These past few weeks have been chaotic for the league, so let’s break it down.
The 2022 WNBA season doesn’t start until May, but the coaching carousel that usually comes with it is already in full swing. A number of teams have made changes to their backroom staff over the past few weeks. Becky Hammon is returning to the league as a head coach for the Las Vegas Aces, Sandy Brondello’s off to the New York Liberty, and the Phoenix Mercury plan to replace her with…well, that remains to be seen. Some teams, fans, and coaches have benefitted from all of this chaos, but others have suffered due to their bizarre choices and dashed expectations. Here are three winners––and two losers––of the WNBA’s coaching debacle.
Winner – New York Liberty
The best part about the Liberty’s 2021 season was that they qualified for the playoffs. The worst part about their season was that they qualified for the playoffs only to suffer an extremely painful defeat to the Mercury in the first round.
In all seriousness, the Liberty acquitted themselves well in their first finals appearance last year. But they were––and still are––a very young team, and (understandably) lacked the mentality of a squad used to playing at the top level and bagging trophies. They need a serial winner in order to succeed this season, and that’s exactly what Sandy Brondello is. Look out for the Liberty in May––if their new manager is anything to go by, they mean business.
Loser – Phoenix Mercury
The Mercury’s decision to let go of Brondello is unconventional at best and baffling at worst. GM Jim Pitman might be looking for a “new voice” to reinvigorate his team, but is getting that voice really worth disrupting a squad culture that took eight years to build? Not to mention, Brondello is one of the best WNBA coaches of all time; letting her run off to a potential playoffs rival shows a level of carelessness that will undoubtedly concern Mercury fans and players alike. Best of luck to whoever replaces Brondello. After all, if she couldn’t get a new contract after eight years of success, what chance does a complete newcomer have?
Winner – Bill Laimbeer
Let’s not mince words about Bill Laimbeer: he just got demoted. According to the Aces’ statement on Becky Hammon’s hiring (more on her later), Laimbeer “will continue to work for the Aces, focusing initially on assisting with the team’s roster construction for 2022.” He’s out as head coach, and there’s been no word on whether he’ll keep his position as Las Vegas’ PBO. So until further notice, it appears that he’s been sidelined.
However, this role-switch might work out nicely for Laimbeer. He’ll get to participate in the squad’s development while avoiding the public pressure and Taurasi roasts that the head coaching position typically invites. “It takes a tremendous amount of energy to be a head coach,” Laimbeer admitted last week. Now that Hammon’s at the wheel, maybe he’ll finally be able to rest…for now.
Winner – Becky Hammon
Despite making history in the NBA as its first female full-time assistant coach, Hammon was never offered the opportunity to head a team of her own. “I sat in a lot of head-coaching interviews,” she said in an interview with Just Women’s Sports. “Two things that people always said: ‘You’ve only been in San Antonio [helping to coach the Spurs], and you’ve never been a head coach.’”
But that unluckiness ends now, and there’s no better team to start her head coaching career than Las Vegas. She’s considered an Aces legend, which will help endear her to the fans and higher-ups. And judging by the fact that she “stole” WNBA plays on the regular while at San Antonio, her tactics should be well-suited to the league. Not to mention, having the literal cheat code that is A’ja Wilson on your team is probably helpful in dealing with any challenges that come with the job. All in all, Hammon is in a low-risk, high-reward situation. That makes her the biggest winner on this list.
Loser – Everyone who wanted Sue Bird to coach the Liberty
Of course, Sue Bird announcing that she won’t be retiring just yet is cause for celebration. And in regards to the Liberty’s coaching choice, Sandy Brondello is definitely the safer, more sensible option. But it’s a bit sad that the dream of Bird making a triumphant return to New York is pretty much dead. That is, unless she decides to PLAY for the Liberty. But that’ll never happen…right?
Come home to us, Sue. We promise that the cold is worth it.