Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Anne vs. Barb

I am a little ticked at some fans attacking Anne Donovan for telling Barbara Turner that her spot was not guaranteed and that she needed to report to camp to be evaluated. In the end, some fans are making harsh judgements that Coach Donovan has ruined Barb's overseas career by "forcing" her to choose between her commitments to her Turkish contract and her commitments to the Storm.

First of all, Barb made her commitment to the Storm well before any commitments to her teams in Israel and Turkey. She walked away from a contract in Israel to play in Turkey, and according to Alan Horton, who has access to both Anne and Barb, she talked to Anne before signing her contract in Turkey. Anne made clear at the time what was expected of Barb to make the team and let her make her own decision. Barb knew the risks and understood that it might come to this.

Secondly, Anne Donovan is the Head Coach and General manager of one of the best franchises in the world's premier, professional, women's basketball league, the WNBA. They aren't the highest paying because business models are different in every league and the W just doesn't have the corporate sponsorship support in the US as other leagues do in other countries particularly in Europe (remember that Turkey is EU now.) We may think that they should, but they don't. However, from caliber of the players to quality of the teams, this is the league women players around the globe look at if they want to make their mark. Players that play well in the US are likely to have enough press to get a chance at a better contract in Europe or Asia, unless they are local to the country in which they are playing. I don't have the facts to back this up, but it appears to be commonly accepted to be the truth by the players. She has a responsibilty to her employers, her coaching staff and the players on the team to make the best hiring decisions she can to make this a strong team and compete to win another championship. This year, moreso than any other, a basketball championship could be of tremendous value to the franchise in terms of getting them attention around the arena pitch.

Barb was a good player for this team last year. She brought energy off the bench and earned a spot in the starting lineup when regular starter Iziane Castro-Marques was struggling. She had good stats for her minutes and was in a number of strong plus/minus lineups and player pairs. She is a tweener, however, she is too short to play big minutes at the PF spot in the W and did not shoot well enough last season to be a true SF in the W. She left the W postseason after a frustrating first round playoff loss where she failed to contribute anything of value. She left with assignments. I don't know what they were, but I can guess. Shoot better from midrange and long range. Improve perimeter defense. She guarded the post through four years in Connecticut and was used to more physical defense. The Storm have a glaring hole in terms of their halfcourt perimeter defense. Sue is a great defender in transition but not so much in the half court with regards to individual defense. Betty is too short to ever be totally effective on the perimeter against the big shooting guards in the league. Tanisha does not add much when it comes to height. Izi is the best perimeter defender on the team now that Tully is gone, and when Izi sits someone has to play perimeter D or every perimeter on the other team just attacks the basket and passes out to an open player. The post can only help one other player effectively. If Barb wants to play she has to be that perimeter defender. They can still use her down low against smaller lineups, and she will have a strength advantage against SF's on offense, but someone has to fill the gap on defense for the Storm to win more games. This was a key focus for coaching Katie Gearlds coming in to camp. They knew she could shoot, but they wanted her to learn to use her length to become a better perimeter defender.

So what happened?

Barb did a good job for the Storm last year and the coaches know her strengths, her weaknesses and how she fits their system. They know what they need from her this year, but they need to see her to see if she has come along. The box scores from Israel and Turkey don't tell too much, quality of opponents and what system she is playing in are still mysteries. What if she has a minor injury that they aren't aware of? There is no room for a mistake. Injured players count against the cap. The Storm only have room for one more player with less than three years of experience on the roster. They lose that player they have to hope for an injury exception or some other bail out, but I believe they have to wait until later in the season to sign those 10 day contracts.

Barb's team did really well and made it to the championship round in their league, just not well enough to close things out early, allowing the series to stretch out to 7 games and leave Barb one practice before the W's 12pm noon roster deadline on Friday.

To top all that off, a similar player with league experience came into camp and showed improvements to her game which made her a potential asset to the team. She was shooting well, picking up the system, playing defense and rebounding. She also had the gift of genetics in an extra two inches of height.

Put yourself in Anne's shoes for a moment. From Anne's POV, Shyra Ely who is there everyday in camp was looking better than Barb did the last time Anne saw her. We are not talking a big advantage, but Shyra today would beat Barb from last year's playoffs. If Barb worked on her game and improved in the areas the coaching staff assigned in the exit interviews last season then you FEEL Barb will again have the edge. What do you do now? You need to see where Barb is with her progress. You think she could do it, but you haven't seen her play for far too long. Shyra is getting better every day in practice.

In the end Anne let it ride and let Barb make the decision. Her friends and team mates told her that she needed to come back. They were playing with Shyra and could see where things were headed. They believed in Barb, but they knew she needed to show Anne what she has accomplished. Barb came back. She walked away from her last paycheck and perhaps hurt her chances at a contract next year in Europe. It was still her choice and she decided playing with the Storm this season was the option that was most important to her.

I don't blame either Anne or Barb and frankly I don't think this should be Anne vs. Barb. I think that this should be a major issue on Donna Oreander's plate. This issue comes up every year. Camps don't have their best players until late in camp. Perhaps potential talent is lost to the league because they can't get international players invited to camps. The hard salary cap is very restrictive and as the league gets older and more talent fills roster spots the pressure on that hard cap will just get harder. The CBA is up for negotiation next year and negotiations continue with FIBA regarding schedules. Donna and her staff need to put every ounce of energy into addressing these issues.

They aren't likely to solve issues this complex in one year, but they have a chance to make some steps towards addressing them. I hope they do. The league is still fighting uphill battles to grow in every way, they don't need this issue to grow out of control. Can you imagine the 2008 olympics if all the best players miss a huge chunk of the season? What if next generation stars decide that the money is more important than playing in the W and don't come back? I realize the issues are complicated. I don't offer any answers. I just offer my plea that they find some compromises soon and eliminate the Us vs. Them fingerpointing that arises every year around this topic.

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