August 24, 2022
The Indiana Fever have a plan after winning five games and the execution starts now
The Indiana Fever won only five times in 2022 yet they are optimistic about their future
The Indiana Fever just wrapped up a five-win campaign and yet they are optimistic about the position they are in and the direction they are headed.
It seems odd from the 30,000-foot view. Indiana has 17 wins since the 2020 season tipped off — a win total that 13 teams have eclipsed in a single season during the same timeframe. The Fever just won 13.9% of their games, the fifth-worst win percentage in league history. They are in the midst of an 18-game losing streak, nearing the longest the league has ever seen.
Yet if one attended the team’s exit interviews last week, you wouldn’t know any of that. The Indiana Fever talk like a team with a bright future. Many are optimistic about where the team is and what it will be. They have a plan to get out of the WNBA basement and it’s going to happen soon.
Interim General Manager Lin Dunn didn’t share the plan, or even part of it, in her exit interview. But she acknowledged that she has one and presented it to the organization when she was brought it in February.
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“I agreed to do this [job] for two years. I also provided Pacers Sports and Entertainment with a three-year plan,” Dunn shared when asked about the word interim being a part of her job title. “If, after two years, we’re on track to accomplish what we want to, would I be willing to stay on for a third year or a fourth year or whatever they need me to do? My job is to bring stability to this franchise… I have a plan to do what needs to be done.”
So much was revealed there. First and foremost, Dunn’s interim title is only technically true — in the sense that her holding the role is temporary. Temporary could be just a few seasons, in this case. She mentioned bringing stability to the franchise and that extends to the front office, so her interim stay could be longer than most who carried that tag.
It also revealed that Dunn has a plan to build up the franchise she once coached to a WNBA title. Winning five games this season was not an intended part of that program. But the team is sticking to the plan that Dunn created when she was brought in and she is optimistic it will work.
“I knew this season would be tough. It’s almost like when you renovate the house, you gut the house and then you rebuild it with brand new insides. I thought this season would be challenging, would be tough,” Dunn said. She was disappointed that the team didn’t win a few more games, but the head decision maker is pleased with the new “insides” of the Indiana Fever—filled with multiple talented rookies and a capable cast of veterans.
The following steps in Lin Dunn’s renovations involve the postseason. Maybe not this coming season, but in short order. The Indiana Fever want to keep playing after the regular season, or at least be among the teams still fighting for a playoff spot in the final days of the season.
To reach those goals, the Fever will have to have a strong offseason. They have two first-round picks, enough cap space to do just about anything and plenty of resources to improve the team. With so many rookies and valuable assets, trades are possible too. The specific path or strategy doesn’t really matter. An upcoming part of Dunn’s plan involves moving up a tier and becoming one of the teams that is fighting for, or obtaining, a postseason spot — nailing key team-building decisions in the offseason is a crucial step toward that improvement.
“We know we can get better in the draft,” Dunn said. She drafted well in her first offseason as the interim GM. “Free agency will be key for us… we will be able to get into the; I guess you would call it, competitive race for free agents a little bit more aggressively,” she added. The General Manager shared that there are two specific free agents that she has her eyes on in the offseason but didn’t single out any player by name.
While the Indiana Fever roster wasn’t good from a winning perspective this past season, it was a good roster for development and growth. Of course, winning five games is poor and perhaps a knock on the direction the team is headed. But Dunn’s plan has the Fever heading down a more promising path than any one they have been on in the last half-decade. That’s why there is some optimism.
Some of that organizational confidence came from Head Coach Carlos Knox, whose job also carries an interim tag. Before any roster decision can be made, Dunn will have to decide if Knox is the right person to coach this team going forward. He went 3-24 after taking over for Marianne Stanley midseason.
“I’m in the process of evaluating Carlos and the entire coaching staff,” Dunn said. She noted that the decision-making process will be thorough.
Knox got off to a strong start, winning his first game as the head coach in Indiana and three of his first nine. Then, Indiana lost 18 in a row. Several players praised Knox when he was promoted, including second overall pick NaLyssa Smith and Knox has a history of developing pros. For a young Fever team, his strengths might make him the right answer as head coach.
The record was also substandard. Granted, being inserted as the head coach midseason and guiding a team comprised of seven rookies is a borderline impossible task. But the 3-24 record can’t be ignored. Dunn will have to decide and Knox doesn’t know what his future holds just yet.
“I do not. Not yet,” Knox said when asked if he knew if he would be returning. “I am honored to be sitting up here on the podium as the head coach right now. I would really love to be back with the Indiana Fever as the full-time head coach.”
Knox has shared throughout the season that being the head coach of the Indiana Fever had long been his dream. He had previous stints with the franchise and has been a part of the Indianapolis community for decades. So giving him a chance to build culture and winning habits with a young group during a full offseason would be a good decision by Dunn. Stability is important for a team that has undergone so much change in recent seasons. But it is understandable why Dunn would explore all of her coaching options, given the team’s trajectory.
So there’s more of the plan — figure out who will be the head coach of the Fever. Free agency, the draft, trade, whatever, are the following steps. They’re all a part of the blueprint.
Crawling out of the WNBA basement may happen with splashy signings or draft hits. But sustained success will return to Indiana if they can develop talent. Armed with seven rookies and multiple former lottery picks, helping younger players grow and improve is a key part of said plan for the red and blue.
Fortunately, the franchise provided their rookies a head start this past season. Of the top-seven rookies in minutes per game this past season, four of them played for Indiana. Fever rookies had more opportunities to compete, learn and grow together than young players on other teams. That should be a boon for the team in future campaigns.
“The big difference between our rookies and rookies on other teams is that we’re going to be a step ahead when it comes to the fact that we have this experience of playing decent minutes,” fourth overall pick Emily Engstler said. She, like many, thinks that the future is bright for this team — especially with more continuity coming. “It’s hard to just throw 10 people in who have never really played together,” she said. That won’t be the case in 2023.
Questions will rightly be asked about a franchise without a playoff appearance since 2016. Since Tamika Catchings retired after that year, the Fever haven’t won 40% of their games in a season. Indiana attempted to recover after an all-time great stepped away but has been unable to build a winner.
Now, Dunn is on a mission to change those facts. Remember, she was only hired by the Fever six months ago. It will take time for everything to fall into place. It’s her job to make the next campaigns better and that starts with hiring the right people, adding the right players and developing the acquired talent.
In reality, of course, all that is way easier said than done (Dunn?). If every team could just flip a switch and accomplish those tasks, they would. The Fever have struggled to get the right talent and hire the right leaders in past seasons, which has led to a lot of turnover. The new-look Fever, armed with a new GM and a strong rookie class, are going to follow a plan and hope to avoid those same mistakes.
It should end up being another busy offseason for the Fever. They have to decide on the head coach, draft two players with top-seven picks, make some signings and develop more than a half-dozen youngsters along the way. But those big decisions will add to an already strong base instead of being wholesale changes that stand-alone, which has been the case for the Fever in past offseasons.
They are bringing furniture and lighting into the recently-gutted house to equate things to Dunn’s analogy. It will become a livable home now.
So, yes, the Indiana Fever just won five games and have some significant changes coming. But they are finally heading in a direction headlined by youth, development and most importantly, an obvious plan. That’s why most spent exit interview day optimistic.
Now, Lin Dunn has a lot of work to do to turn that optimism into actual results.