The Texas Legends participated in a peculiar one-team, ten-round expansion draft on Monday, in which Nancy Lieberman and her staff had their pick of the L.A. D-Fender litter. The Legends now own the rights to 10 former D-Fenders. Those 10 players are, according to a release from the team:
St. Mary's (CA)
For those keeping track at home, the D-Fenders not selected were: Lawrence McKenzie, Ray Reese, Rodney Webb, and Horace Wormely.
The Legends still do not have a roster. Though they now own the rights to the selected 10, not all of those players will be in the D-League next season, much less in Frisco. As Scott Schroeder of Ridiculous Upside noted last week, Diamon Thompson, Michael Fey, Ryan Foreham-Kelly, and Frank Robinson have already signed contracts to play overseas next season, and thus will likely pass on the opportunity to play for the Mavs’ affiliate. Of the remaining six, some will at least make it to Legends camp, though it’s unknown how many of those players will actually make the final roster.
The Legends have begun to take shape. Even if, for the moment, that shape is something of an amorphous blob.
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:
We knew that the genesis of the Texas Legends’ roster could somehow be connected to that of the now-defunct Los Angeles D-Fenders. We also knew that an expansion draft could be an important formative step for the Legends. What we didn’t know is that those two would methods of acquiring players would actually be one in the same, as the D-League announced on Thursday. There will be a D-League expansion draft for the Legends benefit after all…with a 14-player pool comprised of solely former D-Fenders.
From the team release:
The roster for the inaugural Texas Legends season, which tips off in November, will begin to take shape by way of an Expansion Draft, it was announced today. The 14-player expansion draft pool is made up of solely of the returning players from the 2009-10 Los Angeles D-Fenders, which will be on hiatus for the 2010-11 season. Included in the pool are guard Dar Tucker and center Michael Fey, two of the 30 players invited to the 2010 NBA D-League Elite Mini-Camp, held in June in Chantilly, VA.
…“This is another step towards our inaugural season,” Legends Owner Donnie Nelson commented. “The D-Fenders had a number of very talented players who have a real chance to develop into NBA athletes. The opportunity to draft their rights is the first step towards forming our team.”
Essentially, the Legends will have the right of first refusal on all of the D-Fenders, and there should be plenty of refusing. L.A. had the worst record in the Western Conference last season (and the second-worst record in the D overall), and the overall talent of the roster reflects that. I’m sure some of the D-Fenders will end up with the Legends to start the season, but don’t mistake this for anything more than the most basic of starter kits.
Available for the picking are Dar Tucker (also known as he who did this), Michael Fey, Joe Crawford, Diamon Simpson, Ryan Forehan-Kelly, Gabriel Hughes, Lawrence McKenzie, Frank Robinson, Horace Wormely, James Wright, Keith Clark, James Peters, Ray Reese and Rodney Webb. You can view all of their statistical information here, but keep in mind that someone has to produce on every team, even the second worst in the D-League.
UPDATE: Scott Schroeder of Ridiculous Upside ranked the top 10 D-Fenders and described them in greater detail. I’m inclined to defer to him on these matters. Follow along with Schroeder as he briefly explains each of the top 10 options, their relative standing, and why it makes sense to draft the rights of some players that have already signed deals to play overseas.
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.
There are few things sports fans cling to as tightly as a good underdog story, and Jeremy Lin’s tour with the Mavs through Summer League as an undrafted free agent has endeared him to NBA fans and writers all across the internets. Here is just a sample of the responses to Lin’s decision to sign with the Golden State Warriors:
Jeremy Lin’s agent, Roger Montgomery, via the Dallas Morning News: “All the components fell in place, especially when you look at their roster. They’ve basically got three guys who are ahead of us. We can be nothing but appreciative because we wouldn’t be in this position if Donnie Nelson and the Mavericks didn’t give Jeremy Lin a chance…He may put on a Golden State jersey, but he definitely is very, very appreciative of the shot that Donnie and the Mavs gave him.”
Matt Moore, NBA FanHouse: “Lin makes sense for the Warriors, who traded C.J. Watson to the Bulls this weekend. Stephen Curry is obviously the star,and Monta Ellis will play the backup role, but Lin provides a good skill set for a third point guard and could flourish in Don Nelson’s system, unless, you know, Don Nelson Don-Nelson’s him. The fact that he’s Asian-American (Taiwanese American, to be specific), will likely make him a hit with the Bay’s fervent community. But beyond the cliche racial implications is the fact that he’s a local boy who made the most of himself, worked his tail off, and now has a big league contract. This is a better ending to the tale than playing toy soldier for the Lakers or working in the Mavericks‘ new D-League team, the Texas Legends.”
Scott Schroeder, Ridiculous Upside: “I don’t wish to offend anyone, but I have a feeling that Lin’s Asian-American background played a rather substantial role in what seems to have amounted to a bidding war between two teams with substantial Asian communities – the Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State – as well as the Dallas Mavericks (who previously showed to have interest in signing and assigning Lin to their new NBA Development League team). I don’t mean to infer that Lin isn’t worth an NBA training camp invite (he most certainly is), but I do feel that his race had a prominent role in his getting a better contract than probably any other player without prior NBA experience this offseason.
