Introducing Head Coach Eric Musselman
On August 18, the L.A. D-Fenders announced the hiring of Eric Musselman as head coach for the upcoming NBA D-League season.
Musselman, who spoke to us on the phone from Uruguay while getting the Venezuelan National Team ready for Olympic qualifying games to be played in Argentina, is most excited about the prospect of making young players better.
"The number one goal is trying to get players to the NBA level," said Musselman, who led the Reno Bighorns to a 34-16 record last year in the D-League. "The greatest satisfaction is when a player can come down to your hotel room on the road or go to his apartment in your home city and tell a guy, 'Look, you just got called up.' So many players are sacrificing to play in the D-League, it's a goal of everybody's and having said that, it has to be the number one priority."
Working with new Lakers coach Mike Brown — with whom Musselman shares a college coach (Hank Egan) as both played at the University of San Diego — will be a top priority for the organization.
"Myself and the D-Fender's staff will do anything that Mike wants us to do," explained Musselman. "If he wants us to run exactly what the Lakers are doing, we'll do that. If he wants us to experiment with things and try something that maybe he's been tinkering with, we'll be happy to be a laboratory for that. Minutes, role on the team, all those things; it's important that we understand we do exactly what the Lakers would like us to do."
And while Musselman spoke with Brown a few times throughout the hiring process, it was D-Fenders team President Joey Buss that directed the process and ultimately decided to hire Musselman.
"As soon as I heard that the D-Fenders were bringing a team back (from a one-year hiatus), it interested me," said Musselman. "I got in touch with Joey, and we started having a lot of dialogue. We developed a relatoinship, and I was excited when he called and said they were going to hire me."
Musselman's 20-plus years of coaching experience is highlighted by head coaching stints with the Golden State Warriors (2002-04) and Sacramento Kings (2006-07). He was also an assistant coach with Orlando (1997-2000) and Atlanta (2002-02), then again with Memphis (2004-06). Prior to his NBA days, Musselman was a head coach in the CBA, where he began as a 23-year-old in 1989. His 270-122 record (.688) is the second highest winning percentage in league history behind only Denver's George Karl. Musselman additionally spent two seasons in the USBL, where he led the Florida Sharks to back-to-back league championships and a 53-3 record.
As he continues to coach the Venezuelan team through the August 30 to September 11 tournament, Musselman said he's looking to experiment with various offensive and defensive schemes such as the Princeton offense and a 1-3-1 zone defense.
"With Venezuela, we're using different zones that I've never tried before," he said. "We're doing a lot more 1-3-1. And if you do have long players that can cover ground, there are other types of zone D you can play from the classic 2-3. If you go back to the Showtime Lakers with Pat Riley, that 1-3-1 was extremely effective for that team and it was because of the length of their players."
That's something Mike Brown will like to hear, since he's thinking about using a zone defense at times with the Lakers large part due to their elite length. In fact, zone defensive schemes and other elements of international basketball were a key impetus behind Brown's bringing noted international coach Ettore Messina onto his staff.
Musselman will also be charged with developing players that Lakers GM has drafted, another driving force behind the D-League, which is anything but the most conventional basketball league out there.
"I enjoy the challenge in the D-League, because it forces you to be a flexible coach," said Musselman. "It forces you to really focus on who you have on that given day. You learn to be adaptable to injuries, call ups to the NBA and so on. It's a fine balancing act between trying to get guys to improve on a daily basis and trying to win the games in the building, but you have to continually figure out a way to get your players better."
Musselman is confident that his experience as an NBA head coach will continue to help him get through to players looking to reach that level, as it did in Reno.
"I think that the buy in with any coach, the most important factor, is not necessarily what you're selling but for the players to buy into what you're doing," he explained. "Last year, I thought there was a lot of belief in if we followed the system, good things would happen."The D-Fenders will open up their season in November, playing their home games at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, CA, with Musselman ready to make his mark on the sideline.