2006-07: Early Beginnings
Upon NBA approval, the Los Angeles Lakers became the first franchise to own and control their own NBA Development League team: the Los Angeles D-Fenders. Their games would be played as “doubleheaders” at Staples Center, either prior to before Laker home games.
The D-Fenders opened their inaugural campaign with three straight wins under coach Dan Panaggio, as they defeated Anaheim and Bakersfield twice. Devin Green, waived by the Lakers at the conclusion of training camp, started 13 games for the D-Fenders, leading the club in scoring at 19.5 points till that point before heading overseas to play in the German Basketball League.
Brian Chase, their third round selection in the expansion draft, averaged 16.2 points, 3.8 assists and 1.4 steals in 35.1 minutes – all of which ranked first on the club. He was named to the D-League All-Star game, the club’s first ever player selection. Chase also was recognized as an All D-League Honorable Mention.
Jordan Farmer, the Lakers first-round draft selection in 2006, played in three games for the D-Fenders, averaging 14.7 points and 5.7 assists. On April 1, he became the first player to appear in a D-League game and NBA game in the same day.
Post All-Star break, L.A. won three of four games, pushing their record to 19-16. However, a seven-game skid followed, and ultimately, the D-Fenders missed the playoffs by one game. They finished their first season at 23-27, fourth place in the Western Division.
2007-08: Steady Improvement in Year 2
Panaggio returned for a second season with far better results. The D-Fenders won 15 of their first 19 games, including two separate win streaks of six games. Jelani McCoy became the first D-Fender to receive an NBA call-up in late November from the Denver Nuggets, but rejoined the D-Fenders in December after being waived. At the same time, L.A. acquired Stephane Lasme, a 6-foot-8 forward/center out of UMass.
By the All-Star break, L.A. had compiled a 21-10 record, in large part due to the performances of Sean Banks and McCoy, who were selected to play in the D-League All-Star Game, and the leadership of Panaggio, who was selected as the All-Star Game head coach. Banks averaged 21.7 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.0 assists for the year, while McCoy posted 11.2 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.1 blocks in 36 games.
At season’s end, Banks was named to the All D-League First Team, McCoy to the All D-League Third Team and Lasme an All D-League Honorable Mention and co-Defensive Player of the Year.
Lakers assignment player Coby Karl split time in between the NBA and D-League, averaging 17.5 points in 17 starts with the D-Fenders. On Feb. 19, 2008, Karl became the second player ever to appear in a D-League game and NBA game in the same day
Out of the All-Star break, the D-Fenders reeled off five wins in six games, but closed the season dropping seven of their last 11 contests. Still, L.A. finished 32-18, second in the West Division. The D-Fenders captured their first playoff victory in franchise history, defeating the Colorado 14ers, but fell in the second round to the Idaho Stampede, who eventually captured the D-League championship over Austin.
2008-09: One Step Back
For the first time in their history, the D-Fenders played select home games at Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario. Panaggio returned as head coach for the third straight year, although L.A. stumbled to a 4-16 start in their first 20 games.
The Lakers second-round draft selection, Joe Crawford, averaged a team-high 20.8 points, to go along with 4.6 rebounds and 2.7 assists. In a 110-100 loss against Utah on Jan. 9, 2009, Crawford scored a franchise-high 44 points. He was named an All D-League Honorable Mention and he became the third D-Fender to receive an NBA Call-Up. The New York Knicks signed him to a 10-day contract in late March, and he was later signed for the rest of the season.
Lakers assignment player Sun Yue, the club’s 2007 second-round pick, appeared in and started six games for the D-Fenders, averaging 9.8 points, 3.7 assists and 3.3 rebounds.
In all, the D-Fenders finished with a 19-31 record, missing the playoffs for the second time under Panaggio’s watch. In three years at the helm, he boasted a 74-76 record, guiding L.A. to as far as the D-League semifinals in his second season.
2009-10: Another Setback
The D-Fenders opened season four with their second head coach in franchise history, promoting three-year assistant Chucky Brown to lead the team.
