Why Tamika Catchings struggled as GM and what’s subsequent for the Indiana Fever

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You would nearly hear a collective gasp throughout the WNBA world when the Indiana Fever made their lottery decide final April. Admittedly, the 2021 WNBA draft was weak; everybody knew that. Nevertheless, there was no less than nonetheless some potential for a great decide at No. 4. UCLA’s Michaela Onyenwere, as an example, was nonetheless out there — she would go on to be the league’s 2021 rookie of the 12 months.

However when the Fever as an alternative selected West Virginia guard Kysre Gondrezick, a participant most projected as a third-round decide, heads had been scratched. And sadly for Indiana, too lots of these varieties of choices have added up because the group has struggled to search out its id since Tamika Catchings retired as a participant on the finish of the 2016 season.

It seems the answer wasn’t to rent Catchings because the group’s vp of basketball operations and common supervisor — roles she stepped down from on Monday. In her announcement, the Corridor of Famer cited a want to “prioritize my household, my philanthropy, our neighborhood and my different passions.” And that’s comprehensible: Catchings has been going nonstop with basketball her total grownup life, together with her girls’s school broadcast analyst work.

The fact is also that Catchings needed to notice it was time for a change for each her and the Fever, who’ve gone 40-116 over the previous 5 seasons. Indiana made 12 consecutive playoff appearances from 2005-2016, which included the 2012 WNBA championship and WNBA Finals journeys in 2009 and 2015. Catchings was entrance and middle as a participant by way of that interval, the group’s tent pole. However since her retirement, the Fever have not been to the playoffs.

Indiana has been mired within the problem of find out how to keep aggressive whereas creating younger gamers, and at instances has been criticized for giving older gamers too many minutes. It has been onerous to inform throughout the previous few years what the Fever’s id was, or what precisely they had been making an attempt to construct. Free company hasn’t helped a lot. And neither has bringing in a single veteran coach (Marianne Stanley) in 2020 after firing one other (Pokey Chatman).

Gondrezick, in the meantime, performed 19 video games final season, averaging 1.9 factors earlier than taking a private depart of absence. She was waived by the Fever in January. Indiana’s lottery decide in 2020, No. 3 Lauren Cox of Baylor, performed 14 video games for the Fever in 2020 and 11 in 2021 earlier than being waived final June and picked up by Los Angeles, for whom she performed 15 video games.

So the Fever principally got here away with nothing from two consecutive lottery picks, though first-round choices Kelsey Mitchell (2018), Victoria Vivians (2018) and Teaira McCowan (2019) are nonetheless with the group.

It is not that Catchings did not put together for the front-office position; she mentioned for years whereas nonetheless taking part in that she hoped to be a GM when she retired. However simply as it’s tough to interchange an excellent participant or coach, the Fever have had to try this with an govt.

Kelly Krauskopf was the Fever’s president and GM from the franchise’s launch in 2000 by way of 2017. When she left to maneuver into the NBA world — she is now the Indiana Pacers’ assistant GM — the Fever misplaced their architect. These had been large footwear for Catchings to attempt to fill with restricted expertise.

Professional sports activities front-office jobs include a variety of toil and simply as a lot second-guessing. In at present’s analytics-driven world, the eye-test, intestine intuition and even sheer good luck nonetheless issue into expertise analysis and team-building. And with the modifications in WNBA free company caused within the 2020 collective bargaining settlement, managing a franchise in a hard-salary-cap league similar to this one has turn out to be an much more intricate and complex matter.

An added twist in Catchings’ state of affairs is that she was the face of the franchise throughout her profession as a participant, beloved not simply in Indiana however all through the WNBA. The previous Tennessee star was drafted No. 3 by the Fever in 2001, a season through which she could not play after having torn her ACL as a senior.

Taken earlier than Catchings that 12 months had been Lauren Jackson at No. 1 by the Seattle Storm — a decide that made full sense as Jackson, like Catchings, went on to be a Corridor of Famer. The No. 2 decide in 2001, Kelly Miller, was taken by the then-Charlotte Sting. The Sting thought Miller can be a strong participant — she averaged 7.1 factors in 12 WNBA seasons — and selected her as an alternative of ready a 12 months for a celebrity like Catchings. (The Sting folded in 2007.)

As a participant, Catchings attracts many parallels to Michael Jordan, when it comes to their intense, fiery competitiveness, their success at each degree and even the truth that they had been each No. 3 picks in years the place the No. 1 decide was comprehensible (Hakeem Olajuwon, Rockets, in Jordan’s case) whereas the No. 2 decide is lamented (Sam Bowie, Blazers).

One other similarity to Jordan, nevertheless, is an issue to find the identical success within the entrance workplace that that they had as gamers. Magic Johnson is one other all-time nice participant who discovered that transition tough. He resigned abruptly because the Los Angeles Lakers’ president of basketball operations in April 2019, telling reporters, “I wish to return to having enjoyable. I wish to return to being who I used to be earlier than taking over this job.”

Catchings may really feel that method a bit, too. She actually by no means had a misstep as a participant. The one factor that ever slowed down the 2012 MVP, five-time WNBA defensive participant of the 12 months and four-time Olympian was damage. And even then, she efficiently battled again from each ACL and Achilles tendon tears.

Entrance-office success might be elusive for anybody, together with former gamers so used to controlling their very own future on court docket. Catchings is just 42, and may discover — after she has had an opportunity to judge and recharge her batteries — that she needs to re-enter the identical sort of front-office work that she’s leaving now. Or she may go in different instructions. Her significance to the WNBA and Indiana shouldn’t be diminished.

Indiana now turns to former Fever coach Lin Dunn as interim GM. At age 74, Dunn has greater than 50 years of expertise in teaching and expertise analysis, together with being coach/GM for the Seattle Storm and coach of the Fever’s championship group. Indiana has the Nos. 2, 7 and 10 picks within the first spherical of the draft in April.

However for now, this transfer appears greatest for Catchings and the Fever, who hope to begin gaining floor once more within the WNBA.

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