Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Guru's WNBA Musings: Another Blindside Hits the New York Liberty

By Mel Greenberg

One thing that can be said about the New York Liberty, with the exception of player retirements of such notables as Katie Smith, Sue Wicks, and a few others, little amunition is available when it comes to giving 21 gun salutes when some of the notables in WNBA history awake mornings not knowing in a few hours they will be slipping from active to past tense when it comes to employment by the organization.

Four years ago there was the September massacre when Hall of Famer and longtime Liberty front office head Carol Blazejowski wasn't even given a chance to say thanks for the memories to members of her staff.

Came mid-afternoon on Tuesday and fesity but lovable Bill Laimbeer was given the heave ho in a move that some in the organization did not know what was about to happen.

When ESPN star scribe and former Inquirer Guru colleague Kate Fagan keyboarded an offering around the end of the season that New York wasn't far from turning the corner and the last thing New Yortk should do is fire Laimbeer many wondered, why the concern?

Especially those of us who knows how the front office bloodlines have flown.

But in the wake of this post postseason's annual news surprise -- a tradition that includes such out of nowhere events as WNBA presidential resignations and other ejections of coaching ejections that seemed stable at the time -- hello Mike Thibault -- the question becomes who knew what and when.

For example, a phone call placed to one agent acquaintance of the Guru brought the response, "Oh, did they finally announce it?"

One other source said, "they probably let Cappie (Pondexter) know before departing to play foreign ball and she might have told a few people on the QT.

When Laimbeer returned last season, part of his vision was disrupted when the ghosts of Detroit Shock past -- the glory days when he piloted three WNBA titles -- became unusable parts because of injury or health issues.

Then he worked hard to land a key superstar in the offseason when he capitalized on former UConn star Tina Charles' desire to jump ship on the Connecticut Sun and return to her native New York, though the price was more than a few trinkets of youthful talent.

Several WNBA types who were in Turkey for the recent world championship won by the pro stars of America under the USA Basketball banner had no idea, especially with front office executive Kristin Bernet among them.

When asked about Big Bad Bill's whereabouts, she said he was fishing, which was not out of line from comments he made during his past two seasons.

Given the trend of saving dollars, this could be a money issue, this was the option year in his contract, perhaps he sought a few more years, and the MSG hats suddenly decided, on second thought, it is better to let go now, then be stuck if things don't improve later.

The thread through the front office beginning with Blaze's ouster after being the only executive leader the Liberty knew from the 1997 launch of the franchise in the first year of WNBA competition was curious.

The man credited with shooting Liberty Blaze was Scott O'Neil, who happened to have had a past working relationship with Bernet, a Siena grad who first surfaced working in the front office in Detroit in the glory years, then worked in the league front office, and then was part of the in-house ruling family of the Los Angeles Sparks headed at the GM level by Penny Toler.

When a coaching vacancy in Tinseltown came up several years ago, Bernet, who prefers the KB monicker, had interest in John Whisenant, who had made the former Sacramento Monarchs one of the league's powers berfore the franchise's demise.

But Toler had eyes on Jennifer Gillom, who had held the interim title with the Minnesota Lynx. That by the way enabled Laimbeer, who was then with the NBA side of the Minnesota Timberwolves to back the candidacy of Cheryl Reeve, his former Detroit assistant, as coach of the Lynx.

Meanwhile, what Penny wants, she usually gets, only to toss away later except for the glory of the Lisa Leslie years, and so Bernet ended up together again with O'Neil in New York.

Prior to Blaze's departure, she had been in the hunt for a coaching replacement for Anne Donovan, who was heading back to the college ranks, however, briefly, at Seton Hall near where she grew up at Bergen Catholic as the pre-Elena Delle Donne of her time -- OK, don't overract to the description.

Her top choice was Carol Ross, then assisting the Atlanta Dream and later to become the coach in L.A. until her surprising ouster during last summer.

But she never got to make the move and like magic Whisenant was brought in also as GM but to be hampered by New York's first two of three-relocation seasons to the Prudential Center in Newark across the Hudson River in New Jersey while Madison Square Garden underwent a major renovation.

Laimbeer arrived for the third of those seasons and at the end whether the organization wanted it publicly stated, he pretty much alluded what a mess it was having to operate in North Jersey, especially with the training center being up the road near White Plains, N.Y.

His WNBA return seemed ticketed for Washington at a time when Thibault had not yet been dismissed from a mostly successful decade run in Connecticut, but no title.

However, Laimbeer's arrival was not a shock, forgive the pun, considering Bernet's influence but somewhere in there O'Neil left in a huff with owner James L. Dolan and now has key positions with the Philadelphia 76ers of the NBA and the Jersey Devils of the NHL.

One wonders what the scene would be today had not the Liberty during the final weeks of the regular season in the Eastern gridlock for playoff spots beaten Washington and Washington had lost to the Indiana Fever which would have been enough to tip New York into September.

So now the suspense begins: Will Laimbeer land in L.A. which has an opening or will Gary Kloppenberg get promoted.

And might Kloppenberg land in New York though Marynell Meadors sits out there since her unceremonious exit two yesrs ago in Atlanta where she was the victim of a devil deal by an Angel.

Ironically, Ross could land in New York and said as much in having interest in a twitter reaction to a Guru speculation about finally hitting her destiny soon after the Guru's hearing about Laimbeer's parting of ways.

So that's it for now -- stay tuned but now that you have been entertained, the Guru has a plane to catch for Chicago and Big Ten media day, which is Thursday.

-- Mel








- Posted using BlogPress from the Guru's iPad

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