The incoming NBA Development League franchise in suburban Dallas, co-owned by Dallas Mavericks president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson and scheduled to begin play in the 2010-11 season, has made a bold choice for its first head coach: Nancy Lieberman.
Lieberman, an ESPN television analyst, is poised to become the first woman to be a head coach the D-League, which sent 20 players to the NBA last season and is widely regarded as the most scouted league in the world outside of the NBA.
Nelson's ownership group has secured approval from the NBA to hire Lieberman to coach the yet-to-be-named team based in Frisco, Texas, which will serve as the Mavericks' D-League affiliate next season.
A news conference is scheduled Thursday to introduce Lieberman as the first coach of the team that will begin play during the 2010-11 season in Frisco, a suburb about a half-hour north of downtown Dallas.
All coaching hires in the D-League have to be approved by the NBA, which owns and operates the 16-team league.
Charlotte Bobcats sideline reporter Stephanie Ready worked in the D-League as an assistant with the now-defunct Greenville Groove in South Carolina from 2001 to 2003. But Lieberman will become the first woman in the sport's history to serve as a head coach working with NBA players. According to league rules, NBA players in their first or second season are eligible for assignment to a D-League affiliate, which means prized Mavericks rookie Rodrigue Beaubois could spend time playing for Lieberman next season depending on his development.
Neither Nelson nor Lieberman could be immediately reached for comment.
After a Hall of Fame playing career during which she became the first woman to play in a men's professional league (United States Basketball League) and also played summer-league ball for both Pat Riley with the Los Angeles Lakers and Frank Layden with the Utah Jazz, Lieberman began her coaching career in 1998 with the WNBA's Detroit Shock.
Lieberman also played as a 39-year-old for the Phoenix Mercury in the WNBA's inaugural 1997 season and then made a brief comeback with the Shock as a player in 2008 at the age of 50. Signed by Detroit to a seven-day contract, Lieberman appeared in one game and had two assists and two turnovers in a 79-61 loss to the Houston Comets.
Sources said former Mavericks assistant coach and longtime NBA coach Del Harris will serve as a general manager for the Frisco franchise. That will give Lieberman a sounding board with more than 1,000 games of head coaching experience and the 1995 NBA Coach of the Year award on his resume. And Webb, who's a Dallas native, will also have a front-office role with the team.
Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.