What does a coaching swap mean for New York and Minnesota in the 2020 season and beyond?
On Monday morning, the New York Liberty announced that Walt Hopkins’ former Lynx co-assistant Shelley Patterson would in fact be joining him on his staff in Brooklyn.
Before the news received its official confirmation, Reeve herself called the easter egg a “rumor” when I spoke to her on Sunday following USA Basketball’s practice before their exhibition against UConn. But, she added a laugh and a wink. “There was a rumor I heard that maybe Shelley would not be returning with the Lynx.”
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While Reeve attempted to be coy about the situation, Smith, her new partner in crime, was beside her. The new Lynx assistant laughed while hinting to Reeve that the cat is out of the bag. “[She] would know,” Smith said. As previously written, I understand the rationale behind the potential hiring.
Hopkins was looking for and is still looking for coaching veterans, diligent workers and organic people. From how he described Patterson on Episode 143 of The Winsidr Show, she checked all of Hopkins’ boxes.
“I would love to have Shelley Patterson,” he said on the podcast. “I have a great relationship with Shelley…I loved working with her. She’s a wealth of knowledge and a beautiful, beautiful person. The person part is the piece that I would love. And on any staff, she would be a boon. To any head coach.”
The feelings are mutual between Hopkins and his new assistant, who has decades worth of coaching experience and knowledge. She’s also ready to work, echoing Jonathan Kolb’s “no one’s gonna outwork us” mantra from Hopkins’ introductory press conference earlier this month.
“Walt and I shared many days and nights in the office together planning and strategizing for upcoming opponents, so I know all about his work ethic,” Patterson said in a team press release. “His positive attitude will be contagious and very important when creating a new culture for future champions.”
Familiarity leads to checkers in 2020
The Liberty will play the Lynx three times in 2020. With coaching talent on the move comes a level of competitive advantage. A familiarity with players and personnel tendencies. I referred to the matchup as a chess match to Reeve, but she corrected me and views the three contests instead as akin to a healthy game of checkers.
For Reeve, there isn’t bad blood. Competition is contentious while exhilarating, a struggle while rewarding. Checkers ought to be enjoyable, right?
“With every assistant coach that leaves, I look forward,” Reeve said. “I hope that they do well and we can’t wait to play them and kick their ass. That’s plain and simple. They know it. James knows it. Walt knows it. So it’s not any different…that’s the fun of this. So yeah we are looking forward to it.”
On the phone call presser which introduced the new CBA, Commissioner Cathy Englebert specifically mentioned that introducing new rivalries is a method that could help market the league. Could this game of checkers lead to a rivalry? According to Reeve, she’s not certain. She believes rivalries take time and must be “organic.”
“I think about obviously what we had for a couple of years with LA,” she said. “That was just intense.” The characteristics of a rivalry include a certain mental and physical stamina.
“That’s how you know it’s a rivalry,” Reeve said. “How you have to get yourself up mentally, physically. And you know, again and again, and just what it brings out of you. I think it will take a little time to develop.”
Reeve doesn’t see a rivalry with New York until the team becomes a more competitive threat. The Liberty must be a formidable sparring partner for the Lynx if a rivalry is to emerge. New York must show itself, and prove it has an identity, which has been an issue since 2017.
Although, she hopes that geography plays a role in creating some natural rivals (i.e. Chicago and Indiana or New York and Connecticut.) The beauty behind the madness of the Sparks versus the Lynx was the repetition. But rivalry or no rivalry, Reeve believes it’s best that “there’s somebody different competing at the top.”
What do the Lynx and Liberty gain?
I turned to Katie Smith and askrd the same question of the 2018 Naismith inductee. Is she looking forward to a battle laced with oodles of familiarity? “I’m looking forward to all of the games,” Smith replied.
But after months following her departure from New York, I asked her to reflect. What did she learn from the rollercoaster ride of 2018-2019? She learned to trust herself. She understands that she can’t control her entire fate. “Everything happens for a reason.”
So what do the Lynx score with Smith? And what do the Liberty procure with Patterson?
In New York, Katie Smith proved she could motivate and provide confidence to players looking to revive their careers. Amanda Zahui B. is a prime example. If the Lynx can trade for Skylar Diggins-Smith, Katie can do just that in Minnesota. Patterson is a skill refiner and could turn the Liberty into a lethal team from long, which for patches at a time looked like a reality in 2019.
Who will win checkers? Check back with me in six months’ time.
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