Lack of cohesion may add up to a lost summer for the Sun

Mohegan — It was before this game, the one the Connecticut Sun would lose at the buzzer, that Curt Miller spoke of both the blessing and the curse of his team:

Depth that is to be envied, to the point that the difference between the perceived best players and the perceived last three or four on the bench is no thicker than dental floss. It’s sort of like walking through the buffet line at Golden Corral unable to make up your mind because it all looks so good.

Funny thing, though: You eat enough of that stuff and your insides begin to gurgle at the combinations chosen.

And this is what’s befallen the Sun, the latest .500 team in the WNBA. All the parts look nice enough, but the combinations are creating basketball’s form of nausea.

“It’s fantastic in some ways to have really good ninth, 10th, 11th and 12th (players) in this league, but you win (with players) 1-8,” Miller said after the 79-76 loss to New York at Mohegan Sun Arena. “When nine 10, 11 and 12 are close or nearly comparable to (players) three and four creates an interesting dynamic in this league.

“New York and us are both going through it,” he said. “Both of us are really deep. There’s not much separation between the best players and 9-12. It creates a dynamic of who do you play and are you pushing the right buttons? Sometimes, it puts doubt in the players. Ten, 11 and 12 view themselves confidently and don’t see much difference. They want to play more and when they don’t they get frustrated.”

And so now the time has come for Miller to learn all over again the Golden Rule of Coaching: This is not a democracy. Rather, it is an autocracy. There is one boss. His (or her) word is sacrosanct.

Except that Miller isn’t running the Sun this way.

Why? He’s too nice. Too interested in everybody’s feelings. Trying to play everybody 20 minutes per game. It’s not working.

The Sun, once 7-1, are 10-10. They arrived at both places the same way: on talent, not cohesion. That’s got to stop. Now.

It’s time for Miller and his coaches to find the “1-8.” Find the eight players that will play the most. Players 9-12 will play more sparingly, or exactly when Miller believes it appropriate. Otherwise, the Great Eight get the most minutes.

Thus far, for example, Jonquel Jones’ season has been a disaster. Jones missed all of camp for “personal reasons” — seems there’s quite a bit of that around here this year — and has yet to rediscover the MVP candidate inside. Jones had 20 double-doubles and a record 404 rebounds last season. She played 13 minutes Wednesday and didn’t score.

“The hardest part is combination,” Miller said. “What and who she plays best with. … Without training camp and practice opportunities in this condensed season, those are things harder to figure out.”

It’s been harder for Jones to play the center spot this season with Chiney Ogwumike’s return. Jones played better last year at center with Alyssa Thomas playing power forward. So here’s an idea: Play Jones at small forward, Thomas at power forward and Ogwumike at center. Jones can make 3-point shots and is long enough defensively to guard on the perimeter.

Unorthodox? Perhaps. But if Jonquel Jones doesn’t become Jonquel Jones again, the Sun won’t win a blessed thing this year.

It’s up to Miller to figure out the other five.

And live with the consequences.

Because what’s happening right now isn’t working.

Excuse time has ended. Yes, the Sun have been handcuffed by lack of practice time (lately), injuries, travel and “personal reasons.” But there are 14 games left and the Sun are Exhibit A of maybe Bill Parcells’ greatest coaching line: You are what your record says you are.

The Sun are an average team with above average talent and below average cohesion.

“It’s my job to figure it out; it’s their job to be efficient when they are on the floor,” Miller said.

Except that I don’t believe the players know their roles as yet. Or are comfortable with them. So let’s define them. These eight play; these four don’t. Or this is going to be a lost summer.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro


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