Talk with Eric Musselman for a few minutes and you realize some things. First, he knows basketball. Second, he is organized.
That alone does not make you a good NBA coach — managing people is the key to the job. For reference see Phil Jackson. But there should be little doubt that Musselman can teach.
Which means maybe this is the best thing for him — he is the new coach of the D-Fenders, the Lakers D-League team, notes CSNBayArea.com. He will get to that gig once he finishes coaching the Venezuelan national team this summer.
Also, Musselman is working his way around on crutches this summer due to an Achilles injury.
The D-Fenders return to the D-League after a one season sabbatical last year. This could be an interesting job: The Lakers are a handful of years away from having to retool their roster for the post-Kobe era. Guys that shine at the D-League level could be part of that future. Guys the drafted in the second round could get their chance to shine.
And Musselman can learn some new skills, too.
The Lakers were on the cutting edge — they were one of the first NBA team to own and operate a D-League team to use as a farm system for their NBA squad. Jordan Farmar played a handful of games for them, and Coby Karl played there as well.
Now the Lakers are shutting them down for a year.
It’s a financial thing (just like asking Phil Jackson to take a pay cut). The Lakers have the highest payroll in the NBA ($91.3 million, to which you can add nearly $22 million in luxury tax payments) and while they sell out every home game at the highest ticket prices in the league the team still has felt the financial pinch in sponsorships and other areas, just like every franchise. The Buss family business is the Lakers, they cannot afford for it to lose money.
The D-Fenders brought in almost no revenue. They played most of their home games at Staples Center about four hours before Lakers games and only those with Lakers tickets could attend. And the veteran-heavy Lakers were not using the team to grow young players right now (no Lakers spent time on the D-Fenders this season), they had no need.
The Lakers plan is to find the D-Fenders a new home and try to create their own following, once they re-launch in a year. Where they play will be interesting, minor league teams in every sport have a long history of struggling, in the Los Angeles area marketplace. (Minor league baseball teams 50 miles away from Dodger Stadium have done well, but minor league hockey, ABA teams and other baseball teams closer to LA have struggled.)
The Lakers are making this move at a time the rest of he D-League is doing well — there was record attendance this year for the league as a whole, most teams are stable, the league has a television deal with VERSUS and the league had more than 30 players called up to the NBA this season. The model is working.