Actualization: The Texas Legends’ Shift from Concept to Reality

Posted by Rob Mahoney on November 11, 2010 under Commentary, Recaps | Be the First to Comment

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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.

Raw Materials

Posted by Rob Mahoney on November 3, 2010 under xOther | Read the First Comment

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After months of pondering the future of of an empty roster, there are now 15 newly christened members of the Texas Legends. Some of those 15 we know, and some of them we don’t, but with the draft now behind us, the Mavs’ D-League affiliate is beginning to come into focus.

Despite the public hiccup, Rashad McCants may be a Legend after all. His current inclusion on the roster represents more of a possibility than a certainty. Marc Stein reported for ESPN Dallas that McCants intends to pursue every possible NBA lead before reporting to Legends camp, and Percy Miller, McCants’ personal adviser, insists that there is legitimate NBA interest in the Rashad’s services.

Sean Williams is in, though. Absent are Mavs training campers Adam Haluska and Dee Brown, but in their place are a few former NBAers (yes, it’s that Antonio Daniels) and a few familiar faces (yes, it’s that Moussa Seck…as if there are others). Behold, your 2010-2011 Texas Legends:

NameHeightWeightAgeLast Played for
Sean Williams6-1023524Hapoel Jerusalem
Rashad McCants6-421526Sacramento (NBA)
Antonio Daniels6-420535Minnesota (NBA)
Reece Gaines6-619829Bakersfield (D-League)
Matt Rogers6-1022522Southwest Baptist
Justin Dentmon5-11185??Afula Israel
Kelvin Lewis6-419522Houston (NCAA)
Moussa Seck7-422224Mavs' SL
Booker Woodfox6-1185??Creighton
Curtis Terry6-519625Petro Luanda (Angola)
Reece Hampton6-5195??Adams State (NCAA)
Keith Clark6-820323L.A. (D-League)
Dar Tucker6-419322L.A. (D-League)
Pierce Caldwell6-3200??Incarnate Word (NCAA)
Andre Gatlin????????

Only 10 of these Legends will comprise the actual opening day roster; in a rather cursory determination, I’d wager that Pierce Caldwell and Andre Gatlin, both products of the Legends’ open tryouts, are likely to be among the five players cut loose. Otherwise, I see McCants, Williams, Reece Gaines (whom the Legends acquired via trade), Daniels, and Seck as virtual locks to make the final roster, with Dar Tucker and Keith Clark not far behind.

It’s also worth noting that Kelvin Lewis attended the Mavs’ pre-Summer League mini-camp, but did not make Dallas’ or any other NBA team’s Summer League roster. Also, per Marc Stein, Curtis Terry is the Mavs’ own Jason Terry’s brother.

Here are some extra tidbits on the Legends, via the team’s press release:

  • Matt Rogers was the Division II Player of the Year last season.
  • Justin Dentmon, formerly of Washington University, was drafted in the third round. Dentmon spent last season playing for Afula Israel, where he averaged more than 20 points per game. In his senior year for the Huskies, Dentmon made 41.2 percent of his three-point attempts.
  • Kelvin Lewis, who graduated from Houston University in the spring, will join the Legends after winning the Conference USA Tournament MVP during his last few collegiate games. Lewis averaged 15.5 points per game in his final season with the Cougars, and hit 39.7 percent of his three-point attempts.
  • Booker Woodfox, the sixth round pick and Dallas native, also has D-League experience. After graduating from Creighton in 2009, Woodfox was picked up by the Erie Bayhawks midway through last season. The 6-foot-1 guard is known as a three-point threat, making 47.6 percent of his attempts from deep during his senior season at Creighton.

The Chickens Have Been Counted, and Now They Hatch

Posted by Rob Mahoney on October 25, 2010 under Commentary | 2 Comments to Read

Donnie Nelson was so deliberate in his signing and waiving of Rashad McCants, that I and many others assumed all was going according to plan. In a sense, it was. But apparently, no one bothered to inform McCants himself of said plan.

Needless to say, he’s not too happy. Scott Schroeder exchanged emails with McCants’ agent, Lindsey Maxwell, for NBA FanHouse, and the situation doesn’t sound as certain as it once seemed:

According to McCants’ agent Lindsey Maxwell, though, McCants has not yet decided if he wants to be a (Texas) Legend after not receiving a solid opportunity to compete for a roster spot with the Mavericks. “We are disappointed that it didn’t work out with them and we look forward to Rashad getting a REAL shot at making it back into the NBA,” Maxwell wrote in a e-mail to FanHouse. “He is the best free agent in basketball that is available right now. He is in the best shape of his life and his shot making ability is better than ever.”

Since McCants is seemingly so close to rejoining the NBA, especially if he truly is in the best shape of his life and his shot making is better than ever, it would seem that a quick stint dominating the D-League would be a lay-up on his way to at least a 10-day contract. However, McCants does not seem sold that Frisco, Texas — a northern suburb of Dallas — is the right spot for him. “If he decides to go to the D-League, he will have to play for that team,” Maxwell continued. “I can’t speak as to Dallas’ motives, but (McCants) did not get much of a chance to ‘compete for a roster spot’ as Dallas had announced a couple of days ago. Right now, all of his options are open and he and his family have not yet arrived at any decisions.”

It’s hard to dole out specific blame without knowing further details of what went down between McCants and the Mavs/Legends, but Maxwell’s comments seem to indicate that the plan to land McCants in Frisco was not specifically articulated as a part of his deal with Dallas. McCants had no opportunity to compete for a roster spot, and if the Mavericks misled him in that way, this is on them, and there’s still plenty of time left for the whole plan to go a’splode.

