Make the Clocks Move

Posted by Rob Mahoney on November 10, 2011 under Video | Be the First to Comment

Yesterday marked Day 132 of the NBA lockout, and the first practice day for the Mavs’ D-League affiliate, the Texas Legends. HittingNothingBut.Net offers plenty of video from that practice session, including this bit from Legends head coach Del Harris:

Nothing revolutionary, but a smart point brought up by Harris on the offense/defense dynamic in a practice setting. We often limit our consideration of basketball to what occurs in-game and conversely, see practice as an ambiguous cure-all. But the path toward improvement requires a good sense of both offensive and defensive logistics.

Return to the Sidelines: An Interview with Del Harris

Posted by Rob Mahoney on October 19, 2011 under Interviews | Be the First to Comment

Donnie Nelson may not have snagged the salesman he had intended to replace Nancy Lieberman as the head coach of the Mavericks’ D-League affiliate in Frisco, but in the process, he landed one hell of a coach.

Bruce Pearl, the Legends’ initial candidate in their coaching search, and Del Harris, who worked as the Legends’ GM last season and will take over the coaching reins, are cut from fundamentally different stylistic cloths. Each is successful in their own way, but the latter brings an unprecedented résumé to the D-League coaching ranks. Harris is an incredibly accomplished coach at virtually every level of competition, and though he’ll still be selling the Legends as a product, his primary function will be in bringing that vast experience to his dual role as head coach and general manager.

Even with that kind of pedigree, Harris will have his work cut out for him. The Legends were stacked with borderline NBA talent last season, but have lost a handful of noteworthy contributors to foreign leagues. With just 15 days remaining until the D-League draft and a bit more than a month left before the Texas Legends’ season opener, Harris took some time to talk with me about how the D-League might be impacted by the NBA lockout, his statistical approach to coaching, and the future of the Legends.

———-

MAHONEY: You’ve been with the Legends in a managerial role before and you’re going to continue in that role next season. Did anything about managing in the D-League surprise you?

HARRIS: No, not really. Everything is a little different in the development league compared to, say, college or the NBA’s principal league itself, but it’s still basically the same work. You try to work together with everybody — the owner, the coaches, and all the various front office entities — try to put together the best team you can. It all kind of comes under the heading of teamwork.”

MAHONEY: It seems like D-League management is pretty unique in that there’s so much roster turnover from year to year. How do you grapple with the fact that in the off-season any number of your players could find jobs overseas or in other leagues? How do you game plan from year to year and maintain any kind of consistency?

HARRIS: Everybody is in the same situation, so it’s not like anybody’s unique in the league itself. It’s not that unlike college or high school — and I have coached at every level that there is to coach — where you’re going to have turnover every year in high school and in college. So this is very akin to that process. Even now in the NBA it’s not uncommon for teams to turn over as many as seven spots, and the Mavericks themselves turned over nine spots one year recently. So with the advent of such ease of free agency in the NBA, that’s not that uncommon these days for a general manager and coach to anticipate having loss.

Just look at the Mavericks right now. I can’t mention any NBA players’ names because I work for the NBA, but there are a number of key free agents for the Mavericks for example this year, and once they can get back into business they have a very similar situation to what we have. In our case we have to replace three of our most key players. Our point guard went to the NBA so I can’t mention his name. Joe Alexander and Sean Williams were two of the top five players in the league and were two of the maybe three best big men in the league. Joe is in Russia and Sean is in Europe — Spain, I think — playing, so we have to replace those three key spots the best way that we can.

MAHONEY: You made Matt Rogers the team’s first ever draft pick last year and recently announced that he’ll be back with the team next year. Walk me through Rogers’ game and your impressions of his first season in the D-League.

