Thursday, September 22, 2011

"I Never Made it This Far"

Mystics fans need no reminder that this is the first playoff season in three years in which Washington and its fans are on the outside looking in. But tonight, as the second round of the WNBA playoffs get underway, there are a few alumnae of the Mystics whose teams are still in post-season competition, and the BCs are enjoying watching them play.

In particular, we could not be happier for Nakia Sanford that -- for the first time ever -- she has the opportunity to play in a Conference final playoff series, after her Phoenix Mercury beat the defending champion Seattle Storm in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs on Monday.

Sitting in the locker room that night after the decisive third game, Nakia buried her face in her jersey, overcome with emotion. Teased by her teammates, Nakia said, "I never made it this far." (Video here). For the BCs, who have followed Nakia for her entire, improbable, WNBA career, it was also a very emotional moment.

Yes, Nakia's improbable WNBA career. Nakia graduated from the University of Kansas in 1999, having played for the Jayhawks on the team that won the first Big 12 title. But Nakia was not signed by any WNBA team, and she went overseas to play. Several years passed. No WNBA teams came knocking, and it is likely that Nakia thought she would never play professionally in the United States. Fortune, however, smiled. Nakia was playing one off-season on a team in South Korea with Chamique Holdsclaw, where she was spotted by the Mystics' then-Head Coach, Marianne Stanley. (Our recollection, in fact, is that it was actually Mique who told Coach Stanley she needed to come take a look at Nakia.) In April 2003, the Mystics signed Nakia as a free agent.

The rest, as they say, is history. Nakia spent the next 8 seasons with the Mystics, often as a reserve, although she was thrust into a starting role early in the 2007 season when the Mystics suddenly traded away starting Center Chasity Melvin to the Sky (in exchange for Mo Currie).

Nakia was always one of the most fan-friendly players. She has a great sense of humor, does wonderful charity work, and, maybe because of her improbable late arrival to the WNBA, she never seemed to take the fans or the experience of playing in the U-S of A for granted. Nakia may not lead the league in on-court statistics, but if we were ranking players on how they represented the league, their team, and their city . . . Nakia would be right up there at the top of the list.

During the past off-season, when GM/HC Trudi set in motion her "rebuilding with youth" strategy, Nakia was not re-signed by the Mystics. She found a new home in Phoenix (as a reserve). Bench player or not, tonight Nakia gets to do something she's never done . . . play in a Conference championship series.

The BCs could not be happier for her. Go Kia!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

First Among Worst

The BCs have been Mystics season ticketholders since the inaugural season of 1998. (Our names are inscribed on the Founding Fans wall in the Verizon Center.) In the 13 seasons preceding 2011, we thought we’d seen it all – all the coaching changes, all the front office changes, all the player drama, all the exciting and sometimes puzzling draft picks, and naturally all the ups and downs that have made up the gestalt of the Mystics experience.

Over the years, we’ve suffered through many a miserable season. But without a doubt, the recently concluded Mystics 2011 season was, for us, the very worst ever. Worse even than the 3-27 inaugural season? Yes. Having a women’s professional basketball team in our Nation’s capital was all new and exciting. There were large and enthusiastic crowds, and, most important, there was the promise of better things to come. We had fun. Worse even than the season of 2008, which we used to think of as the franchise’s low point? Yes. Because most of the misery and the failure of this season, unlike 2008, was the result of self-inflicted wounds. This season need never have happened this way, and should never have happened this way.

The October Massacre

The unmitigated failure of this season was brought on, first and foremost, by the October Massacre. In the history of professional sports, has there ever been another team that finished first in its conference, with a franchise-record number of wins, after years of mostly disappointing performances and multiple (mostly unsuccessful) coaches, which then turned around and effectively pushed the General Manager and Head Coach (who engineered the team’s turnaround) out the door? All because the team’s mega-wealthy owners decided to save a little money? If it’s happened before, the BCs have never heard of it. Maybe that’s why, nearly a year later, we still find it incomprehensible. And unforgiveable.

