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In the six seasons since the Lynx last playoff appearance, the team has gone a dismal 77-127. That’s a .377 winning percentage. Not good. During that span five head coaches have piloted the squad, several high draft picks have been chosen and the roster has undergone annual makeovers. With all the turmoil, only two things have remained constant – losing and Roger Griffith.
Griffith, whose official title with the organization is “Executive Vice President”, acts as the team’s general manager and performs those duties as if he were running a fantasy team. Instead of allowing any sort of continuity or chemistry to foster and grow, Griffith is constantly tinkering with the roster, often with ambiguous or even detrimental results.
To be fair not everything is Griffith’s fault, but then again he seldom makes the best of a bad situation. Just days before the 2009 season, head coach Don Zierden bolted back to the NBA to become an assistant with the Washington Wizards. Assistant Jennifer Gillom took over on a moment’s notice, performed well considering the circumstances and seemed to build a rapport with her young players.
During the last offseason, Gillom – without a contract – attracted some interest from Los Angeles. While Gillmon wanted to return to Minnesota, Griffith let her walk and hired longtime WNBA assistant Cheryl Reeve (more on that later). Gillom’s Sparks went 4-0 against her former team this season, a major reason they are headed to the playoffs and the Lynx are not.
Another example this institutional ineptitude and impatience is Lindsey Harding. Harding, the top pick in the 2007 draft who Griffith acquired in a draft day deal with Phoenix for Tangela Smith, was injured during much of her two seasons with the Lynx. Instead of giving a player that he dealt a proven post player for a chance to realize her potential, Griffith sent Harding to Washington for two draft choices, where she has become a star and started every game. The picks were used for reserve center Quantria Hollingsworth and back-up guard Rashanda McCants who is now with Tulsa.
What should be the final straw in Griffith’s tenure is this season’s performance. Despite a talent laden roster and sky-high expectations, the Lynx actually regressed in 2010 winning 13 games after their 14-20 mark in 2009. While the team was hit hard with injuries - Seimone Augustus missed the first 9 games and Candice Wiggins appeared in just 8 contests before a torn Achilles tendon ended her season - the Lynx played in the Western Conference where only Seattle finished with a winning record. Just one solid stretch of basketball would have assured a postseason appearance, but it never happened.
Without her squad at full strength, rookie head coach Cheryl Reeve struggled. The team often looked out of sync and folded down the stretch of close games. 2009 All Stars Nicky Anosike and Charde Houston never acclimated to Reeve’s system and saw their production drop significantly.
Lindsay Whalen, the face of the franchise and Griffith’s signature move, did not work out as planned. The former Gophers star was acquired in January for point guard Renee Montgomery and a swap of top draft picks which turned about to be Tina Charles and Monica Wright. Montgomery compared favorably to Whalen numbers wise, outscoring her 13.3 to 12.6 and shooting 35% behind the 3-point arc to Whalen’s miserable 23%. Montgomery also has more upside; she’s over four years younger than Whalen.
Charles meanwhile, may have been the best player in the trade. The 6-4 center averaged 15.5 points and led the league in rebounding with 11.7 per game. She is a lock for Rookie of the Year. Wright is good a player who will have a long, productive career, but Charles is a perennial MVP candidate.
The final verdict is that the Lynx would have been better off with Montgomery and Charles than they were Whalen and Wright. And let’s face it, if Whalen weren’t a Minnesotan, the trade never would have been made.
A lot of people will make excuses for the Lynx struggles this season and some are valid, but when you look at Roger Griffith’s overall body of work it becomes painfully clear that it is time for him to go.
It’s Roger….over and out!