September 1, 2023
Indiana Fever general manager Lin Dunn talks progress and the future
'This time next year, when we're in close [games] with New York and Vegas, I expect us to win'
When Lin Dunn was hired to become the General Manager of the Indiana Fever, she presented Pacers Sports & Entertainment with a three-year plan to get the franchise back on track. She wanted to bring stability to the Fever.
Roughly 18 months later, and it’s clear that Indiana is well on their way to stability and success. That became clear quickly. Dunn was given a contract extension and had her interim tag removed earlier this year because the Fever believe in their direction.
In 2023, they have doubled their win total from Dunn’s first season. Newcomers Aliyah Boston, Kristy Wallace, Grace Berger, and Erica Wheeler have been impactful. They have cap space and a high draft pick coming their way in the offseason. Indiana is building something special.
“I think our team and our 12, we’re tuned in and we’re tapped it to what we want for ourselves,” Fever All-Star guard Kelsey Mitchell said last week. Indiana just wrapped up a 5-5 month of August, one of their best months in recent memory.
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Dunn has done a great job getting everyone, staff and players, in the right seat on the bus. Her coaching and talent evaluation background have been blessings for the franchise.
Her relationship with head coach Christie Sides continues to grow, and that has been meaningful for the Fever’s improvement throughout the season as well.
“It’s such a great resource to have Lin Dunn to be the GM, a mentor of mine. I bounce ideas and thoughts off of her all the time, she’s bouncing thoughts and ideas off of me all the time. So we have a great relationship,” Sides said. “I’m really lucky to have somebody like her with her experience. What she did here was incredible. So I’m really lucky to have her, and our relationship has grown over the last five months since we’ve been here together.”
Recently, The Next sat down with Dunn for a one-on-one question and answer session about the Fever, the direction of the franchise, some recent transactions, and more. The entire interview can be read below. Note that some question and answer sentences have been slightly modified for clarity and brevity.
The Next: You wanted to be in the hunt for the playoffs this season, you’re still alive. How have you felt about the progress in that department this year?
Lin Dunn: Well, I mean, that was one of our key goals, to fight for playoff spots. So here we are, with four or five games left, and we’re still in the hunt. Two teams have already been eliminated, we’re still in the hunt. So that was one of our goals, and we’ve accomplished that. We’ve improved, that was another one of our goals. We’ve won 11 games, we only won five last year, check.
We’ve created a new culture here, the foundation of a strong culture for the future. I see that. I see the energy and effort that we had today when we are barely hanging on [to playoff hopes]. We don’t give up, we don’t quit fighting, we’re resilient. So that’s another area that we wanted to focus on. So there’s another check.
So it looks like we’re accomplishing a lot of the goals that we set for this team. If we don’t get into the playoffs, that’s unfortunate. Because we really have fought. We don’t tank, we don’t give up, we don’t throw games. We play as hard as we can every game, we try to win every game because that’s what our fans expect. And that’s what we expect. If we don’t get in the playoffs, then we’ll focus on the lottery, focus on the draft. We’ll focus on free agency, and we know that this time next year we’ll be a lot better than we are today.
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The Next: Have you felt good about the day-to-day progress of this team? You talk about improvement all the time, and there’s some high ups — right now, three game winning streak — a bunch of losses in a row at the beginning of July. How have you felt incrementally about this team’s improvement this year?
Lin Dunn: I think you expect some close losses when you have a young team, when you have a first-year coaching staff. It’s all about getting to know each other, it’s all about learning how to play together. I think now you’re seeing us win some of these close games that we didn’t in the beginning. And that’s the growth of the coaches and the growth of the players. Had I not seen us get better, then I would be concerned.
And that’s always a key for me, I want to see improvement. I want to see a little bit of improvement from the beginning of practice to the end of the practice. Definitely from the beginning of the season to the end. And I’m seeing that.
This is an exciting time for the Fever. You know, if I was a free agent, or if I was a top draft prospect, I would be looking around thinking, “I’d really like to join that team. I’d really like to be part of them building towards a championship in the future.” And I’m not talking about 2029. I’m talking about “what can we do in 2024 with this core and some new people? And what can we do in 2025?” We’re young, we’re hungry, we’re talented.
The Next: You talked about the close games. I remember being right behind you as the Phoenix game ended, and you had such a big sense of relief come out of you. Have these close games been torturing for you? Or have you felt better because you’ve been in all these games?
Lin Dunn: I always feel better when we have a chance to win. That’s a sign of a team that is really all in with winning. The first option is, “Are you in the game? And in the last two minutes, do you have the chance to win?” That in itself is a victory.
