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.