Plenette Pierson is a good basketball player. No doubts there. But a good basketball player does not always mean a good team fit.
Tulsa Shock head coach Nolan Richardson recently commented on the tenuous status of one of the very few veteran players he has on his team after the huge road loss to Phoenix on Saturday:
No. She didn't play at all. We're making some decisions on whether she'll be with us or not, that's the deal. We've still got some trades to try and deal with at this point.
And now, the message boards and twitter feeds of many are clogged with people expressing their disgust at coach Richardson's abilities as he continues to wheel and deal away pieces on the Shock in order to find the right combination to fit his system and he addressed this in depth after the aforementioned blowout over the weekend.
"Most of the teams have players they can go to, we don't have that. We're not trying to fake and fool anyone," said Richardson. "We've got a team that we have to piece and plug and piece and plug until we get a pretty good basketball team. There's some nights we're pretty good, but on a consistent basis at this stage we're not."
This mantra has been repeated more than once since the season began and is aptly illustrated by dialogue that Richardson had after the team's second regular season game, after a loss to San Antonio back on May 20th.
"The sad part about the NBA or the WNBA is that most expansion teams don't win basketball games and if you look at our team it may be less than an expansion team because the key players off of the team that I have right now - there's not really any star or even a starter,"said Richardson.
"And to have seven spots available, that's a job that I have to do. It didn't start out that way with the Shock of the players like the Deeanna Nolan's who can score and Katie Smith who can - you don't have those anymore. And so we gotta work on things like team basketball a lot more.
"I don't want to do what Atlanta did a year before. I mean they won four games out of 30. They were an expansion team and the next year they were in the playoffs. It takes some time. I wish that I could say five games, six games, seven games - I really can't tell you that."
Something that perhaps seems to be a stumbling block for the strong personality of Pierson. Yes, she can score - averaging 12.1 points in her somewhat limited 15.8 minutes per game. But has she bought in to the unfamiliar system?
That is what I question. Being a good basketball player does not only show in the stat sheets and if there is any division at all in the locker room or on the sidelines - which was noticeably present from the sidelines in the home opener as Pierson was seen arguing with Richardson - a culture of doubt in the system begins to appear.
For a team trying to counteract their youth, lack of a sure-fire team leader both on and off the court can be a recipe for disaster. Doubts can be dangerous and turn into bad decisions that snowball into disappointing performances and, in turn, blowout losses like have been seen on this latest road trip for Tulsa.
After a win against Minnesota on June 5th, Richardson stated the obvious about his team.
"We play different and we've got to believe in the way we play in order to be successful."
So we go back to the last time the Tulsa Shock took the court. And lost. Big. Allowing Phoenix to set records on the team that prides itself on its defensive presence.
"We're going to have some peaks and we're going to have some valleys and right now we have some bigger valleys but as I told the people when I took the job it's going to take time to get the players to understand the basketball and play the kind of game [I expect]," said Richardson.
In a league with a short season, time is limited and roster shifts happen.
"It could turn out that there are some people and pieces that we might have to change with. That's the nature of the beast in the WNBA," notes Richardson. "You've got to look around and see what you need and how you can fulfill your needs. There are players that everybody might love but are not fitting the bill and this is a business."
What's that old saying? If you don't believe you don't succeed? This just might be a shining example of the effects disbelief can have on a team, coach and player - no matter how talented.
So what does Nolan want?
Someone who is playing their best - On April 26th: "They'll understand what I'm looking for, what a - a yell at a person never is personal, it's all about I want the best for you and I want you to play your best. I don't get into that personality type stuff and I'll tell them all that I'm not here to win no popularity contest. I'm a coach and I've been that way for 40 years."
A defensive stalwart not looking for the spotlight - On May 9th: "When I look at the defense, execution is important to me. I start from the defensive end . . . I was disappointed in the fact that when they scored - the WNBA and NBA everybody just jogs like 'hey I scored and the TV's on me'. That's not the way we're gonna play. We've got to score and go to defense immediately."
Aggressiveness and athleticism - On May 20th: "We have not played with the aggressiveness that we need to play with and as I told our players that sometimes deals with conditioning, being able to push yourself a little bit harder in our workouts so that when we come to the second half of the ballgame you're stronger than the first."
Energy - On May 20th: "Not from the standpoint of even scoring, but from the standpoint of energy level. Those are the things that concerns me more than whether the X and the O went to here. It's the energy level that you must perform with if you want to have a style of basketball - a running style that we're going to play. You've got to be able to develop the energy and buy into that and play on a full basis all the time."
Basketball knowledge and willingness to adapt - On June 12th: "I think the keys to anything in basketball is hopefully you get some young lady who has some basketball knowledge of the game and willing to work in a different system from a standpoint of the things we're doing."