Coach Thibault acknowledged that the Mystics (center) will need to take steps not only to be relevant within the WNBA, but also in the DC sports scene, which goes well beyond its brother teams (Capitals-left; Wizards-right).
Last Tuesday, on December 18, Washington Mystics season ticket holders got to meet with General Manager and Head Coach Mike Thibault. In addition, team president Sheila Johnson, and Christy Winters Scott, the team's color analyst and host of the Washington Wizards pregame and post game shows on Comcast SportsNet Mid Atlantic were there to give remarks.
I have an audio file of the entire meet and greet with Coach Thibault recorded from my smartphone. It is over 46 minutes long so enjoy, though it's lengthy.
If you don't have time to listen to this link all at once, here are some notable things I got from it (rough times form the audio piece are also noted):
First Minute: Sheila Johnson introduces Coach Thibault and calls him a "Christmas gift" to the fans. Coach laughs and said he never was a Christmas gift before.
3rd minute: Coach Thibault gives opening remarks.
7th minute: Winters Scott starts asking Coach some of the obvious questions that he would be asked. What does he plan on doing with the Mystics' personnel, what kind of a team does he envision, etc. In short, Coach believed that the team could acquire some free agents who could help add value to the team, and that he wanted the Mystics to play a high paced offense to make it more entertaining and noted that in Connecticut, his team was a high scoring team overall.
9th-14th: Coach "yawned" when he noted that the Mystics played a lot of half court offense last couple years, but noted that perhaps the Mystics may have had to be that way due to personnel issues. From here he laid out many of the teams' deficiencies, which were perimeter shooting, free throw shooting, and turnovers. He wouldn't elaborate on whether it was because players weren't playing hard, or because the talent wasn't there, but also noted that the Mystics were a team with below average talent.
15th-19th: Coach Thibault gave an ominous statement that the WNBA is a business and that if and when a move is made that involves a loved Mystics player being moved elsewhere, that would be so the team can achieve its short and long term goals. He said that WNBA fans "fall in love with players as people" more than in the NBA, and noted that fans have favorite players as people, but ultimately, coaches see players every day, as opposed to fans who see them in a different light.
23rd-24th: Coach Thibault revealed that point guards and shooters are higher priority needs for the team, and it really was the only detail that he would provide on what he planned to do personnel-wise. He also supports the new WNBA rule changes involving the FIBA three point line, and defensive three second violation rule. Basically summarized our previous post on the changes.
25th: Coach Thibault said that it is unlikely his assistants will be his coaches from the Sun. Scott Hawk apparently wants to take a break from coaching due to travel. Bernadette Mattox wants to take a break because her son is a high school senior. Former assistant coaches Marianne Stanley and Jennifer Gillom, who were fired last September after the end of the 2012 season, were considered to be brought back because current players held them in high regard, but no assistants would be named in the short term.
27th-29th: Coach said that with the 2013 draft, he believed that it was a chip for the future and that the 3rd pick is not necessarily better than the 4th pick.
29th-31st: Coach answers a question in regards to making the Mystics a better franchise. He said that the game experience needs to improve on both basketball and non basketball fronts. This improves the fan experience and makes the arena more feared. He also believes in more community outreach from the players as well.
34th minute: Coach answers a question about some Mystics players who left the franchise and then really improved after they left (ex - Ashja Jones). Coach said that players leave for many reasons, and it may not be because of "franchise perceptions" per se and aren't known to the public.
In addition, some players may leave because they burn bridges with coaches, or other players. He said that he got some grief why Taj McWilliams-Franklin and Katie Douglas were traded away from the Sun since he had a hand in personnel decisions though he wasn't officially the GM for Connecticut. For Taj, Thibault said that she was an older player and he was able to trade her for Erika de Souza (not mentioned in the interview). For Katie Douglas, there was an internal matter out of Thibault's control that prompted him to trade her to Indiana, and he emphasized that he otherwise would not have traded her if this did not happen. He would not elaborate on it.
37th-40th: Coach answers a question on how the Mystics could get more media coverage. In Connecticut, the Sun was able to get an easier route to coverage due to the power of UConn women's basketball, and also it was located just far enough away from Boston and New York City so the Sun didn't have to compete with other pro teams for attention. During the winter, the Sun would host media lunches periodically so there would be more coverage.
In Washington, a large market city, the easiest way to gain more coverage is winning, because there is a team in each of the big four leagues here (Redskins, Nationals, Wizards, Capitals), plus teams in the MLS, World Team Tennis, and Major League Lacrosse, all teams that play during the summer like the Mystics in addition to the Nationals baseball team. I didn't even include the minor league and college teams yet. Just to show how saturated the DC Sports landscape is, which also includes Baltimore, look at this diagram below:
41st-44th: Coach Thibault answers a question about free agency but it could also be applied in regards to the draft pick. He does not want to reveal his hand to other coaches as to how he is feeling and used NFL rumor mills in regards to the Robert Griffin, III trade as an example.
