On Wednesday afternoon, The Vertical’s Shams Charania reported that D-League alum Coby Karl would be the next head coach of the Los Angeles D-Fenders. That news came off as sudden because nobody really knew that there was going to be any kind of shakeup with in the D-Fenders organization. In fact, when Charania first reported the story, Casey Owens was still listed as the head coach of the D-Fenders.
However, as we later learned, the Karl hiring was just the first part of a reshuffling within the Lakers organization. Around five hours after that Charania tweet, Basketball Insiders’ Eric Pincus reported that Owens got called up to the LA Lakers as an assistant coach and advance scout. Although these two moves were sudden, Owens’ promotion shouldn’t come off as a surprise when you understand the kind of immediate impact that he had on the organization.
During his lone season with the team, Owens was a great coach from both from an on and off-court perspective. On the court, Owens helped lead the D-Fenders to their second NBADL finals appearance. Although they were ultimately defeated by the Sioux Falls Skyforce, it was still a great performance from the first-year head coach.
Perhaps more important than that on-court experience, Owens had a great relationship with the D-Fenders players. In an interview with Silver Screen and Roll and Ridiculous Upside contributor Harrison Faigen, former D-Fenders point guard Josh Magette said the following about Owens’ influence on the team:
"It's very deserving. He does a great job of communicating with his players and gets the most out of what he has. He's has a lot of experience all over the world and will bring a different way of viewing things"
Magette wasn’t the only person close to the D-Fenders to have positive words about Owens. In an April piece, Faigen discussed how an Owens-led D-Fenders squad really worked together as a cohesive unit. Faigen described the D-Fenders as a selfless squad where every player had each other’s back. Especially with a D-League squad where roster seem to change every week, having that kind of cohesiveness is a great example of the impact that Owens had
Another positive part of Owens’ coaching is how he can empower some of the younger players. In that same interview with Faigen, Magette discussed how Owens helped him over the course of the D-League season:
Just that singular skill might be the main reason behind Owens’ promotion to the Lakers. With a few exceptions (Lou Williams, Jose Calderon and Luol Deng), the Lakers are a team filled with young, high-upside talent. Heading into the upcoming season, the Lakers will be built around a quartet of players 24 years old or younger: Julius Randle (21), D’Angelo Russell (20), Brandon Ingram (19) and Jordan Clarkson (24).
That youth could allow Owens to play a pretty significant role. As Josh Magette mentioned, Owens does a great job of being there to help mentor players. Despite how talented these young players may be, they’ll eventually go through slumps over the course of a long NBA season. When that occurs, Owens could be there to empower those young players and help boost their confidence. Just having an assistant that can pull a young player aside and give them some pointers is an amazing asset to have when you’re a rebuilding team like the Lakers
Despite being a complete unknown within the NBA coaching circles, Casey Owens has already established himself as a coach that help in differing ways. In that single season with the D-Fenders, Owens showed himself as someone that can build a cohesive unit and as a great mentor to young players. Those traits should allow Owens to be a crucial part of the Lakers for years to come.