HARRIS: Well, Rogers had an up-and-down year, partly because he blew out his ACL at the end of his college career — at which he was nonetheless voted the number one player in Division II basketball. He was a bit hampered, as last year was a rehabilitation year for him, and yet he did alright. We had one of the best teams in the league. We had five guys at one time or another who were first round draft picks when they came out of college on our team. So Matt held up pretty well for a rookie in what is actually a pretty tough league. We’re looking forward to this year for Matt because of his health continuing to get better and [him having] more confidence in his knee. He’s gotten bigger and stronger, and the year of experience will help him.

MAHONEY: The only other official player announcement thus far has been Justin Dentmon, who also had a pretty good rookie year. What kind of role do you see for Dentmon this season, and what improvements do you want to see in his game?

HARRIS: Dentmon had a strong year and again: he’s a key player. We may have to depend on him to play a little bit more point guard than he did last year and that’s something he would have to make some improvements upon, which he should be capable of doing. He is a key guy.

MAHONEY: I’ve heard and read opinions from both sides as to have the NBA lockout might affect the D-League. What impact do you think the ongoing lockout will have on the D-League and the Legends?

HARRIS: Well, the positive thing is that we’re playing, and that people can come and watch high level basketball. That’s part of it, so any negatives after that are relatively inconsequential to the whole process. But from a coaching standpoint, it’s not as good of a situation in terms of getting talent because the best way for us to do that is after the the NBA has had their final cuts. Those players that don’t make it [onto an NBA roster] can choose to go into the D-League draft and that’s where we end up getting some outstanding players. We would have evaluated them during the preseason, so we know who the guys are that are on the bubble and we have a good list of guys in a pecking order that we’d like to take. Well, we don’t have that this year.

The other thing is that there are guys that are going over to Europe — into lesser leagues, even — because they don’t know if the NBA is going to play this year, and the main purpose of playing in the D-League for less money is that this is where you have the best opportunity to get into the NBA this year if you didn’t make it in training camp. So we don’t have that element going for us now because they don’t even know if there’s going to be a league or a schedule — they don’t know one way or another. Second, they don’t know what the process would be as far as training camp if there is an NBA league to go on this year.

So from my standpoint as a coach, I’d say it’s a negative, but as a general manager from a franchise standpoint, it’s actually kind of a good thing.

MAHONEY: The lockout negotiations really aren’t good for anyone involved in the NBA world, but some good things could potentially come out of it. There were some rumors that maybe the NBA would be revisiting the way players are assigned to the D-League, maybe extend the age to which they can be assigned, or allow for injured players to rehabilitate there. What’s your take on the current assignment system, and if there are any improvements that can be made on it?

HARRIS: Well, those things would have been discussed in any event. They are things that were brought up before we knew there would be a lockout, and even though it’s a contract year, these are things that would have been brought up anyway. Obviously we think that it would benefit the NBA itself if there were some expanded opportunities for players to play in the Development League. We think it would help at the top and we think it would help us here at the D-League level, with the caveat that it does increase that volatility of your roster. You could be planning how you’re going to play the next game and then find out that morning that you’ve got two guys coming down from the affiliate team and that kind of changes your program. But all and all, I think it would be a good thing.

MAHONEY: I saw you speak at the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference back in March, and you talked about integrating advanced stats into your coaching style. Do you think there’s room for detailed statistical analysis in the D-League, and does it make sense economically and infrastructurally for teams to pursue that information even on a minor league level?

HARRIS: Well, obviously there are a lot of considerations at any level, but particularly so at the Developmental League level. But you don’t have to be overly concerned about costs with most of the metrics that matter most to a coach in the NBA. I’ve been doing metric analyses since the 60s and was the first in a lot of areas in the 80s to implement electronic data systems and things when I was coach and Vice President of Basketball Operations for the Bucks. Then that continued on with the Mavericks in a more elaborate system of metrics. But the basic metrics that I use for coaching a game really only involve basic chart-keeping, so we will be utilizing things that I’ve done for over 40 years to evaluate our points per possession, our pace of the game, our momentum. I can train a guy to do that in 10 minutes.