Brown inherited returning players Joe Crawford, Ryan Forehan-Kelly, Logan Longar and Earl Barron, who was subsequently traded for Dar Tucker. While Crawford, a former NBA Call-Up from the D-Fenders, did not attend Brown’s training camp, he returned before the fourth game of the season and helped the team to a respectable 7-4 record. Crawford once again led the team offensively, averaging 17.8 points, 3.1 rebounds and 3.1 assists. Additionally, allocation player* Diamon Simpson totaled 15.5 points and 9.6 rebounds, while Tucker chipped in with 11.5 points per contest.
Crawford and Simpson’s output led to an All-Star Game appearance for each player on the West team. Tucker, meanwhile, became the first D-Fender to appear in the Slam Dunk Contest. Using his catalog of finishes, the 6-foot-4 guard captured the Slam Dunk Contest crown, throwing down a tomahawk slam dunk over 7-footer Brian Butch to secure the win.
Despite the team’s 7-4 start, the D-Fenders faltered to begin the new calendar year, losing 13 of their first 15 games to sit at 9-17 just over halfway through the season. In that stretch, the D-Fenders just couldn’t seem to change their fortunes as six of the losses came by less than five points and one loss came in overtime. Los Angeles finished with a 16-34 record, missing the postseason for the second straight year. The D-Fenders would pause all operations the following campaign to reassess the organization’s business model.
*Under the previous collective bargaining agreement (CBA), an allocation player was a player of local significance allocated to D-League teams, a rule that was designed to help with marketing.
2011-12: The Dawn of a New Era
After a one-year hiatus, the D-Fenders returned in 2011-12 with more new faces and a new home.
President Joey Buss and new General Manager Glenn Carraro set the tone for the season, tabbing NBA coaching vet Eric Musselman as head coach, selecting nine-year NBA guard Jamaal Tinsley first overall in the NBA D-League Draft and changing home arenas, relocating from Staples Center to Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo.
Prior to the season, Musselman made it a goal for his team to finish with a lofty 38-12 record — the best win-loss mark in league history. Under the leadership and direction from both Musselman and Tinsley, the D-Fenders captured wins in six of their first eight games, resulting in a league-high six players signing to NBA training camp rosters on Dec. 8, the late start a result of the lockout.
Among those who made the jump were Tinsley (Utah Jazz), Elijah Millsap (L.A. Lakers), Zach Andrews (L.A. Lakers), Courtney Fortson (L.A. Clippers), Brian Hamilton (Detroit Pistons) and Terrance Roberts (Oklahoma City Thunder).
In the coming weeks, the D-Fenders managed just a 2-4 record despite playing with Lakers assignment players Andrew Goudelock and Malcolm Thomas for one game, and acquiring former NBA guards Mardy Collins and Orien Greene. Just before the NBA season kicked off on Christmas Day, Tinsley signed with the Jazz, becoming the first NBA Call-Up of the season for L.A. Millsap, Andrews, Fortson, Hamilton and Roberts each returned from camp to join team-leading scorer Brandon Costner. Lakers training camp participants Gerald Green and Thomas also signed on with the D-Fenders after not receiving NBA contracts.
Chalk full of talent, Musselman and Co. reeled off seven consecutive wins from Dec. 29 through Jan. 11, leading to 10-day NBA contracts for Fortson (L.A. Clippers) and Thomas (San Antonio Spurs). The D-Fenders would go on to lose four of their next six, but still boasted a 17-10 record, and were in the middle of a playoff hunt two games past the season’s midway point in late January.
Reprieve came for the D-Fenders at the power forward position after the Lakers assigned Derrick Caracter for four games, where he averaged 15.5 points and 7.5 rebounds. The ultimate turning point for L.A. came after defeating Canton by 40 points on Jan. 30 (largest margin of victory in team history), sparking a 10-game win streak that stretched through the All-Star Break. Team offensive and defensive leaders Green, Millsap and Andrews (replacement for injured Costner) all secured spots in the 2012 NBA D-League All-Star Game, helping the Western Conference take home the victory. Green, boasting averages of 19.1 points (45.8 percent on three-point field goals) and 4.6 rebounds over 22 regular season contests, electrified the audience during the All-Star Game, earning MVP honors and ultimately an NBA Call-Up to the New Jersey Nets.
More relief in the form of Lakers assignment players Devin Ebanks (18.3 points, 6.0 rebounds in three games), Darius Morris (21 points, four assists in one game), Christian Eyenga (12.2 points, 5.0 rebounds in six games) and NBA veteran Jamario Moon helped L.A. continue its winning ways post All-Star Break. The D-Fenders reeled off a perfect record in February (9-0 record) and lost only twice in March (8-2 record).
