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Eric Musselman prefers coaching D-Fenders to being NBA assistant

November 2, 2011 |  3:27 pm

With everywhere he has been, Eric Musselman can say he has seen it all.

He experienced instant success as the youngest head coach in Continental Basketball Assn. history, winning 270 games and six division titles while posting the second-best winning percentage in league history. He climbed the NBA assistant coaching rankings under esteemed colleagues such as Memphis' Mike Fratello (2004-06), Atlanta's Lon Kruger (2000-02), Orlando's Chuck Daly and Doc Rivers (1997-90) and his father, Bill, with the Minnesota Timberwolves (1990-91).

He had short-lived NBA head-coaching stints with Golden State (2002-04) and Sacramento (2006-07) and toiled in various television analyst and blogging ventures.

He coached the Dominican (2010-2011) and Venezuelan national teams (present) and has been a coach in the NBA Development League, first with the Reno Bighorns (2010-11) and then the D-Fenders, the Lakers' affiliate.

But as Musselman prepares for the D-League draft -- in which the D-Fenders have the No. 1 pick -- on Thursday, he insists he is not putting in this work primarily to reenter the NBA head-coaching realm.

"In my mind this is the best job outside of the 30 NBA head-coaching jobs. For me, at this stage with where I am, I would rather be the D-Fenders coach than an NBA assistant. So I couldn't be luckier."

That's because Musselman thinks he will improve more as a coach if he is responsible for drawing up last-second plays, adjusting to how his D-Fenders execute the pick-and-roll or allocating playing time. His coaching philosophies sound pretty universal in ensuring constant communication with players, assistant coaches and management, as well as making practices and video sessions more efficient. The way he approaches those things, though, can vary. That includes ensuring the D-Fenders play at a fast pace. It involves helping as many D-League players reach the NBA as he can. Those goals become more difficult with fewer resources and fluctuating lineups.

It initially appeared Musselman would climb the NBA coaching rankings. He led the Warriors to 38 wins, the team's highest total in a decade, nearly earning 2002 NBA Coach of the Year honors. He was let go, however, a season later after finishing 37-45 his second season. His stint at Sacramento presented various challenges, such as succeeding Rick Adelman, dealing with Ron Artest's antics and getting arrested on a drunken-driving charge before the season started, an incident he said "was a mistake on my part and something that definitely didn't help me."

At 46, Musselman said he's less consumed with landing an NBA head coaching gig.

"When I was younger I was always worried about what was going to happen next year, in two years or three years," he said. "When you hit a certain stage in your career, I think you learn to enjoy the moment a little bit more. Everybody in the D-League wants to get to the NBA level. Some people want to get there a little more than others."

-- Mark Medina
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