MAHONEY: We’ve seen — and you have a longstanding relationship with Donnie — Donnie Nelson as a manger, but what kind owner is he, and what is his involvement like with the Legends?

HARRIS: Donnie Nelson is a jack of all trades and a master of most of them. He’s a dynamo and he’s a terrific owner, and just a great public relations guy — he sells the program really well. He’s very supportive of his people, and he lets them operate. He has a good front office here, headed up by Bill Boyce, who also has some excellent people working with him. We have a young fella who has a good future named Malcolm Farmer that does a lot of the heavy lifting. He and the other owners — particularly evan Wyly — are really terrific to work with. He’s great all across the board.

MAHONEY: I saw in another interview you did with Zach Lowe over at Sports Illustrated that you mentioned you were teaching a class at a local college. What are you teaching and at what school?

HARRIS: The class is entitled “Team Building” and it’s based on a book I have written but not published that’s basically Team Building: Developing the Point Guard Within You. I teach at Dallas Christian College and it involves basically four elements in team building, starting with purpose (or mission) and then developing leadership skills, and third, enhancing communication, and ultimately ending in relationship building. We use my book as a text and I start with the sports idiom and then translate that down to the secular world as to how there might be applications in corporate america, or in institutions such as education for those who are going into teaching, or church work for those who are going into that area, and families which most of them will be going into. Then I take it down to the spiritual application.

So we use those basic principles and how they all interrelate from the sports to the secular to the spiritual. It’s exciting. I thought we’d have 15 in the class and we have 35, so it’s a little bit more people than I had anticipated, but it’s been very interesting for me.

Heard It Through the Grapevine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on November 9, 2010 under xOther | Read the First Comment

  • Jason Terry, doing his best Michael Caine (via Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News): “We endured.”
  • Zach Lowe wrote a fantastic piece on Tyson Chandler and the Mavs’ defense for The Point Forward (SI’s NBA blog). I’m going to quote it liberally, but follow through and read the piece in its entirety: “[At] the 3:45 mark of the second quarter, when Paul Pierce appeared to have Caron Butler beat on a drive along the left baseline. Chandler, who was guarding KG on the right baseline, took a big slide-step into the paint and deterred the drive without giving Pierce an easy passing lane to KG. Pierce pulled up for a contested mid-range shot and missed. That type of shot — a contested, mid-range shot — has been the basis of Dallas’ stinginess so far. Only five teams are allowing opponents to take more shots from the “floater” region between the rim and 10 feet out, and none are holding teams to a lower percentage on those shots than Dallas (33 percent). Boston was 5-of-18 from that range Monday.”
  • Could this be why Caron Butler has been so ineffective?
  • Paul Pierce on Rajon Rondo’s decision to take what could have been a game-winning three in the final seconds of last night’s game (via Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe): “He’s wide open. He was open two or three seconds before he even took it. We were begging him to shoot it. Hey, we’ll take that, a wide-open look. Rondo, he’s showed he can make those shots, especially under pressure situations. I take it. I told him after the game, I’ll take that shot.”
  • Two fantastic points from NBA.com’s John Schuhmann: Jason Kidd’s presence may make the 1-3 switch easier on the Mavs than any other team in the league, and Rajon Rondo has attempted just five three-pointers this season, all of which have come with the clock winding down.
  • A stray thought forgotten from the recap: the Mavs did an excellent job of completely eradicating the threat of Rajon Rondo’s scoring.
  • Dirk Nowitzki nails the irrelevance of Terry’s starting status (via Jeff Caplan of ESPN Dallas): “His role, starting or not, is not going to change much. We want him to score. We need him to score and we need him to be aggressive.”
  • A thought that teams should play more zone on endgame out-of-bounds plays, in part because of one particularly successful Mavericks play.
  • Again, wayward Celtics fans: don’t blame the refs.
  • The first installment of John Hollinger’s Power Rankings has emerged. Be angry, if you’re the kind of person who likes to rage against the Mavs’ statistically inferior start.
  • Del Harris is now doing radio broadcast work — in Spanish!
  • Not to get snooty, but isn’t Mark Cuban bigger than an “Owner:” headline?

