What the Dallas Wings' coaching hire means for the WNBA coaching carousel

ByM.A. Voepel and Kevin Pelton ESPN logo
Friday, November 4, 2022
ESPN

Editor's note: This story was published before Christie Sides was named head coach of the Indiana Fever on Friday.

The WNBA coaching carousel continued to spin Tuesday as a new head coach was hired for the second time in 11 days. The Dallas Wings have yet to make it official, but Los Angeles Sparks assistant Latricia Trammell is expected to take over the Wings.

Two coaching vacancies remain after Tuesday's report and the Sparks' Oct. 21 hiring of Curt Miller: the Connecticut Sunand the Indiana Fever.

Trammell was a longtime college and high school coach before moving into the WNBA, and is known for her strategic skills. Under Vickie Johnson, the Wings were a .500 team this season, which really did constitute progress. Based on results, it seemed as if Johnson deserved another season. But if Johnson and the players weren't connecting well, which has been speculated, then Trammell will need to address that right away.

After his experience as an assistant for one season in Los Angeles in 2015, Miller said he would like a chance to be head coach of the Sparks. Would that still have been the case if the Sun had won a championship during his Connecticut tenure? Hard to say. But despite the Sun making the WNBA Finals this season, it seemed like both Miller and the team were ready to move on.

Miller's move started the offseason WNBA coaches carousel, and it's uncertain how long it will keep spinning, especially if other current WNBA head coaches are considering a move. We wait to see if the Fever and Sun make their decisions before or after the WNBA draft lottery on Nov. 11.

There are some familiar names in the coaching rumor mill.

Pokey Chatman was a head coach for the Chicago Sky for six seasons, and for Indiana for three. Chatman, who has a lot of experience developing young players and took the Sky to the 2014 WNBA Finals, served as an assistant with the Seattle Storm this past season.

Katie Smith, the former WNBA standout who was head coach of the New York Liberty for 2018-19, has since been an assistant with the Minnesota Lynx. Maybe she's ready for a second chance as a head coach.

And might Johnson also get a look from another team after leading Dallas to the playoffs this year before being let go?

Consider former NBA assistant Becky Hammon's success in leading the Las Vegas Aces to the WNBA title in her first season: Could one of her former WNBA teammates, Teresa Weatherspoon, be a consideration to return to the league? Weatherspoon is currently an assistant for the NBA's New Orleans Pelicans.

Speaking of the Aces, Natalie Nakase spent time as an LA Clippers assistant in the NBA before coming to work for Hammon as an Aces assistant this year. She could also be in the mix for a promotion with some team.

All these names -- or none of them -- could be the next head coach of a WNBA team. Here's a look at where the coaching carousel is at right now.

Trammell has long been a candidate for a WNBA head-coaching job. Why is Dallas a good fit for the longtime assistant?

Trammell seemed destined for a head-coaching job at some point. Now, she will need to work with Wings president/CEO Greg Bibb, who is known to be very involved with all decision-making. Trammel saw some ups and downs in her four seasons with the Sparks, which will help her. As will the fact that she has many years of being in charge outside of the WNBA.

In terms of the talent available to her, Arike Ogunbowale is under contract for the next three seasons. She has been one of the league's top scorers (19.8 PPG in four seasons) and will turn 26 in March, so she's still just entering her prime.

Ogunbowale dealt with injuries at the end of this season and appeared for just six minutes in one playoff game. More concerning, though, were two incidents in which Ogunbowale kicked things -- the extended scorer's table in one case, and a basketball in another -- during games. Frustration is understandable, but these aren't actions you want to see from your franchise player. Trammell has to be able to click with Ogunbowale but also command respect from her.

The Wings also have to figure out if 2021 No. 1 draft pick Charli Collier really has a future with the team. She averaged less than five minutes per game last season. Collier just turned 23 in September, but she is going to have to get time on court to prove if she can play. --Voepel

Is Curt Miller the answer in Los Angeles? Why is he a good fit for the Sparks as they try to get back to the playoffs?

In the wake of the Derek Fisher era, the Sparks needed a proven WNBA coach who can reestablish them as a destination for free agents after the departures of Chelsea Gray and Candace Parker. Miller's track record of success with the Sun, including a pair of trips to the WNBA Finals, fits the bill.

Although a rebuild doesn't make sense for a team that should still have Nneka Ogwumike -- who will be an unrestricted free agent but indicated her desire to return at season's end -- Los Angeles must avoid costly gambles, like trading what became a lottery pick for Chennedy Carter and signing Liz Cambage last offseason.

