The Los Angeles D-Fenders are in desperate need of a makeover. Like their parent club, the Lakers, 2014-15 was not their best season as they stumbled to a dismal 17-33 record and missed the postseason.
The poor result led to the firing of head coach Phil Hubbard, and shortly after the hiring of Conner Henry. Henry led the Fort Wayne Mad Ants to two straight D-League Finals, including a championship in 2014. Shortly after the announcement, however, Henry received his own call-up as an assistant coach with the Orlando Magic.
Those sequence of events paved the way for Casey Owens, a 15-year coaching veteran who spent time with the Colorado 14ers as an assistant coach from 2007 to 2009 before heading to China for some international experience. He spent three seasons in the CBA and one season in Venezuela before his return to the D-League in 2013-14.
Nick Mazzella, general manager of the D-Fenders, turns to Owens as a familiar face. Owens was an assistant with the D-Fenders during the 2013-14 season, when the team went 31-19 and made the playoffs. He comes into the position with extensive scouting and player development — characteristics that are vital to a coach’s success at the D-League level. If you disagree, check out this report on why the Westchester Knicks coaches were let go.
The first-time D-League head coach talked to Upside & Motor about his goals next season and the challenges he expects to face.
U&M: You coached with LA in 2013-14, but I couldn’t find anything for 2014-15 for you. What were you up to?
Owens: I took the year off. I had worked 15 years straight in pro basketball and I needed the time to recharge. I watched my son play high school basketball and I was really able to recharge the batteries. Time with family is very important and I enjoyed it very much. Having said that, after only a month I was going crazy being away from the game.
U&M: How do you think your past experience in the D-League will help you in your head coaching role?
Owens: You know, I’ve been a head coach at multiple levels and I’ve been really lucky to learn from some great guys. I’m confident in my coaching abilities and I’m ready for this new challenge. People always say it’s way different when you move one seat over, but I’m looking forward to it. I’m really looking forward to putting together a quality staff, too.
U&M: How was coaching overseas and what can you draw from that experience to help this season?
Owens: The hard part is being far from home, but I was lucky enough to take my family with me and we had some life experiences that we will never forget. I’m definitely a better coach for it and coaching internationally was always a goal of mine, so it was cool to achieve that. During the NBA lockout, I was even able to coach Kenyon Martin and Patty Mills so that was great. I’m excited to be back in the states and I’m extremely humbled by this opportunity to work with the D-Fenders again.
U&M: What identity will you bring to the D-Fenders this season?
Owens: We want to play fast. The D-League is all about players developing and guys really want to get their numbers as well. I need to get buy in from each player so that we can have success as a unit. Along with offense, we have to defend. This is a fast league with a ton of possessions so we want to create an environment of fun for the players while also winning games — that’s the ultimate goal.
U&M: Do you think it’s a pro or a con that you guys will play your home games in the Lakers’ practice facility?
Owens: It’s an adjustment. It will be an advantage for us because we will be comfortable with our baskets and the size of the gym, or lack thereof. I also think it’s a destination for scouts. If you’re a scout, would you rather go to Sioux Falls on a Tuesday night for a game, or sunny Los Angeles? Players will play in front of Mitch Kupchak and other Lakers brass, and I think the exclusivity of it makes it a destination.
U&M: What kind of hobbies do you have when you aren’t engulfed in coaching?
Owens: I’m a big reader, man. I have my Masters Degree in Fine Arts and I’m an avid history reader. I love to mountain bike, workout with my son and just hangout with family. I’m not a golfer, I’ll tell you that! I used to trick myself into thinking I was a golfer, but I am not.
U&M: Did you catch any of the games between L.A. and Reno last season? What did you think?
Owens: Oh, I watched it. Sometimes that kind of thing happens, especially in a league like this, but, man, that was fast paced action with very little focus of defense. Things will be different this season.
U&M: What are your goals for this season in LA?
Owens: My first priority is getting these players to a better place whether that’s an NBA call-up, the Euroleague or anywhere else. My job is to get them to a better situation and the easiest way for that to happen is to have the players buy in to the system and work with each other. Other than that, I want to do things right. It’s all about these players and that’s my focus, but we will definitely do it the right way.