Until the Indiana Fever collected its first WNBA title last fall by shocking the league with its 3-1 Finals defeat of the Minnesota Lynx, the Eastern Conference had not won a single game in the WNBA Finals since the Fever in 2009. In fact, since the now-defunct Detroit Shock captured the league crown in 2008, the only Eastern Conference team to win a game in the Finals is the Indiana Fever (5-4).
Minnesota, Seattle and Phoenix had collected the previous three titles for the Western Conference and with a great majority of top draft picks being collected in the West for several years, it seemed the West might continue its relative dominance over the East. That is, until the Fever arose to steal away the 2012 crown – and until the East suddenly began amassing the big coaching names that have been announced this winter.
Will coaching names win titles? No, of course not. Players do. That is universal. However, as the big coaching names may draw more attention from free agents and as the big names might indicate a renewed sense of urgency, it is fair to say that coaching changes in New York, Washington and Connecticut may have re-energized the Eastern Conference.
Indiana will be the hunted in 2013. And leading the hunt along with Pokey Chapman (Chicago) and Fred Williams (Atlanta) will be Bill Laimbeer (New York), Anne Donovan (Connecticut) and Mike Thibault (Washington). Laimbeer and Donovan share four titles between them and Thibault, though still seeking his first WNBA crown, has reached the Finals three times.
The incoming East coaching triumvirate in 2013 will command media headlines and likely invigorate local attendance figures. Laimbeer and Thibault have shared their own rivalry going back to their days with Detroit and Connecticut between 2003-08. Laimbeer should immediately excite the New York/New Jersey market that has diminished recently since its 3-year move from Madison Square Garden, and surely the Liberty will reflect the same bullish style of play that made his Detroit teams so competitive. Donovan brings a stern and well-respected pedigree of Olympic and WNBA competition and will begin working with one of the game’s premier post players in Tina Charles. Thibault, whose ouster at Connecticut might have been cemented by the Fever’s dramatic win in last year’s conference finals, is one of the league’s most consistently competitive and highly-regarded coaches who surely can inspire a rebuilding effort with the Mystics.
Lin Dunn with the Fever is the elder stateswoman of coaches in the Eastern Conference, entering her sixth year as head coach and her 10th season on the Fever bench. She and the Fever earned the 2012 title, but just reaching the Finals in 2013 just got a whole lot tougher.