Heard It Through the Grapevine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on May 27, 2010 under xOther | Be the First to Comment

  • Mark Cuban isn’t the only owner to be fined for his comments regarding LeBron James, even if the price of Cubes’ CNN Money spot remains the most substantial. The Hawks’ Michael Gearon Jr. was fined $25,000 by the league for tampering, and according to Brian Windhorst of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, it was due to this remark made by Gearon to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “If somebody came to us tomorrow and said you can have LeBron for max money and it puts you in the luxury tax, I’d do it in a a heartbeat. But am I going to do that for Ilgauskas? Am I going to do it for Jermaine O’Neal? I don’t think so…”
  • Question of the day: should it be considered tampering if Dwyane Wade, a free agent himself, discredits an entire franchise that just so happens to be a player this summer? How about if he sits down to have a discussion with other free agents? The NBA isn’t exactly the thought police, even if they’d like to be, and it’s always going to be an impossible task to control what players do in their spare time. That said, which has a bigger impact: Cuban’s comments on the record with CNN, or Wade having a heart-to-heart with LeBron and Joe Johnson?
  • If so, is this tampering?
  • I’m way late on linking this fantastic write up by Kelly Dwyer on Dwane Casey, but give it a read if you haven’t already. It’s not always easy to determine the value of a specific assistant coach, unless that coach has an outrageously public or specific role (think Boston’s Tom Thibodeau). That said, if you think the Mavs losing Casey to the Hawks wouldn’t be a loss, you’re sadly mistaken. This is a coach that’s well-deserving of a head gig somewhere, and Dallas has the luxury of having him as an assistant. That’s going to change at some point and it could be this summer. Casey deserves a team of his own, and while all Mavs fans should be happy for him should he finally get such a team this summer, it’d also be a notable off-season loss.
  • Kris Humphries on Mark Cuban, to Paul Allen (no, not that one) of 1130 AM in Minneapolis: “(Mark Cuban) is so into it and so on the refs. It’s human nature, if a ref doesn’t like you, you’re not going to get calls. One thing that was funny to me is one time during the game, Mark’s riding the ref. He sits literally right on the baseline by the bench. He’s riding the refs and Dirk turns over to him and he’s like in a few choice words basically, ‘Be quiet because they’re just going to screw us more.’”
  • A third baseman for Oklahoma said that his team “doesn’t want to be the Dallas Mavericks.” Ouch.
  • Kiki Vandeweghe went the way of Del Harris in New Jersey, in similarly abrupt fashion.
  • Slipped through the cracks here, probably because it was a given: DeShawn Stevenson picked up his $4.15 million player option for next season.

Heard It Through the Grapevine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on February 4, 2010 under xOther | 3 Comments to Read

