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.”
The Texas Legends are no longer purely conceptual. Beyond the cast of coaches and front office staff that has been in place since last November, there are now actual players populating the roster. Players with strengths, flaws, potential, and limits. Players that will find both success and failure — hopefully more of the former than the latter — under head coach Nancy Lieberman. Between the expansion draft, the D-League draft, and the D’s new allocation rules, the Legends have assembled a promising 15-man roster, and with it, have gained the burden of expectation.
“You can read the press release,” Lieberman said. “I mean seriously, you’re going to put in the press release that we got four former first round picks? I’m like, ‘Dude, I was trying to fly under the radar!’ I mean come on, I’m only a girl. How much can I take?” Lieberman plays the irony perfectly, clearly not overwhelmed by her standing as a pioneer for her gender, her vast responsibilities as a head coach, nor her own anticipation of the season to come.
“Talk about expectations. We have [Antonio] Daniels, Reece Gaines, [Rashad] McCants and Sean Williams,” Lieberman said. “We’re going to get on the court for practice, and we’re going to figure out Sean Williams’ strengths, Reece Gaines’ strengths, Gar Tucker’s strengths. We are smart enough as a staff to start molding the things that we want to do to benefit them.”
That molding, that adjustment, is what the D-League is all about, after all. The D-League is a professional entity in the literal sense, but it’s a stepping stone. It isn’t home to lifers. It’s a landing spot for players with an eye to something bigger, coaches looking for their next opportunity, and general managers looking to try their hand at running an NBA team. The D-League is, by nature, a league of transitions in which coaches like Lieberman, while likely pursuing their own dreams of an NBA job or high-profile college job, adjust in order to best develop and showcase the talent on their roster. “If we’re really who we say we are, we must set our [players] up for success,” Lieberman said. “It really cannot be about us.”
“I don’t have a crystal ball, but we’re going to get better and each guy is going to have a career year. They’re going to learn more about basketball than they’ve ever learned before. We will make our guys better. I promise you, we will make them better individually. And if they’re better individually, they’ll be better in a team concept.”
Of course, this venture isn’t purely altruistic. The Legends don’t only exist as a facilitator of hoop dreams, but also as a competitive franchise in itself, and, perhaps most importantly from an NBA perspective, a valuable resource for the Mavericks. Direct D-League ownership and the hybrid ownership model have reaped benefits for the San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets respectively, and while Donnie Nelson’s co-ownership is based on a different model, the Mavs hope for similar gains.
Part of tapping into those gains is creating a clear organizational structure. The interests of both the Mavericks and Legends need to be in line with the hope that, eventually, the lines between the two franchises will be almost non-existent. Dallas will hopefully be able to call up players to fill either temporary or long-term needs, experiment with sets or schemes in a low-pressure environment, and use the Legends to further evaluate and instruct young players already on the Mavs’ roster. The connection between Dallas and Frisco should be seamless, and from Lieberman’s description, that seems to be the case.
“Think of us as one,” Lieberman said. “Donnie, Rick [Carlisle], the Mavericks, the Legends. Everybody decides what is best for the totality of the organization. We love that. We’re honored that the Mavericks care enough about us and enough about the future to help identify the players that we need to be successful. Everything will be collaborative and really, Donnie spearheads it. Donnie’s done every level: he’s played, he’s coached, he’s been a GM, he’s got the bridge to Europe, he’s always willing to make people around him better, and he really has a wonderful gift of bringing people’s interests together. We’re in really great hands.”
Hands that just so happen to steer the good ship Maverick, as well. That congruence is essential if the Legends are going to be a viable long-term resource.
The most obvious potential benefit to come from that resource is the players themselves. The Legends roster was assembled not only with the intent of creating a competitive D-League roster, but also by gathering prospects of interest for the Mavs. Some are relatively familiar faces — McCants, Williams, Daniels — but others, including the Legends’ first round pick, Matt Rogers, are unknowns to those not well-acquainted with Division II college basketball. Still, Rogers went to training camp with the Charlotte Bobcats, and the Legends will expect a lot from him.