The D-League may be the best avenue for McCants to work his way back into the NBA, but in general, I refuse to underestimate the actions of any professional athlete who feels they’ve been wronged. If the signing indeed went down as Maxwell implies, McCants may bail on Frisco out of his lingering distaste for the Mavericks organization. Regardless, this is already a far bigger mess than it should be. I’m not sure the Mavs should be faulted with if miscommunication or misinformation, but this is the kind of thing that should be squared away before pen is put to paper. Visions of Devean George’s one-man trade veto dance in my head, and now we have to wonder: did anyone bother to inform Sean Williams of his possible Frisco fate?

Two for the Road

Posted by Rob Mahoney on October 21, 2010 under News | 2 Comments to Read

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Per Marc Stein of ESPN.com, a team source has confirmed that the Mavericks will keep both Steve Novak and Brian Cardinal for the coming season. After all, why choose between them when you can have the set?

Additionally, the Mavs announced that they have waived Dee Brown and Adam Haluska. Sorry, fellas.

Novak and Cardinal filled out the Mavs’ roster, leaving no room for Brown, Haluska, Rashad McCants, or Sean Williams to latch on. None of those players were expected to make the Mavs’ regular season roster, but the confirmations for Novak and Cardinal made the exclusion of their fellow training campers a certainty. There’s hope for those four yet, provided hope comes in the form of an invite to play for the Texas Legends.

That’s up for them and the Mavs to decide. As I discussed earlier today, Dallas has the ability to designate up to three of those four players in order to secure their D-League rights for the Texas Legends. We’ll know more as the Mavs keep cutting, but Brown, Haluska, McCants, and Williams are all realistic possibilities to make the Legends inaugural roster.

UPDATE: The Mavs announced this afternoon that they have also waived McCants and Williams, which means that at least one of the four players won’t be playing for the Legends next season. Considering that both of those players were signed explicitly for the purpose of being waived and for the Mavs to procure their D-League rights, I’d bet on McCants and Williams both landing in Frisco.

Stepping Up, Stepping In

Posted by Rob Mahoney on under Commentary, News | Read the First Comment

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The Texas Legends’ brass have a blueprint for how they’d like to proceed with the team-building process, but in truth, such a schematic is no more helpful than a post-it note full of handy tips. Those at the top of the ladder know what they’re doing, but creating a D-League team from scratch isn’t necessarily a straightforward or predictable process. So much depends on what happens between now and Monday, when the final NBA training camp cuts are announced, and the pool of available players begins to take shape.

The Legends aren’t willing to wait through the weekend, though, as they’ve gotten a head start on constructing their roster thanks to a little institutional help. The D-League’s new player allocation rule allows NBA teams to effectively call dibs on up to three of their final training camp/preseason cuts, which has opened the door for a number of teams to make late camp additions in the name of securing those players’ D-League rights. It’s a terrific strategy for encouraging affiliate utilization, and the Mavs, well-run franchise that they are, have recently tabbed two prospects by way of the D-League’s new allocation system.

Rashad McCants is the first such prospect. McCants has been signed by the Mavs to a non-guaranteed deal, and he will likely play in Dallas’ final preseason game on Friday, primarily as due process for securing McCants’ rights for the Legends. He’s had a pretty strange run since being drafted with the 14th pick in the 2005 draft, and has become a bit of a league punchline for an attitude problem that he may or may not actually have. Still, McCants is an effective scorer by NBA fringe standards, and it’s not hard to envision a day in which his services are again needed. Dallas has worked out McCants before, and this recent signing is likely a product of both McCants’ NBA résumé and that particular workout. He didn’t scare Dallas off then, and could blaze his comeback trail to the NBA from within the Mavericks organization, even if he has to do so from the D-League.

The Mavs are also interested in Sean “Not Shawne” Williams, though it’s unclear if Dallas has officially added him to their preseason roster. Williams’ bad rap is a bit more deserved, as a series of off-court incidents have decorated him in warning labels. Despite his athleticism and shot-blocking success (he’s averaged 3.0 blocks per 36 minutes in his three-year career), Williams couldn’t find an NBA home last season after being waived by the New Jersey Nets. He’s apparently trying to work his way back into the league, and provided he’s willing to play nice — which should hardly be assumed, as Williams’ effort, production, and attitude were all problematic during his first tour through the D (link via Scott Schroeder of Ridiculous Upside) –  he’d be a terrific get for the Legends.

As Marc Stein noted in his report for ESPN, Adam Haluska and Dee Brown are also eligible to be allocated to the Legends should the Mavs deem it so. Personally, I’d go with Brown by default, as he’s managed to do with more his preseason opportunities than Haluska. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Brown seek a bigger paycheck overseas, though.

That’s the kicker. With McCants, with Williams, with Haluska and Brown — all of these players will only play for the Legends if they want to play in the D-League at all. Maybe McCants and Williams are convinced that they can wow the Mavs in a single weekend, and have no intent on ever hitting the court in Frisco. It’s a possibility, even if it’s a bizarre one.

Regardless, the Mavs and the Legends are making an effort to take advantage of league rules to the best of their ability. McCants and Williams are legitimate NBA prospects, even if recent developments have nudged them out of their previously cozy roster spots, and the Legends will hold their rights should they get the Mavs’ stamp of approval.