  • Ladies and gentlemen, the ever-quotable Dirk Nowitzki, in reference to Andre Miller’s 52-point night and Monta Ellis’ 46-point night: “That’s what we do. We get guys contract extensions.”
  • I’m thrilled that guys like Coby Karl and Anthony Tolliver are being called up from the D-League, but they’re not exactly reppin’. Josh Howard went to work against Karl in the post time and time again with plenty of success, and neither Tolliver nor Karl could contribute much of anything in terms of points last night.
  • The attendance goal for the All-Star Game: 100,000.
  • Jeff “Skin” Wade can’t help but wonder if Rodrigue Beaubois is already actualizing a bit of his potential as a defensive difference-maker: “After the game Rick Carlisle mentioned that Rodrigue Beaubois is already developing into one of their better on-the-ball defenders out on the perimeter. There’s a need to have him on the floor because of the athleticism he brings to an older team, but with virtually all of his minutes outside of the New York game that Jason Kidd missed coming at the off-guard, he’d be eating into minutes where the Mavs have guys like Jason Terry and Josh Howard who need to be on the floor…Against the Warriors, he received all of the available backup point guard minutes in the second half. I’m fascinated to know what the plan had been had he not gotten hurt against Utah. As the Mavericks try to find ways to keep opposing guards from enjoying career nights against them, will Roddy B at point guard be a factor for his defensive spark as much as the potential for him to get some offense going coming off the bench?”
  • Everything is A-OK with Dirk’s thumb.
  • SLAM’s Holly MacKenzie checked in from Toronto with an important announcement from last night’s Nets-Raptors game: “It was fun to see former Raptor Kris Humphries have a double-double off of the bench. It was not fun having two women scream his name every single time he was even remotely near the Nets bench.” Miss you, buddy.
  • Del Harris wants to return to work the Frisco-Dallas connection, though it’s not official as of yet whether or not he’ll slide right back in as GM in Frisco.
  • Chad Ford (Insider) names Josh Howard as one of the 20 players most likely to be moved by the deadline. Here’s his blurb on Josh: “Howard, at age 29, is having the worst season of his career and has struggled to play alongside Jason Kidd and Shawn Marion. But other teams have interest because his contract has a team option for next year, which means a team can acquire him now and decide this summer whether to keep him as player, hold on to him as a 2011 expiring contract or decline the option and take the savings right away. The Raptors and Kings have been rumored to have the most interest.” Just as a note of interest, Caron Butler is listed at #4, Andre Iguodala #5, Kevin Martin #12, and Chris Bosh at #15.
  • Dirk will participate in the “Shooting Stars” competition representing…well, the state of Texas. With no WNBA team in sight, “Team Texas” will borrow Nowitzki, San Antonio’s Becky Hammond, and former Rocket Kenny Smith.

To the Sea and Back

Posted by Rob Mahoney on February 3, 2010 under News | Be the First to Comment

Some potentially great news for those keeping close tabs on the soon-to-be Mavs D-League affiliate in Frisco: Del Harris, who was once tapped to be the GM of the Frisco team, has left his position as an assistant coach with the Nets. The very same position, you may recall, that took Harris away from Frisco in the first place. Below is the statement from Del himself, via Colin Stephenson of The Star-Ledger:

This is to announce that I have decided to return to my home in the Dallas, TX area after two months with the New Jersey Nets. Even though we have had a difficult time winning as many games as we had hoped to, I enjoyed very much my time with my good friend, GM/interim coach Kiki Vandeweghe, the Nets players, organization and the local community. All were positive and helpful. I had not experienced such a losing situation since 1983, but because the players are such good people, the losing of games did not become the chaotic situation that has happened to so many teams who were locked into a total rebuilding year.

The reason for the timing of my return is that I came to help Kiki in his first venture into team coaching. I have seen Kiki go from a man who was trying to encourage a team that was down to one who has developed a good sense of coaching. I believe in these recent games there is strong evidence that the team has gotten over the hump and will be much more competitive the rest of the way. This experience will help Kiki in his role as general manager immensely. Every GM can gain from having the coaching experience.

My sincere thanks to Rod Thorn, Kiki, the Nets players and organization for the opportunity to experience the Nets and the good people of the New Jersey area. As difficult as this year has been for the Nets and their fans, I look forward to seeing the Nets capitalize on the moves they have made that have put them in a position to develop into an elite team over the next couple of years and on into the future.

Assuming that Harris will return to work with Frisco seems perfectly reasonable. After all, he left for New Jersey on the most pleasant of terms, and Donnie Nelson has wisely decided to wait on filling the position. After all, the team has no roster and no name, so is it really that pressing to have a general manager when other capable basketball minds are already on the staff? But now the opportunity has arisen to bring Harris to Frisco, and it’s entirely likely that Nelson and Harris are already a few steps ahead of all of us.

UPDATE: Donnie Nelson is, somewhat predictably, welcoming Harris back with open arms (via Tim MacMahon): “I told him the GM chair will be open…It’s there for him. We’re fully hoping and expecting he will come back.”