“We targeted Matt Rogers from the first time we saw him at our free agent camp,” Lieberman said. “We were very impressed that, at 6-11, he could shoot, he understood how to play the game, he had good energy. We liked everything about him. We can use him in a lot of different, versatile situations on the court, so we’re excited to have him.”
But Rogers isn’t the only player Lieberman is happy to have in a Legends uniform. “I think in this league, it’s very important to have a veteran point guard,” Lieberman said. “Not that young people can’t excel; there are special players. But that’s why we looked at Antonio Daniels. He’s a veteran. He’s savvy. He’s been around the league. He knows what it takes to win. He’s smart. He’s versatile. That was very important to us, to address the point guard position. We also have Sean Williams, who is 6-11 and very explosive. We wanted to make sure that we covered the inside-out. Then we wanted to make sure we had some slashers, and guys that are combo guards, and guys that want to really defend and are willing to sacrifice and defend, and you put shooters around them. We’re really happy. We’re excited about getting Kelvin Lewis. We’re excited about having Booker Woodfox — the guy is an offensive machine. Some guys are just specialists. Curtis Terry is a lot better than people think.”
I’m not sure the Legends are a “team” in the existential sense until they finally hit the court together as a complete unit, but they have a roster, and by Lieberman’s enthusiasm and description, it seems a rather balanced one. There’s a good mix of youth and experience, bigs and guards, scorers and defenders. No one at this level is a complete player, but the Legends have some intriguing individuals and a notable level of collective talent.
Some of that talent is relatively straightforward in its implementation and utilization; Antonio Daniels is an NBA veteran who could surely benefit from instruction, but has a more established game than some of his fellow Legends. Moussa Seck, on the other hand, needs a fair bit of refinement in his game. Seck, a 7-4 shot-blocker, played for the Mavericks’ Summer League team in Las Vegas both this year and last, and though he’s improved in many respects, his basketball skills are still lacking. But rather than focus on how far Seck has left to go before becoming a fully-functional player, Lieberman sees hope in his progress thus far.
“I’ve known Moussa now for almost a year,” Lieberman said. “Moussa has come so far. He was very raw, but he has something that nobody else has. He has a great heart, he has a wonderful work ethic, he’s learning every day how to be a next level player. That kid was working every day in the spring on his strength, working on his game, working on his power, working on his hands. All you can ask of somebody is to get better.”
“Look at Manute Bol. Look at [Dikembe] Mutombo. Look at the guys who came here and really ended up flourishing. There has to be a level of patience. You almost have to project down the road: What’s Moussa going to look like a year from now? What’s he going to look like two years from now? That becomes our job, to develop him. He has the platform. He has people who care, and we’re going to invest in his development.”
That last statement seems to encapsulate a thematic element of Lieberman’s coaching style, though she’s quick to note her intention to balance that care and that investment with a strong, definite approach.
“We better love our guys because we’re going to work the dog out of our guys,” Lieberman said. “Seriously. All you need to know is my background and where I came from. Again, it’s not about me. I don’t want to make this about me, but they will not roll over me.”
Lieberman is the first female head coach of an NBA-affiliated team, but she’s made a career of destroying that “first female” qualifier. In 1986, Lieberman became the first woman to play in a professional men’s league. When Pat Riley became a coach, Lieberman was his first point guard; she played for the Lakers at Jerry West’s request when L.A. competed in the summer Southern California Pro League. According to Lieberman, Riley tells the story of their shared experience often, and told her: “You taught me how to be fearless. You were never afraid even though you were always overmatched. I never forgot that.”
This is just the kind of thing that Lieberman does.
“This is so normal for me,” Lieberman said. “It’s not normal for you. It’s normal for me. My guys in the office don’t walk around like I’m a chick coaching. We talk like we’re working together, hand-in-hand. We know the judgment. We know the expectation. We know it’s coming.”
It’s almost here. The Legends begin their season on November 18th against the D-League champion Rio Grande Valley Vipers. Lieberman’s D-League coaching debut and the Legends’ commencement are notable for very different reasons, and yet they both represent the actualization of the same plan. At long last, the Texas Legends are ready to tip off. The long-awaited blow of that opening whistle will inaugurate the Legends’ true existence as a basketball franchise and welcome all of the expectations and judgment that come with it.
