One of the funner bits of recent Lakers-related news is the hiring of Mark Madsen as the new head coach of the Los Angeles D-Fenders. The mere mention of Madsen’s name is invariably accompanied by references to his victory parade dance but the essence of the player was always his hustle and determination. Dubbed Mad Dog at Stanford, the tag carried over to his NBA career. It was in college however, that the iconic crash-and-burn reputation was made. Madsen routinely left it all on the floor during his four years at The Farm, helping the Cardinals to four straight NCAA appearances and making it to the final four in 1998. He was the 29th pick by the Lakers in the 2000 draft.
Mark Madsen’s nine seasons in the NBA were somewhat more measured than his collegiate years, he accepted the roles given him, played effectively, listened and learned. The true Mad Dog moments didn’t come as often but they existed, often inspired when larger opposing players tried to muscle him off the block. Madsen would get that familiar bug-eyed look and a real low center of gravity – the man was capable of clearing some room. The two-time NBA champion signed as a free agent with the Timberwolves for the 2003-04 season, played six seasons, was traded to the Clippers and waived. Madsen was an assistant coach for the D-League’s Utah Flash in 2009-10 and returned to Stanford the following year to get his MBA. He segued into an assistant coaching position for Cardinals this past season and now returns to the place where his NBA career began, shepherding players who toil on the fringes and ball for the love of the game, hoping to some day get their shot.
It’s been pointed out that the Lakers have to play the hand they’ve been dealt next season, there’s simply not a lot of other options considering current salary obligations and the new CBA. Given the obvious constraints, it’s not a bad thing to have a D-League resource that you literally share the house with – the D-Fenders practice and play at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, home to the Lakers practice and training facilities as well as management offices. The team was created by Dr. Jerry Buss in 2006 and was always envisioned as a satellite operation that could potentially pay major dividends at some point down the line. Buss, who passed away this past February, handed the D-League reins to his son Joey five years ago. The CEO/President of the D-Fenders has instituted a number of significant changes, including melding Lakers and D-Fenders benefits for fans and season ticket holders.
For the most part, player movement between the big and little brother halves of the organization has been a matter of seasoning – Devin Ebanks, Darius Morris and Robert Sacre have each served recent stints with the minor league affiliate. Going back a few years, Jordan Farmar was the first player to suit up for a D-league and NBA game on the same day. So far, there hasn’t been much reciprocity – the Lakers most significant recent call up was Andrew Goudelock, by way of the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. This isn’t to say that the D-Fenders haven’t had any success placing players in the NBA. During the 2011-12 season, a record six players were recruited by 11 different teams. Included in the mix was former slam-dunk champ Gerald Green who got a New Jersey Nets call-up that year and is currently a key member of Indiana Pacers bench and one win away from the Eastern Finals.
The D-Fenders have had a bit of an uneven ride with coaches, general managers and even seasons in their entirety – they took all of 2010-11 off for some organizational housekeeping. Past head coaches have included Dan Panaggio, Chucky Brown, Eric Musselman (named 2012 D-League Coach of the Year) and Reggie Theus. This coming season will mark a new chapter – the naming of Coach Madsen was made official at a press conference yesterday.
Is Madsen the right man for the job? Predicting the future in sports is a risky proposition – the Lakers 2012-13 season stands as evidence of that fact. Still there’s a lot to be said for attitude and for varied life experiences. Remember, this is the guy who dedicated two years to missionary work before declaring for the draft. And then were the years spent absorbing wisdom from another spiritually-minded former power forward with deadly elbows – somebody nicknamed Action Jackson. Perhaps the real question isn’t whether Mad Dog can succeed within the D-League’s bubble but whether he can pay it upward to the Lakers – big brother might need a dime or two next season.