Heard It Through the Grapevine

Posted by Rob Mahoney on December 2, 2009 under xOther | 2 Comments to Read

  • There was supposed to be another installment of Moving Pictures up this morning, but I’m having trouble uploading it to YouTube. Stay frosty, I’ll post it as soon as it’s available.
  • Sebastian Pruiti of Nets Are Scorching has pieced together a fairly conclusive scouting report on defending Dirk Nowitzki. Guarding Dirk is an unenviable task and a near-impossible one, but Sebastian does a fine job of pointing out a few of the things that tend to give Dirk trouble. It’s well worth a read, even if I don’t necessarily buy the notion that Sean Williams is a disciplined enough defender to draw the Dirk assignment. I’m not sure the Nets have better options, but Williams? On defense? Against an offensive player notorious for his footwork and ball fakes? I’ll believe it when I see it.
  • Donnie Nelson will play the waiting game before hiring a new general manager for the Frisco job, mostly due to a potential return for Del Harris after this season’s conclusion. It’s a savvy move by Nelson, and I have a feeling that his patience on this won’t go unrewarded. Also, check out Matt Moore’s reaction here.
  • Shaun Powell of NBA.com ranked the top fifteen off-season moves…and failed to include or even mention the Mavs’ acquisitions. I guess the integration of Shawn Marion and Drew Gooden has been so seamless as to elude public perception entirely, despite the fact that both are helping their team (and looking more comfortable doing it) than just about everyone south of Jamal Crawford on that list. (link via a Fanshot by DOH on Mavs Moneyball)
  • Let the Rodrigue Beaubois vs. Devin Harris debates begin!
  • Chris Sheridan on the newly christened Nets coach (and acting general manager), Kiki Vanderweghe: “Like those front office folk, Vandeweghe was attending the news conference because he had to. His ambition is to run his own NBA team from the front office — not from the bench. Thorn, who noted that all three of the coaches he has hired in New Jersey — the recently departed Lawrence Frank, Byron Scott and Vandeweghe — had no prior NBA head-coaching experience, said he spoke to six people regarding the position. Note that he didn’t say he interviewed six people, only that he spoke to six people, before informing Vandeweghe that the job was his. ‘Rod is a very persuasive guy, and much smarter than I am,” Vandeweghe said. “I want to thank Rod for not necessarily making it my choice.’ Vandeweghe was asked: Did you ever want to be a coach? “‘Not until Rod called me yesterday,’ Vandeweghe said. ‘But it’s a challenge, and you embrace the challenge. I’m sure all the coaches I’ve had are laughing at me right now.’”
  • Donnie Nelson, reflecting on the Mavs prior to the Kidd-Harris deal (via Tim MacMahon): “The reality is that we had a whole lot of scoring and our best passer was Dirk…He’s the guy you want taking the shots, not creating shots for other folks. That was a group that was missing a quarterback in the worst way.”

Mid-Birth Crisis

Posted by Rob Mahoney on December 1, 2009 under News | 3 Comments to Read

The Frisco D-League team doesn’t have a name, uniforms, or even players, but they’ve already undergone their first substantial change. Del Harris was announced as the team’s first general manager, but Harris was summoned by new Nets’ head coach Kiki Vanderweghe to be his top assistant.

It’s hard to find a coach more experienced and respected than Del Harris, and handing him the reins of the Mavs’ new D-League affiliate was a sound move by Donnie Nelson. I’m definitely curious to see what kind of basketball mind Nelson chooses to complement Nancy Lieberman and Spud Webb as the core of Frisco’s staff, but losing an established basketball mind with an established (and Dallas-based) reputation hurts. Despite only being with the Frisco organization for about a month, Harris’ departure leaves some big shoes to fill.

Cheers to long-time friend of the franchise Del Harris for the new gig, even if I wish he were still in Frisco.