The nature of that conflict may seem unique, but it’s not as situation-specific as one might think: McCants wants to play for an NBA team (and unlike many D-Leaguers, is a legitimate candidate to do so), but the Legends want McCants. Boil down all of the misunderstandings and miscommunication thus far, and McCants’ story is only notable because he’d rather play for an NBA squad than a D-League one. Who wouldn’t?
McCants’ camp may be a bit peeved by his lack of a proper tryout with the Mavs, but at this stage, that only makes sense. McCants and his agent — Lindsey Maxwell — are pursuing NBA leads, the coveted endgame of almost everyone in the D-League. That’s exactly what every NBA hopeful should be doing, and no one can blame McCants for trying to find a way into the L. Not even his would-be coach with the Legends, Nancy Lieberman.
“I have to tell you: how can you argue with the fact that [McCants'] agent is exploring all potential possibilities for him?” Lieberman said. “That’s the mark of a good agent. I don’t think anybody should read into it. I think he has the ability to take a look. He has the time to take a look.”
“I would do the same thing Rashad McCants is doing. He’s got an agent, he’s got to look at all of his options, and then he’ll make a choice on where he needs to be.”
Then again, I’m sure Lieberman wouldn’t mind one bit if McCants ended up a Legend. Helping her players reach the next level is one of Lieberman’s goals, but having a proven scorer like McCants would be tremendously helpful for the first-year coach of a newly christened franchise. And, in return, Lieberman and her staff may boost McCants’ NBA profile and skill set to make his D-League stay worthwhile. “If [McCants] comes here, he will be welcomed with open arms,” Lieberman said. “We will set him up for success. Quite honestly, my job and my coaching staff’s job is to make sure that we identify a weakness of certain players. We correct the weakness — we’re solution-oriented coaches — and we get ‘em out of here. Our job is to get them back to where they belong or get them to where they didn’t think they could be. And we’re going to do that.”
Once More, With Feeling: The Four Factors – An in-depth statistical look at how the Mavs performed last season in each of the game’s most important statistical categories, and how they’ll likely stack up in the coming year.
WEEI preview – Helping out over at WEEI’s Boston Celtics blog, in which I address just how sober the Mavericks’ chances are of overtaking the Lakers this season.
Also, if I may:
If you’re following me on Twitter, you probably already know this, but in addition to my work here, at Hardwood Paroxysm, and at ProBasketballTalk, I’ve also joined the New York Times’ Off the Dribble Blog as a contributor. Keep an eye out there for some more of my general NBA work, though I’m sure the Mavs will inevitably pop up from time to time.
Matt Moore and I recently launched Voice on the Floor, an NBA audio blog (striving to be an NPR for the NBA, in a way) that has been a blast so far. It primarily consists of extended interviews from Moore, as well as spoken word essays from myself and various contributors. I’m very excited about the project and its potential, so I hope you guys will tag along.
Dirk Nowitzki on Tyson Chandler (via Mike Fisher of DallasBasketball.com): “He’s just so unbelievably active, I’ve never seen anything like it…He’s got to be the best runner at the 5 position and one of the most athletic 5’s right now in this league…he covers a lot of ground out there and he’s plugging holes for us defensively.”
Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer: “Turnovers were this team’s flaw all last season, and nothing changed in the season-opener. Twenty-one turnovers led to 28 Dallas points. As a tennis guy (no double-fault is good, but some are far worse than others), I buy Larry Brown’s principle that there are acceptable turnovers (daring passes, intended to make for easy baskets, that just don’t work out), and unacceptable turnovers (lazy ballhandling at mid-court that leads to easy opponent scores). Wednesday the vast majority of the turnovers were the ones that scorch you. Especially so with a Jason Kidd pushing the ball for the other team.”
I’m not quite sure how this slipped by me last week, but here’s the latest of the Texas Legends promo videos. Featuring: the exquisite stylings of J.R. Slagendorff, and relative newcomer on the scene, Draino.