We don’t get blown out, we don’t give up. We don’t toss the towel in. And so we play hard, we fight hard. And then down the stretch, we’re close enough that we have the chance to win. And that’s the sign of a team that’s on the move upward.
Is it disappointing to lose some of those close games? Absolutely. But sometimes you’re looking at who we’re losing to — New York, who may win the whole championship or a Vegas who’s the defending champion. I can accept that. This time next year, when we’re in close [games] with New York and Vegas, I expect us to win.
The Next: Your first permanent coaching hire, Christie Sides. I see you guys talking all the time. She said that she’s leaned on you a little for coaching tips just because of your pedigree. What are your conversations like with her? And how do you feel about her as leader of this team?
Lin Dunn: What I like about Christie, and this is one of the reasons I hired her, was her high energy. Her enthusiasm. Her belief in a strong culture and how we’ll do things and how we’re going to hold each other accountable. That was important to me.
She believes in relationships. She knows how important it is that she connects with every one of these players. She builds relationships with them and she builds trust with them. That’s a big issue in sports period — I don’t care what level — is can you trust the people that are coaching you?
The other thing I love about Christie and her staff is they’re coachable. I’ve been in this game for 50-plus years, and I enjoy my conversations with her when it comes to strategy and x’s and o’s
and bouncing ideas off. I’m not coaching this team, she is. But I’m always available as a resource.
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The Next: You’ve talked about the three year plan you started with when you got here. Have you felt like the season fits in snugly with what you’re expecting?
Lin Dunn: Absolutely. Don’t you? You know, this is year two of my three year plan, but it’s year one with a new coaching staff. So I have to kind of keep that in mind.
But I like where we are, I like what we’ve accomplished. I honestly, sincerely believed that we could get in the playoffs this year. And I think had NaLyssa [Smith] not gotten hurt during that period when we had to beat [Los Angeles]. So you think about “what if?” But that’s just a part of the game.
I thought that set us back because of [how] young we are and we’re not as deep as some teams. But that’s how close we’ve come to getting in the playoffs. And we still have [a chance], I know it’s a long shot.
But we’re gonna play it till it’s over. We’re gonna keep fighting till it’s over. We’re not going to tank. We don’t have to do that, that’s not necessary. We’ll just keep fighting. Even players, they’re still out here taking extra shots and thinking about how we’re going to play Dallas on Friday. Even if we get ready to play Dallas Friday and we’re eliminated, we’re still gonna play hard. We’re still gonna try to win.
The Next: What were the key factors in the Queen Egbo trade? And what have you liked about what Z has brought to you guys so far?
Lin Dunn: We needed someone else in the post position that was a veteran. We needed some more leadership there, we needed someone there that was willing to accept whatever role that we gave them. And when I looked around the league, I felt like [Amanda Zahui B.] was that type of player that we needed that could mentor and mother, if you use the term, NaLyssa and Aliyah [Boston]. Emma was trying to do that, but she needed some help.
I’ve followed Zahui B’s career since she was the MVP of the Big 10 Conference her senior year. In talking with her and her agent, I just felt like it was a good fit for us. And it has been.
The Next: What will be key to you this offseason? Whether that’s young player development, working with Christie, adding certain skills and positions, what will you focus on?
Lin Dunn: Everybody has to come back better. Coaches have to come back better. Players have to come back better. They have to come back stronger, they have to come back tougher. Our three rookies, Boston, [Victaria] Saxton, and [Grace] Berger have to continue to improve.
And then of course, in the offseason, we’ve got to look at free agency. We’ve got some talent now. We’ve got some good, young talent. But we also need to add to it. Do we have too much talent? No. Do we have enough? No. We need another free agent in my opinion, and we need another high draft pick.
So immediately, we bring two players into this franchise. We’re going to make sure it’s the right people and the right fit.
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The Next: You coached Tamika [Catchings]. You’ve talked about your ability to scout and evaluate talent. Now you have Aliyah. Where does she compare to some of the young players you’ve been around, what stands out to you about her?
Lin Dunn: She’s exceptional. It’s hard to find the words to describe her.
She’s highly skilled, her footwork, as a rookie, I have not seen a center in our league I can remember — and I’ve been in [the WNBA] since 2000 — that came into the league with the offensive footwork that she has around the basket. I don’t know who it would be. I’ve not seen it.
She comes in with such a strong foundation with her footwork. And she’s so smart, she has a high basketball IQ. She’s the whole package.
And then guess what? Tremendous work, high character, and a great person off the floor. It’s like, wow. She’s one of those once-in-a-lifetime players.