5 Years Later: The Value of Douglas
For years and years, Fever executive Kelly Krauskopf heard from area fans, “trade for Katie Douglas!”
Not only did she continue hearing it. She acted upon it. Inquiries were made with Douglas’ former employer, the Connecticut Sun, and it was obvious that any acquisition was going to require leaping through some major hurdles.
Then, in 2008 — five years ago last week, in fact — the trade happened. The All-Star guard was returning to her hometown, where she starred for the Falcons of Perry Meridian and later led the Boilermakers of Purdue to an NCAA championship. Douglas was home again in Indiana, as it was announced on Feb. 19, 2008.
In exchange for Douglas, Indiana gave up fellow All-Star Tamika Whitmore, its 2008 first-round draft pick and the rights to 2006 third-rounder Jessica Foley. In the short term, the Douglas acquisition was met with a period of transition. It would be Indiana’s first season with Lin Dunn as head coach, and Douglas would need to blend with “face-of-the-franchise” Tamika Catchings and her new teammates. Connecticut would have transition of its own, but also received a first-round pick, Ketia Swanier, the former UConn guard who remains in the league five years later. Indiana finished 17-17 in Douglas’ first season, earning its fourth of eight consecutive playoff trips, as the East’s No. 4 seed. Connecticut was the No. 2 seed. In the short term, we can call the trade a draw as both teams fell in the conference semifinals.
Over time however, Indiana would get the best of the deal, as I wrote back in 2008. Indeed, what I felt was an easy prediction due to Whitemore’s age and Douglas’ hometown impact, has come to fruition, perhaps best realized by the Fever’s 2012 championship. Whitmore, in fact, played just two more seasons (58 games, 34 starts) and Swanier actually was waived by the Sun in 2009.
Another reason for optimism was the fact that Douglas wanted to be here. One of the key moments in Krauskopf’s years of inquiry with the Sun was that Douglas, herself, placed a personal request with Mike Thibault to try and work out a deal.
With Douglas under contract (2008-12), Indiana has reached the playoffs in all five seasons. The club has reached the conference finals three times during those years and the WNBA Finals twice. Perhaps most importantly, the Fever has become a readily recognized brand in Central Indiana, something which might not have been true after the franchise’s eighth season in 2008. Ticket sales, merchandise sales and corporate partnerships have blossomed and reached new heights with annual increases since “KT” returned to Indy.
Douglas has started all 162 games she has played over those five years, missing just eight games over that stretch and never more than three in one season. She has averaged 15.5 points, 2.9 assists and 1.5 steals per game. She has established herself as a bookend with Catchings as the club’s premier “faces.”
Certainly, the Fever’s brand has rocketed in local awareness due to the team’s successes. That goes without saying. Any team that wins a championship or draws sellout crowds to a championship finals is going to benefit from increased foot traffic, sales, word of mouth exposure and the momentum that comes with earning the name “champion.”
Yes, the Fever was absolutely on the path to a championship even prior to Douglas’ arrival, twice reaching the conference finals in 2005 and 2007, but could Tamika Catchings have willed Indiana to its title and such a long string of success without the capable shooting, scoring and defensive prowess of Douglas beside her? Sure, Douglas was injured during the 4-game Finals series last October and Indiana won it on the floor without her, but would Indiana have reached the Finals without her? And could they do it again without her?
I say that momentum, some great game-planning and some great, inspired play by formerly “complementary” players named January, Phillips, Zellous and Larkins had a lot to do with winning last year’s title while Douglas was relegated to a bench role. But the Fever would never have reached the Finals without Douglas’ 16.5 points per game in the regular season or her team-leading 18.2-point playoff average prior to her injury.
KT Douglas’ place on the court has not only given Lin Dunn more bullets in her offensive repertoire, it has both enhanced and extended Tamika Catchings’ career. As Catchings’ bookend, Douglas has helped spread the floor on offense and, as a regular on the WNBA All-Defense Team, she has allowed Indiana defense to remain one of the league’s stingiest.
[As for extending Catchings' career, let's face it, Tamika plays with maximum effort during 100 percent of every game and even every practice. But the pressures, demands and her on-court assignments have diminished, relatively speaking. For instance, no longer is Tamika required to guard the other team's best player all the time. And with her ability to play the power forward position closer to the basket, no longer does she have to chase smaller, quicker players around the perimeter as she used to also do.]
Is Douglas more aptly described as a shooter or as a scorer? Both descriptions apply, though the former 3-point champion is certainly noted first as a shooter. Her presence, alone, meant that teams had to change the way they defensed the Indiana Fever. Prior to Douglas’ arrival, a very common strategy against the Fever was to double-team Catchings and employ a zone, forcing Indiana to shoot from range.
When she’s hot and wants the ball, there are few in the WNBA that are better. She can light it up, as evidenced by four 30-point scoring games in a Fever uniform (Catchings has 3 since 2008). Her 34 points against Washington on July 28, 2009, is one of the few team records not held by Catchings. Only two nights later, Douglas matched Catchings’ former record with 32 points. And though she had a cold shooting night in Game 2 of the conference semis at Atlanta last season, she answered with consecutive games of 24, 27 and 24 to send the Fever into its Game 3 conference finals matchup back in Connecticut, where her unfortunate ankle injury took place just five minutes into the contest.
What’s more, Douglas is one of the smartest and most heady “gamers” on the squad. She has frequently been handed the ball as the team’s point guard in crucial, game-ending situations — whether due to injury or the simple fact that she’s a great decision-maker who is a good ballhandler with a knack for making plays happen. On defense, she is one of the world’s most elite and experienced players who can quickly adapt to pressure situations or find a way to disrupt an opponent’s offense or make a steal.
Tamika and KT are indeed the “faces” of the Fever and its top stars. Certainly, a younger group of stars is beginning to emerge, but the pair of 33-year old veterans continue to lead the club’s fortunes. Catchings and Douglas are very different personalities, of that there is no doubt. But they share a singular passion and goal – and that is to win championships. During the season, I see them daily. And while they may march to the beat of a different drum in off-court social circles, I have enjoyed watching the shared passion and togetherness on the floor and among their teammates. They both are very popular and genuinely liked by their teammates. They very likely would not have won last year’s title without each other.
The relationship, the shared passions, the successes and the championship may not have happened if it weren’t for the blockbuster trade of 2008.