The D-Fenders, the Lakers’ NBA Development League affiliate, start their season on Friday, visiting the Santa Cruz Warriors.
The team is run by President and Chief Executive Officer Joey Buss, who is also part-owner of the Lakers.
“My desire is always to win, and I hope to translate that onto the court,” Buss told The Times at D-Fenders media day Tuesday. “At the same time, it’s very important for the team to be a development tool for the Lakers.”
The Lakers have assigned Roscoe Smith, Keith Appling and Jabari Brown to the D-Fenders as affiliate players. All three were part of the Lakers’ training camp roster but were cut before the start of the season.
“It’s a great opportunity,” said Appling at the Lakers’ practice facility. “It’s still in the same building. I still have the opportunity to be seen by all the Lakers staff.”
The D-Fenders will play for Coach Phil Hubbard, who will do his best to emulate Coach Byron Scott’s system with the Lakers.
“Our goal is to have the new coach reflect Byron’s philosophies in the game,” said Buss. “But let’s not be confused. Not only is our personnel different, for example we don’t have Kobe [Bryant] . . . for us to say that we can run the exact same offense, I think that would be a little unrealistic.”
Play in the D-League is generally guard-centric, with a heavy dose of three-point shooting. Scott, with the Lakers, hopes to keep his team shooting closer to the basket.
“We want to implement the same philosophies and terminologies but then adapt it not only to our personnel but to also the D-League itself,” said Buss.
Also back with the team is guard/forward Manny Harris, who played through a pair of 10-day contracts with the Lakers last season before signing in Turkey.
“I’m still confident in my ability,” said Harris of his dream to return to the NBA. “I want to keep giving it a shot, and I think the D-fenders can help me get there.”
Harris also played for Scott with the Cavaliers (2010-2012).
“A lot of people kind of discredit my defense but I think I can play defense,” said Harris. “That’s what [Scott] liked about me the most when I was with him a couple of years ago.
“I’m just going to focus on that more in my time with the D-League.”
Smith, a small forward from UNLV, was a preseason rotation player with the Lakers, but didn’t make it past the final cut when the team went with veteran guards Ronnie Price and Wayne Ellington.
“I definitely thought I represented myself well,” said Smith. “I feel like I’m close to making the NBA.
“I decided to go to the D-Fenders, to stay around and improve my game.”
Smith is a fan of Scott’s defensive values.
“He’s a terrific coach. He has the mindset of defense,” said Smith. “I love it. I love defense.”
“We’re expecting good things,” said Buss of his team’s roster. “We hope that we can help develop them for the Lakers, if they need to be called upon.”
The difficult part of running a D-League team is the better your players play, the more likely they are to get called up to the NBA.
“The sport’s about winning and we want to win,” said Buss. “You don’t want to strive for mediocrity, just because you don’t want to lose players.”
Last year the D-Fenders won the West Division, but lost some crucial players to call-ups, and didn’t advance past the Warriors in the first round of the playoffs.
“We’re here to field the best team possible, and if we have players that are called up, then so be it,” said Buss. “Good for them, good for us, good for the NBA.”
In addition to Smith, Appling, Brown and Harris, the D-Fenders roster features former Boston Celtics guard Vander Blue, ex-Clippers forward Jamario Moon and the 17th overall pick in the 2015 D-League, Kentucky forward/center Eloy Vargas.
The team’s home opener is on Saturday night at the Lakers’ practice facility against the Texas Legends.