The Texas Legends have hired Bob MacKinnon as their next head coach, the team announced today.
MacKinnon is one of the most experienced head coaches in the D-League, having coached the most NBA call-ups in league history and winning a championship in 2009 with the Colorado 14ers. He’s also coached the Idaho Stampede, Springfield Armor, and most recently the Los Angeles D-Fenders.
After former Legends head coach Nick Van Exel took an assistant coaching job with the Memphis Grizzlies, team sources said the Legends prioritized D-League experience when searching for a replacement, and MacKinnon certainly qualifies. Before joining Colorado in 2008, MacKinnon was an assistant coach in the NCAA beginning in 1982, most lately at North Carolina from 2000-03 and Marshall from 2003-07.
In addition to coaching the Legends, MacKinnon will also be the head coach of the Mavs’ Orlando Summer League team. The group flies out to Orlando today and will practice from Wednesday to Friday before play kicks off on Saturday morning.
Due to the Mavs’ affiliation with the Legends, and the fact that Mavs President of Basketball Operations Donnie Nelson owns the D-League team, the Legends are expected to emulate the Mavericks’ style of play on the court. That mentality officially took hold last season, when Van Exel essentially ran Rick Carlisle’s offense page-for-page. MacKinnon hoped that cooperation, coupled with his experience with the Orlando team, will create “great synergy” between the Legends and Mavs.
“You start with the fact that (the Legends are) owned by Donnie Nelson, and the affiliation with the Mavericks, and you look at the success the Mavericks have had going to the playoffs 15 of the last 16 years. I think that’s unprecedented,” MacKinnon told Mavs.com. “And then a chance to get with basketball people like Rick Carlisle and Tony Ronzone and people like that, from a Mavericks side — for a guy who’s a basketball guy — it’s a no-brainer. And you couple that with the Legends, being associated with people like Spud Webb and Del Harris, and having the opportunity to pick their minds almost on a daily basis — for me, it’s almost like a kid in a candy store.”
The coach’s first chance to contribute directly to the Mavs comes this weekend, as he takes the Summer League squad to Orlando. Teams around the league fill their training camp rosters with Summer League standouts, so if MacKinnon can coach up his guys to the point where Dallas believes they can contribute at the NBA level, the Mavericks won’t have to look far to find young prospects.
Following the Summer League, MacKinnon’s next order of business will be establishing a culture with the Legends and eventually filling out the roster ahead of the 2016-17 season. There’s a chance he’ll be working very closely with the Mavericks this season, as second-round pick A.J. Hammons could receive some assignments to play in Frisco as Justin Anderson, Salah Mejri, and Jeremy Evans did last season. Ricky Ledo, Bernard James, Jae Crowder, and Shane Larkin also spent time with the Legends during the 2013-14 season, and J.J. Barea got his start in the D-League as an undrafted free agent before ultimately landing with the Mavericks full-time.
MacKinnon sat down for a quick Q&A with Mavs.com. The transcript is below.
Mavs.com: You’ve had a lot of success in the D-League, winning a championship in 2009, as well as coaching at big-time programs in the NCAA. As the head coach, how can the Legends become a championship organization at that level?
MacKinnon: Our goal is to get better every day. It’s pretty simple. We start with that, and then everything else takes care of itself. We go into work every day with our players and ask them to come in with the mindset that they’re just trying to get a little bit better each day. And if we stack enough of those together, then at the end of the day, at the end of the week, at the end of the month, all of a sudden the winning takes care of itself.
Mavs.com: Last season, Justin Anderson and Salah Mejri weren’t receiving much playing time with the Mavericks, but played well on assignment for the Legends and ultimately became important playoff contributors. Anderson said his time in Frisco helped him establish confidence and maintain his rhythm. When players are on assignment, how do you balance building their confidence while also helping them focus on the little things required to improve?
MacKinnon: That’s showing the value of having a D-League team, and the value of being able to get guys playing time. There’s nothing like game time. Practice obviously is very beneficial and great, but guys have to play in games. So for guys to come down from the Mavs to the Legends and get that playing experience, playing in games with officials, and competing against teams, I think it’s valuable.
Mavs.com: It’s looking like the D-League will expand to 30 teams within the next few seasons. How much have you seen the league grow during your career, and how much larger do you see it becoming?
MacKinnon: The league has burst. The biggest factor in that has been the commitment from the NBA. First David Stern, and then Adam Silver, had a great vision for our league. It’s gotten to the point now where I believe we are the second-best basketball league in the world. I think it’s only going to get stronger. Within 3-5 years I definitely think it’s gonna be 30-for-30. We are the true affiliate, minor-league system for the NBA. We are the second-best basketball league in the world. It’s growing tremendously. The biggest thing has been the commitment from the NBA, and also the commitment from the players in the NBA, to make it so there are more opportunities for each player.