Former Arizona interim head coach Russ Pennell taking over the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury on an interim basis. Interesting.— Kevin Pelton (@kpelton) August 8, 2013
A veteran high school coach once relayed to me the old adage that coaches often get too much of the credit and too much of the blame when describing his own success over time.
As true as that is, especially in professional basketball, it can still be alarming when a team looks disoriented and the coach can't seem to articulate or implement a way to bring the players together as a unit moving in the right direction.
That's what stands out when considering why the Phoenix Mercury might have thought that a coaching "change was necessary", as stated in the release about relieving coach and general manager Corey Gaines of duty today.
After the Phoenix Mercury dropped their third consecutive game - and the regular season series - to the Seattle Storm on Tuesday night, Corey Gaines responded by saying, "We did not play well. Of course when you lose Brittney (Griner) and [DeWanna Bonner] within minutes, it doesn’t help."
Anybody who has paid attention to the Mercury over the years is probably used to terse statements like that from Gaines (a personal favorite of mine came after the Mercury blew an 18-point lead in Seattle during the Storm's dominant 2010 run to which Gaines responded by saying, "Money time comes later, true money time."). But what made Tuesday night's statement stand out was simply that it came off as a poor explanation for why the Mercury lost that game in a season that has demanded explanations all too often.
The team that many people hyped up as the clear favorite to win the 2013 WNBA championship was down 10 before Bonner or Griner went down with injuries. A team with a MVP candidate, the most hyped up rookie in recent years, and a couple of other All-Star caliber players was down by 10 points at home to a Storm team that many didn't believe would make the playoffs before the season. Not only did the Storm take the regular season series but they moved within a half game of third place behind with the Mercury losing for the seventh time in nine games.
As the Mercury release stated, "the team's performance this season has not lived up to our expectations" and Gaines continued offering excuses instead of finding answers to getting this team on the right track.
Granted, it's never fair to hold a team to external expectations and, in fact, the Storm might be the clearest example of that this season. But expectations and injuries aside, this is an extremely talented team on paper that just couldn't seem to bring things together with any measure of consistency this season and was at times excruciating to watch as they fell so far short of what many people imagined.
Regardless of what the problems ultimately are for the Mercury, it just seemed like it was time to give someone else a chance to lead this team out of its disoriented state.