Mercury GM, responding to Tibbetts hire criticism, touts diverse candidate pool, process

Alexa Philippou, ESPNOct 20, 2023, 08:40 PM ET

CloseCovers women’s college basketball and the WNBA
Previously covered UConn and the WNBA Connecticut Sun for the Hartford Courant
Stanford graduate and Baltimore native with further experience at the Dallas Morning News, Seattle Times and Cincinnati Enquirer

Phoenix Mercury general manager Nick U’Ren, responding to criticism over the hiring of head coach Nate Tibbetts, said Friday that the organization’s candidate pool was “more broad than I could have ever imagined,” characterizing the hiring process as “long” and “thorough.”

The hiring, announced earlier this week, came under fire by many who pointed to diversity concerns as well as Tibbetts’ lack of experience coaching in the women’s game. Prior to his arrival in the WNBA, Tibbetts was a longtime assistant coach in the NBA for Portland, Cleveland and most recently Orlando, while also previously coaching in the G League.

Speaking at a news conference to introduce Tibbetts, U’Ren said that the organization “know[s] diversity and opportunity are critical, and I would say our process, our candidate pool and our finalist pool all reflected that.”

U’Ren was not asked on Friday to name the individuals who made up the candidate or finalist pool.

The Mercury hired U’Ren as their incoming general manager in July, while Josh Bartelstein is the new CEO for both the Phoenix Suns and the Mercury. New owner Mat Ishbia took control of the Mercury and Suns in February.

“I’m excited for us to be able to take action in terms of building a basketball operations staff and a coaching staff that reflects that diversity, that provides opportunity to people of all backgrounds, all expertise, all skill sets, and we understand that importance and we look forward to taking action, not just saying the words,” U’Ren said when asked about public criticism over the hire.

Editor’s Picks

2 Related

Phoenix’s past three coaches — Sandy Brondello (2014 to 2021), Vanessa Nygaard (2022-23) and interim head coach Nikki Blue (2023) — were all former WNBA players who also had been assistants in the league prior to their head-coaching stints.

Tibbetts, 46, is one of three male head coaches in the WNBA. The Washington Mystics’ Eric Thibault was a longtime assistant for the team before he was elevated to head coach, while the Los Angeles Sparks’ Curt Miller had extensive experience coaching in women’s college basketball before entering the league as an assistant for the Sparks. A year later, he was hired as coach of the Connecticut Sun.

U’Ren said the Mercury’s hiring process “took us through women’s and men’s college basketball, it took us into the international space, it took us into women’s and men’s professional basketball,” and that process ultimately led them to Tibbetts.

“Nate’s vision for how he wants to lead this operation and organization, both now and moving forward, aligned so well with what we were looking for in a head coach,” U’Ren said, “from his deep history in player development, to his interest and curiosity in the analytics space, to his detailed outline of how the offseason is going to look, to his philosophy on how we’re going to play and finally to how we treat players and people on and off the floor.”

Tibbetts’ deal makes him the highest-paid coach in WNBA history, sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

“This is a new league for me. I want to be educated,” Tibbetts said. “I’m going to talk to our players. I want to hear about the growth of this league. I want to hear and understand the struggles that they’ve gone through. I know that I’ve got some things to learn when it comes to the WNBA.”

Tibbetts said he was attracted to the job due to Ishbia’s commitment to the team and the excitement of players, adding he’s “all-in on this, 100 percent. This is where we want to be. And we’re super excited about that.”

He said he was in part inspired to coach in the WNBA because of his background; his late father, Fred Tibbetts, was a longtime girls’ and women’s basketball coach in South Dakota.

“I’m just excited about the growth of this league and being a part of it and just helping it continue to grow,” Tibbetts said.

When asked about interim head coach Blue’s candidacy for the position, U’Ren responded, “you could ask me 100 questions about Nikki and 100 times I’m not going to tell you anything negative. This ultimately was about what Nate brought, not what Nikki or any other candidate didn’t have.”

Blue went 7-21 with an injury-riddled team after taking over following Nygaard’s midseason firing. The Mercury finished a league-worst 9-31 — securing their spot in the 2024 WNBA draft lottery — as core players Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner were sidelined much of the summer, and Skylar Diggins-Smith did not play due to what the organization cited as pregnancy/maternity leave.

Diggins-Smith tweeted during the season that she was not permitted into the team’s practice facility, and it seems likely that she won’t return to Phoenix upon hitting free agency this offseason.

Taurasi is under contract for 2024 — as are Sophie Cunningham, Brianna Turner and Moriah Jefferson — while Griner is also a free agent but has said she intends to return to Phoenix.

The incoming class of draftees is also expected to feature multiple impact pro players.

U’Ren spoke to wanting to build a roster that “values shooting, values intelligence, values versatility,” while Tibbetts said he wants the team to play fast-paced, shoot 3-pointers and provide spacing, crash the offensive glass and defensively protect the paint.

“I don’t know if you guys have gotten to know Mat Ishbia at all,” U’Ren said. “It is not his intention to be last in the league any longer. Our intention is try to improve as best we can.”

Source link

Leave a comment