A Quick Hire

The stupidity and meanness of that October decision (let’s not forget, those were two very hardworking human beings who lost jobs that they loved that month) were then compounded by the quick hire of a cost-saving combo GM/HC. After Sheila & Co. reorganized the GM and HC jobs into a single position in order to save money, did they do a national search to find the best possible person for that redefined job? Not that they’ve ever said. Instead, they immediately promoted the previous season’s second assistant coach (you know, the one the WNBA didn't even allow to sit on the bench), Trudi Lacey, to the new job.

So what qualified Trudi for this new position? Well, as a matter of fact, Trudi had actually done the combo GM/HC job before. She served in that capacity with the Charlotte Sting beginning in 2003. Her tenure in that job went something like this: after Trudi inherited the Eastern Conference’s 2nd place team in 2003, Trudi’s team lost two more games than the team had lost the year before, but still managed to finish in 2nd place. The following season, 2004, saw GM/HC Trudi’s Sting finish with a losing record and drop to 5th (of 6 teams) in the East -- and miss the playoffs. And then the 2005 season arrived. That year’s Sting team opened the season with 3 wins . . . and 21 losses, under GM/HC Trudi’s leadership.

At that point, GM Trudi was left with no choice but to split the combo job, fire herself as HC and bring in another head coach, Muggsy Bogues, to finish out the season. (Muggsy’s record that summer was 3-7.) Not surprisingly, the Sting finished dead last in the East, with the worst record in the WNBA. One season later, with Trudi still at the helm as GM, and Muggsy still coaching, the Sting recorded a hardly spectacular record of 11-23, missing the playoffs again . . . and playing in a virtually empty arena. What followed was, literally, The End. After the 2006 season, the Charlotte Sting -- one of the 8 original WNBA teams – folded. Gone, defunct, dust in the wind.

That was the résumé -- and the legacy -- that Trudi brought to the Mystics’ GM/HC job this summer. Sheila & Co. were looking for a quick hire -- and for someone willing to do both jobs -- so Trudi got the nod. In the press teleconference that lives in infamy (Sheila: “Let me idiot proof this for you . . .”) following Trudi’s hiring, Sheila was asked whether Trudi had what it took. And Sheila famously replied, “everything is a crap shoot.”

Grade F on the 2011 Draft

The BCs don’t know how anyone could give GM Trudi’s 2011 draft anything other than a failing grade. Although Trudi had two first round draft picks, they were both for naught. First, as part of the Lindsey Harding trade, Trudi directed the Atlanta Dream to use their own first round pick to draft Ta’Shia Phillips and send her to the Mystics; Trudi then used the Mystics’ own pick to draft Victoria Dunlap. She used her second round pick to draft Karima Christmas. Trudi waived both Phillips and Christmas later in the season. Karima was picked up off waivers by Tulsa, and Ta’Shia by New York. Because the two players were waived, the Mystics got nothing in return for them. Meanwhile, Dunlap spent virtually her entire rookie season parked on the bench. We’re not really sure whether GM Trudi just isn’t very good at evaluating talent, or whether HC Trudi isn’t very good at using the talent she’s been given. In any event, the BCs rate GM Trudi’s 2011 draft an “F.”

What Strategic Plan?

Well before the WNBA’s free agent signing period began in January, and months before the college draft in April, the Mystics knew that Mo Currie was expected to be out for the entire season, recovering from her ACL injury. But what wasn’t known -- with certainty -- was how well Alana Beard would be able to play after returning from a potentially career-ending injury, having missed an entire year of basketball.

Meanwhile, early in the off-season – after the October Massacre – word spread in WNBA circles that Lindsey Harding no longer wanted to play for Washington. Katie Smith was a free agent and her return to the Mystics was also uncertain.

So in light of all these off-season developments, what was the Mystics’ strategic plan going into the 2011 season? GM/HC Trudi announced that she was rebuilding with youth. No veteran free agents; not a mix of young and old; the strategy was to focus on youth. Thus, Nakia Sanford was not offered a contract (she signed as a free agent with Phoenix) and Chasity Melvin was cut in training camp. GM Trudi stacked the team with rookies and traded her 2012 first round draft pick to Minnesota for Nicky Anosike, a player with 3 years of WNBA experience. GM Trudi executed her plan, assembling the pieces for the future of the franchise.