Or, for those who can’t handle videos longer than 30 seconds:
Kevin Arnovitz has a great interview with Texas Legends’ coach Nancy Lieberman, who is getting serious mileage out of her catchphrase (which you may remember from my interview with Lieberman earlier this summer): “Making the irregular regular.” Here’s Lieberman on her voice as a coach, and what the voice will mean to men who haven’t had all that many female basketball mentors: “I think the end message will be similar, but the methods and how they get the information could be different. I’m excited about it because I’m not going to be in practice f-bombing people. That won’t be me. I’ll be firm and I’ll be fair. We won’t tell people what to do. We’ll explain what we’d like them to do. We’ll show them what we want to do. Then, they’ll do it. I will work their tails off. Trust me. I’m not as nice as I’m faking it on this conversation. I will work them really hard, but I’ll love them on the other side. And they need to know they’re loved and cared for. But that doesn’t mean you can walk over me, through me. That won’t happen. But look, I’m going to kill my guys so I might as well be nice to them. I have high expectations. I haven’t made it in a man’s world for 35 years by being soft, scared or insecure.”
Mike Krzyzewski on Tyson Chandler’s play for Team USA, via Chris Tomasson of FanHouse: “Tyson has been outstanding. We have a relationship from the 2007 qualifying team (and in 2008 when Chandler came close to making the Olympic team) … He doesn’t need the ball. He’s stronger. I bet he’s at least probably 15 pounds heavier and stronger than he was in 2007. He feels healthy.”
Caron Butler thinks the Heat could make it to 73 wins. The Bulls’ sacred 72-win mark is seemingly unbeatable, but next year’s Miami Heat have definite advantages those Bulls were never afforded. The ’95-’96 Bulls are certainly one of the best teams to ever lace them up, but is Caron wrong? Isn’t the combination of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade — with Chris Bosh and a hell of a supporting cast — enough to at least bring the Heat into the discussion?
Kelly Dwyer is ranking the top 30 players in each of the five conventional positions, beginning with point guards. You can see the first installment (30-21) here, and the second (20-11) here. Jason Kidd comes in at #12, which may seem a bit harsh, but consider the 11 PGs likely to top Kidd in Dwyer’s rankings (in no particular order): Deron Williams, Chris Paul, Steve Nash, Jameer Nelson (already confirmed as #11), Rajon Rondo, Chauncey Billups, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Devin Harris, Tony Parker, and Tyreke Evans. Of those 11, which would you pick Kidd to best in the coming season?
From Caron Butler’s blog on HoopsHype: “Aside from the Tyson Chandler trade, my team has had a pretty quiet offseason. I’m not surprised. We had a great roster already. The management looked at the team and thought change wasn’t needed.” Well…that’s certainly one interpretation of the summer’s events.
Head coaches yearn for hard-working players with eager minds, but Nancy Lieberman doesn’t have a single one. Her team has no depth, and no starters, no leaders and no followers, no talented prospects and no roster filler.
As of right now, the Texas Legends have no players whatsoever, and yet they’ll tip-off with the rest of the D-League in just a few short months. That’s not much time to assemble a team and introduce a culture, but Lieberman remains unphased by the blankness of her roster sheet.
“It’s kind of an interesting scenario,” Lieberman said. “I don’t want to make it sound simplistic, but we know we’re playing in November. We know there’s going to be a draft in November, and those are the things that we target. We can’t worry right now that we don’t have our full schedule and we can’t worry right now that we don’t have any players. So we’re just going to really work with what’s in front of us. We’re going to scout as if every one of these guys [at Vegas Summer League] has the potential to be a Texas Legend.”
Then Lieberman offered a slight clarification, as she watched the Mavs Summer League team go to work at the Cox Pavilion. “I mean…we’ve got Moussa [Seck],” Lieberman said, letting out a slight laugh. “He’s worked out. He’s working hard.” So noted. The Legends don’t have starters or leaders, but they do have a 7-foot-4, hard-working lightning rod. It’s a start, and having at least one player penciled in for the Legends next season is something of a luxury given their situation.
As of now, the Legends themselves are unsure of how (and from where) they will be allowed to draw talent. Earlier rumors pointed to Texas possibly taking over the roster of the now kind-of-defunct Los Angeles D-Fenders (the D-Fenders will phase out for one season before attempting a comeback in 2011-2012), but it would make far more sense for Lieberman, Del Harris, and their crew of coaches and managers in Frisco to cultivate their roster in a more organic fashion.
