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WNBA regular-season recap: Pokey Chatman is out in Indiana. Will other teams that missed the playoffs make changes?

On Monday, the Indiana Fever fired head coach Pokey Chatman after three seasons. Here’s how the Fever and the WNBA’s other non-playoff teams finished the 2019 season. Are changes coming to the Dallas Wings, New York Liberty and Atlanta Dream too?

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New York Liberty v Indiana Fever
Will New York Liberty coach Katie Smith meet the same fate as Pokey Chatman?
Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images

On Monday, the Indiana Fever announced that Pokey Chatman will no longer serve as the head coach or general manager of the Indiana Fever. Tamika Catchings, the Fever legend who now is vice president of basketball operations, stated:

We want to thank Pokey for her time with our franchise and we wish her the absolute best. Our organization is optimistic about our future as we continue to build on our 20-year legacy as one of the WNBA’s most successful franchises.

Since taking over in Indiana in November 2016, Chatman led the Fever to a 28-74 record, missing the playoffs all three seasons. However, the Fever did show significant improvement this season, not only winning seven more games than last year but also playing competitive basketball throughout the season. With Indiana expected to reincorporate Victoria Vivians in 2020, in addition to a top 2020 draft pick, further improvement seemed possible.

The Fever’s path to success under Chatman appeared clearer than the paths for the three teams that finished below Indiana in the 2019 WNBA standings. As such, Chatman’s dismissal suggests that leadership of the Dallas Wings, New York Liberty and Atlanta Dream also may be motivated to make changes, either to coaching or player personnel.

In particular, the positive changes coming to the Liberty organization, with Joseph Tsai assuming ownership of the team and, hopefully, resolving their home arena issues, may mean that Katie Smith may also be out of a job.

Here’s a look at how the Fever and the WNBA’s other non-playoff teams finished the 2019 WNBA season:

9. Indiana Fever (13-21)

Outside of the contentious Rookie of the Year conversation, Teaira McCowan deserves credit for how much she has improved over the course of the season. After initially limiting McCowan’s minutes, Chatman finally unleashed her the SEC Player of the Year and SEC Defending Player of the Year. She did not disappoint.

On Sunday, McCowan posted 17 points and nine rebounds, helping Indy claim a convincing 104-76 victory over Connecticut to close the season. Going forward, McCowan promises to be a double-double machine. The Fever guards also need to find consistency in order for Indiana to insert themselves into next season’s playoff picture. All-Star Game MVP Erica Wheeler has struggled to maintain her fantastic first-half play, with a slide in her shooting percentages after the All-Star break, especially from distance, contributing to uneven and underwhelming scoring performances. Down the stretch of the season, Kelsey Mitchell began to find her footing as an off-the-bench scorer. But on Sunday, she was back in the starting lineup, and on fire. She scored 35 points, with 30 coming in the first half. Her afternoon also featured a WNBA-record nine threes.

It is possible that Chatman’s management of both McCowan and Mitchell motivated the Indiana brass to make the change. However, its seems Chatman should not be punished for not overburdening either of her young stars, especially as the significant number of injuries recently suffered by WNBA players demonstrates the dangers of overworking athletes.

10. Dallas Wings (10-24)

Early in the season, the Wings seemed like the WNBA’s most hopeless team. Not only were they the last team to win their first game, but general manager Greg Bibb and head coach Brian Agler seemed to be making roster moves that were antithetical to establishing a winning team. But then, Arike went Arike! Since the All-Star break, Arike Ogunbowale was a nearly unstoppable offensive force, breaking WNBA scoring records along the way. On Sunday, she fell short of becoming the first player in WNBA history to score 30 or more points in five consecutive games. She scored 25 in Dallas’s 78-64 loss to Seattle. As Sunday’s game illustrated, Ogunbowale’s offensive excellence has not resulted in the Wings piling up wins. Nevertheless, her play injected her squad with a fighting spirit, ensuring that they were competitive in the majority of games. Even more encouraging for the Wings, Ogunbowale’s breakout was accompanied by improved play from Allisha Gray. While Gray struggled on Sunday, it seems more than possible that the pair of talented Wings wings will soon have Dallas in postseason contention.

11. New York Liberty (10-24)

Even as their team defeated the Dream on Sunday 71-63, Liberty fans can be excused for imagining how Sabrina Ionescu would look in sea foam green. Based on their records in 2018 and 2019, New York will have the best odds in the 2020 WNBA Draft lottery. However, the Liberty’s lottery fate was far from preordained. At the All-Star break, a second-half playoff push seemed possible for New York. But an eight-game losing streak that was soon followed by a seven-game losing streak sealed their fate. Head coach Katie Smith’s inability to settle on a permanent starting point guard certainly did not aid the Liberty’s ambitions. Nonetheless, Kia Nurse and Marine Johannès provided New York with some promise and pop. If only Asia Durr had been able to spend more time on the court during the late-season stretch instead of on the sideline with a groin injury.

12. Atlanta Dream (8-26)

Without a doubt, the Dream were the WNBA’s most disappointing team. On Sunday, they fell at home to the New York Liberty 71-63, their 26th loss of the season. Once again, offense eluded the Dream. Tiffany Hayes missed her third-straight game with knee soreness — an anticlimactic end to an underwhelming season. A series of nagging injuries prevented the 2018 All-WNBA First Team member from establishing herself as the superstar that Atlanta needed. Career-low shooting percentages from nearly all the Atlanta regulars did little to help Hayes lift her squad. Neither did the season-long absence of Angel McCoughtry, who played three ceremonial seconds on Sunday in possibly her final appearance in a Dream uniform. Although she was not at her best on Sunday, Monique Billings has served as a bright spot for Atlanta. Already a menace on the boards, Billings has flashed a more assertive offensive game, using her quickness and athleticism to attack the basket. Now, she just needs to find a scoring touch.