Ishmael Smith was called up to the Orlando Magic less than 48 hours later after signing with L.A., and Fortson (17.0 points, 5.9 assists in 29 games) along with Thomas (13.4 points, 9.1 rebounds, 2.4 blocks in 25 games) secured 10-day deals with the Houston Rockets in late March.
In April, the D-Fenders recognized the goal visualized before the season, going a perfect 4-0 to set a league-record for regular season wins at 38. More impressively, the D-Fenders had done so by winning 21 of their final 23 games and defeating teams by a league-best 8.4 points per contest.
L.A. reached the postseason for the first time since 2007-08, and squared off against No. 8 Iowa Energy in Round One, only four days after the teams battled each other to conclude the regular season. In Game 1, Moon paced the D-Fenders with 25 points to help knock off the Energy 114-103 on the road. The following day, Moon became the 11th NBA Call-Up in team history and final of the year for a D-Fender, signing with the Charlotte Bobcats. Millsap and Thomas, who returned before the series from the Rockets, kept the D-Fenders on track and led them to a nail-biting 89-88 Game 2 win, completing the 2-0 series sweep.
The semifinals pitted the D-Fenders against conference rival Bakersfield Jam. Trailing by as many as 23 points in the second quarter in Game 1, L.A. put together an impressive 109-104 comeback win on the road behind Millsap’s 23 points. Game 2 went handily to the D-Fenders, who knocked off the Jam 109-90 to secure the first ever D-League Finals berth for the franchise. L.A. was set to clash with the Austin Toros, who finished the regular season with a 33-17 record, second best in the league.
The D-Fenders stole Game 1 of the Finals on the Toros home court in a 109-101 overtime thriller, led by Millsap (33 points, 10 rebounds) and Thomas (19 points and a D-League Finals record 25 rebounds). Perfect through five postseason games, L.A. encountered an unusual result in Game 2 as the Toros and D-League MVP Justin Dentmon won 113-94. With the series knotted at one victory apiece, the D-Fenders and Toros played a deciding third game in El Segundo. In the clinching game, the Toros went up by as many as 16 points in the first half and D-Fenders leading scorer Millsap sprained his ankle in the second quarter. However, Collins – hampered by injuries for much of the regular season and postseason – helped spark the D-Fenders, who cut the deficit to a single point. Even so, Collins’ 31-point night wasn’t enough, as Dentmon and the Toros held on down the stretch to capture the D-League title.
Despite the disappointing result of the Finals, the D-Fenders received a great deal of league-wide recognition, most notably the Development Champion Award, given to the team that best develops NBA level talent. In all the D-Fenders had six NBA Call-Ups over the course of the season, a franchise high for one year. Musselman won the Dennis Johnson Coach of the Year award while Thomas (All D-League First Team, All D-League Defensive First Team, All D-League Rookie First Team), Fortson (All D-League Second Team, All D-League Defensive Second Team), Millsap (All D-League Second Team), Costner (All D-League Third Team), and Andrews (All D-League Honorable Mention) earned league-wide honors.
2012-13: D-Fenders Fall Short of Playoff Berth
Despite a club best 38-12 record and their first appearance in the NBA D-League Finals, the D-Fenders started the 2012-13 campaign with a new coach for the third straight season. Reggie Theus was hired in the offseason, but the club still had holdovers from last season’s title run, including Courtney Fortson, Jamario Moon and Gary Flowers.
The D-Fenders opened the year with two straight wins behind Lakers assignment players Darius Johnson-Odom and Robert Sacre. Johnson-Odom averaged 27 points through two contests, while Sacre recorded two double-doubles. After the third game, the Lakers recalled Sacre, though Johnson-Odom remained with the D-Fenders. L.A. then hit a rough patch, losing four straight, two on the road and two at home. After re-acquiring Elijah Millsap in mid-December, the team reeled off three straight victories, including the first triple-overtime game in club history against Reno.
Another four-game skid followed, as inconsistent play trademarked the first month of the season. The D-Fenders struggled to close games out, with three of their six losses in December decided by four points or less. L.A. made another acquisition before the calendar year ended, signing Lazar Hayward, a former teammate of Johnson-Odom at Marquette. But less than 48 hours later, the Minnesota Timberwolves called up Hayward and signed him to a 10-day contract.