As long as the Sparks have their house in order, the draw of L.A. should be attractive to free agents. With only Katie Lou Samuelson under contract for more than $130,000 for 2023, per Her Hoop Stats, the Sparks can afford to bring back Nneka and sister Chiney Ogwumike and add proven talent this offseason. -- Pelton

It happens to many coaches as players tire of their voices after a while. I'm not saying that's what happened in Connecticut with Miller, but it seemed like it was time for a fresh start for him and the Sun. For that matter, the Sparks need a fresh start, too.

As Kevin said, Miller's track record with the Sun was very good. He made a point in an interview with ESPN when hired to say that he wants the players to be front and center in Los Angeles, and praised Nneka Ogwumike's leadership. The past two years haven't been much fun for the Sparks. They not only missed the playoffs but watched as two players who left as free agents, Parker (Chicago) and Gray (Las Vegas), were pivotal in bringing titles to their new teams.

Something seems really off when L.A. doesn't feel like a desired destination for players, and Miller should be able to help fix that pretty quickly. -- Voepel

What's next for Connecticut, and who are the top candidates to take over as head coach of the Sun?

Miller's replacement will likely inherit a different-looking team. With four starters (DeWanna Bonner, Jonquel Jones, Alyssa Thomas and Jasmine Thomas) under protected contracts for at least $190,000, Connecticut would likely have to trade one of them in order to bring back unrestricted free agent Brionna Jones.

The most the Sun can offer Jones with those four players on the roster is $199,200, and that's in a scenario in which everyone else makes the league minimum for players with fewer than three years of service.

In both that decision and the coaching search, I'm interested to see the involvement of team president Jennifer Rizzotti, who has a coaching background at the college level. Could Rizzotti be a candidate for head coach? -- Pelton

Well, that would be an interesting development, but at this point I don't think Rizzotti wants to return to coaching. The candidates mentioned earlier all could be in the mix. The Sun's window for a championship has been open the past four seasons, and it seems like that should still be the case in 2023. But the franchise feels some weight in having gotten close multiple times without winning. The new coach has to navigate that. -- Voepel

What's the latest on the coaching vacancy in Indiana?

We'll find out next week if the Fever get the No. 1 selection in the draft for the first time in franchise history. If so, Aliyah Boston of the South Carolina Gamecocks could be the top pick, and Indiana would have a potential franchise-changing player.

The team has needed that since Tamika Catchings retired in 2016. It also hasn't made the playoffs since, and she had some difficulties as the team's general manager before she left the role. Longtime WNBA coach Marianne Stanley wasn't the answer in Indiana, either: She took over in 2020 and was let go early last season. The team won three games under interim coach Carlos Knox, and is now starting over on the coaching front.

Former coach Lin Dunn came back as general manager and has said she has a three-year plan to return to competitiveness. A big part of that plan this past season was relying on very young talent, and that will be the case again, no matter who is coaching. -- Voepel

What other coaching jobs should we be keeping an eye on?

The Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury will be getting a new owner, which might also mean an evaluation of Mercury coach Vanessa Nygaard. She had a very challenging first season in the WNBA, as the team dealt with Brittney Griner's imprisonment in Russia, the departure of Tina Charles in June, Diana Taurasi's late-season injury and Skylar Diggins-Smith leaving the team for personal reasons in the midst of a playoff push.

It was clear Diggins-Smith, who recently announced she is pregnant, and Nygaard didn't see eye-to-eye. Diggins-Smith is under contract to the Mercury for next season, but will she play in Phoenix or anywhere else? Will the Mercury's new ownership give Nygaard credit for making the playoffs despite so many hurdles, or will it go a different direction?

The Washington Mystics seem to have a pretty solid succession plan in place as longtime assistant Eric Thibault at some point is expected to take over for his father, head coach Mike Thibault. There hasn't been any indication it will happen before next season, but it's still something to watch.

And is there any chance Minnesota's Cheryl Reeve might be lured elsewhere? Reeve has guided the Lynx since 2010 and won four WNBA titles. But with Sylvia Fowles having retired, the last of Minnesota's championship core players is gone. Both the Lynx and NBA's Timberwolves are also in an ownership transition. Minnesota missed the playoffs this year for the first time since Reeve's first season at the helm. But the Lynx will get franchise standout Napheesa Collier back in 2023 after she missed most of 2022 on maternity leave.

Reeve is also GM for the Lynx and seems entrenched there. She is also busy with the U.S. national team as head coach. So while a move doesn't seem likely, a franchise looking to make a major statement and a blockbuster hire could still attempt to pry her away. -- Voepel

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