But then, right in the middle of the season, GM Trudi totally abandoned her plan. She cut two of her four rookies, including first rounder Ta’Shia Phillips. Then she replaced them with an 11-year veteran, DeMya Walker, and a 4th year player, Kerri Gardin, both of whom had been cut by the Connecticut Sun (Kerri before the season began, and DeMya after 10 games). Of the two remaining rookies, GM/HC Trudi then left one of them – Victoria Dunlap -- on the bench, while Crystal Langhorne finished in a virtual dead-heat for most minutes played per game in the WNBA (Sylvia Fowles edged her by 0.3 minutes). Lang continued to play 30-plus minutes per game even after the Mystics were mathematically eliminated from playoff contention. And Vicky continued to sit on the bench.

Plan A, rebuilding with youth, obviously wasn’t working.

Management Failure

We’re hard pressed to find a credible argument for retaining the services of a coach who loses 28 games in a 34-game season. As Mechelle Voepel recently wrote of the Mystics, “the lion's share of the blame for this season's woes is not on the players.” That said, if Sheila & Co. fire Trudi, they’ll be scapegoating her in a way. Why? Because, quite frankly, with her track record, Trudi should never have been considered for the job in the first place. In the BCs’ opinion, the greatest failure of the recently concluded season is not Trudi’s. The greatest failure is the utter lack of good stewardship of the Mystics franchise by Mystics management.

When you are an owner who is fortunate enough to have two consummate professionals like former GM Angela Taylor and former HC Julie Plank on your team, who – by your own admission – produced positive results, and ahead of schedule (we were at the airport)-- then you MUST find a way to keep them on board. You do NOT allow what, to you (a person of incredible wealth), is for all intents and purposes an inconsequential amount of money, to undermine the stability of the prior two seasons and derail the strategic plan. Yet that’s exactly what Sheila & Co. did. They failed miserably as owners and managers. They failed the players. And they failed the fans.

Big and Biggest Losers

Of course, the players suffered a great deal: emotionally (losing night after night takes its toll), physically (playing league-leading minutes can wear a player down), and, financially (for the first time in 3 years, no playoff money in their paychecks). We count them among this season’s big losers . . . and we’re not referring to their win-loss record.

In our opinion, the biggest losers, though, were the fans. Mystics fans have been loyal to a fault. Mystics fans harbor a deep emotional attachment to their team. They are used to being disappointed, but they are not used to being blind-sided or betrayed. And that’s how the BCs felt (and still do) and how many other loyal fans felt (they’ve told us) about the bait-and-switch that Sheila & Co. pulled on all of us last October.

Then, to add insult to injury, Mystics fans had to suffer through watching their team lose a franchise-record number of games. And the in-game experience that used to be so much fun, this year was mostly depressing. Empty seats. Little to cheer about. Plenty of formerly die-hard fans just opting to stay home and watch online or on TV, or simply not watch at all. It just wasn’t fun anymore, so it wasn’t worth the time and expense to attend anymore either. Sheila & Co. stole something from all of us.

Where Do They Go From Here?

As sad as we feel to say this going into the 15th season, the franchise needs to start over. Sheila & Co. need to acknowledge the huge mistake they made last fall. They need to acknowledge it to the fans. Most important, they need to acknowledge it to Angela and Julie.

Then Mystics management need to do exactly what they did after the 2008 season, which resulted in Angela and Julie being hired. They need to do a careful and considered national search, and they need to find the best possible person to become the new GM, and that person needs to be given carte blanche to find and hire the best possible HC. (And, in this process, in our opinion, Angela and Julie deserve the right of first refusal.)

The franchise also needs to make a real and serious commitment to a long term plan. And, when it comes to basketball operations, that includes treating the GM of the Mystics the way the GM of the Wizards is treated. As Aretha would say, it’s all about R-E-S-P-E-C-T. That means the Mystics’ GM (whoever she or he may be) should NOT be reporting to the head of business operations (Greg Bibb). Ernie Grunfeld does not report to Greg. Why not? Because Ernie (like Angela) has spent his entire career immersed in The Game of basketball -- its players, its coaches, every nuance and every aspect of The Game. His job is to achieve on-court success. Running the business side of things is extremely important to a professional franchise, no question about it. But Ernie, for good reason, doesn’t answer to Business Operations, and neither should the Mystics’ next GM. The person with the most experience in basketball, the person making the player personnel decisions, should be reporting to the owners. If that’s how men’s basketball is run, that’s how women’s basketball should be run too. Anything less is disrespectful, and sexist.

