It’s quite possible that the most carefully watched and critically scrutinized person in the NBA D-League this season won’t be vying for a call-up or on assignment from the NBA. That person is Nancy Lieberman, head coach of the Texas Legends.
Head coach in the D-League is not typically a high profile gig, but Lieberman is the first woman to serve as head coach of a men’s professional team associated with the NBA. Yesterday, TrueHoop’s Kevin Arnovitz published a post after speaking with Lieberman that explained she is less concerned with breaking down barriers than she is with breaking down film—from NBA/D-League game film to film of Mike Tomlin’s press conferences. Read the full post here.
While Lieberman has all of the qualifications a D-League coach would need—her basketball résumé speaks for itself—being the “first” of anything is going to draw extra attention anyone, especially if that first is a gender- or race-based milestone.
Judging from her quotes in Arnovitz’s post and her history as a basketball pioneer, Lieberman is prepared to face the questions this season will bring wherever she goes without letting them distract her and her team from focusing on the task at hand. No matter what happens this season, Lieberman will be in the spotlight as much as any coach in the league. With that in mind, I’ve compiled a list of five Lieberman-related questions that will be stories you’ll likely hear more about if you follow the D-League this season.
1. How will the Legends’ players react to questions about their coach?
By the end of the season, players may come to realize that playing for Lieberman is not all that different from any other coach in the same way that. But when players are drafted to Texas, when they get ready for the first practice or the first game, they’re going to be part of history, and they’re going to be reminded of it by the media, if not friends and family.
2. Stylistically, what kind of coach will she be?
One of Lieberman’s most intriguing responses in the Arnovitz piece was to his question of her tactical style as a coach. She said her style is not entirely applicable to the D-League. She knows a lot about basketball, but her experiences in college, internationally, and in the WNBA don’t translate with 100 percent accuracy. The good news is that she plans to adapt to the pieces she is given with the Legends, but her philosophy for the Legends in terms of Xs and Os remains somewhat of a mystery at this point.
3. Will the Dallas Mavericks use their new affiliation and assign any player(s) to the Legends?
And if so, what type of adjustment, if any, will their players have to make going from being coached by Rick Carlisle to Lieberman. As the Mavs’ roster stands today, Rodrique Beaubois and rookie Dominique Jones are the only eligible players, and Beaubois’ future seems to be in Dallas, but it’ll be interesting to monitor this affiliate relationship with the new expansion D-League team under the ownership of Mavs general manager Donnie Nelson.
4. Will hecklers target a female coach?
It would be nice if this wasn’t an issue, but it is. We may have an African-American president and a female men’s basketball coach, but we also have more than a few idiots in our nation, some of whom like to go to cheap sporting events and give people a hard time. I had the privilege of sitting courtside twice last season. One experience was delightful. The other was marred by a clearly intoxicated fan a few seats down the line from me who had much less interest in the outcome of the game than in catching the ear of a visiting player. I hope this does not become an issue this season, but I’d be pleasantly surprised if Lieberman goes an entire season without encountering at least some moderate buffoonery.
5. How many games will she win?
Success is judged a little differently in the D-League. With an emphasis on developing players for the NBA, it’s possible to coach yourself right out of a championship if your best players all earn NBA call-ups. But the bottom line is that the best coaches still find a way to win games with the pieces they have. If Lieberman can make Texas a winning team, all of the other side stories will fade into the background.