Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Laimbeer deserves NBA opportunity

ON BASKETBALL

I don't think the WNBA could have scheduled what turned out to be the deciding game of its championship series for a worse early October day.

In case you haven't heard — and believe me, I ain't mad atcha if you haven't — the Detroit Shock rolled over San Antonio Sunday night to claim the WNBA title. Yep, that's right: on an NFL Sunday with a little postseason baseball mixed in. Niiiice.

If it had happened, say, last night or even tonight when there is no football (outside of the most obscure college teams going at it) and no baseball, the Shock's accomplishment might have garnered a headline. It might have even been read about by bored businessmen browsing the sports section.

But instead, nobody noticed.

Well, here's a reason that people, even if they think the WNBA should disappear, should have paid attention: Bill Laimbeer is a damn good coach. Now I'm no WNBA expert, and I can't say that I watched more than half a quarter of the three-game sweep, but Laimbeer's numbers as coach of the Shock speak for themselves:

In six seasons as the head honcho, Laimbeer has led the Shock to three championships. For you NBA followers, that's what Gregg Popovich has done for the Spurs. We tend to think of him in a pretty glowing light.

Now consider what Laimbeer did this season. Actually, I'll start prior to play beginning, when he traded his biggest and most marketable star, Swin Cash. They didn't see eye-to-eye, so Laimbeer didn't hesitate to unload her. He knew he'd miss her production, but hey, a coach needs a good working relationship with his players.

Then the season began. And chaos ensued. In the middle of the season, the Shock and Los Angeles Sparks created the biggest WNBA story of the season (sadly), when they brawled at The Palace (sound familiar?).

The melee was devastating on many levels for Laimbeer's team. For one, seven players — not to mention assistant coach Rick Mahorn — were suspended, leading the Shock to actually play a game with 50-year-old, long-time retired player Nancy Lieberman. But even worse, star forward Cheryl Ford tore her anterior cruciate ligament while trying to restrain a teammate, sidelining her for the season.

The team was in a tough spot, but Laimbeer didn't waste time sucking his thumb. Instead, he quickly found a suitable replacement in Taj McWilliams-Franklin, getting her in a trade with the Washington Mystics that was as big a steal as the deal the Pistons made for Rasheed Wallace back in '04.

Then, Laimbeer simply did what he now does best: win basketball games. There's no doubt the Shock are stocked with talent, led by Katie Smith and Deanna Nolan. But no championships — or even berths in the championship round — are guarantees. Just ask the Pistons.

Laimbeer led Detroit to the WNBA title in his first season, 2003, and then in '06 and Sunday night. And did I mention that the Shock didn't even have a true homecourt during the finals, playing its lone home game at Eastern Michigan's Convocation Center? I'm going to guess it didn't bother Laimbeer, or his players, one bit.

The man has established himself as a very capable coach, who doesn't let outside distractions negatively affect his team. For those reasons, at the very least, the man deserves a shot at an NBA job. Period.

Especially in this modern age of professional sports, when the words "job security" don't exist, it wouldn't hurt to give Laimbeer a chance. Give him two, three seasons to show what he can do in the world's premier basketball league.

I don't have to tell you that there are huge differences between men's and women's basketball. We all know that. But the basics are the same — developing a playing rotation, fitting different players into roles, running practices and, of course, coaching games from the bench.

Laimbeer has more than shown his ability in all these areas.

Meanwhile, the Bulls hired a guy in Vinny Del Negro as head coach despite the small fact that, well, he's never coached before. Go figure.

Of course, Chicago would never consider hiring Laimbeer, and Laimbeer would never, I'm sure, consider working for the Bulls. Those reasons are beyond transparent.

But that leaves 29 other NBA teams. And I'm sure there will be a few openings before even the next WNBA season tips off.

Laimbeer deserves a chance to show a much larger audience his coaching acuity.

His players would tell you he's already done that once, twice, make that three times.

Too bad close to no one's noticed.

1 comment:

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