Sun's Miller succeeding in keeping his best players at home
The Connecticut Sun had enough drama to fuel a year's worth of soap opera storylines when Curt Miller was hired as head coach in Dec. 2015.
Among Miller's top priorities in Year 1 was to create a family atmosphere with the fractured Sun. "Championships are won in the locker room," was among of his most commonly used phrases.
It's noteworthy, then, that starting guards Alex Bentley and Jasmine Thomas both resigned with the Sun over the past several days. They wanted to stay in Connecticut, a place that top talent has avoided like Siberia.
"It's all a process," Miller said. "One of the things since I was hired and made a point about doing is trying to increase the visibility of Connecticut being a desirable location, and a place that attracts free agents so that we don't always have to build through trades and the draft.
"An area that we attacked is that it's a great environment to be in, and that begins with my belief that championships are built in the locker room; trying to build a family."
Connecticut has been a hard sell for free agents even when it was among the WNBA's best teams. Kara Lawson has been the biggest signing since the team moved from Orlando to Mohegan in 2003.
Imagine, then, what it's been like for the Sun to attract talent when they went into a shame spiral. They were 38-64 from 2013-15, the worst three-year stretch in franchise history. Only the San Antonio Stars had a worse record (36-66) over that time. Tina Charles, the 2012 MVP, and Lawson both demanded to be traded after the 2013 season.
"No question, one of the toughest challenges is that after these pros spend six months in Russia and Turkey and China and South Korea, their first choice is not to be in one of the small markets in the WNBA," Miller said. "(They) are more attracted to large markets after six months that they spent overseas. We're trying to change that perception; that Connecticut is a great destination."
The Sun had a franchise-worst 3-13 start last season before suddenly coming together. They went 11-7 over their last 18 games — including 8-4 in the final 12. Miller hopes that finish becomes a selling point.
"Part of the process that is really, really important is that your veterans and higher profile players have bought into the culture and bought into the direction that the team is headed," Miller said. "So when they're out there having dinner with players from other teams, they're talking about having a positive experience in Connecticut and how we're trending in the right direction."
Players over the years have either signed with, or demanded to be traded, to WNBA teams that are located in major cities or closer to their homes.
Becky Hammon wanted out of the New York Liberty after eight seasons and was traded to San Antonio in 2007.
Cappie Pondexter won a WNBA title with the Phoenix Mercury in 2009, and then was traded during the offseason at her request to the New York Liberty.
Elena Delle Donne, the 2015 WNBA MVP, was shipped to the Washington Mystics last week after demanding the Chicago Sky trade her. Kristi Toliver signed with Washington this week after winning a WNBA championship with the Los Angeles Sparks last season.
The Sun haven't enjoyed that kind of good fortune.
"We believe our franchise does as good a job if not better than anyone in the league in intangibles and services available to players," Miller said. "We spare no expense to have a professional trainer and a professional strength coach, and have hired other personnel that other teams may not have. We're genuinely trying to show all these great players that they're going to be treated first class and have a lot of things that may not be available in other markets."