Regardless, the mechanisms of the team-building process remain very much a mystery, even to Lieberman. “We are waiting on people,” Lieberman said. “It’s not like we have a core group where we need a shooter, we need a defensive specialist, or we need a rebounder. We need everybody. We need veteran point guards, we need somebody who’s going to sacrifice their game for the good of the team, we’re going to need someone who’s an enforcer. We want people who can shoot the ball and spread the floor. We want guys that have great basketball acumen. We want guys that just can make plays when everything breaks down. There are a lot of things that we’re looking at right now. We can’t jump the gun — we just have to make sure that when the league gives us the direction of what we can do that we’re prepared for that moment.”
The uncertainty does have its advantages. Though the staff doesn’t have any actual players to work with – a bizarre situation for a group that specializes in development – having an empty locker room does allow the Legends’ decision-makers to analyze the walls and rules that will govern it.
Success in the D, just like in the big leagues, requires more than just talent. The Rio Grande Valley Vipers and the Austin Toros perfectly showcase the impact of an established, team-wide culture. It’s not so much about what the organization does, but rather what it means. Being a part of those teams – much like being a member of the Spurs or Rockets – means something because of the self-sustaining culture that they’ve created. Lieberman wants that same framework in Frisco, and without an actual team, she has plenty of time to hammer out the details of what that culture will entail.
“A lot of times when you’re building a team and you have players, it requires a lot of time and attention. This is allowing us to meet as a staff, get to know each other and understand each other’s philosophies. It’s giving us a chance to build our infrastructure and our philosophy and once we understand it amongst ourselves, then we can pass that down to the players.” Creating the infrastructure before populating the team is a simple idea, but how many professional basketball coaches are really afforded such a luxury?
It’s not every day that a head coach gets a chance to helm an expansion team on its maiden voyage, and the significance and opportunity of Lieberman’s position are not lost on her. “We’re serious about this,” Lieberman said. “We plan on helping guys become successful, not only in basketball but in life. I mean, we have a chance to put our thumbprint on the history of our franchise, and we’re excited about it.”
It’s hard to blame her for being excited. The Legends already have a pretty incredible staff in place, and with the full support of the mothership Mavs, the D-League’s foray into Frisco has impressive potential. Donnie Nelson is both the President of Basketball Ops for the Mavericks and the Majority Owner for the Legends, but the synergy between the NBA club and its affiliate will go far beyond Nelson.
“I think [collaboration with the Mavs] is very important for us,” Lieberman said. “Not to run everything that the Mavs run because we don’t have the same personnel, but why not have the same type of drills if we agree that that’s the right type of drills for [our] guys? Let’s call [each drill] the same thing so that if, God forbid, a Roddy [Beaubois] ends up on our team, if he comes down for a game or two or a practice, he understands we’re running the same drills. Simplicity.” Lieberman says the word with emphasis as if she’s repeating it. She is, in a sense. Without using it verbatim, simplicity is etched into the core of everything Lieberman aims to do with the Legends.
“We’re going to make the irregular regular,” Lieberman said. “If we can do the things that take no talent — teach these guys to play at max speed, teach them to work hard, teach them to execute — if we can teach guys to do the things as I just said that take no talent and make it [all] matter, then we will be successful.”
That goal is lofty (Who can teach every player on a team to work hard and execute properly?), and yet surprisingly humble, much like Lieberman herself. Being a head coach in the D-League presents a unique challenge. While coaches want to be accommodating to their NBA counterparts and the needs of their affiliates, they also face incredible pressure to prove themselves suitable for bigger coaching jobs. Yet it’s so important that D-League coaches — and players as well – stay within themselves.
“I don’t want to have to go out here and prove that I know how to coach, [or feel] that I have to create everything myself just to ram it down people’s throats that I know what I’m doing,” Lieberman said. “I’ve been in this game for 30 years. I continue to learn and continue to grow. Rick [Carlisle] has some great offenses. He has a tremendous defensive philosophy and we’ll blend it in with what we think fits our players. But we want to work with them.”
Right now, Donnie Nelson and the Mavericks may not have much to work with in terms of an actual affiliate roster, but they do have Nancy Lieberman. They have a terrific staff working alongside her. And they – Lieberman, Nelson, Del Harris, et al — have the full benefit (and a few inconveniences) of etching out their collective D-League destiny on a blank slate.