It won’t be easy for Sheila & Co. to repair the damage this last season has done. It won’t be easy to regain the trust and support of the fans. But Mystics management are the only ones who have the power to start the rebuilding process. The BCs challenge them to swallow their pride and do whatever it takes to make this right.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

It's Been a Long Dark Mystics Season, but finally, the BCs have something to look forward to . . . the Terps!

As our readers surely know by now (you do follow Coach B on Facebook and Twitter, don't you?), the ACC finally released their 2012 schedule today. So that allowed the Terps to finally release their 2011-12 schedule too.

In case you haven't put the dates in your Outlook calendar yet, you can find the complete schedule here.

Notably, the ACC has added two games to the in-conference schedule this time around. For the Terps, this means more home-and-homes with some pretty tough teams.

In fact, at first look, the in-Conference portion of Maryland's schedule looked so grueling that the BCs called on our research department to do a little statistical analysis for us this afternoon. And our first impression was confirmed! If you add up the number of last season's in-Conference wins of each team's opponents, and multiply by the number of times each team must face that opponent this season, guess who has the toughest schedule in the ACC this season? (Hint: this university also has the coolest football uniforms, not only in the ACC, but in the . . . World!) If you guessed Duke, you're reading the wrong blog. Yes, of course, as our analysts discovered, the Terps-have-the-toughest-schedule. Period. That is -- collectively -- the Terps' opponents this coming season had more ACC wins last season than did the collective opponents of any other ACC team. (Did you follow that?)

While we didn't actually ask our researchers for more, you know how those spreadsheet-geeks are. They had another revelation for us: of the top 5 teams in the ACC last season, guess how their 2012 ACC schedules stack up?

Duke and Miami, who finished tied for the regular season title, get the 11th and 9th toughest schedules respectively (of 12 teams) this season. Florida State, who finished third, has the 10th toughest schedule. And Georgia Tech, who finished with the same record as the Terps last year, has the 12th (out of 12) toughest ACC draw. So, in summary, the Terps get the #1 toughest and the other top four teams get #11, #10, #9, #12. Hmmm. (As a certain actor on the old Laugh-In show used to say . . . verrrry interesting.)

Heck, we're not complaining . . . a tough ACC schedule could be a great thing for the Terps come . . . post-season.

But speaking of revelations, we can't help but notice that the very first team that Maryland faces this year (albeit in an exhibition) is Messiah College (PA). So, are the BCs looking forward to the coming of the Messiah? After the Mystics' season we've lived through . . You Bet We Are! The Terps season -- and the Messiah -- can't get here soon enough for us.

(FYI, we still plan a Mystics wrap-up. But can you blame us for wanting to write about something exciting and fun for a change? We knew you'd understand.)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Most. Losses. Ever.

The Mystics' nightmare of a season finally ended last night, in San Antonio, where Washington lost to the Silver Stars, 82-74. There's not much to say about the game, except that Mo Currie started (the good news), the Mystics gave up two 12-point leads along the way to defeat (the bad news), and Marissa finished up the season in Trudi's doghouse (arf, just news). Riss played a total of only five minutes behind Mo and behind Kerri Gardin.

But if you were worried that Marissa was lonely in the doghouse, don't be. Vicky Dunlap kept her company most of the night. Vicky, whose rookie season started with a great deal of promise, saw her season end with just 1:50 minutes of playing time at the very conclusion of a game that had already been decided. Arf, Arf.

However the most significant news from last night's loss is that the Mystics finished out the season with a record of 6-28. 28 losses -- a staggering number for a 34-game season, and the most ever for the franchise. More losses than in the Mystics' 1998 inaugural season of 3-27.

We said the other day that we never expected to see 27 losses again in a single season. And now we have to say that we never, ever, ever expected to see 28! That this franchise record-setting number of losses came directly following the season of franchise record wins -- 22 (thank you again, Angela and Julie) -- makes it that much more astounding, and that much worse.

