June 4, 2022 

Indiana Fever notebook: Alanna Smith waived, Gary Kloppenburg hired, Lin Dunn talks coaching change

A week full of changes in Indiana

INDIANAPOLIS – Things have been busy recently for the Indiana Fever. In a seven-day stretch, the franchise altered the coaching staff, tweaked the roster, switched home stadiums, and started off a new era with an impressive win over the Los Angeles Sparks.

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Carlos Knox is now in charge of coaching the team after taking over for Hall of Famer Marianne Stanley. Knox, a former player with two decades of coaching experience, is a strong communicator and is known for his player development capabilities. The Fever had been playing better this season than in 2021 even with Stanley at the helm, but interim General Manager Lin Dunn noted that the improvement wasn’t enough for the Fever to continue on the same path.

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“I just felt like we needed to go in a different direction. In particular, I had seen some improvement, but I was still concerned about our defense. I still felt like we hadn’t made enough improvement in that area,” Dunn told The Next of the coaching change. “Overall, it was just a general feeling that we needed to go in a different direction. I feel comfortable with Carlos because I’ve known him for almost 20 years… I also knew that he was going to emphasize defense in a way that I would be happy about.”

Dunn added that she feels comfortable with Knox at the helm in part because of her longstanding relationship with the coach. The two have known each other for roughly two decades, as she stated, and have worked together with the Fever in past seasons.

The timing of the coaching change perplexed many around the league, including some Indiana Fever players. Dunn explained that the timing made sense given the team’s schedule — Indiana had a long stretch of time at home in Indianapolis with only two games just after promoting Knox. That gave the Fever multiple days to practice under their new coach and get acclimated to the change, and time like that can be hard to find during the regular season.

While the Knox era is less than ten days old, Dunn likes what she sees so far. “I like the energy. I like the effort. I saw that in the first practice. I saw it in the game [the victory over the Sparks] the other night,” Dunn said. “So that immediately caught my attention. And then the emphasis on defense, the more time invested in that area.”

Interim tags galore

Going forward, Indiana will have a GM and coach who both have the interim tag on their job title. Knox shared that he would like to be the head coach beyond this season, but he will have to earn it. “That’s something that we can discuss at the end of the season, I think interim means an opportunity to fill in and see what you can do,” Dunn said. “And to be honest with you, it’ll be wide open. But Carlos has been given the opportunity to show me what he can do. So I think it’s a great, great situation for him and for us.”

It’s early, but the members of the roster have shared that they like playing for Knox and respect his style as well as the fact that he is a former player. If the Fever continue to improve this season, especially on the defensive end of the floor, Knox will have a chance to keep the head coaching job beyond the 2022 campaign.

Dunn reunites with Kloppenburg

Speaking of defense and improvement, the Indiana Fever filled Knox’s assistant spot just a few days after changing head coaches. Gary Kloppenburg, a longtime WNBA coach who has served two different stints as an assistant for Indiana, re-joined Knox’s staff to help out on the defensive end. Kloppenburg was an assistant under Dunn in Indiana from 2008-11 and in Seattle during the early 2000s. He was also the head coach of the Seattle Storm during their championship campaign in 2020.

“I was just thrilled that Gary was available to come back,” Dunn said. “He’s a defensive specialist.”

Kloppenburg shared that his prior relationships with current Fever brass went a long way in guiding him back to Indiana. Indianapolis felt familiar to him as soon as he got to the city, and he’s ready to have an impact on a young Fever team.

“When they called I was like ‘Yeah, this is a really good situation to come in and help’,” Kloppenburg told The Next. He will be able to assist with player development on top of his defensive duties. “I think with a young team, having as many voices that can help get them better,” the assistant coach said. Knox’s assistants are now Kloppenburg, Jhared Simpson, and Vicki Hall.

Alanna Smith waived after diminished role

The Indiana Fever coaching staff is now set. But Dunn was not finished tweaking the team after the bench leadership changes. On Monday, the Fever announced that they had waived forward Alanna Smith.

Smith played in nine games for the red and blue this season, including one start in the franchise’s first win of the campaign. She provided solid frontcourt versatility as someone who could play both forward and center, and her perimeter skills occasionally gave the Fever a matchup advantage.

But as the team’s season developed and more players arrived from overseas, Smith began to lose playing time. In Stanley’s final game as head coach, Smith received just three-and-a-half minutes of action, and in Knox’s first game as head coach, Smith did not play at all. Three days later, she was released.

“We had an in-detailed talk as a staff, as an organization, about some of the things that we needed. And we thought at this time we wanted to go in a different direction,” Knox explained of the choice to let go of Smith. He added that the decision to fill Smith’s roster spot is one that will be made by the front office. Indiana’s roster size currently stands at 11.

The Fever have frontcourt depth in Alaina Coates already stashed on the bench, so Dunn could choose a player of any age or position for the open roster spot, should it even be filled. Indiana has no constraints financially and few obvious needs on the team, so many signings could be justified.

Other Indiana Fever notes

  • Guard Bria Hartley made her season debut on Wednesday against the New York Liberty. It was Hartley’s 20th regular season game played since leaving the Liberty in 2020 free agency — the UConn product has battled through injuries during recent seasons. “It felt good, honestly,” Hartley said after her first action of the season. She finished with ten points, two rebounds, and two assists.
  • Speaking of Hartley, despite being listed as out with a hamstring issue on recent injury reports, she noted that it is actually her knee that is being monitored closely.
  • The Fever are now playing games in Indiana Farmers Coliseum because their usual home, Gainbridge Fieldhouse, is under construction until October. The Fever will play in IFC until July 15, when they will once again switch stadiums and play in Hinkle Fieldhouse on Butler University’s campus.
  • Kelsey Mitchell won WNBA Eastern Conference Player of the Week for her performances during the week spanning May 23-29. It was Mitchell’s first time receiving this honor, and she is the first Fever player to be Player of the Week since Tamika Catchings in 2015. “Obviously, I’m grateful. But I can’t get comfortable,” Mitchell said of the accolade. Mitchell’s teammates have been campaigning for her to be named an All-Star this season. More to come on that.

Written by Tony East

Indiana Fever reporter based in Indianapolis. Enjoy a good statistical-based argument.

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