With Hayward in the NBA, the D-Fenders acquired Ronald Dupree in time for the annual D-League Showcase. Sacre was also assigned** for the second time, as L.A. split a pair of games, losing to Sioux Falls and defeating Iowa. On Jan. 7, Johnson-Odom was waived, the final day before non-guaranteed contracts became guaranteed for the the year. Sacre was immediately recalled again because of injuries to all three Laker big men at the time. But with Johnson-Odom gone, the D-Fenders played most of the next month with one healthy point guard in Courtney Fortson, who, on some nights, carried the bulk of the offense. Fortson finished sixth in the league in scoring (17.8 points), first in assists (7.1) and second in steals (2.0), while also tying a franchise record of 15 dimes for a single game against Idaho on Mar. 20. L.A. continued to make moves, acquiring Zach Andrews in mid-January, another holdover from last season, while trading for Morris Almond and Mike Taylor. Hayward also rejoined the team, the Wolves choosing not to sign him for the remainder of the year.
Entering the break, the D-Fenders boasted a 12-17 record, a mark largely representative of L.A. shuffling players in and out of the starting lineup, acquiring players via the waiver pool (Millsap, Dupree, Hayward, Andrews, Almond, Taylor) and the injury bug. The one constant was Fortson, who was named to the NBA D-League All-Star squad, his first selection and the 10th All-Star in the D-Fenders six-year history.
Post All-Star break, the D-Fenders acquired center Jerome Jordan, his presence keying a turnaround on defense. L.A. won six of seven games and held four opponents under 100 points. In the midst of this run, L.A. reeled off eight straight home wins, the second-longest streak in club history, while putting themselves within a couple games of the playoffs. Most notably, the D-Fenders swept a home-and-home set with the Austin Toros, a rematch of the 2011-12 NBA D-League Finals, with Lakers assignment players Darius Morris and Sacre leading the way. Malcolm Thomas, another former D-Fender from a season ago, was reacquired on March 5 and starred in the next home game (13 points and 17 rebounds) against Tulsa before the Golden State Warriors recalled him the next day. Six straight losses followed, however, as L.A. lost nine of their last 11 contests overall, and missed the playoffs.
**The new collective bargaining agreement allows teams to assign and recall players as many times during the season. As such, Sacre was assigned on six separate occasions during the 2012-13 year.
2013-14: D-Fenders Continue to Build a Winning Tradition
The D-Fenders began the off-season in search of their fourth different head coach in four seasons, and question marks surrounding a team that missed the 2012-13 post-season. Former Los Angeles Lakers favorite, Mark Madsen, was originally hired to take over duties as head coach in May of 2013. However, the Stanford graduate was soon called upon to join Lakers head coach Mike D’Antoni’s staff as a Player Development Coach for the 2013-14 NBA season. Just weeks after hiring Madsen, the D-Fenders were forced to look elsewhere to fill their head coaching vacancy that was left by Reggie Theus the season before. In came NBA D-League veteran head coach, Robert MacKinnon Jr. Coach MacKinnon took over with four years of NBA D-League experience, including a D-League championship run in 2008-09 with the Colorado 14ers. Soon after hiring MacKinnon, the D-Fenders solidified their staff by hiring assistants Casey Owens and Thomas Scott to round out the group.
Los Angeles entered the season with just Malcolm Thomas, Jamario Moon and Travis Hyman returning from the 2012-13 roster. In addition to the returners, the D-Fenders drafted Josh Magette and Kyisean Reed, acquired Matt Bouldin, Gideon Gamble, Josiah Turner and C.J. Williams from a local tryout, and brought back Brandon Costner, Andre Ingram and Kareem Rush from previous seasons.
