An inside look at the Toyota Sports Center, where the Los Angeles D-Fenders play their home games. - NBA Photos
When Reggie Theus entered the season as the Los Angeles D-Fenders head coach, expectations were high based upon the club's success last year, and Theus' experience in the NBA. However, Theus and the D-Fenders received a crash course on the ever-changing roster possibilities that can take place in the NBA D-League, and struggled for the first half of the season. But has the team now found a formula for success heading into the second half of the season?
Los Angeles D-Fenders head coach Reggie Theus, along with the D-Fenders, are starting to find their stride in the D-League as they are coming off a two-game winning streak and heading into February with momentum. The D-Fenders are looking to establish themselves as a perennial power in the NBADL, and with steady improvement amid the constant change for the team this year, L.A. is on the cusp of a winning run to start the second half of the season.
Theus spoke with RidiculousUpside.com and expressed that this season has been both rewarding, but also a challenge. "All I can say is it's the toughest coaching job I've ever had," he said.
According to Theus, "There are a lot of challenges in the D-League. It challenges your ability to coach, it challenges your ability to coach on the fly, it challenges you in a lot of ways - rosters, different lineups, different players on the floor, people playing multiple positions." The D-Fenders have since realized these aspects as well, and brought in some new talent to help the club rebound from their slow start. Among the newest players are Lazar Hayward and Morris Almond.
Hayward is coming off a stint with the Minnesota Timberwolves and received a Call-Up after being a member of the D-Fenders for a literal split second. Also speaking with RidiculousUpside.com, Howard added, "I think the time in Minnesota was very beneficial to me because it had been a while since I was back on an NBA team. I think your confidence just comes from the way you work, and I've been a guy who has been on teams that the only way we were able to win was with the way we worked. So I think that's where a lot of guys' confidence comes from."
Hayward averaged an impressive 24.0 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 2.7 assists last season in three games with the Tulsa 66ers. Those are the type of numbers that the D-Fenders have in mind with regard to the former Marquette standout as he suits up for the D's now. Hayward has been apart of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Minnesota Timberwolves, but at his new digs with the D-Fenders, Hayward is motivated to be apart of the Lakers' organization. "It's a great motivator for each of us. Playing on this team and being in an organization like the Lakers [is helpful]. It definitely helps motivate you a little bit more because of the history of the Lakers."
Along with the addition of Hayward, the D-Fenders also acquired a D-League veteran and Call-Up recipient in Morris Almond. In his first game with the D-Fenders, Almond scored 10 points and grabbed 6 rebounds helping the D's to a win over the top-ranked Bakersfield Jam.
Almond has achieved a great amount of success as a player in the D-League, but will now look to continue his journey in the NBADL with the D-Fenders, as he strives for continued success without taking things for granted. He told RidiculousUpside.com, "I don't take it for granted and I just try to respect the game by putting my best foot forward no matter what situation I'm in is, and that's kind of been my mindset from day one when I was drafted and became a professional. So I do that and let the chips fall where they may."
Almond is the kind of player that D-League teams often look to in order to find success and tally wins. Almond described what he is looking to bring to his new team. "Just my experience and savvy offensive fire power. But mainly just experience. I've got a couple of years under my belt and played a lot of places, so there's one thing I do know, and it's the dynamic of the D-League and I can help the team in that regard," added the minor league vet.
Both Almond and Hayward know what it takes to earn a Call-Up from the NBA D-League to the NBA, and also the difficulty between helping their team win games while displaying their own talent. Almond commented, "It's a fine line. I think number one is play hard. The cream always rises to the top. If you can play, it will come out regardless of what league you are in or what situation you are in. If you play enough games on a regular basis, your skill set and talents will shine through at one point or another regardless. I think if you just play your game, things will work out how they're supposed to work out."
Both players, along with the rest of the talented D-Fenders roster, will ultimately help Theus lead his team back into the playoff hunt in the NBA D-League. Theus commented on his current sense of comfort coaching in the D-League now, as opposed to the start of the year. "For me in terms of my coaching, I have a much better handle on the league and the players in the league and the style of play that has to come about," he said. "Also, I've learned a little bit about the mentality of the players as we've gone forward here. I've gotten better at understanding all of those things about the D-League."
With a basketball mind such as Theus now learning how to be successful in the D-League, jobs outside of the NBADL will likely present themselves, if they haven't already. However, Theus is staying focused with his current role as the D-Fenders head coach. "I think that I'm always focused on the job at hand. I'm very much the kind of guy that always wants to finish what he starts, so I'm very focused.
This keeps me moving in the right direction. I've had the opportunity to do TV this year, but it's a great move for me to show this is what I want to do - I want to coach. I don't want to be an analyst. Now I can say that I've coached on every level of basketball there is."
The D-Fenders will have their work cut out for them as they embark on the month of February, the D's open with a set of games against the Idaho Stampede (Portland Trail Blazers affiliate) and will continue to play 5 of their next 7 games on the road. However, it appears that Theus and his players will be up for the challenge.