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Springfield G.M. Milton Lee Strikes Balance Between NBA Present and Future
As the Armor's first GM in their hybrid-affiliate era, Lee's the bridge between Springfield and New Jersey.
It stands to reason that Milton Lee finds himself managing the basketball operations for the Springfield Armor – the hybrid affiliate of the New Jersey Nets. Lee, after all, is a hybrid of sorts.
A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Lee has worked as a proprietary trader on Wall Street; he ran his own basketball services company, working in conjunction with the NBA, its teams and players; he’s been a skills coach with several NBA players; he also did a stint with the Los Angeles Clippers as an assistant coach for their summer league squads.
Lee's background in the business and basketball worlds made him an ideal candidate for the Nets and Armor.
Chris Marion/NBAE via Getty Images
The sum total of these experiences has Lee, the Nets’ general manager of minor league operations, shifting back and forth from New Jersey to Springfield, sometimes in the same day, in an effort to service both organizations as they grow into this new partnership – one in which the Armor control the business and the Nets control basketball ops.
“It’s been full integration, and I think both organizations are very happy with the synergy we’ve found on both the business and basketball side,” said Lee, who was in Springfield as the Armor played back-to-back tilts against Erie on Wednesday and Thursday. “We’re trying to institute a culture that will transcend into future seasons, and I’m excited about being on this journey and watching things grow.”
Part of his job is to push out regular updates to Nets General Manager Billy King and head coach Avery Johnson on the state of the Armor -- players in the program, players the team may be looking to acquire, or players that may be on their way out the door. Now that the NBA season has started, Lee is also in New Jersey on a regular basis, fulfilling his duties on the NBA side. Naturally, there’s been some overlap in terms of personnel, with three members of the Armor -- JamesOn Curry, Dennis Horner and Jerry Smith -- participating in New Jersey's training camp.
“They’ve reflected very well what’s been going on up here in Springfield,” said Lee. “They have the added benefit of being in shape, running our plays, understanding what points of emphasis there are. They’ve put themselves in a great position to make our team.”
Much of the credit goes to Armor head coach Bob MacKinnon, whose strong personality and coaching expertise have resonated with the entire organization, Lee said.
“In D-League basketball, the coach has to be your leader, because the rosters are oftentimes pretty fluid, and there’s a lot of turnover,” said Lee, who’s watched the Armor start out 5-2 this season, good for first place in the East. “We're lucky in that we have a really strong coach who knows what he’s doing. He’s a great leader of men. It’s easy for our players to follow in line.”
MacKinnon and assistant coach Chris Carrawell have been regular visitors to Nets training camp, working with players and becoming more familiar with the program that Johnson has put in place.
“Our viewpoint is that it’s full integration,” said Lee. “They are an extension of the Nets staff, and we want them to be a part of the Nets as much as possible.”
Lee will continue to have a foot in both worlds, balancing the many variables that exist at the D-League level with the daily demands of the NBA. So for Lee, time spent on Interstate 84 is time well spent.
“I love the game and I love the journey a season allows you to take on,” said Lee. “Watching things grow, and watching players react and get better, and watching the group of 10 players grow as a unit. That’s the really fun part. More than balls going through a basket, it’s watching guys develop and buy in and get better and reach their potential, and hopefully play at a higher level.”