In the franchise’s first season after moving from Colorado to Frisco, Texas in 2010-2011, the rebranded Texas Legends were led to the postseason under head coach Nancy Lieberman. As the eight seed, Texas was swept by Tulsa in the first round. Seven years later, they have their chance to capture a playoff win and their first championship.
In 2016-2017, coach Bob MacKinnon’s first year with the Legends, the organization won a franchise-record 25 games. For an encore, they doubled down (up?) and won 29 games, securing the fifth seed in the 2018 G League Playoffs.
As the league rapidly expands, now at 26 teams with a 27th coming next season, the playoff picture has expanded to 12 teams. At least for this season, there will be three one-and-done rounds before a best-of-three championship series.
The win or go home bracket is certainly unique, as Legends forward Brandon Ashley recognizes, but he also says it is something he and his teammates will be familiar with.
“It’s almost like the NCAA Tournament or conference tournament all over again,” Ashley said. “You have to bring your best each and every night to be afforded the opportunity to play in the championship. It’s nothing that a lot of us haven’t already faced in college, it’s similar to that. I think we’re prepared for it.”
Only J.J. Avila, who appeared in all 50 games, played more for the Legends than Ashley’s 45 this season. Ashley has been with the Legends through the ups and downs, long road trips, and the team’s seven-game winning streak in January.
A forward for most of his basketball life, the former Arizona Wildcat standout moved to the wing this season to expand his already versatile profile. In his second go-around with the Legends, the results were part of something big.
“Truth be told, I feel like we’ve already had a successful season.” Ashley averaged 16.2 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.3 blocks and 1.1 steals per game. “That’s not to say we don’t care about anything moving forward, obviously we want to win a championship. But for someone like me, who has essentially been a big man his entire career and made the transition into a wing, I feel like I definitely improved and got better. I’m happy with the progress I’ve made, and though I’m not where I want to be yet, I feel like I get closer each and every day.”
Timing, and time, is undefeated, and the timing of multiple call-ups will currently place Jameel Warney with the Legends. His 10-day contract is up and for now, he’s back with the Legends. Though we would much prefer to see Warney in the NBA, there is a special justification to him hanging around for the Legends playoff run. The star big man, as well as his head coach, has been a part of all but very few Legends games in these past two special seasons.
“It’s been a roller coaster,” Warney says of his memorable time with the Legends. “I came in just, I think, as a rebounder and a scorer in the post who can’t play outside of ten feet. Coach Mac has helped me improve over the two years to what I am now. I’m a legit four who can play the five, I can play any position, I’m valuable to my team. It’s a great thing to help coach get this two-year turnaround.”
Becoming a championship team does not happen overnight. A series of steps, a great many steps, conducted by team president Malcolm Farmer and his staff, have gradually brought the Legends to the postseason and in the mix for a G League championship.
Warney, who averaged 19.9 points, 9.6 rebounds, 3.5 offensive rebounds, three assists, 1.2 blocks and 1.2 steals this season, is the de facto poster boy for what has been the latest of the “Texas Legends process.”
“You gotta go little by little,” he says. “Last year we had the best record in team history but didn’t make the playoffs. But we’re gonna go for it. We’re gonna try to play in Frisco one more time and win a championship.”
Every game in the G League, from the regular season to Showcase to the playoffs, is no different in purpose. The purpose of the G League is to get players to the NBA and every game accomplishes that, as Ashley is well aware.
“Obviously in the G League, you’re playing to get (to the NBA). But I feel like being one of the better teams in the league, having the winningest season in this franchise’s brief history, I feel like that’s a pretty big deal. We’re just looking forward to going out, continuing to compete and making the most of this opportunity we’re given here.”
The 29-21 Legends surrendered the season series to the divisional rival Rio Grande Valley Vipers, which means the first-round matchup will take place in Hidalgo, Texas at the home of the Houston Rockets affiliate. Two of the top three scoring teams in the G League, this 4-5 matchup promises to be full of fireworks.
Playoff tipoff arrives on Friday at 7 p.m. The game can be viewed on Twitch.