Ranking the best moves made by Mad Ants president Jeff Potter this championship season is a win-win proposition. No matter how you list them, they all worked.
It wasn't always that way, of course, as Potter searched for the secret to NBA Development League success through five losing seasons before reaching the playoffs a year ago. But the sad-sack past is long gone; Potter has a repeat to worry about now. “We are on it!” he texted in a half-joking reference to winning another title.
Here's how I would rank the Top 5 Moves made by Potter and the Mad Ants in their championship run:
1. Bringing back Ron Howard, Sadiel Rojas and Chris Porter
Howard gets better every season, even if NBA scouts can't see it. He excelled throughout the year, earned the co-MVP award (which he should have won outright) and made so many clutch plays in the postseason that I lost count. Rojas' energy and desire is unmatched. I'm guessing three dozen balls were headed out of bounds this season before Rojas proved he had other ideas in mind. Porter is a guy you want on your side, willing to do anything asked without complaining. His voice of experience was invaluable.
2. Hiring Conner Henry
Henry said he earned Potter's attention with the endorsement of Eric Musselman, who has coached in the NBA and was the head coach while Henry served as an assistant with the D-League's Los Angeles D-Fenders. Both Henry and Potter owe Musselman a thank-you card. Henry had a big task to pick up the momentum generated by Duane Ticknor. He did so, and even more. Henry knows his X's and O's, no question. But he also blended a ton of talented players, along with NBA-assigned players, and somehow kept everyone happy and winning.
3. Tracking down Tony Mitchell
Mitchell was playing in China a year after being the D-League Rookie of the Year with the Ants. But, as so often happens, things don't always stay smooth overseas. He wanted to return, and Potter, despite the Ants having success at the time, brought him back to the mix. It could have been tough. There are pro egos involved. Potter and Henry made it work, Mitchell got a 10-day call-up with the Milwaukee Bucks and returned to become a human highlight reel and a team player. Mitchell is the best dunker I've seen. Ever.
4. Trading for Matt Bouldin and Tim Ohlbrecht
Here were two late-season moves Potter made to strengthen a team that was already fairly solid. Ohlbrecht was added after the loss of then-newly acquired Brian Butch. The Ants landed Bouldin to bolster the backcourt. Ohlbrecht gave the Mad Ants another scorer inside and a nice complement to Will Frisby, the most underrated player on the team. Ohlbrecht had a big put-back to win one playoff game and huge block late against Santa Cruz on Saturday. Fort Wayne was Bouldin's third D-League stop this season and he flourished with the Mad Ants. Like Ohlbrecht, he made big plays in the clutch. It's not a stretch to say their additions clinched a title.
5. Protesting the first game of the season
Remember that one, the scoring table fiasco? The Ants lost to the Texas Legends after being charged with a technical foul for taking too many timeouts. Fort Wayne argued that it had checked with the scorer's table and been given the wrong information. Potter filed a protest with the league. He won the protest. The end of the game was played again at the D-League Showcase. The Ants won. It was just one demonstration that things were set to go the Mad Ants' way this season.