The season didn’t get off to a great start, as the D-Fenders lost their opening two games, and their star forward Malcolm Thomas. Thomas averaged 33.5 points, 15.5 rebounds and knocked down eight out of 15 from behind the arc over his first two games. The stellar performance earned Thomas a call-up to the San Antonio Spurs; his fifth call-up of his career. The call-up was a big success for the organization, but left the team without their leading scorer and rebounder. Despite the loss of Thomas, the D-Fenders benefited from the assignment of Lakers rookie forward Ryan Kelly. Kelly spent the first five games of the season with the D-Fenders and picked up the scoring slack left by Thomas. However, the impressive play of Kelly didn’t result in victories and the D-Fenders dropped four out of their first five games. In an attempt to reverse the early season struggles, General Manager Nick Mazzella went out and acquired former University of Michigan standout, Manny Harris, from the Canton Charge. In his first game with the D-Fenders on December 14th, Harris dropped 41 points and collected five steals, leading Los Angeles to the much needed victory. Nevertheless, the team continued to drop games, losing three out of their next four, falling to (3-7) on the young season. It was starting to seem as if it would be another tough season for Los Angeles.
Just when it seemed as though the season would be lost, the D-Fenders put together a strong road effort behind 34 points from C.J. Williams and 24 points from Jamario Moon to defeat the Sioux Falls Skyforce. That victory lit a fire in the team that they would parlay into a six-game win streak, effectively turning their season around. The team began to put it all together with the help of Manny Harris and newly acquired forward James Southerland, who was claimed off of waivers on December 19th. In the midst of their win-streak, Nick Mazzella added yet another piece, in former NBA lottery pick, Terrence Williams, on December 31st. Los Angeles now gleamed with talent at every position on the court, and that talent would be put on full display in the month of January.
Manny Harris led the D-Fenders to a (6-1) start in January en route to earning back-to-back Performer of the Week awards. During his two-week dominance, Harris tallied three double-doubles and set a then franchise-record with 49 points on January 10th against the Idaho Stampede. His explosive play didn’t go unnoticed and the Lakers made history by making Harris the first ever player on a D-League contract to be called up from the D-Fenders to the Lakers on January 16th. Despite the loss of Harris, the talented roster of players kept the D-Fenders hot play going. The offensive output continued to carry the D-Fenders to win after win, none more impressive to that point then on January 27th against the Texas Legends. On that night, in a special tributary game to Dr. Jerry Buss, the D-Fenders erupted for a then franchise-record 150 points in a victory at Citizens Business Bank Arena, in Ontario, California. That game also marked the first contest for newly attained forward Shawne Williams, who was acquired off of waivers, after being cut by the Lakers. The addition of Williams was aimed to supplement the loss of Jamario Moon who had signed in Greece two weeks prior. Terrence Williams then wrapped up the successful month for the D-Fenders by posting 50 points and nine rebounds in a road victory over the Idaho Stampede. Williams’ 50-point performance set a new franchise-record for points in a game; besting the mark set by Manny Harris earlier in the month. Terrence Williams’ outing in the month’s final game was just one of many spectacular showings for the Louisville graduate in January, earning him NBA D-League Performer of the Month honors. Overall, the D-Fenders posted a league-best (10-3) record in the month.
After losing the opening game of February, the D-Fenders responded with a truly record-breaking performance on February 5th. In a victory over the Bakersfield Jam, the D-Fenders set new franchise records in points scored (155) and field goals made (59) in a game. Additionally, they set NBA D-League single game records for three-point field goals made (26) and assists (45). The next day, Shawne Williams earned the franchise’s third call-up of the season and second all-time call-up from the D-Fenders to the Lakers. Williams signed a 10-day contract with the Lakers, who subsequently did not renew Manny Harris’ contract. Harris returned to the D-Fenders on February 8th and wasted no time making history in his return. Harris racked up a new franchise-record 56 points and pulled down 15 rebounds in a road victory over the Santa Cruz Warriors. His performance broke the franchise’s single game scoring record for the third time this season. Harris and Malcolm Thomas were soon after selected to play in the NBA D-League All-Star game, which commenced on February 15th. Thomas was not eligible to play, due to the fact that he was on an NBA roster. However, the selections of Harris and Thomas marked the 11th and 12th all-star selections in franchise history. A week later, the D-Fenders welcomed back Shawne Williams, whose contract had expired with the Lakers, re-solidifying the D-Fenders deep and talented roster for the playoff push.
