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Wisconsin Herd GM Dave Dean Discusses Two-Way Players, Brandon Jennings And Connection With Jon Horst

Wisconsin Herd GM Dave Dean talks to Ridiculous Upside about his experiences with building an expansion team, the usage of two-way players, Brandon Jennings and his connection to Bucks GM Jon Horst.

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A while back, Ridiculous had the opportunity to talk to Dave Dean, who’s currently the VP of B-Ball Operations for the Bucks and the General Manager for the Wisconsin Herd. During our conversation, Dean touched on various topics that included the process of building an expansion team, the Bucks two-way players, Brandon Jennings and his connection with Jon Horst. So without further adu, lets get to that interview.

Ridiculous Upside: During this summer, why did you decide to transition yourself from the Bucks front-office to being the GM of the Wisconsin Herd?

Dave Dean: Well I didn’t transition myself as much it was an opportunity offered by General Manager Jon Horst. It was an absolute no brainer to assist him with whatever he wanted me to be doing. So in addition to me being vice president of basketball ops with the Bucks, he thought it would be a good idea for me to oversee the G League team and I was thrilled to do it.

RU: How much did you know about the G League before becoming the GM?

DD: (laughs) Now that I know about the G League at a much higher level, it probably isn’t as much as I thought I knew at that tie. I’ve learned a ton over the last 8 or so months that I’ve been here. So while I thought I knew a lot then, it pales in comparison to what I know now as I work here day-to-day.

The biggest thing that I’ve learned is starting a team from scratch takes a ton of leg work with all the people that you need to pull together in order to make something like that happen and for it to be successful. To manage people of differing groups at a completely different level is something that I’ve had to do and learn. You know, just the ins and outs of the league and the different rules. Those are the biggest things I’ve learned over the past few months.

RU: What type of plan did you have when you were constructing this team and staff in the off-season?

DD: Sure, I guess we can start chronologically with the coaching staff which is the first thing that I wanted to immediately get in place. It was just about identifying the right candidate as our head coach which we did in Jordan Brady and I feel really, really good about that hire. Then it was getting with Jordan and deciding what was important for him to have on his coaching staff. We identified those characteristics and then picked out the coaches that fit those characteristics.

Same thing really with our medical staff as we worked in conjuntion with Troy Flanagan, the Bucks director of medical services to figure out what was important to him as an extension of the Bucks staff. So we talked through those things and identified a couple of people that we felt really good about.

And then with our roster, its starts with the expansion draft. We went to the Chicago Player Invitational that the league puts on so we got to know players that way and had a couple local tryouts which were great. Then when the expansion draft came, we identified all the players that were available and identified what was important to us and how can we emulate what the Bucks do.

After that we picked out some of the players and made those initial expansion draft picks. We did the same thing in the regular draft. And then as the season has gone on, obviously there have been players that have become available that weren’t available initially that we’ve had the opportunity to take a look at. So, I’m happy with the work that we’ve done.

RU: What was the biggest thing that pushed you and the Herd to hire Jordan Brady? Was it his experience in the NBA G League?

DD: His experience in the G League was absolutely huge for me in particular because it was very important that I had a guy that had been there and done that in the league. As he’s talking to players, he can discuss with them the trials and tribulations of the league whether its the six hour bus rides or the back-to-backs. He can talk to these guys, not only as a coach having been an assistant in the league for five years, but he actually played in the league so he can speak to them as peers and be like: “ Guys I’ve done this, I’ve had a B-level contract” so e understands that. So to have those characteristics and then once we started to talk basketball and x’s & o’s, I knew it was a slam dunk.

RU: As the Herd GM, how much input do you have with the two-way signings?

RU: So I work extremely close to Jon Horst (Bucks GM), Milt Newton (Bucks assistant GM) where we discuss transactions at the Bucks level every day and we’re together all day long. When the opportunity arose with two-way players, we immediately knew that it would benefit both the Bucks and the Herd. It was something that we discussed very intimately and talked about how it would impact the Bucks, the Herd and how we want to try to manage that. As you’ve probably seen, there are many different ways of managing two-way guys. Some go through their 45-days very quickly and they’re out and others have a few days left even right now. It can be managed very differently depending on the organization. But the process that we went through, we were just lockstep from start to finish.

RU: Were there any initial trials and tribulations trying to figure out the process?

DD: I think it was a little bit of a learning experience for everybody. What we tried to do was identify the guys that we felt fit that position best and understood that if we saw an opportunity to make an improvement that we would take advantage and move onto somebody else.

RU: Earlier in the season, the Bucks had Gary Payton II and Joel Bolomboy on two-way deals. However, you quickly used up the 45-days for each player. After those contracts ended, you signed Xavier Munford and Marshall Plumlee to two-ways and they’ve been seeing a lot more time in the G League. Has your idea regarding two-ways changed over the course of the season?

The mindset hasn’t changed but our health has. Initially with Gary and Joel, I think if you were to ask us at day one if we were to have been 45-days when we were, I don’t think we would’ve thought that would be the case. But we had a number of circumstances that popped up which we had to have those guys on the Bucks roster and ready to play. Both of them came in, did a nice job and helped us win some ball games.

