Laimbeer Era, Part 2: Unwrapping Bill’s Vision

By Ros Gold-Onwude

As the holiday season approaches and the gift buying frenzy begins, many a parent will ponder, “how do you gift wrap a bicycle?” For kids, a bicycle is as sweet a gift as it gets. More than likely the kid has wanted a shiny new bike for a while, perhaps even asked her parent for the bike, and has high expectations of riding the bike, wind in her hair with a smile of sheer glee painted on her face. However, gift-wrapping a bicycle is nearly impossible. At best the bike sits in the closet with a bow on it, unwrapped, naked in the wild for everyone to see. A shared secret that everyone in the house knows is coming but cannot be enjoyed until the day of the holiday. While everyone in the house exercises the formality of patience, both the parents and the kid privately jitter in sweet anticipation of the day they can see their new prize in action.

Bill Laimbeer, the two-time NBA champion, four-time NBA All Star, three-time WNBA championship coach, and 2003 WNBA Coach of the Year is New York’s shiny new BIG toy. A gift that both the Liberty organization and the fans are in on, excited about, drooling in anticipation for, but must wait six months to begin to enjoy his impact. In just half a year, Liberty fans will begin to get a taste of what’s in store for the New York franchise under the helm of their new head coach and general manager. It’s not just the fans that are curious, but also the current players, as well as soon to graduate college hoopers hopeful of one of the scarce and highly coveted draft picks into the WNBA.

Most articles on Laimbeer up till now have touched on his past accomplishments as a former player for the Detroit Pistons and head coach of the Detroit Shock. In this article, Laimbeer sets his eyes directly on the Liberty roster and makes evaluation. While it’s still early and nothing is written in stone, Bill makes one thing clear: the Laimbeer era will be bigger. “We need size. We need to get bigger. My philosophy is to be big at each position,” Laimbeer preaches. He also adds, “I want players that want to attack the basket more. I want an aggressive, attacking personnel”.

Laimbeer has a vision for this Liberty squad and will build off the already existing strengths, “There are solid competitors on this team. I’d definitely say that. We have a solid little core of competitors that we can build upon. I want players that want to be a part of the team. Players need to have a sense of ownership and that is a great quality to have. We have a little bit of defensive toughness, too. We will build on that”, he promised. He pointed out the x-factor next, “And we have a marquee player who can create her own offense. This is especially important in the WNBA”.

On September 24, 2012, Cappie Pondexter, a 2012 All-WNBA First Team selection, announced the extension of her contract with the New York Liberty. Bill Laimbeer considered the impact of the superstar guard over the franchise in the years to come, “Pondexter is our marquee player. She can get her shot whenever she wants. My only question is: is she a point guard or a shooting guard? Or, can she play both on a consistent basis?” Laimbeer presents Pondexter’s challenge simply: “She is short for a two, but her ball handling skills have to improve to play the one”. Laimbeer takes a moment to explain what he means by improved ball handling, “Her dribbling ability is solid. But there is a difference between dribbling to set someone up and dribbling to score. She needs better vision to get even more assists. I don’t see any reason why she can’t be a top three scorer in the WNBA and lead the league in assists, as well”.

No pressure, Cappie.

Laimbeer continues, “I am a very demanding coach. I played with Isaiah Thomas and he achieved that. I know it is possible to be a high scoring guard and lead the league in assists. I think Cappie can be that type of point guard, but we’ll see. What she has is already special. Not many players can set up their own shot. That’s what makes great players great players. I live in a world of all-stars and best players. Cappie is one of those players,” he insists.

Another player who also extended her contract with the Liberty last season is the gusty undersized forward, Plenette Pierson. Pierson and Laimbeer have history together as Plenette played on two of Laimbeer’s championship teams in Detroit. Laimbeer recalls his experience with Pierson fondly, “I like Plenette. She’s an example of a person who has had a marginal reputation in the league and has found success. She speaks her mind and is competitive. Any time Plenette walks on the basketball court she is competing,” he says. With the goal of getting bigger, Pierson will see less time in the post during the Laimbeer era, “ideally I’d like to play her at the three and some four depending on the matchup. I like players that can play at multiple positions”.

The new head coach continues to address size, this time, setting his eyes on Quanitra Hollingsworth, the 6’5 center who missed last season with the Liberty due to Olympic obligations with the Turkish National team. Less familiar with her game, Laimbeer sees some potential, “I remember talking about her with (then assistant coach) Cheryl Reeve when she was coming out of college. Cheryl liked her out of college and Minnesota drafted her. Hollingsworth has a lot of pluses and skills, but she hasn’t seen major success on the pro level yet. She needs to be taught “how” says Laimbeer.

Bill Laimbeer faces a challenge unique to the WNBA of playing both the role of head coach and general manager. Laimbeer puts his general manager hat on and discusses the Liberty’s ability to maneuver for next season. “There is the draft, free agency, and trade opportunities. Historically, I have been unafraid to make needed changes. We have some assets, we’ll see what transpires”.

The general manager continues to explain New York’s options, “We have the fifth pick in the draft as well as a second and third round pick. It’s very difficult for second and third round picks to make any roster in the league”, he says knowingly. With women playing till 38 or 40 years old on an eleven-woman roster, there just aren’t many spots available. Laimbeer also breaks down the college basketball landscape and draft, “with few spots available, identifying draftable talent doesn’t mean trolling college gyms across the country. It’s a much more pin-pointed and precise science”, he explains.

Laimbeer approaches the upcoming season with a flexible mindset. He ends the interview with a statement that hints of the Liberty’s future potential, “There are multiple ways to go: stay the course, make moves, or a combination of both. The goal is to find a fit of players that I’ve identified as long-term contributors and competitors”. One thing is for sure, the Bill Laimbeer era will be… different. In six months both fans and players will feel it. Until then New Yorkers must wait, like children waiting until the holidays to unwrap their presents. Like the kid who knows a shiny new bike is hidden in their parent’s closet and it’s only a matter of time before she can enjoy the thrill of something new and the glory of an unprecedented ride.