Tinsley Called Up for Good

With the first pick in the 2011 D-League Draft, the L.A. D-Fenders announced their return to the league after a season’s hiatus by selecting Jamaal Tinsley, an 8-year NBA veteran who’d spent most of his career with the Indiana Pacers.

“I think Jamaal coming to the D-League said such a loud statement on so many different fronts because he wasn’t just a marginal NBA player,” said D-Fenders coach Eric Musselman. “He was an NBA player that actually produced when he was given minutes. And then he kind of sat at home for a year and a half and nobody called him or picked him up, and as soon as he came to the D-League, teams were interested.”

Under Tinsley’s steady hand, the D-Fenders got off to a quick start, going 6-2 before that interest was indeed confirmed, as the Utah Jazz called Tinsley into their camp. He’d played well for L.A., leading the team with 7.6 assists per game plus 10 points, and running a team in transition – in fact, five other D-Fenders were called into NBA camps – with his steady hand.

“A lot of people inquired about him, how was his attitude, what type of shape was he in, how is he playing, and he came to this league and proved what a great vehicle this can be for guys that are out of the league,” Musselman continued. “The attitude that he came in with was one of ‘I want to try to help the D-Fenders win as many games as I can,’ he talked about trying to win a D-League championship. He didn’t have on his mind ‘how do I get called up.’ It was, ‘how do I do the right thing to help this team that I’m on right now.’ When a veteran comes in and does that, that’s why Jamaal played so well because he had the right mental approach.”

Unlike the other five D-Fenders called up, Tinsley stuck in Utah.

“(D-Fenders GM) Glenn (Carraro) and Coach Musselman gave me an opportunity, and it wasn’t long before I had a couple of NBA offers,” Tinsley recalled. “My agent and I thought Utah would be a good fit, even though there are two guys in front of me that are doing a great job.”

But when those two veterans – Devin Harris and Earl Watson – both suffered injuries last week, Tinsley was given a start when Utah traveled to Golden State on Thursday, Feb. 2. He made the most of it, totaling a game-high 13 assists with nine points and six boards in 34 minutes.

When the Lakers came to Salt Lake City to face Utah three days later, it was uncertain if Harris and Watson would play, so L.A.’s coaching staff – who’d spent considerable time with Musselman and his staff throughout the lockout – prepared as if Tinsley would play. That proved unnecessary.

Both Harris and Watson suited up, and while Harris (strained hamstring) struggled in scoring only a single point in 21 minutes with three assists, Watson (ankle) was terrific off the bench, leading a big fourth quarter Jazz surge behind 11 assists and eight points, including two late triples. Tinsley, as such, stayed in his warm ups.

But Tinsley said he prides himself on always being ready for the next time his number is called, and in the meantime, expressed his thanks that the No. 1 priority of the D-Fenders – developing players for the NBA – worked for him.

“I think that veteran players understand that it worked out well for Jamaal,” said Musselman. “There have been other guys that have called us and it’s really about the right fit with certain guys. I mean, we’re here to develop players, first and foremost, and we feel like we’ve done that with some of our younger players.”

The best example of player development is Courtney Fortson, who was terrific for L.A. early in the season, and played well enough to get called up by the Clippers for a 7-game stretch in January, notching 13 points with four boards and two assists on Jan. 17 at Utah. He’s now back with Coach Musselman and his teammates, posting a 13-points, 10-assist, 10-rebound triple-double in a 113-94 victory over Erie on Saturday night.

The next D-Fender to get a GATORADE Call-Up, Ish Smith, was barely on the team’s roster before the Orlando Magic sent out their signal.

“He was here and that was after sitting at home for 2 1/2 weeks and nobody called him at all,” Musselman explained. “All of sudden he [Smith] is on a D-League team and then he gets a call within 24 hours. I think by just being a part of the D-League, and showing that you’re willing to practice and play, and go through the rigors of playing in the Development League says a lot about your character.”

And so, while Fortson’s handling the starting point guard duties right now, the D-Fenders made yet another acquisition to cover for Smith’s departure, signing Rafer Alston to give him a similar opportunity to prove that he can still play. He’ll enter a system that has clearly worked throughout the young season.

“There’s been a lot of discussion about not only trying to get good players, but guys with the right attitude,” Musselman continued. “(D-Fenders CEO Joey [Buss] and Glenn [Carraro] have done a great job of bringing in the right pieces so the puzzle fits well, and the players have done a good job of trying to win games while they’re here and not play as individuals.

“That’s a huge key in the minor leagues, to buy into the team concept and then hopefully good things will happen. If you can’t help a minor league team win games, how are you going to help a team at the next level? And our players recognize that.”

Tinsley would agree.

“I think the D-Fenders are going to continue to be a really strong team,” he concluded. “They have good people coaching and in management, and a lot of guys that play hard, and I wish them the best.”