As the Texas Legends began their eighth season in the NBA Development League on Saturday, November 12th, against the Maine Red Claws at Dr Pepper Arena, the Legends did so with another new head coach.
This summer, the Legends hired Bob MacKinnon Jr., a longtime college assistant at such high-profile programs as Notre Dame and North Carolina who more recently has coached in the D-League leading Colorado to the league championship in 2009. As the fifth head coach in Legends’ history, MacKinnon Jr. looks to lead Texas back to a place it hasn’t been since 2010-11, the franchise’s first season in Frisco after relocating from Colorado.
In a league where coaches often try to balance player development with wins, the new man in charge of the Legends doesn’t view such a dichotomy as any sort of balancing act.
Well, I don’t think it’s a juggling act. I think they go hand in hand,” MacKinnon Jr. said at Legends Media Day on Tuesday. “If you look at the history of the league, I believe it’s something like 70 percent of the guys who have gotten called up (to the NBA) have come from winning programs. If you take that into account, winning is important. Winning is a big part of player development. NBA teams aren’t looking to get guys who have lost. Winning is part of development.”
MacKinnon Jr, whose late father, Bob Sr., was a longtime college and professional coach who also served as general manager of the NBA’s New Jersey Nets, feels a great place to start laying that foundation for consistent winning is to further hone a winning culture with the Legends.
Yeah, I think so. I think you have to have a winning culture. I think they (the Legends) have had that. It’s just now we need to take the next step,” MacKinnon Jr. said.
The Legends started training camp with 17 players, five more than the maximum number they can start the season with. It’s a group headlined by Jaleel Cousins, brother of DeMarcus Cousins of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings, Keith Hornsby, whose dad is noted musician Bruce Hornsby, and Jameel Warney, all of whom spent time with the Dallas Mavericks during preseason.
Like every other D-League coach, MacKinnon Jr. is also working under a compressed timetable this season. In the past, it hasn’t started until after Thanksgiving but this year begins the second week of November. But no matter the timeframe which he is operating under to assemble a final roster, the new Legends coach knows the process remains the same.
It doesn’t change. We start when we start. Day one’s always day one and then go from there,” MacKinnon Jr. said. “Just looking forward to getting going with these guys. The biggest change in our league the last couple years is that you have this affiliate player system now where you can get four guys from training camps. Those used to be guys that would go in the draft, so you can get your four from training camp. We’re fortunate with the affiliate system and our draft. We got five guys who were in Mavs training camp with us now so we’re pretty happy with that.”
The Mavericks were one of the first NBA teams to put their D-League affiliate in close proximity, allowing the Mavs to frequently assign players to Frisco for a game or two and then call them back up to the NBA. Last season, Mavs rookies Justin Anderson and Salah Mejri both spent time in Frisco early in the season and went on to become steady NBA contributors later in the year. Such an arrangement has become the norm in recent years as teams like the Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks and Toronto Raptors also have their D-League affiliates close.
This season, several other NBA teams like the Brooklyn Nets (Long Island), Charlotte Hornets (Greensboro), Chicago Bulls (Hoffman Estates), Phoenix Suns (Northern Arizona) and Utah Jazz (Salt Lake City) have either relocated an existing D-League franchise or started their own affiliate often across town, a trend which MacKinnon Jr. feels is a positive one.
“I think that is becoming the norm,” MacKinnon Jr. said. “It makes it much easier when you have assignment players come to and you have call-ups go to the parent club, It’s just easier, and it’s also easier for communication between the staffs, so that we can keep our system the same and our terminology the same. The access that (Mavs) Coach (Rick) Carlisle has given me has been terrific. We look forward to taking advantage of that.”
MacKinnon Jr. was hired by the Mavericks to coach the Legends, and in the Orlando Summer League, he got the chance to coach the Mavs Summer League team, which gave him valuable insight into how Carlisle and the Mavs like to do things. He even shadowed Carlisle and the Mavs coaches for part of the NBA preseason, learning all he could about his new employer while also getting to know several of the players who are now vying for a spot on the Legends, guys like Hornsby and Warney among others.
“Yeah, I had the good fortune of being there for two weeks every day. Coach Carlisle let me in to all their meetings and film sessions, every practice, and everything they did,” MacKinnon Jr. said. “I got a chance firsthand to really get to know these guys and get to know their games. I think that’s a big jump start.”
A coaching lifer in every sense of the term, MacKinnon Jr. continues to take one especially sage bit of advice from dear old dad to heart in everything he does, especially when it comes to putting together a roster to start the season:
“He always told me… You treat everyone fairly. You treat everyone with respect, and you hold everyone accountable,” MacKinnon Jr. said. “But at the same time, you have to understand that everyone’s different and everyone brings their own baggage and their own wants and needs to the table. So you have to learn how to balance all that out.”