When the Texas Legends take on the Austin Toros on Saturday in Frisco, TX, they will have help from an unlikely, yet well-known, source.
Thirteen-year NBA veteran and two-time NBA Champion Lamar Odom.
Odom, of the Dallas Mavericks, has missed Dallas’ last three games due to personal reasons. With the All-Star break, the 6-foot-10 former U.S. Olympian has not played in a game since Feb. 20, so the organization viewed its D-League affiliate as the perfect place for Odom to get some conditioning before returning to NBA action.
“He’s been out for several days, almost two weeks,” said Texas Legends Head Coach Del Harris. “He would have no place to go to get some work in and find a legitimate game. He can’t just go to a 24-Hour Fitness and find someone to play. Here he has a structured, safe environment, the comfort of having a ref and the pressure of having a crowd. He can really get his timing back and his confidence back.”
Saturday’s game can be watched live at 8PM ET on Futurecast and also on Sunday at 2PM ET on NBA TV.
Texas (18-18) defeated Austin (21-13) on Thursday night, 99-94. Texas, winners of its last five, was led by 21 points from Antonio Daniels, who spent the better part of 14 seasons in the NBA in his own right, and 20 points from Booker Woodfox, winner of the D-League 3-Point Contest this past All-Star weekend. Austin was paced by Eric Dawson, who recently played for the San Antonio Spurs on a 10-day contract, with 18 points and 12 rebounds.
While there are playoff implications in this inter-state matchup, the main story is this presence of Odom, arguably the biggest name to ever don a D-League jersey. That is, if you’re not retroactively counting Jeremy Lin. The current situation with Odom also highlights another trend in the way that NBA teams are utilizing the D-League. Within the rules of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, it is now permissible for teams to assign willing veteran players to the D-League – assignments had previously been limited to players with two or less years of experience – who are either coming back from injury or are in need of some substantial playing time in order to develop.
Texas, one of the nine single-affiliate teams in the D-League, has been at the forefront of this trend, utilizing veteran assignments with Yi Jianlian earlier in the year and Sean Williams, who is currently on assignment. Texas has also seen other players, including Dominique Jones this season, pass through its program before sticking at the NBA level, something that Harris takes pride in.
“It is a true developmental situation here and I am happy for that,” said Harris. “I am even trying to develop some of our young coaches so they can go on to different things. We have a really good franchise.”
Dallas, the only franchise that has utilized this new wrinkle in the CBA thus far, has been a shining example of the D-League’s primary purpose - being an NBA farm system. Major League Baseball, which has American sports most intricate minor league system, has long used its affiliate teams for rehab assignments and as a way to get a certain player extra playing time.
“It’s best for everyone,” said Harris of the back-and-forth with the NBA. “It’s best for the NBA team, the individual and for the D-League. There’s more focus on everything, and then more people get to see what’s going on here in the D-League. Everyone gets a better shot.”
In the 2011-12 season, there have been 43 occasions where an NBA player has been assigned to the D-League, and the majority of those players have already been recalled. It appears that Odom, the 2011 NBA Sixth Man of the Year, will only play one game in the D-League, but even this one game is a victory for the system that is in place, as well as a treat for local fans.
“It’s great. Fans get to see some of this big name guys and almost be right next to them,” Harris said.
Even though some of the league’s top prospects in Justin Dentmon and Leo Lyons will be playing for Austin on Saturday, most eyes will be on Odom and how this D-League stint, however brief it may be, may help him contribute to the defending champs at the next level.