The absolute worst part of this horrific season, though, is that it didn't need to play out this way. Much of the damage to the team, and all of the damage to the franchise's fan loyalty and enthusiam (not to mention trust), was entirely self-inflicted.

First to Worst -- that single phrase sums up the story of the 2011 Mystics, a story of failure that is much more about The Sheila & Co. than it is about the players. One day soon, the BCs plan a separate post . . . a season wrap-up of our thoughts about all this. But today is not that day. Today, September 11th, is a day for thinking about and remembering more important things. So our Mystics wrap up will have to wait.

For now, all we can say is, thank goodness this season is over for the Mystics players . . . and for their fans.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

For the Second Time in two seasons, the Mystics were on the court -- on the road -- playing in a game that decided the regular season Eastern Conference champion. But unlike last year, there won't be any quickly-organized flash mob of ecstatic fans to greet the Mystics at the airport upon their return. No, unlike last year, the Mystics will end their season in the Eastern Conference cellar. First to worst . . . how sad.

Tonight in Indy, playing their penultimate game of the season, and their 7th since they were eliminated from playoff contention, the Mystics were kicked to the curb by the Fever, 87-69, as Indy clinched the top spot in the East.

This evening, the Mystics, despite a slow start, twice battled back from double-digit deficits, even taking a short-lived lead at the half, 37-36. After that, they fell behind again in the third period, closed the gap early in the final period to 66-63 . . . but that was all they had left in the tank. The Fever went on a 21-6 run . . . game, set, match -- and Eastern Conference regular season title to Indiana. Last season that accomplishment belonged to the Mystics.

As she's done all season long, the always reliable, never say die, Crystal Langhorne led the Mystics in scoring (18 points), and also pulled down 15 boards for a double-double. Off the bench, Mo Currie, just returning to the line-up following her ACL surgery, played a surprising 24 minutes and put up (a not surprising) 12 points (as did another no-quit player on the Mystics' roster, Matee Ajavon).

The Mystics are now 6-27. 27! The BCs lived through 3-27 the first year of the franchise, but we never, ever thought we'd see that many losses again . . . in a single season. Certainly not in the 14th year of the franchise. And especially not following the season in which the team notched a record number of wins, 22. But, not for the first time -- and certainly not for the last time -- we were wrong.

And, unless the basketball gods take pity on the Mystics, it could get worse. The Mystics still have one more game to play, Saturday in San Antonio (8 PM ET). They could, if the ball doesn't bounce their way, set the franchise record for most games lost in a season. At the risk of repeating ourselves . . . what a difference a year makes.


Thursday AM Update: Yesterday, Mechelle Voepel posted another must-read article on (link here) about the 4 WNBA teams feeling left out of the post-season. In discussing the Mystics, Mechelle says, ". . . the lion's share of the blame for this season's woes is not on the players." The BCs agree. There's plenty more MV has to say about the Mystics. This is definitely worth reading.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

End of the Road Home

The BCs watched on NBA-TV as the Connecticut Sun scorched the Mystics, 79-48, at the Phone Booth today. All we kept thinking was how sorry we felt for all the Mystics' fans who had schlepped to the Verizon Center for this afternoon's final home game, aka "Fan Appreciation Day."

Hopefully, some in-arena entertainment or giveaways (or that generous deal of a large soda for the price of a medium) made it less painful for those fans actually present. As for watching on TV, this was one of those truly horrible, horrible, horrible games that leaves the usually verbose BCs at a loss for words.

The only enjoyable few moments for us came at half-time, when the TV broadcast showed a clip of DeMya and her daughter. That peek into their wonderful relationship provided a brief -- and sweet -- interlude in what was otherwise an unrelentingly depressing couple of hours.

As for the Mystics players, they have our sympathy . . . as they've had all season. Too bad they still have to play two more games -- both on the road. We have to believe that nobody wishes this season were already over more than they do. Unfortunately, the Mystics must now travel to face Conference-leading Indy at Conseco Fieldhouse on Wednesday at 7 PM.

Saturday, September 03, 2011


The same two teams that played on Thursday in the Phone Booth played each other again a day later (Friday) in Atlanta. But a different day and a different venue led to a very different result. This time, the Mystics were crushed by Atlanta, 95-73.

