Assistant coaches Rick Mahorn and Cheryl Reeve, along with head coach and GM Bill Laimbeer, have been a huge part of Detroit's success in recent years.
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Three Titles in Six Years Equals WNBA Dynasty in Detroit
By Adam Hirshfield,

It's been an ongoing story all season long, but one that had remained largely unspoken until WNBA President Donna Orender's press conference prior to Game 1 of the Finals in San Antonio:

"We have to talk about Detroit," she said. "I think it's fair to say that (the Shock are) a dynasty… fourth trip to the Finals in six years. That makes them one of most successful sports franchises in any league in this decade."

And that was before the Shock swept the Silver Stars, dominating the three-game series with stifling defense, timely shooting and a big edge in playoff experience.

Though the Shock neither have the following nor get the press of major sports' other near-dynasties of the last decade, the squad's championship pedigree is not to be denied. In fact, the only WNBA dynasty that seemingly surpasses Detroit's reign is the Houston Comets of 1997-2000, who won the league's first four titles.

Still, "four Finals appearances in six years (and three consecutively)? Three championships? Not bad at all," says Detroit assistant coach Cheryl Reeve, who has been with the team for the last three seasons.

Reeve attributes the recent success to the arrival of a brash, largely inexperienced coach who came on the scene with the Shock 10 games into the 2002 season.

"It always starts at the top," she says. "From the day that (head coach and general manager) Bill (Laimbeer) took over, he made it clear that he's only in this to win championships. There's no other reason to do it. And he's brought that mentality to this team."

The Shock were 0-10 at the time Laimbeer took over. Though they finished 9-23 in 2002, the worst record in the league, they were 8-7 over their final 15 games and had clearly set the table for the following season. In 2003, Detroit went from worst to first under Laimbeer, earning the first of the franchise's WNBA championships.

But when you think of recent dynasties in sports, you're more likely to think of players -- Michael Jordan, Derek Jeter, Tom Brady -- than you are coaches. But the only Shock players with as much service as Laimbeer are guards Deanna Nolan and Elaine Powell.

"Having a great leader like Bill is amazing both in good times and bad," says Reeve. "He's the best possible leader for this group. We have a bunch of strong personalities, but he knows how to manage them and he brings the best out of everybody. He lets everybody be themselves."

"I think Bill definitely sets the tone," says veteran forward Cheryl Ford. "He and (assistant coach) Rick (Mahorn) have been here and they know what it takes. From the beginning of the season, he set his expectations really high for us and we try to back him up."

It's a culture of winning, says Finals MVP Katie Smith, and that "starts with the organization. But a lot of it is Bill. This is what he does. This isn't about next year. It isn't about the future. It's about winning right now."

And Smith should know. The 10-year veteran and American professional women's basketball's all-time leading scorer had suffered through six and a half seasons with a mediocre Minnesota Lynx squad before Laimbeer stole her midway through the 2005 season in a trade for Chandi Jones, Stacey Thomas and a first-round draft pick in 2006. In three and a half seasons with the Shock, Smith has won two WNBA titles and participated in three straight Finals.

This season, Laimbeer (known around the league as "Trader Bill" for his propensity to make major splashes on the transactions wire) made another blockbuster deal late in the season that ended up paying major dividends, acquiring 10-year veteran forward Taj McWilliams-Franklin from Washington, giving up young prospects Tasha Humphrey and Shay Murphy in the process.

"He went out and got Taj when he knew we needed her," Smith continues. And in past years, "he got me, he got Plenette (Pierson from the Mercury earlier in the 2005 season). He's made lots of big moves. And he wants to win every game."

McWilliams averaged 12.9 points and 7.0 rebounds per game in the postseason as she earned the first title of her 10-year WNBA career.

With contributors like Katie Smith, Plenette Pierson, Deanna Nolan and Cheryl Ford expected to return next season, there's no reason to think this dynasty is on its last legs.
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And just as Laimbeer has brought in many valuable players since his arrival, he has been equally willing to get rid of valuable pieces like Swin Cash, Ruth Riley and Ivory Latta.

"He brings in players who fit in his system," says Smith, "but also who have that attitude of, 'We want to win. And we're here to do it.' "

But despite his sterling resume as a WNBA coach, Laimbeer is quick to shy away from personal acclaim, instead focusing the spotlight on his often underappreciated players.

"Deanna Nolan … might be the best guard in the league because of her all-around game offensively and defensively. Katie Smith should be the Defensive Player of the Year and could guard Lisa Leslie if she has to. You saw (in Game 3) why we drafted (Alexis) Hornbuckle. Great presence.

"I have the best staff in the league," he continues. "I have Cheryl Reeve and Rick Mahorn. They (too) have won championships. They have been the Finals three years in a row.

"I leave a large section of the practice to them," Laimbeer insists. "I don't even participate in the practice. I sit over on the side, dribble, run and chew gum. They are in charge of our defense. They do a magnificent job. And both in their own right are deserving of every opportunity in the future… whatever their future holds."

Speaking of the future, what are the chances of this dynasty continuing?

"Time will tell… time will tell," says Reeve.

""Haaaa…" laughs Smith as if to say, 'Wow, it's hard to imagine right now…'

"Who knows, man? But Taj is signed up for another year… I don't know what I'm doing… EP, who knows? She might sail off into the sunset. But Tweet's still a stud out there. Kara (Braxton) still has lots of years ahead of her. So who knows?"

"The plan right now is to repeat," Reeve states confidently. "We feel like we're gonna be in a great position to do it again next year. … We won this year without a great player in Cheryl Ford and with Plenette being just a shell of herself. Nolan wasn't feeling great here in the Finals."

Smith, Nolan and McWilliams-Franklin are expected to be back. And with Ford and Pierson returning to the court and another year under the belts of Braxton, Hornbuckle and rookie center Olayinka Sanni, the Shock should again be the favorites in the Eastern Conference.

"I mean, shoot, look at us!" says Ford with a smile. "We're gonna be pretty good next year. We're gonna be loaded."

"We're planning to be here (in the Finals) every year," says Nolan. "Until someone can knock us out or beat us, we're going to be here every year."

But will Laimbeer stick with the Shock if an NBA job comes calling?

"Personally, you know, I'll sit down (and think about it)," he says. "I like doing what I'm doing."

But Laimbeer also realizes that Reeve and Mahorn will soon be deserving of their own head coaching positions. "Sometimes I feel like I'm in the way of those two," he says, "because they are deserving of getting a job leading the Detroit Shock or with somebody else. It's their turn."

In the present, however, the stark reality is that this period of Shock success is one of the finest runs in any sport during the last decade.

"It's amazing. Just amazing," says McWilliams-Franklin. "I know I've just been here for just this one year, but it's wonderful to be a part of it."

"I love this team, I love this staff," Smith chimes in. "I never thought it would be like this when I got traded here. I was like 'Man, where am I going?' But you know what, it's been the best thing ever."

When asked how long the Detroit dynasty could continue, Ford, too, was noncommittal.

"I don't know," she says, "but I'm gonna ride it out!"