Edited to add: After writing, the Associated Press stated that Fred Williams had given Angel McCoughtry a written list of requirements she must sign and comply with before he will consider reinstating her. None of that changes anything written below.
There’s been so much off-court nonsense going on around the WNBA this week, that we’re splitting today’s coverage into two parts: first up, the soap operas.
Back in Atlanta yet again, even with Marynell Meadors removed from her position as head coach and general manager, the drama continues unabated. Just as last night’s home game against Tulsa was tipping off, the broadcasters revealed that star player Angel McCoughtry had been suspended indefinitely by the team, news that was quickly confirmed by the franchise.
Beyond adding to the impression that the Dream are in disarray, all this does is raise more questions. Primarily, if McCoughtry was going to be suspended for whatever she’s done in recent days and weeks, why was Meadors fired in the first place? The widespread impression has been that there was a power struggle which was won by McCoughtry when Meadors was forced out, but apparently there’s still dissatisfaction or conflict remaining. Alternatively, McCoughtry did something else – on top of whatever she’d done to aggravate Meadors – in the 24 hours following the promotion of Fred Williams as the new head coach and GM. Which seems ridiculous, but at this point would hardly be a surprise.
Of course, this could just be a small effort by Williams and/or the Dream ownership to try to suggest that McCoughtry isn’t running the franchise. Get rid of the coach just like she wanted, suspend her ‘indefinitely’ for a couple of games, then bring her back with everything forgiven. Watching from the outside, it certainly seemed like Meadors was dumped at McCoughtry’s behest. If that was the case, any coach coming in – whether Williams or someone else in future – would’ve known that they had to kowtow to McCoughtry to keep their job. A suspension at leaves gives some mild sign that maybe – to borrow Geno Auriemma’s choice of metaphor – the inmates aren’t completely running the asylum.
Interviewed after the game, Williams came off as either unsure and confused about how to discuss the situation, or a complete moron. For Atlanta’s sake, hopefully it’s just the former. There’s a transcript of an interview here, and the quotes used in the post-game recap on the WNBA’s own site read “I have to thoroughly and strongly talk to her. We’ll see where that lies tomorrow when I talk with her. I think it’s been a culmination of some things that added on to the suspension that I read into it.” Williams continues, “I wanted to come into this game for our team with a clear mind, and I wanted her not to have the pressure of everything, of her thinking about a few things that are going on. Now if she’s still with us, she still has the Atlanta Dream tag on her back right now, and we’ll see where that goes.” None of that makes much sense, but he’s been left in an unenviable position by his franchise. The basic message that he was going to talk to her today and go from there came across. As of yet, there’ve been no updates from the Dream.
So who knows what the hell’s going on with McCoughtry and Atlanta. They’re certainly getting a lot of press compared to usual, but the stories don’t make them look good and last night’s sub-3,000 attendance doesn’t suggest it’s pulling in any new spectators. The trade deadline is tomorrow, but it’d still be a surprise to see her moved, even after all this. It’s hard to trade superstars in this league, because there isn’t enough quality talent around to get equal value back (or enough teams to provide competing offers). Plus, unless the Dream added players that made a championship run this year realistic, they might as well trade her in the offseason when there’s no time pressure. If they feel the team’s better off without her for now, leave her suspended for the rest of the season.
The whole situation has become an absolute shambles.
Talking of ludicrous situations, on to the Tulsa Shock and Australian center Liz Cambage.
After taking the first half of the WNBA season off to train with the Australian national team for the Olympics, Cambage was given time to celebrate and recover by the Shock after London. They set a date for her return – the August 30th game at home to the Los Angeles Sparks – and started pushing it using ‘#Slambage’ publicity (the Twitter hashtag which started when she dunked during a game in London). Then a couple of days ago, the Shock tweeted that Cambage had missed her flight back to the US, and that they were trying to rebook her. That was fairly ridiculous on its own, but these things happen. Then the next day, Tulsa announced that Cambage would not be appearing for the Shock this season.
