Laimbeer matches L.A.’s offer sheet, Braxton stays

Braxton Stays Put

For the second consecutive winter, there were questions about whether Kara Braxton would return to the Detroit Shock.

And for the second time, Shock general manager and head coach Bill Laimbeer acted swiftly to answer those questions. Yes, yes she would.

On Friday, Laimbeer matched the L.A. Sparks’ two-year offer sheet to Braxton. As a restricted free agent, Braxton could receive offers from other teams but the Shock had the right to match any offer within five days and sign her to those terms. Braxton is now under contract with the Shock for the 2009 and 2010 seasons. The fact the offer came from their rivals in Los Angeles did not factor into the decision to retain Braxton, Laimbeer said.

“It didn’t matter if it was L.A. or somebody else,” Laimbeer said hours after matching the deal. “Our philosophy is not to allow other teams to steal our players away with money.”

As was the case heading into last year’s Atlanta Dream expansion draft, Braxton’s exceptional agility and coordination proved too tempting to give away. “She’s 6-foot-6 and very athletic and you can’t let people steal players like that,” Laimbeer said.

Despite her up-and-down play in 2007, Laimbeer protected Braxton, a 2007 All-Star, from expansion draft eligibility. She rewarded him with the best campaign of her four-year WNBA career, averaging 8.9 points and 5.1 rebounds in 2008. Contributing to her solid season were a return to the bench and later the arrival of six-time All-Star forward Taj McWilliams-Franklin.

Braxton has struggled to become an everyday starter logging 30 minutes a game, often because of foul trouble. But as a reserve playing 15-20 minutes, few WNBA pivots can alter a game like she can. When Laimbeer decided to tweak his lineup three games into the 2008 season, Braxton responded off the bench with 22 points (then a career high) on 8-of-10 shooting and seven rebounds.

When Cheryl Ford suffered a season-ending knee injury in July, Braxton returned to the starting lineup. In a departure from previous starting stints, Braxton thrived in the frontcourt alongside McWilliams-Franklin, which allowed 2007 Sixth Woman of the Year Plenette Pierson to keep coming off the bench.

Braxton started all nine playoff games during the Shock’s championship run, averaging 8.6 points on 50.0 percent shooting in 20.0 minutes. She also grabbed 5.3 rebounds per game. She played even better in the 2008 Finals, averaging 10.3 points and 5.7 rebounds. She had nine points and nine rebounds in the title-clinching Game 3.

With Ford expected to return from her right ACL tear in 2009, Laimbeer currently has three former WNBA All-Stars at his disposal with the versatile Pierson backing them up. “There’s no question we have great depth in the frontcourt,” Laimbeer said. “I think overall top to bottom, we’re very solid.”

By re-signing Braxton, the Shock have locked up most of their salary cap space in retaining the core of the 2008 championship team. Barring a trade, they likely won’t have the flexibility for another major addition in 2009.

“We have no plans on the horizon for any free agents,” Laimbeer said Friday. “We have a lot of very high-priced players and we have a lot of very good players. I think we have a very good basketball team as we have it.”