Well here are the things that I got as takeaways from Coach Thibault at his press conference.
1. Coach Thibault will not reveal his cards aside from the painfully obvious.
His remarks on fans falling in love with players as people seems to take a page out of my OGS piece not too long ago. When you also take into account the "thewiz06 Manifesto" (Nate called it that) and possible routes this team could take, it is definitely possible that Crystal Langhorne, Monique Currie, and Jasmine Thomas, who are local players by hometown and/or college, are all expendable at the right price.
Aside from his pre-press conference appearance video, he never mentioned a player by name and I am going to say it again, because that basically implies that he really isn't associating any player as one who will be on the 2013 roster. He did mention in a conference call that 25-45% turnover is likely but that's 3-5 players, and I wouldn't be surprised if it is more than that.
In short, we all knew that the Mystics lacked strong point guard play and saw elite guards like Sue Bird and Lindsay Whalen toy them around and we know that a reinforcement is going there. We also know that the Mystics were a weak three point shooting team, and need to improve there too with the new rules for 2013, How he's going to do that specifically is anyone's guess, and it's best that it's kept that way.
2. The Washington Mystics not only have to work hard in order to be relevant in the WNBA, but they're going to have to work really hard to be relevant in the DC sports landscape, whether they are winning or not.
I normally think that questions that aren't particularly basketball related tend to be related more to the novelty of a product, in particular for a league like the WNBA. However, considering the market the Mystics are in, and also considering the fact that the franchise has made some dumb decisions and has hit bad luck over the years, I do feel that coverage of the Mystics and the relevance of the team in its market is important, especially now as the team hopes to turn things around for the long term.
The DC sports landscape picture above shows that there's a ton of teams already. As a non-big four league team, considering that the Redskins are relevant again and may win the NFC East for the first time since 1999 next Sunday, and also where the Nationals won the NL East title with a young core featuring two consecutive number 1 overall draft picks who are rising superstars in the MLB, the only way the Mystics are going to get any considerable attention is by winning consistently. Also, whenever the NHL lockout ends, the Capitals should remain a competitive team and have a chance to make a run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. And this isn't including Baltimore sports where the Ravens are consistent winners every year, and the Orioles returned to the MLB playoffs for the first time after the Cal Ripken, Jr. era.
Sure, periodic media luncheons, and "get to know the players pieces" on a channel are good and all as the team can gain more media ties, but that's not going to necessarily draw fans to games.
3. Coach Thibault's hiring is great, and it can draw existing Mystics fans to renew their season tickets, but players draw casual observers.
Kind of ties with the first takeaway. If you read this site regularly, you are in all likelihood a WNBA fan, and you probably think Coach Thibault is a monster hire for the Mystics. If you read this site occasionally, or are just a casual observer, then you probably aren't going to watch a Mystics game because of Mike Thibault as the coach.
You want to see players, and the current roster, though there are some good players, just doesn't give that many casual observers enough reason to watch. This is exacerbated when the Nationals/Orioles are also playing in the summer, as well as the DC United (soccer), Kastles (tennis), and even the Bayhawks (lacrosse). Let me also add that the Kastles won the WTT title for the 2nd straight year (as well as two straight undefeated seasons), and the Bayhawks won the MLL title this past season, and therefore they also have more reason to get coverage than the Mystics because they're winning. And honestly, they deserve it.
I'm not saying that Thibault's hire is not going to draw more fans, but if the roster doesn't have a player that is someone that the league markets on a national level, the additional fans in the stands are likely just Mystics fans who decided to show up and show faith in their new coach rather than casual observers who want to see the new WNBA superstar who plays for DC.
After the Audio Piece...
I actually did get to ask him a question after the initial Q&A and that was because the questions I could think of were basically asked anyway. As we mentioned in our piece when he was hired, Coach Thibault was involved in NBA player development and scouting for many years, including being part of the Lakers and Bulls when Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan started their pro careers. In light of the fact that Phoenix Mercury GM/HC Corey Gaines is also a player development coach for the Phoenix Suns, I asked Coach Thibault if the organization asked him to assist with the Washington Wizards on similar duties. And considering that the Wizards are playing like the Mystics did this past summer, having an additional basketball mind involved with the experience he has can't hurt.
He replied to me that he hasn't really talked to owner Ted Leonsis that much about that for now, mostly because he has "a lot on his plate" with the Mystics, and I certainly agree with him there.
It should also be noted that Coach Thibault also had other opportunities to coach besides the Mystics. The Portland Trail Blazers offered him a chance to return as an assistant, but he turned that job down to come to DC.
So that's all the insight I have from this event, and I left cautiously optimistic that Coach Thibault will lead the Mystics in the right direction in the short and long term.