I went back and watched every one of Lin’s offensive possessions – right around 85 by my count – and he’s a pretty solid player (might be better on defense with his size and instincts, honestly), but not one that I wouldn’t make earn his job in training camp by all but guaranteeing he’ll be on an NBA roster at least until all contracts become fully-guaranteed on January 5, 2011.
Brian McCormick, Director of Coaching at the Playmakers Basketball Developmental League: “While basketball fans concentrate on the athleticism of John Wall or the psychology of DeMarcus Cousins, from a developmental perspective, Jeremy Lin is the most important rookie in the 2010 class…I am not interested in the economic impact of a successful Asian-American player. My focus is developmental. We spend too much time looking at race, and not enough time controlling things within our control – our effort, skill development, practice habits and more. Once one player breaks through the perceived barrier, it becomes easier for others to set higher standards for themselves.
From a developmental perspective, I am interested in eliminating excuses. I want players to create their own positive self-fulfilling prophecies rather than allow prevailing myths to create a perpetually negative self-fulfilling prophecy to limit one’s dreams, goals and effort. Jeremy Lin may never be an NBA all-star. However, his impact as a player may not be felt immediately; instead, his greatest impact may be felt a generation from now when young Asian-Americans no longer view college or professional basketball as an unattainable dream, but a worthwhile goal to pursue diligently.”
Kurt Helin, ProBasketballTalk: “Lin might well make the Warriors, however. Stephen Curry is going to get the lion’s share of minutes at the point, and Monta Ellis will get some, but the Warriors just traded away last season’s backup C.J. Watson. They need a backup point now, and Lin is going to get the chance to get the job.
Lin won over Summer League fans in Vegas because he plays a fearless game. Nobody attacked the rim as hard as him, as relentlessly. His game is not fully NBA ready — got to improve his jumper, he’s got to finish at a higher rate near the rim. But he has a great feel for the game, makes smart passes and is the kind of guy that will change the mood of a practice because he will not coast. Coaches love players who maximize their talents, and Lin is one of those guys.”
Eric Freeman, The Baseline: “This is a phenomenal story. Lin would be the first Asian-American athlete to play in the NBA and the first Harvard product in more than 50 years. In case you forget, Harvard doesn’t hand out scholarships, so Lin entered college with no publicity. He’s a real success story, someone who worked his way to the NBA when few believed he could do it.
Yet his story goes even deeper than that. At Palo Alto High School, Lin led his team to the 2006 state championship and defeated SoCal powerhouse Mater Dei (a team with no fewer than four high-level college prospects) virtually by himself. It was one of the biggest upsets in California basketball history and made Lin a Bay Area legend. Still, his exploits weren’t enough to get him a scholarship. Lin wanted to go to Stanford and was accepted to the school as part of the normal admissions process, but the coaching staff only offered him the opportunity to walk on. (Two guards awardedscholarships during the same recruiting cycle accomplished very little for the Cardinal.) So he went to Harvard, where he had the chance to play early and often. He proved that he belonged quite quickly.”
Until the Texas Legends begin to formulate their roster, they will be more of an amorphous blob than an actual asset. We’re getting closer and closer to something real; Summer League is over, and though final training camp cuts are still a lifetime away, the first whiff of the Legends as we’ll know them has surfaced.
As a guest on ESPN Radio, 103.3 FM in Dallas, Jeremy Lin had the following to say about his choice to play for the Mavs’ Summer League team in Vegas this year:
The biggest reason why I was drawn to the Mavs is because of Donnie Nelson. He sat me down at Portsmouth and we had dinner. He talked about how he liked my game. He thought that I was a year or so away from the NBA and he wanted to recruit me for his D-League team.
Donnie’s really taken care of me. He invited me to play for the Summer League team. Even before the draft had ended, he called me right before it ended and said, “I really want you to play for us.” That was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up with how well he’s been treating me and how he pursued me to play for the team. When I got to Dallas, he took care of me there. I’m just glad I was able to get this opportunity.
This is great news. Dallas isn’t the only team interested in signing Jeremy Lin for next season (According to Jeff Caplan of ESPN Dallas, the Lakers and at least one Eastern Conference team are also negotiating with Lin), but they do appear to have a decent advantage thanks to Nelson’s legwork. Jeremy wouldn’t be a candidate for playing time on this year’s team with Jason Kidd, Rodrigue Beaubois, and J.J. Barea all superior options at point guard, but the Mavs could definitely benefit from giving Lin a roster spot while allowing him to thrive in Frisco.
The decision will be Jeremy’s. If he gets a better offer from another NBA team, no one should blame him for taking it. But if the Mavs can make it worth Lin’s while to stay in the Dallas area, we could get an extended look at the third point guard for next season. J.J. Barea will be an unrestricted free agent next summer, and while he’s been very useful during his four-year career with the Mavs, Lin could easily make him expendable after a year of D-League seasoning. This isn’t to say that Lin would necessarily be the better player in a year’s time, but he’d undoubtedly be the more cost-efficient of the two.
