Thursday night marked the 2011 D-League Draft, and to little surprise, proven NBAer Jamaal Tinsley went first overall to the L.A. D-Fenders. As much as the league itself is concerned with developing talent, a player of Tinsley’s caliber held obvious appeal to what is, first and foremost, an actual basketball organization. The D coaches up prospects and provides playing time for assignees, but the league’s coaches, players, and managers are all still vying for success on the minor league level in addition to their harbored call-up dreams. Tinsley, more than any other player in the draft pool, gave the D-Fenders the best way to tap into that success.
D-Fenders coach Eric Musselman provided the cut-and-dry explanation for the selection, via Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register:
“Our goal all along with the first overall pick was to take the player who we felt gave the D-Fenders the best chance of winning right now,” D-Fenders coach Eric Musselman said. “In this case, we were able to do just that with the selection of Jamaal. The guard position was a point of emphasis for us entering the draft, and Jamaal’s extensive experience in the backcourt provides the D-Fenders with a great foundation as we work towards our ultimate goal of winning a D-League championship.”
Supposing Tinsley has a successful D-League season without giving teams reason to doubt his ability to fall in line, it’s easy to see him filling in on an NBA team hit with injury a la Antonio Daniels. Tinsley is the more talented playmaker among them, and would fit in nicely as a reserve guard on a number of pro-level clubs — injury or no. It’s just a matter of convincing teams that he’s worth the perceived trouble at this point, a tall order considering Tinsley’s dicey reputation. Fair or not, that’s Tinsley’s current predicament.
The rest of the NBA names went early, as Alando Tucker (No. 2 to the Texas Legends), Gabe Pruitt (No. 4 to the Sioux Falls Skyforce), and Jamal Sampson (No. 5 to the Texas Legends) were all taken in short order. Beyond that group, the draftees primarily consisted of middling contributors to major college programs, relative unknowns from smaller schools, and local talent selected as a ticket draw. The D-League draft rarely seems like a gold mine on first glance, but some among these will pan out as capable contributors, with a select group successful enough for legitimate call-up contention.
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.
Talk to former NBA coach Eric Musselman and this much becomes clear — he loves basketball. Loves talking about it. Loves coaching it.
And he’s going to get to do what he loves in the D-League next season with the Reno Bighorns, according to Scott Schroeder of FanHouse. Reno just a short drive from Lake Tahoe, one of the most beautiful places on the planet, so not a bad spot to land.
Musselman had conversations with a few teams this summer about an assistant coaching job, but nothing ever rose to the level of serious. So he has decided instead to go the route of former Toronto coach Sam Mitchell and return to the D-League to hone his craft.
However, this landing spot is a bit interesting because Reno is the D-League team for the Sacramento Kings and the Golden State Warriors — the two teams Musselman coached in the NBA, on his way to a 108-138 record over three seasons.
In Sacramento, Musselman’s credibility was undercut by a DUI before the first practice, and from them on the team seemed to lack a real direction and understanding of what it was trying to do. Brad Miller (a solid veteran) said he didn’t understand his role, and that was 50 games into a season. The Kings let Musselman go after one season (then hired Reggie Theus, which exacerbated their problems, but that’s another story).
Musselman was the color commentator on Versus for D-League games last season, so he has some understanding of the league. He also understands that while winning matters, player development is the real reason for the league. Golden State in particular loves to snatch up D-League players and watches the entire league closely.
If he does a good job here, Musselman could find his way back to the NBA (almost certainly as an assistant at first).