The IX: Basketball Wednesday with Howard Megdal, October 23, 2019
A core question — Interview with Liberty GM Jonathan Kolb — Must-click women's basketball links
Subscribers, thank you for your support! You’ve opted to join us for five different women’s sports newsletters in your inbox every week! The IX helps build the necessary infrastructure for women’s sports media. If you know someone who would love The IX as much as you do, forward this offer along!
A core question
So the CBA negotiations between the WNBA and the WNBPA are rolling on. The October 31 deadline looms, but it isn’t really a deadline — there aren’t games scheduled on November 1, nor was free agency even a part of November in years past, so we’re not approaching anything serious.
Just the same, both sides are eager to get to an agreement soon, and that makes a fact that I’ve uncovered, at first blush, a little strange — that the players are not actively pursuing an end to coring, a current form of team control in the last CBA.
Think of it this way: all drafted players, to join the league, must sign deals that are three years, plus a team option. But beyond that comes restricted free agency, then unrestricted free agency, all based on years of service — with a big catch. That catch is coring, which allows teams to keep their best players for years after that, effectively meaning a player who is drafted at age 22 isn’t free to leave, potentially, until she is nearly 30.
So you’d think that an end to coring, enhancing freedom of movement, would be of paramount importance to the players. What’s more, it should be something encouraged by the league, given how the NBA has turned freer player movement into 12 months of news cycle.
And yet: multiple sources familiar with talks have told me we’re not anywhere near an end to coring. It’s not a current PA priority.
So why is that?
Well, the reasons are twofold. One is that the players have essentially found a workaround to coring, called “demanding a trade”. No one has really found that path to be unworkable, with only Sylvia Fowles missing any significant time after making such a demand. And the ultimately meager return for Fowles, once dealt in-season by the Sky, has discouraged all who follow from doing the same. Liz Cambage, though the drama took forever, found a new home before the season. Same for Elena Delle Donne, and prior to Fowles, Tina Charles as well.
And that’s just at the star level — no shortage of ancillary players have had their trade requests honored, or successfully blocked deals by asserting that they wouldn’t report. (It’s why so many around the league were intrigued by Skylar Diggins-Smith’s frustrated tweets this past weekend.)
But then there’s this: the players understand that a majority of team owners aren’t married to coring, either. There’s a growing understanding of driving the media cycle among management, something Cathy Engelbert certainly has embraced already. And the theory goes: hey, maybe in the horse trading at the very end, this can get altered by mutual consent.
To be clear, just because players have a workaround doesn’t mean it’s good for anyone involved: months of battling and shifting tactics, instead of a clear window in which all involved can operate, unnecessarily complicate the offseason for everyone. The Cambage trade held up roughly 3-4 other teams, waiting for that resolution to make other moves. It’s a system that needs revamping no less than making sure Kristi Toliver and other WNBA players who coach in the NBA make more than $10,000 next time around.
For now, that isn’t on the table. Between now and when the documents are signed — and there remains significant optimism from those I’ve spoken to on both sides at this point — that really ought to change.
This week in women’s basketball
Don’t sleep on Michigan this season.
Jackie Powell looks in-depth at the Liberty move to Barclays Center. She gives the head coaching opening the same treatment.
I know Notre Dame lost a lot, but Marta Sniezek looks ready to help.
PJ Brown continues to kill it on the Arizona beat.
The Mountain West does a great job on social.
Yes, I am excited to go see Rutgers-Fordham this weekend.
Terrific piece on the Lobo-Ruocco-Rowe trio by Hannah Withiam.
Kristen Ledlow and Candace Parker have a podcast!
Here’s Cathy Engelbert on pay equality.
And here’s WNBPA president Nneka Ogwumike on the same subject!
Dan Connolly explains what UConn needs from freshman Aubrey Griffin.
Our High Post Hoops previews are rolling out. Check out Christine Hopkins on the Big 12, Kim Doss on the Pac-12 and Ben Rosof on the Big Ten. Many more to come!
Tweet of the week
Five at The IX: New York Liberty general manager Jonathan Kolb
HOWARD MEGDAL: So, can you take me through first just your timeline of thinking about the decision, making the decision to move on from Katie and sort of how that … what went into that for you?
JONATHAN KOLB: The timeline specifically, I mean basically evaluating throughout the season and then after the season I’m really looking inward at where we were at and where we’re hoping to go and a decision to move on was made very recently.
HOWARD MEGDAL: So when you looked at what the team had been, one of the flashpoints, one of the conversations is about whether the team should have been better in the present, and the other is whether there’s development that you were looking for that didn’t happen. I’m wondering which, if either, played a part in making this call at this time?
JONATHAN KOLB: I don’t want to want to go there. I mean basically just looking at it, it’s, we’ve had a tough couple of seasons and really looking at that and seeing where we’re at and where do we want to go, and that’s how we really went into the decision making. You know, in terms of specifics, I don’t know about all that, but in terms of where we’re at in terms of, you know, seven wins, ten wins and where we expect to be. That was primarily the basis for the decision.
HOWARD MEGDAL: So when you look at what this team can be and the direction in which it’s going you, you’re actually going to have the luxury, I don’t have to tell you, of a full off season now to be able to work, but you’re, but you’re sitting there not yet knowing what the CBA is. Are you in a bit of a holding pattern for that reason?
JONATHAN KOLB: We’re doing everything we can right now under the rules that we’re given, right? So, that’s how we’re operating. We’ll see what the rules will be when the CBA is ultimately ratified, but right now we’re just operating under what we know, and to your point, it’s a really, really exciting time for us the New York Liberty in that we do up the number one pick. We have a lot of roster flexibility and we’ve got a brand new home which is Barclays Center, so we’ve got a lot going for us.
HOWARD MEGDAL: So speaking to that, Tina has obviously been very clear about wanting it to be in Brooklyn. She certainly has a lot of connections to the area by including like a two minute walk to her father’s record store from Barclays. Has she talked to you about coming back in 2020 and where are things on that for you guys?
JONATHAN KOLB: We have a great relationship, Tina and myself, but we haven’t begun any talks on 2020 as of yet. We haven’t begun any talks on that whatsoever due to the, what you’ve mentioned, which is we don’t really know what the rules are going to be going forward, but Tina is a New Yorker at heart and we all know that.
HOWARD MEGDAL: From your perspective, do you expect Tina to be a member of the New York Liberty in 2020?
JONATHAN KOLB: I don’t see a reason why Tina wouldn’t be.