As the dust settles on the opening of free agency, the Dallas Mavericks find themselves at an important crossroad. The team unsurprisingly agreed to re-sign Dirk Nowitzki to a two-year $40-million dollar deal, ensuring the best player in franchise history finished his career in a Dallas uniform. They also re-signed Deron Williams and traded for center Andrew Bogut, two moves made with the intent of keeping the Mavericks competitive as Nowitzki’s career concludes. In addition to these moves the team has begun a youth movement of sorts, signing 24-year old Harrison Barnes to a max deal, re-signing Dwight Powell, and adding Seth Curry on a two-year deal. Owner Mark Cuban further showed his commitment to going younger, suggesting the team could opt to fill out the remaining roster spots with rookies.
An important piece to the puzzle will be Dallas’ D-League affiliate, the Texas Legends. The relationship between the two has always been strong with Mavs players like Justin Anderson and Powell often suiting up with the club. However the Legends took a bold step toward strengthening their overall value by hiring the well-tenured Bob MacKinnon as the organization’s fifth head coach.
The head coach position has previously been filled by well-respected basketball minds, like Del Harris and Nancy Lieberman, or former Mavericks players, like Eduardo Najera and Nick Van Exel. However MacKinnon brings a different pedigree to the job, having previously spent five seasons in the D-League, including a league championship with the Colorado 14ers in the 2008-09 season. He has coached a league-record 17 D-League call-ups and knows the value a D-League affiliate can provide to an NBA organization.
“I hope what happens is that there is a great synergy between the Mavericks and the Legends,” said MacKinnon. “It’s important that as the D-League coach that I know everything the Mavericks are doing right down to terminology.”
MacKinnon’s already at work, having coached the Dallas Summer League team in Orlando. The Mavs paired MacKinnon with assistant coach Darrell Armstrong, a decision that MacKinnon called a “fantastic opportunity” to “learn the Mavericks way.”
The team secured a fifth-place finish with a 2-3 record that included two one-possession losses. Coach MacKinnon cited the team’s competitiveness as a key part of their performance and believes that’s what could open the door for some of those players to earn a roster spot. “I think that’s what the Mavericks are looking for, is young guys that will play hard… and push the guys ahead of them. We had a couple of guys that show they want to do that.”
The team’s play in Orlando, as well as his previous success in the D-League, can likely be attributed to MacKinnon’s relentless commitment to hard work and progression, concepts that can help outweigh personal agendas. “All we worry about is getting better,” said the coach. “I tell the players in the D-League their goal is to work hard every day so that they are not in the D-League. The goal is to get into the NBA. Everyday our mission statement is get better.”
DB.com has reported that Dallas has interest in seeing Summer-Leaguers like Gibson, Collinsworth and Dorian Finney-Smith advance to the point of being in the Mavs training camp. (Finney-Smith now has some partially-guaranteed money from the Mavs; the Salt Lake Tribune is reporting Collinsworth has a camp invite.)
That level of player can actually end up playing in Frisco and being developed by MacKinnon and staff. Same goes for second-round rookie AJ Hammons, who will be on the varsity roster but who can also work up a sweat while the Mavs are in town by zipping up the highway and suiting up in Frisco.
It's "development'' in every sense of the word.
Continuing with his whirlwind schedule MacKinnon joined the Mavs in Las Vegas and started his weekend participating in the ZTE Summer Series. The event, a basketball clinic for area children sponsored by long-time Legends partner ZTE, included appearances by MacKinnon, Legends alums Singh and Michael Eric, Legends President of Basketball Operations Spud Webb, and former NBA player Melvin Ely.
MacKinnon mentioned the Legends work with the community as another important component of the D-League and why he was drawn to the team.
“The Legends have an awesome, family atmosphere. Our league is supposed to be a touch-feely league where kids come and get a chance to get an autograph from every player… and you build our sport through the youth. Clinics like [this] give kids a chance to be around Spud Webb… and guys who have played in the NBA and have had great success.”
Coach MacKinnon continued to speak on the importance of community involvement, pointing out that Mavs General Manager and Legends co-owner Donnie Nelson’s recent commitment to the Dallas Police Department is evidence of the bond between the two teams and the city of Dallas. “Community is important,'' he said. "Family is important. Donnie considers all of Dallas his family and what better message can you have?”
Coach MacKinnon will continue to serve as an assistant for the Mavericks Summer League team in Vegas before beginning his preparation for the upcoming Legends season. As the Mavs begin a slow shift toward the future, it’s clear the energetic and passionate approach of MacKinnon will help ease that transition.