Monday, October 3, 2011
Updated: October 4, 4:32 PM ET
Texas Legends hire Del Harris as coach
By Marc Stein
The NBA D-League's Texas Legends introduced 1995 NBA Coach of the Year Del Harris as their new coach Tuesday.
Harris, 74, worked as the Legends' general manager in their inaugural season while also serving as a sounding board to former Legends coach Nancy Lieberman, who became the first-ever female to coach a men's team under the NBA's umbrella in 2010-11.
Citing family reasons, Lieberman surrendered her coaching duties in July, opting to become the Legends' assistant general manager so she could avoid heavy traveling during her son T.J.'s senior year of high school.
Legends co-owner and Dallas Mavericks president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson then launched a very public courtship of former Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl, but Pearl ultimately passed on an offer from the Frisco-based franchise worth in excess of $500,000, saying he couldn't leave Tennessee, also for family reasons.
The Legends, sources say, then quickly turned to Harris, lobbying him incessantly in recent weeks while Harris was serving as John Calipari's top assistant with the Dominican Republic national team that placed third at the recent FIBA Americas championship.
It's well known in coaching circles that Harris has hoped to be considered for one NBA head coaching position after stints with the Houston Rockets, Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers that delivered one trip to the NBA Finals (with Houston in 1981) and an average of 55 wins in four full seasons with L.A. While waiting, Harris has decided to take on the challenge of coaching NBA hopefuls after mentoring young head coaches in his last two NBA jobs, working as a top aide in Chicago to Vinny Del Negro in 2008-09 and for the bulk of the 2009-10 season alongside Kiki Vandeweghe in New Jersey.
Harris has remained an on-and-off consultant to Mavericks owner Mark Cuban after a seven-year run in Dallas as an assistant to Mavericks coaches Don Nelson and Avery Johnson. His son, Larry, was the Bucks' general manager from 2003 through 2008 and now works as a scout for the Golden State Warriors.
Coaching in the D-League will only add to one of the most diverse resumes in the business, since the elder Harris also coached high school and college ball in his native Indiana before moving to the professional game in 1975 as an assistant with the ABA's Utah Stars.
He likewise coached for seven seasons in Puerto Rico's national league and has worked as a head coach or assistant with five different national teams: Dominican Republic, China, United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. In his most recent work as a head coach, Harris teamed with Yao Ming to steer China to an eighth-place finish at the 2004 Olympics in Greece, sparked by an upset over Serbia that is generally regarded as the best win in Chinese history.
Harris will continue to be the Legends' general manager, teaming in the front office with Lieberman, team president Spud Webb and Donnie Nelson. Lieberman, 52, had been promised the option when she took the coaching job in November 2009 of choosing whether to stay on as Legends coach or moving into management after the 2010-11 season.
The 2011-12 D-League season will be staged in full no matter how long the ongoing NBA lockout spans. The Legends are scheduled to open their season Nov. 26 at home against the Austin Toros, with training camp to begin Nov. 14 after the D-League's draft to stock rosters.
The presence of Lieberman and several players on the roster with an NBA pedigree -- including Antonio Daniels, Joe Alexander, Sean Williams and, briefly, Rashad McCants -- established the Legends as the closest thing to a glamour franchise in the D-League last season.
The highlight of a 24-26 campaign: Texas erased an eight-point deficit in the final 42 seconds of its regular-season finale on the road against the Toros on the road and eventually got the win in double overtime it needed to clinch a playoff berth.
Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNDallas.com. Information from ESPN.com's Andy Katz was used in this report.