Lieberman signing means more players available Sunday

Subtraction by Addition

With Shock forward Plenette Pierson and assistant coach Rick Mahorn suspended for Thursday night’s contest in Houston, Shock general manager and head coach Bill Laimbeer found someone who can help with both roles.

Fifty-year-old Nancy Lieberman, a Hall of Fame player and former Shock head coach.

Actually, Lieberman, who signed a seven-day contract, will be strictly a player Thursday night – the oldest in WNBA history if she plays. But her very presence in uniform will help the Shock, who had six team members suspended a total of 10 games for their actions during the scuffle late in Tuesday’s loss to L.A. The Sparks had five players suspended for seven games.

Detroit’s numbers are higher because the skirmish broke out in front of the Shock bench, from which players instinctively rushed onto the court. Four players earned a one-game suspension for doing so: center Kara Braxton, forward Tasha Humphrey, guard Elaine Powell and guard Sheri Sam.

Pierson drew the longest suspension, four games, and Mahorn will serve two games. Those suspensions went into immediate effect, beginning with Thursday’s game in Houston. With Powell and Cheryl Ford both injured, the Shock could not serve all the one-game suspensions at Houston and meet the league minimum of eight active players. In cases like that, suspensions are staggered so that eight players are dressed.

But as Laimbeer explained in a phone conversation with shortly after the suspensions were announced, he would prefer to work through them as quickly as possible and get his players back. Enter Lieberman, who fills the team’s empty 13th roster spot. By adding a 13th player that can help fill the eight-player active list, the Shock can allow Braxton and Humphrey to serve their one-game suspensions Thursday. That way, both can be back for Sunday’s home game against San Antonio. (Suspensions are staggered in alphabetical order.)

Detroit’s frontcourt, which was so crowded a month ago Laimbeer traded forward LaToya Thomas for guard Shay Murphy, enters Houston decimated by the fallout of Tuesday evening. Ford, who was just returning to All-Star form after left knee surgery, tore her right ACL and is out for the season. Pierson, the reigning Sixth Woman of the Year, will have to miss two games after the month-long Olympic break, meaning she can not suit up again until Sept. 5 at home against the Fever.

With Braxton out Thursday, it’s safe to assume Laimbeer figured there was no way to avoid playing small ball against the Comets. By adding Lieberman, he improves his team’s chances of beating San Antonio by getting two bigs back instead of just Braxton. This also will allow Sam to sit out her one game before the Olympic break. Powell, expected back from a foot injury after the break, will serve her suspension when she returns to the active roster.

Sunday’s contest against the Western Conference-leading Silver Stars probably means a little more to the Shock because it’s at home and because it’s the last game before the Olympic break. With team morale understandably shaken by the events of the last 48 hours, a win over a title contender could do wonders for the team’s confidence as they head into the four-week layoff.

Laimbeer certainly raised eyebrows by signing one of his coaching predecessors, Lieberman, who is a solid two decades past the prime of her Hall of Fame career. Lieberman was 39 when she played for the Phoenix Mercury during the WNBA’s inaugural 1997 season. The next year she became head coach of the Shock, serving through 2000.

“At last year’s WNBA All-Star Game, our coaching staff watched Nancy run through the skills test. She was very impressive,” Laimbeer was quoted in the team’s press release. “We talked after that if the opportunity ever arose to sign her to a seven-day contract we might give her a call. There is no question she is in great shape. I approached her two weeks ago, but the timing was not right.”

It is now. The Shock need bodies, and if it gives WNBA and Shock fans something to smile about while watching the game Thursday on ESPN2, it would be a welcome change after Tuesday’s sorrowful events.