***This special contribution comes from Bob MacKinnon, a longtime NBA D-League head coach who won the 2008-09 championship with the Colorado 14ers. His teams over the years have gone on to secure a healthy helping of offensive records, and Coach MacKinnon has served as Director of the NBADL's national tryouts and elite mini-camps.***
Adjustments - Change - Flexibility - Preparation - Teaching - those are five key words to embrace if you are an NBA Development League coach. As the D-League season rolls on, your roster undergoes significant change & challenges throughout. Call-ups, NBA assignments, players buying out of their contracts to go overseas, injuries, trades & the grind of the season all take their toll on your roster.
As a D-League head coach, the least number of players that I had, that received playing time in a season, was eighteen. One year, we had 27 different players see game action. Change in your roster can happen at any moment. The best change is when one of your guys gets that coveted call-up. In my five years coaching in the league, it happened to me seventeen times. Each one was sweet. I'd like to give you a glimpse of that process now.
Of those 17 call-ups, 10 happened on game day; players were getting ready to go to shoot-around; sometimes it happened as players were finishing up shoot-around on game day. You get a call that one of your best players can't play that night; they will be leaving soon to catch a flight to their dream destination - an NBA city!
At that point, you get in touch with the player and try to get your team together to let them all know. Then, as a coach, you start to make adjustments to your game plan; figuring out new patterns of substitutions, possibly changing how/what/when you will do things both offensively and defensively. Being flexible in your approach is very important, as the players stepping in for that call-up guy may have very different abilities. We never used the term "stepping up,' as that is what they are there for, the opportunity to play and showcase their abilities.
One season, I had my backup point guard go down with an injury on a Thursday, my starting point guard get called up on Friday morning, and we had back to back games on Friday/Saturday night. As we had been scouring the available player pool, we picked up a player who was just released from another team, called him as he was in the airport flying home, had him detour & get on a flight to our city --- he started for us that night! We did get a split that weekend and spent a lot of time teaching our system in those 48 hours.
As a staff, if we weren't preparing each day for the possibility of losing players, we would not have been able to make a move so quickly. Staying in touch with agents is a very critical part of that process, too. Knowing who will be joining the league, when they will be coming in, or who may be available within the league at some point soon, is key to being successful.
A call-up is just one example of the changes that coaches incur in the NBA Development League that make it a very unique league to coach in. There is a saying in the D-League: "If you don't like your situation, just wait a few days, it will change".