Regional Sports

Smith knows she’s coaching for her job

Second-year Liberty head coach Katie Smith played basketball her entire life. She knows what’s the deal with coaches. They don’t stay long if they pile up losses after losses.

Smith knows she won’t be retained next season if the Liberty don’t improve from their 7-27 record last season. She works for a new owner in Brooklyn Nets minority owner Joseph Tsai, who is going to want to hire his own management team if he doesn’t see results. She was fortunate that Tsai brought the team in January or she may have been fired. She stayed on with the team being in transition.

The Liberty took another loss Tuesday afternoon by losing 78-73 to the Los Angeles Sparks at the Westchester County Center. Not only they are 0-3 in this young season, but they lost 16 in a row going back to last season. This does not help Smith’s standing with new ownership. It won’t matter if it’s fair to her or not. It’s part of the deal that comes with coaching in professional leagues.

Smith looked frustrated after the game by rushing to the locker room after a quick handshake with former Knicks head coach Derek Fisher, who is now the Sparks head coach. It’s understandable with what she’s going through.

I say this with empathy about Smith because this was supposed to be her big break in coaching. After what basketball meant to her all her life, her idea to give back to the game was to get into coaching and mentoring young players. She paid her dues working as an assistant coach to ex-Liberty coach Bill Laimbeer when they were members of the then-Detroit Shock and with the Liberty. She was a great college basketball player. She contributed so much to the game of basketball that put her into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame and the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

It has been a nightmare instead for a coach learning on the job. The team departed from Madison Square Garden to an arena that is small and not capable for basketball standards. Failed Knicks owner James Dolan sabotaged the team to be so bad by not investing money to build a proper infrastructure that would put the Liberty in a position to do well. He wanted no part of owning the Liberty, so he made them be so bad that he was more than happy to sell it.

Dolan’s behavior turned out to be a blessing for the Liberty. That troubled franchise received a cleansing they needed. Think of it as the Los Angeles Clippers being cleansed after NBA commissioner Adam Silver banned disgraced Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life.

But it also turned out to be a curse for Smith. Yes, she benefits from a do over, but she knows she will be made an example of Tsai if the Liberty don’t win because she was part of the previous regime that held the Liberty back. Any association with Dolan is a negative when the Liberty moved forward from a forgettable era.

The Liberty did their head coach no favors this offseason by not improving the team. Yes, they resigned Tina Charles, Amanda Zahui B. and Brittany Boyd, but that was it. They drafted Asia Durr and Han Xu, but to expect them to be stars right away is unrealistic.

The Liberty made the right choice to go young. They are far away from contending in the WNBA, and they need to build a foundation around Durr and Xu. They may have to trade Charles to get even more younger. In other words, the Liberty want their fans to trust the process.

Of course, this does not help Smith. She has to win now. Her players need to grow up quickly.

The Liberty lost another winnable game to the Sparks after poor shooting down the stretch and 16 turnovers. They also failed to box out at times. It’s the little things the Liberty have to master before they get better. That requires so much teaching and work by Smith and her staff.

No one said it would be easy. Smith knew it when she signed on to be the Liberty head coach.

Eventually, the rainbow has to appear after all these rainy days. That means the wins have to come as a result of those growing pains.

Smith hopes it’s sooner rather than later.

No one suggests the Liberty should make the playoffs or have a winning record for her to keep her job. But progress has to come from winning consistently and putting on a better product.

These three games should not indicate what the Liberty are since they just started.

But Tsai will want to see this team be better as the season goes on or else he will find someone who can bring results.

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