Ryan Blake, the NBA’s director of scouting, on draft prospect Sherron Collins (via Jeff Caplan): “If Collins is down there, which he could be, he’s one of the better point guards in this draft, but it depends on how good you think he is. This is not a point-guard draft whatsoever, but the guy is tough, he’s quick and he’s proved it. He doesn’t have size, but you have [J.J.] Barea, who is very tough, comparatively, the same kind of guy.”
Caron Butler, through his Twitter account (@realtuffjuice): “Wherever I’m at next year I’m going to be a problem. (I love dallas)…I wanna win a chip in dallas and that a realistic goal luv holla in the am…I wanna win in dallas let’s get it(chip).” He also noted that he’s trying to drop about 14 pounds for next season.
J.J. Barea, with a declaration that if he weren’t a Maverick, he would want to be a Net. It’s implied that it’s out of respect for newly-hired coach Avery Johnson, who coached J.J. during his first two seasons in Dallas.
In life, in love, in highly competitive games of Scattergories, and of course, in basketball, there exists a delicate balance between convention and innovation. Knowing when to stick to the “tried and true” and when to take the leap is what separates the good from the truly great. Such discretion should be the ultimate goal of Donnie Nelson and Evan Wyly as they try to mold the yet unnamed Frisco NBDL team, and the earliest returns show them to be doing just that.
In my mind, the Spurs are the model. Though Marcus Williams, Ian Mahinmi, Malik Hairston, and the rest of the Austin Toros crew (bothpast and present) have yet to make a serious NBA impact, the organization seems to be doing things…ahem, the right way. Patience is a must when it comes to this process, as simply being at the helm of a D-League franchise doesn’t improve the intrinsic value of its parts. But if you put in the time and the effort from scouting to system implementation, you’re going to see results.
The notification that the Frisco Blankers will be running Rick Carlisle’s system is a wonderful start. First and foremost, Frisco will be a Mavs’ farm team. D-League assignees will be able to get some burn in the minors, but in the same in-game contexts that they’ll see in the big leagues. There obviously won’t be any Dirk Nowitzkis in the NBDL, but getting that in-game experience is vital for understanding the spacing, movement, and roles in Carlisle’s sets. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but those things are pretty important, especially for role players on the cusp of making it into the lig.
That’s exactly what’s going on in Austin, where D-Leaguers are learning the nuances of Gregg Popovich’s defense, and the proper ways to stand in the corner and nail threes. The Toros have already begun to bear fruit for SanAn, as Anthony Tolliver and a slew of Austin alumni served as rotation players late last season. They weren’t brilliant, but they were competent, and that’s exactly what the Mavs should expect to see coming out of Frisco. And that’s exactly what Del Harris, newly appointed general manager and old friend of the organization, will be looking for.
If given the opportunity, this system will produce role players. Donnie knows his way around the D-League block, as J.J. Barea was mined from that very system. That’s a pretty sizable asset to conjure out of thin air, and expect Donnie to find more and more serviceable players as this venture goes on.
But what’s important to remember in all of this is that the Mavs are not the Spurs, despite what Avery Johnson may have once led you to believe. Even if the Spurs-Toros connection is the blueprint, it’s essential that Nelson and Wyly aren’t afraid to step outside their bounds. Do what works, and to hell with what’s been done before. The D-League is the perfect place for experimentation, which is why I found great pride in the announcement that Nancy Lieberman will not only be the first female head coach in the NBA sphere, but also the coach of our soon-to-be-beloved Frisco squad. That’s absolutely tremendous, as the Mavs are not only exploring new avenues to scout playing talent, but coaching talent as well. No other NBA team employs a female coach on their staff, which puts the Mavs in a position to not only be progressive, but also opportunistic.
Nancy Lieberman knows basketball. It’s impossible to predict exactly what kind of coach she’ll be, but no one will know until the Mavericks do. That’s a terribly convenient position to be in. And though the common fan may not associate the Mavs with the avant garde, their extension into the D-League represents this organization’s mentality in the Mark Cuban era: keep thinking, keep trying, and keep flying.