Two timetables produce one common ground
For all the difficulty Kristine Anigwe had breaking into the Connecticut Sun rotation, and the evident frustration it caused her, Sun head coach and general manager Curt Miller had nothing but praise for her future on a day he traded Anigwe to the Dallas Wings.
“Knowing that we were going to have to part ways with an uber-talented young post player, in Kristine, my feeling on her upside and her potential in the league has not changed one iota,” Miller said on a conference call with reporters Tuesday afternoon.
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Still, it was striking how different the overall profiles are of Anigwe, whose future potential made this deal an excellent one for rebuilding Dallas, compared to Theresa Plaisance, a fellow big acquired by the Sun in this one-for-one trade.
Anigwe was the ninth overall pick in 2019, and for all her obvious talent, she shot the ball poorly in limited minutes, just 31.4 percent from the field and playing double figures in minutes five times all season. For someone at the epicenter of a Cal offensive attack for four years, used to getting into rhythm with plenty of shot attempts, that was an adjustment she had yet to make.
It explains, to Miller’s thinking, why she was so frustrated that she raised her voice at Miller as she came out of the game on Sunday in New York, a response that led to a talking-to by Miller right on the bench.
“Ultimately, there’s 60 starters in this league and way more reserves. And reserves in this league were all mega superstars in their own right at the collegiate level. So managing playing time is art. A challenge for the 12 of us head coaches. And if the challenge within that locker room on it, it doesn’t matter, veteran or rookie, being [that] competitive, incredibly talented women want to play, or they wouldn’t be at this level.”
Still, that art got a little easier for Miller with the acquisition of Theresa Plaisance, whose embracing of any role reflects her background as a coach’s daughter. Talk to Plaisance for a minute and the basketball wisdom pours out of her. There’s more to it than that, though.
Plaisance has retrofitted her game into one that befits the current WNBA, a league that rewards bigs who can stretch the floor. Accordingly, despite her 6’5 size, she is taking more threes than twos for the third consecutive year.
So consider her in the context of the Sun, who already get 28.5 percent of their points from beyond the arc, and will utilize Plaisance in place of the minutes Anigwe and, in all likelihood, Bri Jones were getting come playoff time. Plaisance is 23-for-67 from three this season. Anigwe and Jones, combined, are 0-for-1.
Moreover, Plaisance is going to get time as stand-in for Jonquel Jones, meaning that Miller can run the kind of sets he runs for the 6’6 perimeter threat even when Jones is on the bench.
There was also an element of keeping up with the competition here.
“When I looked around some of the others who I believe are contenders this season, they have a veteran post player that can provide as far as off the bench,” Miller said, citing Chiney Ogwumike in Los Angeles, Dearica Hamby in Las Vegas, Cheyenne Parker in Chicago and Emma Meesseman in Washington among others.
It does, however, make things potentially more difficult for the Sun in 2020. Alyssa Thomas and Jasmine Thomas are already signed to contracts with full protection in 2020, as is Plaisance, owed $104,000 in 2020. Shekinna Stricklen, on a full protection deal in 2019, is a free agent, and will likely expect the same in 2020. Add in Courtney Williams and Jonquel Jones coming off of their rookie deals and clearly deserving of a contract reward, and suddenly Connecticut is full-up — at least, under the current rules of a CBA that expires at the end of the year.
But Curt Miller didn’t sound like someone who was worried about 2020. For Miller and the Sun, 2019 has been the date circled on the calendar, and a win-now trade to get them the help he thought they needed reflected the beliefs he’d heard expressed by mentors including, yes, Dallas head coach Brian Agler.
“The front office supported us in building a core group and letting that core group play some years together,” Miller said. “This was a very important year… I’ve been mentored by Brian Agler. I’ve been mentored by some of the great GMs in this league. When you have an opportunity to go for, a window that you feel is a possibility of success, a championship run, then you should go for it.”
That’s just what the Sun did. And they are hoping the plane reservations come through so Plaisance can be in uniform Friday.
After all, there’s no time like the present.
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