Reggie Jackson went down, dropped a few near triple-doubles, then returned to the Thunder an improved player, ready to contribute to a postseason run.
Jeremy Lamb’s stay in Tulsa was longer – extended and successful enough that he made the D-League All-Star team his rookie year. Now he’s a candidate to be OKC’s starting shooting guard.
Shaun Livingston’s stop was his first after a devastating knee injury. The 66ers medical staff played a key early role in his career rejuvenation, which recently resulted in a three-year, $16 million payday with the Warriors.
More than any other NBA franchise, the Thunder has steadily utilized its D-League program the past six years. And it’s produced a ton of success stories.
But that hasn’t just been limited to the players who have made brief stops. It extends to the sidelines, where a handful of the coaches and support staff have used Thunder U as a career springboard.
On Friday afternoon, the Thunder announced the hiring of Florida assistant Mark Daigneault as the next head coach of its D-League team, which relocated from Tulsa to OKC this offseason and has yet to determine its name.
Daigneault is considered an up-and-comer in the profession. He’s a 29-year-old who is already a coaching veteran, having worked as a team manager for UConn during his college days, before assistant stops at Holy Cross and, most recently, Florida. He has also been part of the USA Basketball program, working side-by-side with Billy Donovan.
“Mark is somebody who is widely respected at the collegiate level for his energy, his focus, his intellect, his approach to player development and team-building,” Thunder general manager Sam Presti said.
Most signs would indicate Daigneault might not be long for this position. He’s a rapid riser. And that’s just how the Thunder likes it.
The three guys who held this gig before Daigneault – Nate Tibbetts, Dale Osbourne and Darko Rajakovic – all immediately ascended to assistant coaching positions in the NBA. Tibbetts and Osbourne are currently with the Blazers. Rajakovic was hired as the Thunder’s newest assistant this offseason.
It’s a ton of turnover for one position. But it’s the good kind.
“We feel like with each staff member, with the development league team, we want their best work to be ahead of them,” Presti said. “People who we think will continue to grow and thrive.”
Tony Katzenmeier was a trainer for the 66ers. He’s now part of the Thunder’s medical staff. Steve Scalzi was a video analyst for the 66ers. He’s now part of the Thunder’s video staff. Glenn Wong was a video analyst for the 66ers. He’s now part of the Thunder’s management staff.
“We see the D-League team as an extension of the Thunder organization,” Presti said. “The people that work in the D-League are members of the Thunder. They’re integral to a lot of the different aspects of our offseason work and are expected to be a part of our day-to-day process.”
For players, the D-League has become a budding minor league system. But it’s also turning into a breeding ground for all sorts of positions within an NBA organization. And the Thunder is at the forefront of that movement.
“(D-League positions are) starting to become more and more recognized as being valuable in the development of coaches in general,” Presti said.
And Daigneault is the latest example, leaving a perennial college powerhouse for a job in the NBA’s minor leagues.