In the second half of the ATL-WAS back-to-back, the Mystics fell behind early, trailing by as many as 20 points in the first half. The Dream extended their lead to 24 points in the third period before the Mystics -- led by rookie Jasmine Thomas -- mounted a ferocious charge to close the gap to single digits early in the fourth. But then, well, Washington ran out of gas, or Atlanta switched to a higher gear, or some combination of the two. In any event, the last 9 minutes of the game were all Dream, all the time. A 22-point loss for the Mystics, their 25th loss of the season. (That ties the franchise record for second highest number of losses, with 3 games yet to play.)

Jasmine has really impressed the BCs this season . . . she continues to compete whether the going is easy -- or rough. And there's certainly been plenty of the latter. Last night she led the Mystics with a career-high 19 points. Lang, who also competes no matter what, chipped in 15 in the losing effort. And (newly released from the doghouse) Marissa added 12 off the bench.

One of the highlights of last night's broadcast was LaChina Robinson's half-time interview of the Miller Twins. Both have played for the Mystics, both have played for the Dream, and now one plays for each. Both are painfully shy, but LaChina (one of our favorite WNBA broadcasters) managed to pry a few words out of them. (Fortunately LaChina didn't bring up that painful episode from years back when the Mystics flew off to an away game, leaving Coco behind in the airport. Ooops.)

The Mystics return to the Verizon Center on Sunday for their final (thank goodness) home game of the 2011 season. They will tip-off against the Connecticut Sun at 4 PM in the annual fan Depreciation Appreciation Day game. Hmmm. (The BCs know a bunch of fans who would still appreciate an answer to the emails and calls made to the Mystics' front office after the October Massacre. Still waiting.)

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Tonight at the Verizon Center, the Mystics finally put an end to their 9-game losing streak, as they upset the Atlanta Dream, 85-81.

The Dream, currently in 4th place in the tightly contested (that is, if you exclude the Mystics) Eastern Conference, arrived at the Phone Booth hoping to solidify their playoff position (and possibly gain some ground on the teams ahead of them in the standings). Instead, the Mystics played the role of spoiler.

In front of a sparse but enthusiastic crowd, Washington pulled ahead late in the final period, and sent the Dream home to Atlanta with another loss.

The fans at the Phone Booth had another reason to smile . . . the return of Mo Currie. With about 2 minutes left in the first quarter, Mo made her first appearance since last season. As our readers know, Mo tore an ACL playing overseas during the WNBA's off season, and underwent surgery early this year. She was greeted with cheering and a standing ovation when she entered the game. Mo played only 10 minutes, but given that she was playing her first WNBA game in nearly a year and playing on a surgically repaired knee, the BCs -- and others in the arena -- were impressed. Mo scored 8 points and pulled down 3 rebounds during her brief stint on the court.

Of course, without Old Faithful, Crystal Langhorne, the Mystics' losing streak wouldn't now be in the rear view mirror. Lang led Washington (once again) with 25 points and 10 boards. (She never ceases to amaze us!) Crystal got significant help this evening from Matee, who scored 19 points off the bench, 11 of them in the final period. And the aggressive play of rookie Jasmine Thomas (12 points, 5 assists and 4 rebounds) also contributed greatly to the Mystics' win.

For the second game in a row, GM/HC Trudi tried a different starting line-up. Tonight, Trudi started Jasmine and Kelly, along with Kerri Gardin, Lang and DeMya. Matee subbed in along with Mo, but played extended minutes, while Mo's minutes, by necessity, were limited.

Speaking of limited . . . what the heck's going on with Marissa? As she did in Minny, Marissa spent most of tonight's game on the bench in her warm up suit. She entered the game late in the 3rd period, played a total of 8 minutes, missed one shot, committed one foul, but otherwise recorded zeros in her stat line. Is she hurt, sick . . . or just in Trudi's doghouse? In any event, she was pretty much a non-factor in tonight's victory.

The Mystics and the Dream will both be catching a flight (hopefully not the same one) to Atlanta tonight or in the morning. The same two teams play each other again tomorrow in Philips Arena. (WNBA scheduling drives the BCs nuts!) This means the Mystics will have another chance to play spoiler, and the Dream will have another chance to keep their playoff hopes alive . . . just in another venue, tomorrow (Friday) at 7:30 PM.