Recovering from an injury, the Lakers assigned guard Xavier Henry to the D-Fenders for a two-game stint in Texas to begin the month of March. Henry provided a nice scoring punch, but the D-Fenders would drop both games in the series. The D-Fenders then returned home to face-off with the newly formed Delaware 87ers on March 3rd. In the victory, Los Angeles would top the 150-point plateau for the third time this season, and set the franchise record for points in a game for the third time as well with a 157-point outburst. The offensive explosion proved to be a catalyst, as the D-Fenders would go on to win 11 out of their next 13 contests. Additionally, Shawne Williams and Brandon Costner earned Performer of the Week honors in back-to-back weeks during the run. However, during the streak, Manny Harris left the team to play in Turkey, leaving the D-Fenders devoid of their leading scorer just weeks before the playoffs. Los Angeles closed out March with a win over the Reno Bighorns to officially secure the West Division title, their second division championship in franchise history.
On April 2nd, General Manager Nick Mazzella brought back former player Elijah Millsap, in an attempt to fill the scoring vacancy left by Manny Harris before the beginning of the playoffs. Conversely, James Southerland, a key for the D-Fenders bench, earned an NBA call-up to the New Orleans Pelicans on April 11th; the fourth Gatorade call-up of the season for Los Angeles. The D-Fenders roster, that was seemingly solid weeks earlier, was now in flux heading into post-season play.
Earning the West Division title, and the number two overall seed in the NBA D-League, earned the D-Fenders the opportunity to choose their first round opponent. Los Angeles chose their division rival, the Santa Cruz Warriors, after the number one overall seed, Fort Wayne Mad Ants, selected to play the Reno Bighorns. Los Angeles lost in two straight games to the Santa Cruz Warriors, ending a very successful season in abrupt fashion.
Despite a short run in the playoffs, the D-Fenders successfully re-established their identity as a top team in the West Division. They finished with the franchise’s third best record all-time and set numerous team and individual records along the way. In addition, Terrence Williams earned All-NBA D-League third team honors and James Southerland earned All-NBA D-League Rookie second team honors upon year end. There’s no doubt that expectations have been set sky-high for the 2014-15 campaign.
2014-15: An Up-and-Down Season
An up-and-down season reached its conclusion for the D-Fenders on Saturday. Despite finishing 17-33 and fourth in the West Division, L.A. closed out strongly with four wins in its final six games.
While a slow start derailed the D-Fenders’ path to the playoffs, the purple and gold did find their rhythm at the season’s end with a much different crew. In fact, only Vander Blue, Roscoe Smith and Eloy Vargas remained from the opening-day roster.
“I thought we got better players, and by then everybody knew the schemes a little better,” head coach Phil Hubbard said. “The better athletes were able to be in their spots. And then the guys really haven’t quit. They’re working hard. They’ve got goals they want to accomplish.”
One of those late additions is former Mountain West Player of the Year Jamaal Franklin. The 2013 Memphis Grizzlies draft picked shined for the D-Fenders, picking up three triple-doubles in just 21 games. Franklin’s versatility was on display nearly every night, as he averaged 19.2 points, 8.9 rebounds and a team-best 6.5 assists.
“I think he’s given us versatility,” Hubbard said. “(He’s) a guy that can play a number of positions; play a little bit of small forward, (shooting) guard, point guard. He does multiple things, has some triple-doubles for us. He’s really been a big plus. I wish we had him earlier, (but) he was in China. He’s definitely an NBA-caliber player.”
But Franklin was far from the only superior talent in L.A.’s rotation. Blue, Smith and Jabari Brown each played in the 2015 All-Star Game, giving the D-Fenders more representatives than any other team.
The trio provided plenty of firepower, as Brown — who has since signed a multiyear contract with the Los Angeles Lakers — finished as the D-League’s leading scorer (24.4 ppg), while Blue placed third (23.3). As a team, the D-Fenders scored the third-most points per game (116.8), while ranking second in the paint (57.4) and on fast-breaks (21.3).
However, defense proved to be L.A.’s undoing, as it allowed the third-most points (121.0), along with a league-high 11.0 3-pointers and the third-most points in the paint (59.3), off turnovers (20.8) and on fast-breaks (59.3).
Despite this deficiency and plenty of expected roster turnover over the summer — as is the nature of the D-League — the D-Fenders’ late success has given them momentum going into the offseason.
“It was good to be here for the entire year and really work on my game,” said Blue, who joined Brown and Franklin as one of the league’s top 10 prospects. “I found my confidence and got my swagger back out there.”