While there are a lot of things we don’t know about the McCoughtry situation, the vast majority of this Cambage saga has played out in the open. She was all set to come back, tweeted about flying out barely a day before she was scheduled to leave, and then decided not to at the very last minute. It’s pathetic, and utterly ridiculous. If she’d decided after the Olympics that she was exhausted, and that joining up with a team that had no chance at the playoffs made little sense, then it would’ve been understandable. A little frustrating for Shock fans who’d been expecting to see her play in the second half of the season, but acceptable on some level. To screw everyone around like this has left a sour taste in the mouth, embarrassed the Shock organisation, and made her look like an unreliable waste of everyone else’s energy.
An article finally emerged today that quoted Cambage herself, rather than just her agent. She talked about how “Monday morning came and I just couldn’t do it, I couldn’t go. It was last-minute and I’m sorry for that. To be honest, it was unfair on the team and the rest of the girls [the Shock] to come over when I wasn’t 100 per cent.” Basically, comments that show she’s had a little media training and spent plenty of time talking to that same agent before the interview.
She also added that “People have been saying I want a trade. I don’t want a trade. I don’t know what I will do after China but I know the Shock will always be there; it’s just sad I’m too tired to finish the season there.” The first part’s nice, in an abstract way – she’s not publically demanding out. Although it’d be interesting to know what would happen if the Shock traded her before tomorrow’s deadline to a team that could use her in the playoffs. Would she discover some energy if it meant a month in LA or New York? The second part, well, does that sound like any kind of commitment to you? “I don’t know what I will do after China but I know the Shock will always be there” sounds like someone who sees the WNBA as something of an afterthought. That she can show up whenever she feels like, and they’ll be waiting with open arms. 6’8” centers don’t grow on trees, so to a large extent she’s right – the chance will probably be there for her as long as this league exists. But don’t expect anyone to be particularly welcoming, Liz.
At this point, it wouldn’t be a big surprise to see Cambage’s next WNBA appearance come in a different uniform from the Shock one she wore last year. The sole positive from the nonsense this week for the Shock is that Cambage won’t work a year off her rookie-scale contract by appearing in 9 meaningless games to close the 2012 season. That means either they have her WNBA rights for the next three years (and she’d only be a restricted free agent after that), or the team they trade her to would be in that same situation. Keeping her cheap for an extra year makes her a little more valuable to teams trying to stay under the WNBA’s salary cap. All assuming that she shows up to play, of course.
However, she’s hurt her trade value with her actions this week, because now she’s building a reputation as a flake. There were some unfortunate comments before she was drafted that left some people upset, but those could largely be put down to the inexperience of youth and typical Aussie bluntness. And who could blame a 19-year old kid for preferring the idea of playing in Tinseltown over moving halfway around the world to join a terrible team in a flyover state she’d probably never heard of? This is different. She’s let her team down with no warning, and with no good reason. I keep returning to that word: pathetic. She would’ve been in the US for less than a month. It’s hard to understand, and it’s hard to accept. Hope you show up in the WNBA in future years, Liz – but I also hope you bring along a distinct change in attitude.
At least in Atlanta and Tulsa we’ve had some actual events to sink our teeth into. Over in Chicago, two players missed games due to the infamous ‘personal reasons’ that now raise the hackles of many WNBA fans. Tamera Young’s situation was quickly explained – she had a death in her family, was excused as a result, and only missed one game before returning to the floor last night. Star center Sylvia Fowles, on the other hand, remains something of a mystery. Her ‘personal reasons’ are yet to be explained in any way, and she’s now missed two straight games. It’s always unfair to compare situations, but when you hear Young had to deal with a family bereavement, and has already returned – you can’t help wondering what’s keeping Fowles away longer than her teammate.
The Sky commentators for last night’s broadcast stated that the team hoped to have Fowles back for Saturday’s game in Indiana. Chicago head coach and general manager Pokey Chatman said after the game that she’d be back on Wednesday (today). So whether it was an injury layoff that they didn’t want to talk about, an undisclosed suspension that they wanted kept quiet, or she went to Atlanta to hang out with Angel for a couple of days, it looks like it’s coming to an end. Which is at least a positive.
If the Sky have anything to say about it, we’ll probably never know what Fowles’s ‘personal reasons’ actually were. But then, maybe that’s why they call them personal.
Who knew that we’d actually stop talking about Diana Taurasi this week?