The D is the best place for Lin right now. Although Jeremy had a strong showing in Vegas, teams won’t be lining up to hand him significant minutes next season. But having the opportunity to run an NBA offense full-time while further adjusting to the speed of the pro game will do wonders for Lin’s long-term chances. With that in mind, Dallas is a perfect fit. Not only could the Mavs offer Lin a chance to fight for a rotation spot in 2011, but he’d also be able to develop in the team’s front pocket. The Legends will run Maverick sets and operate within the same general offensive and defensive systems next season, all while allowing Mav-affiliated coaches to work with Jeremy on aspects of his game as emphasized by the team. Should Lin choose to sign with Dallas, he would be playing for the Mavericks next season, even without technically playing in NBA games.
UPDATE 11:56 PM CST: Per Jeff Caplan of ESPN Dallas, Lin’s agent, Roger Montgomery, has said that there are now new teams in the running.
Donnie Nelson’s ownership of the Texas Legends is a bit unusual. It’s been obvious for some time that the Legends weren’t going to be an ordinary D-League team due to the nature of the purchase and ownership. At the same time, the Legends aren’t owned by their affiliate NBA team, like the Austin Toros or the Tulsa 66ers are. They’re also not partially owned via the hybrid affiliation model, meaning the win-win relationship the Houston Rockets have with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers isn’t a perfect comparison, either. The Legends are just something else entirely, and while we can’t forecast the success of the model until we see it in action, a bit of news surfaced today that does offer some clarity into the nature of the Mavs-Legends dynamic.
The D-League affiliations for 2010-2011 were made official yesterday, and the Dallas Mavericks will be the sole affiliate for the Texas Legends in their inagural season. No other NBA team is afforded a direct D-League partnership without actual ownership, but due to the unique nature of Nelson’s involvement, it makes sense that Dallas is treated a bit differently. Regardless, this is great news. The point of Donnie owning the Legends in the first place is to make the Mavs’ D-League outfit more beneficial to the mothership, and the benefit of operating the team would be diminished greatly if another NBA affiliate were involved. Such a scenario would basically entitle another franchise to have eyes and ears on the inner workings of the Mavs’ system; the Legends will likely run Dallas’ offense and defensive schemes in order to better prepare their prospects for a call-up to the main roster, but doing so while another team (and assigned, hands-off prospects from that team) can take notes is very counterproductive.
Luckily that’s something the Mavs won’t have to worry about. They’ve put in their personnel to run the organization. They’ll have oversight during every stage of player development. They’ll be able to run Maverick plays with Maverick-selected prospects, in what really amounts to a farm team. Even though all of these things have been assumed from the beginning, only now are they finally starting to materialize. This was a big “if,” and now that it’s out of the way, we’ll get to see just how adept Donnie Nelson is at using the D-League system.
As a precedent, Sefko cited the dissolution/relocation of the Anaheim Arsenal to Springfield, where they then became the Springfield Armor. The comparison makes sense when broken down into its most simplistic components: one team ends, another begins, roster transfers. But all indications point to both scenarios being incredibly complicated, which makes a comparison a bit dicey. For one, the exact circumstances that dictated the Arsenal’s move are a bit…fuzzy. The roster ended up moving to Springfield as a new team started there (along with a new ownership group, I might add), but the situation wouldn’t exactly mirror a potential move from L.A. to Frisco.
For one, the general D-Fenders infrastructure, as I understand it, is to remain in place. The team will phase out rather than disappear forever, with the intent not to end operations but to cease them while the model is reworked. Obviously the players will not be retained in the meantime, and the D is still unresolved as to best handle the situation with player rights.
As if the D-Fenders’ one-year hiatus wasn’t enough of a complication, their ownership situation makes things extra interesting. The D-Fenders are owned by the Lakers, and as one of the few D-League teams owned by a mothership NBA franchise, Dan Reed and the D-League have great incentive to make this work. Team ownership has to maintain its allure for other NBA outfits, and to see L.A. run a team for so long and then lose out on its entire roster would certainly qualify as a disconcerting sight. Still, it’s not like the D-Fenders can just put hooks on all of their current players and reel them back in once the organization is stable again.
It’s the one-year break for the franchise and ownership incentivisation that make the outcome of this ordeal incredibly fuzzy for the Legends and the D-Fenders alike. Maybe, as Sefko described, the Legends will inherit the D-Fenders roster. In such a scenario, the Legends would still be able to benefit from the expansion draft, which would allow Nancy Lieberman, Del Harris, Spud Webb, and Donnie Nelson to further customize their roster. Essentially, the Legends would have the right of first refusal on any of the D-Fenders’ former players, and should they choose to cut every one of those players loose, they’d be entitled. Again, this is only if the D-League does indeed decide to move the L.A. roster to Frisco, because otherwise Texas would be forced to build their roster solely through the expansion draft, the D-League draft, and by using undrafted talent and NBA assignees.
That could be a rougher road, but perhaps one fitting for an expansion team just setting its roots.