With X and Marshall, the approach hasn’t been any different but its just been dictated by the health of our NBA club. If we can take those situations for what they are and assses our situation from both a Bucks and Herd level then we got to make the best decision for the team going forward.

RU: In regards to the current two-way players, what kind of impact does Xavier Munford and Marshall Plumlee make on both the Herd and Bucks?

DD: The impact that those guys have made on the G League and Herd level has been something that’s hard to put value on. To me, X has been one of the best players in the G League since the start of the season and up until now. He’s been back and forth with the Bucks and the Herd, so when we have the opportunity to have him with the Herd its huge for us because you get 24 points per night which is really hard to replace.

Same thing with Marshall. He obviously has a different role and skill set than X but he’s as equally important as what Xavier. That’s due to how he comes in, really understands how to play the game, he bangs guys around on the boards, gets rebounds, knows his role and is a tremendous communicator. So both of those guys have been huge to have with the Herd.

You know, its just really figuring out the best way to get them back in the Herd system after they spend some time up with the Bucks. Sometimes it takes a little bit to do that but just figuring those things out have been something that we’re trying to work through. But both guys have been absolutely huge for us at the Herd level and the Bucks level at well. They come in, practice hard, give everything they have and are ready to go. One thing that I can see about those guys with something that I’m so impressed with is they’re ready to go when their numbers are called.

RU: How important has it been for the Herd that Joel Bolomboy has stuck around in the G League?

DD: It’s really been important for us. It was part of our relationship with him that helped a lot and when we saw where his two-way dates were heading, there were conversations that we had about where his next steps might be. When we had the opportunity to keep him within our organization, which is exactly what both he and we wanted to do, We felt it was a really good fit to keep on continuing to have him develop within the Milwaukee Bucks organization as a member of the Wisconsin Herd. He’s been really good for us and I feel like he’d probably say that its been good for him as well.

RU: Recently the Herd have traded for James Blackmon Jr. & Ricky Ledo to help bring some offense to the team. In the time since you made that move, what have been your initial impressions?

DD: Both have done a really nice job of stepping in, shooting the ball and scoring for us which is something we really need. When we lost James to Philly, X spending more time with the Bucks and Cliff Alexander & Joel Bolomboy being banged up and not playing, we were out like 80+ points on some nights. *chuckles* I sometimes looked at our stats and were like “how are we going to come with this?”.

Ricky has really rounded in to form as of late, which is really hard to do when you’re coming back from Europe. As for James, he’s somebody that we watched for four years when he was at Indiana and knew that he was a high level shooter that can handle the ball a bit. Both guys have come in and done exactly what we had hoped they would do.

RU: A player on the Herd that has really progressed this season has been JeQuan Lewis. How has he improved since the start of the season?

DD: He’s really improved in a lot of ways. You know, its a really big jump to go from college to professional basketball. Even if its not the NBA, which is where a lot of these guys want to be, the G League is the second best league in the world and its a high level of play so sometimes it takes players a while to adjust.

One of the things that he’s adjusted with in an unbelievable has been his ability to shift off of the ball at times and become a really excellent spot up shooter which he has done. As of the time we’re talking he’s shooting 40%. To have a guy like him that can play on the ball at PG but also slide off ball and play SG alongside a guy like Brandon (Jennings) or Jarvis Summers has been really beneficial for us.

RU: A while ago, the Herd made a move that really made national news when they signed Brandon Jennings. What was the process like when it came to bringing Jennings in? How impactful has he been both as an on-court and off-court presence.

DD: I have a huge place in my heart for Brandon because I was there when we drafted him with the 10th pick years back and got to develop a really nice relationship with him during the time that he was with the Bucks. Even when he was gone, we were able to stay in touch a bit when I got to see him when he was playing games in Milwaukee, on the road or wherever he might be. When he went to China, obviously I kept close tabs on him because of our connection and how he’s an NBA player all day long, no question about that.

So when his season ended, I knew he was back stateside in LA. I had a conversation with Jon Horst on trying to get his thoughts about reaching out to Brandon as a G League player to see if he wanted to play with the Herd. We reached out to his agent, who connected us to Brandon, we had a great conversation with him and he was all in. Luckily, we stood at the top of the waiver wire which is the only what I’d know that we’d be able to get him. I also think that’s the only way that he’d sign is knowing that we were right there. He agreed to sign in and obviously we claimed him and he’s been tremendous. He’s absolutely an NBA player and having that on the floor for us every night is huge.

In addition to his talent, he brings veteran experience to a lot of these guys that never had the opportunity to play in the league. They look to Brandon like “wow this guy is an NBA player that’s here with us right now and he’s the first one in and last one to leave the gym? How do I get to that level?”. You know, he’s played at the highest level in the world and he’s still the first guy in and the last guy out which is a true testament to his work ethic. He’s 28 years old now and he’s just guiding guys because he understands what you have to do in order to be successful. Brandon imparts his wisdom and experiences on this guy and its just been unbelievable to see.