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Hoops Happening: 8 things we learned from the Brian Agler news conference

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The WNBA’s Dallas Wings announced yesterday that Brian Agler has been named head coach. Although brief, his introductory news conference revealed much about his goals for the Wings under his leadership. Plus, a look at other news from the world of women’s basketball.

WNBA Finals - Game One
Brian Agler

At a news conference yesterday, Dallas Wings General Manager Greg Bibb introduced Brian Agler, who had been named head coach earlier in the day, as “the ideal fit for the roster, and where we are today.” He urged those in attendance to issue a “warm, Arlington, Texas welcome to new coach of the Dallas Wings, Mr. Brian Agler.” Right away, Agler, who had resigned as head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers in November, stated that his number-one goal as head coach of the Wings is to guide the franchise to a WNBA Championship. And here’s what else we learned:

8 things we learned about how Brian Agler will lead the Wings

1. Support from an unlikely source:

Agler began the news conference by sharing that, immediately upon landing in Dallas, he received a text message of congratulations from former Wings coach Fred Williams, who was fired by Bibb at the end of the 2018 season following a losing streak of several games. Agler referred to Williams as “a class act,” and stated that any success moving forward will be built upon the prior work of Williams and Bibb. Agler has always come across as a low-key guy riding high on very little ego, and his words about Williams seemed authentic. But the Wings’ players loved Williams, and history-making center Liz Cambage credited Williams with paving a way for her to return to the WNBA. So Agler’s praises of Williams likely serve the duel purpose of also smoothing his transition with the players.

2. An emphasis on process:

Teams don’t win championships by will, wishful thinking or even hard work alone. Many factors must come together for a team to be the last one standing in any season. Having guided two teams to WNBA championships — the Seattle Storm (2010 ) and Los Angeles Sparks (2016) — he is confident about what it takes for those moments to be brought into fruition. “All those are nice compliments [from Bibb] and I appreciate that but any time you want to achieve at a high level there’s a process you have to go through to position yourself for those types of achievements.”

3. Process defined:

For Agler, the process he sees as needing to happen in Dallas is, first, to create an identity and, second, to create a culture that will cultivate that identity. Of the qualities he views as inherent to championship-winning teams, Agler listed “perseverance, grit, resiliency, persistence [and] mental toughness ... All champions have those traits,” said Agler. “You have to have that be a part of your culture, and there’s got to be one consistent narrative about that at all times.”

4. Roster moves:

Like it or not, Wings’ fans, roster moves in Dallas are a matter of when, not if. During the conference, Agler expressed the need “to put the roster together through free agency.” He also noted the “quality” players out there that the organization wants to contact, and likely soon, given that Skylar Diggins-Smith and her husband Daniel are expecting their first child in a few months. “Skylar and Daniel are expecting and that should be their main focus [because their] life is going to change for the better in the next couple months.” He said he texted with the guard since his hiring and urged her to concentrate on this special time in her life, stating she’d come in after the baby is born and they would discuss her return at that time.

5. No contact with Liz Cambage yet:

After her history-making 2018 WNBA season in which she was a strong contender for the Most Valuable Player award (with stats that indicate she deserved to win it), Liz Cambage is the main attraction for the Dallas Wings and fans want to know if she will be returning to the team. Unfortunately, her availability remains a question mark. Agler said Cambage just returned to her Chinese team after spending time in Australia to rehabilitate injuries. He also stated that he has not connected with her yet, but that doing so is a priority. Cambage was close with Williams, who she credits with opening a path for her to return to the WNBA, so it would behoove Agler to make every effort to nurture a strong relationship with the 6-foot-8 center. Without Diggins-Smith in the lineup come May, it seems more important than ever to get Cambage back — both from the perspective of winning games and filling seats in the arena.

6. Destination — Dallas:

Agler touted the Wings’ burgeoning fan base in Dallas as being a key reason he wanted to join the Dallas organization and the other reason involves his thirst for the challenge of guiding a non-championship team towards the trophy.

“I’ve been impressed when I’ve come to Dallas, when I walk into the arena on game night, in the last couple of years there’s a certain energy, definitely a home-court advantage,” said Agler. “The fans are enthusiastic and very supportive,” he said, explaining that he considers these factors to be foundations for home-court advantage of any team. And having what he termed the “ingredients” in place for the Wings to win at home is important because the Wings struggled at home during the 2018 season, losing 8-of-17 home games during the regular season.

7. Leaving Los Angeles:

Agler was asked to discuss his reasons for leaving the Sparks and he reiterated that nothing specific happened to prompt his departure, but that he just knew his time there had come to an end. Agler stated that he thoroughly enjoyed coaching the women on the Sparks’ roster, and he touted the ownership group as being “tremendous” and the front office as being “great.” Still, however, he said he knew it was time to move on.

8. Coaching staff additions (and exits):

Agler noted there will be “some continuity with the coaching staff,” specifying that “Erin Phillips will be a part of the staff.” Keeping Phillips, a WNBA champion with the Phoenix Mercury, would be important from the perspective of X’s and O’s, but also a good move if the Wings hope to get Cambage back. Cambage and Phillips both hail from Australia and the star center has stated that having a fellow Aussie nearby has made it easier for her to be so far away from home. Taj McWilliams-Franklin, however, who served as interim head coach in the wake of Fred Williams’ firing, will not be back with the team as she has entered an immersive program with the NBA to learn about front office operations. As for his process of amassing a staff, Agler revealed that sometimes coaches who’ve had struggles in the past return with renewed hunger and drive, and that he finds it important to tap into that coaching pool. Additionally, he mentioned mining “the basketball minds within the player ranks.”

Extra extra

Dallas Wings guard Kaela Davis joined the news conference, streaming live on Facebook, and is clearly on-board with Agler’s hire.


Other news from the world of women’s hoops

Yesterday, the league announced expanded coverage of WNBA on ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC. Opening weekend looks like this, with the 2018 champion Seattle Storm getting national coverage on ABC against the 2018 runner-up Phoenix Mercury.

WNBA

Here’s the complete 2019 WNBA Season Schedule.

Also:

  • New York Liberty owner James Dolan stated that he’s selling the team because he “doesn’t know how to be successful with the Liberty.” His claims that he has pumped a ton of money into the team are interesting, with the obvious point missed: Is he pumping as much money into the Liberty for marketing and publicity as he’s pumping into the Knicks? Or, is Dolan treating the team like a second-class, deeply marginalized citizen?
  • Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver threatened to take the Suns to Las Vegas over a dispute about arena upgrades. And then he took it back, saying that the Suns will not leave Phoenix. Either way, it’s pretty telling that Sarver did not see fit to discuss the Mercury at all even though the Mercury (unlike the Suns) have won a championship in recent memory.
  • The wage gap between women and men affects all sectors of society, not just basketball, and this article discusses how long it could take women to catch up and earn their worth.