Frustration With Mystics' Direction Points to GM
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Linda Hargrove receives e-mails from fans almost daily proposing that one trade or one draft pick would cure all of the Washington Mystics' ailments. If only it were that simple.
"This wasn't a year I started feeling great," Hargrove said earlier this month. "I know this team has deficiencies. We all knew that coming into the season. I think we've all been frustrated with it."
Hargrove's fourth season as Mystics general manager was the worst of her tenure, both in record -- the Mystics finished 10-24 -- and morale. The team transitioned to its fourth coach in five years by firing Tree Rollins on July 19 and promoting Jessie Kenlaw, the 10th coach in the franchise's 11-year history. Washington finished the season with a nine-game losing streak and players acknowledged after the final game Sunday that the team must change if it is ever to win consistently.
Washington is 60-78 during Hargrove's time as general manager, a record that is typical of the organization's mediocre history. She has been the most prominent presence on the WNBA team's basketball operations side since Lincoln Holdings LLC purchased the Mystics in 2005.
But as the team continued to founder this season, fans called for wholesale changes, beginning with Hargrove. When team president and managing partner Sheila Johnson held a question-and-answer session with reporters in August, her biggest criticisms -- the team's "lack of talent" and the absence of a "long-term plan" -- appeared to be indictments of the general manager.
When asked about Hargrove's effectiveness, Johnson said: "She's done a wonderful job. . . . Just like everybody else she's going to start to be held to a higher standard." That has done little to quell speculation about Hargrove's job security. Hargrove, 58, enters the offseason with one year remaining on her contract.
"Anytime you're in a position of power and particularly the position that Linda Hargrove is in without a consistent coaching presence, the GM is usually held responsible for the makeup of the product that's on the floor," said Doris Burke, a longtime WNBA analyst for ESPN. "They absolutely take responsibility for who a team is and, in this case, who the Mystics are."
Hargrove's first WNBA experience was from 2000 to 2002 as general manager and head coach of the Portland Fire. She went 37-59 in Portland, where Kenlaw was one of her assistant coaches. The Fire failed to make the playoffs all three years of its existence. Before the team disbanded, the decision had already been made not to renew Hargrove's contract.
Hargrove then spent two years as a scout and assistant coach with the Mystics before being named general manager in February 2005.
She said there are two main ways to improve a WNBA franchise: free agency and the draft. Because the Mystics' draft picks consistently fell between No. 6 and 8 in the first round, Hargrove explained: "You can't make a big move with your team. You've got to have a couple number one or number two picks to show drastic improvement.
"But we've never been reluctant to take a chance and make a move," Hargrove continued. "If we feel like a move is going to help our franchise we've been there to do it."
Hargrove has made one significant trade in each year of her tenure -- decisions that sought to address specific weaknesses.