Here's the link from Thursday's Q & A with Sun coach Mike Thibault. Here's some of what didn't get into the story ...
Bulletin: Compared to last offseason, which was extremely busy with this team, the new CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) and the U.S. national team, how do you see this offseason playing out?
Thibault: We’re still going to be, hopefully, active in the free agent market. We don’t need a wholesale makeover, but we need a couple things to be better. Some of it just may be in how our young players develop. If Sandrine (Gruda) and Amber (Holt) and Kerri (Gardin), Ketia (Swanier), can all continue to improve in the offseason, that will solve some of the issues. But I don’t think I can be comfortable in hoping for that.
Those players need to understand that there’s going to be competition for their jobs. That’s the only way we’re going to get better. And if they improve enough, they’ll still be the ones with jobs. But we didn’t the whole thing, but you have to hope you get better to give yourself a chance to do it.
Bulletin: For as good as the first-year players have played, the biggest thing for rookies who excel in their first year sometimes is that second year, when the league knows them (and their game). Is that why you’re not quick to just rely on them improving?
Thibault: I think we won’t get better if they don’t, or if somebody has to be that person. And that’s not to put pressure on them because every year I expect our veterans to get better, too. I’ve had some very pointed talks with the veterans and I have one more to do. My expectations for them are for in certain areas to get better. I’m not going to say out loud what the expectations, but when I’m done with everything before November, every player on this team will have a very clear picture from of what my expectations are if they want to be a part of this. It’s not a threat or anything. It’s just what it is.
If you’re not going forward, you’re probably in this league going backwards a little bit. Standing still is not real good.
Bulletin: What was the main theme of your exit interviews with the players?
Thibault: Most of it was positive but there were specific things for each player that I had kind of been keeping notes on throughout the season. I don’t usually give them a large thing, and I’ll tell them what I’m happy about and everything. But I usually have two or three things that I’ll say, ‘You need to get better at this, for yourself and for us.’ Like the young players, by the time you’ve played a year, people know how to play you. If you stay the same, you’re not getting better.
For some players, it’s shooting. For some players, it’s ball-handling skills. For some players, it’s their level of conditioning. It could be a number of things.
Bulletin: Where does Tamika Raymond stand? (Note: Raymond is one of the Sun's two unrestricted free agents, Svetlana Abrosimova being the other)
Thibault: She’s in a different situation. She was coming off a contract that was long term at the max dollars in this league. Her with us will be a discussion whenever we’re allowed to do contract discussions, as far as what we can do in the cap. I want her here, her teammates want her here, I think she wants to be here. It’s just going to be a negotiation. I think she understands her role here, what she brings. She has a great other job (as an assistant at Kansas), which probably helps diminish the pressure on her to view her position in this league differently. She has a really good sense of self, better than most players I’ve ever coached. She knows I want her there, as much as for the basketball as the intangibles.
Bulletin: Hearing you talk, it sounds like you want to bring this whole group back and then you bring on other people and let training camp sort it out. Is that how it kind of looks?
Thibault: Yeah, for the most part. The only other issue that could come into effect, and I don’t know if it will, we’re in a pretty good situation salary cap-wise. There’s some free agents out there in the league that we would like to be in the hunt for that could change the salary cap structure of our team. But we for sure can take on one max contract and with some tweaking, we could possible take on two. When we didn’t have Nykesha (Sales) or Margo (Dydek) come back, that freed up money for us for the future.
Bulletin: Where does Nykesha stand? She’s up on your board (of players) …
Thibault: She’s there because we own her rights.
Bulletin: How long do you own her rights for?
Thibault: (Shrugs shoulders) Forever. If she wants to play somewhere else, she has to help us organize a trade.
Bulletin: You’ve said in the past you weren't sure if she would come back here.
Thibault: I haven’t talked to her in a while, so I don’t know what she feels right now. But I know a year ago at this time, it was a real struggle for her to be herself, going through what it takes just to be healthy enough to play every day. She can make so much more money playing overseas, that from a business standpoint it makes more sense for her to put all her energy into that where she can make more money. I’m not trying to put words in her mouth, but from a business standpoint, it just makes more sense.
We’ll have a conversation at some point, but right now, I’m just trying to sort out the (players) we have. And the longer you’re out, it’s harder to come back and be in a groove.
Bulletin: You talk about a lot of things from her perspective, but what is it like from (this team’s) perspective?
Bulletin: From our perspective, we’ve invested a lot this past year in the young players who took her place. With Amber and Kerri and Svet and Barb (Turner), our team has probably moved on. Nostalgia is just what it is.