Williams, Matt Rogers, the still-absent Rashad McCants, etc.), the most compelling story may be that of NBA vet Antonio Daniels. He’s not the first player to turn to the D after an extended tour in the big leagues, but Daniels was once a pretty stable NBA talent. He just happened to fall off the grid last season due to his age and injury, and now he hopes the Legends can serve as his avenue back to the NBA.
It seems unlikely that the Mavericks lie at the end of Daniels’ hopeful journey back, but he’ll still work under the Dallas umbrella, and hopefully help out some of his Legends teammates as both a playmaker and a leader.
“Instead of going overseas, playing in China, it’s just easier for me to get back to where I’m going — where I need to be — by coming to the D-League,” [Daniels said.]
Where Daniels needs to be, of course, is the NBA — but he’s taking his opportunity in the Development League to learn and develop his skills outside of a playing career as well. “The NBA is my focus, but I’m learning everything I can while I’m here,” Daniels said. “I don’t know what I’m doing (after my playing career is finished): if it’s coaching, being a TV analyst or whatever else it may be, but I’m learning as much as I can, both as a player and with everything else. When the coaches have coaches’ meetings and I’m around, I see if I can sit in on the coaches’ meetings. I’m trying to learn as much as I can while I’m here.”
The NBA veteran is hoping to teach while he’s in the D-League as well. Daniels is probably best remembered for starting 63 games for the Washington Wizards during the 2007-08 season in place of an injured Gilbert Arenas, a role that required him to take on a large leadership role as the team’s elder statesman. And, as expected, he’s already taken that role on the Legends.
“I’ve taken being a leader upon myself from day one — to be the leader, the vocal voice, to do all I can to influence,” Daniels said. “Basically I’m just trying to lead by example.”
That role as a leader should be a valuable one, but Daniels’ basketball future is of clear import to both him and the Legends. When I spoke to Legends head coach Nancy Lieberman recently, she was firm in saying that while she values Daniels’ abilities as a leader and mentor, the Legends are looking to help his playing career just as they do any of their other players.
“Our goal is to get our guys to the next level that they potentially can reach,” Lieberman said. “Shame on our coaching staff if we bring Antonio Daniels in here and say, ‘Hey bud, I know you’ve had a really good career, but can you just be a mentor?’ I mean, he can still play. He’s gonna play and he’s gonna make a difference. If we do our jobs correctly, we’re going to set him up for success and he’s going to mentor, in the same breath.”