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Laimbeer really was the best option for New York to succeed

Bill Laimbeer has won three WNBA championships. This is his second WNBA Coach of the Year award (2003). Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images

What to do with the coach when a team is struggling or not meeting ownership expectations? Figure out if there's a coach you definitely can hire whom you feel very sure can get you better results. If not, then why fire the coach you have?

Anyway, that's always been my philosophy as an outside observer to these situations. Does change for change's sake ever really work well? Sure, it might shake up a team, but that's not effective long-term (and often not even short-term) for changing results.

Yet firing the coach without a firm idea what the replacement will really be like is something that happens all the time in sports. And it seems that's what occurred last October when the New York Liberty parted ways with Bill Laimbeer.

What's different about this situation, though, is the organization changed its mind a few months later and asked Laimbeer to return to the helm. He accepted. Now he's the WNBA Coach of the Year, and the Liberty have the league's best record as they enter the playoffs.

So what happened last October with Laimbeer and the Liberty?

We might never know for sure. I'm not aware of anybody -- except confirmed Laimbeer-haters -- who thought it was a good idea when the Liberty let him go.

The team had not been to the playoffs in his two seasons in New York, but it seemed clear the Liberty weren't far away in 2014. He'd won three WNBA championships when he was with the Detroit Shock, as he had proven back in the early 2000s to be one of the "older NBA guys" who was actually able to quickly familiarize himself with the women's game, the personnel and the strategies.

With the Liberty, he was in his second go-around in the WNBA after leaving the Shock during the 2009 season for what turned into a not-very-pleasant experience coaching in the NBA.

"The men's league is a brutal, brutal, brutal sport," Laimbeer said last October about the environment he found himself in as an assistant in the NBA. "Would I have an opportunity to be a head coach in the men's league? I doubt that, at this point. I think that's passed me by."

He was being pragmatic. He didn't want to be an assistant, and becoming an NBA head coach seemed like an unrealistic goal. So the WNBA was his best option, and he sounded content with that because he understood how to win in the league, and the players listened to him.

So why were the Liberty cutting him lose when it appeared, to most of us outside observers, he really was the best option for the team to succeed?

The day the Liberty announced they were not bringing him back, I spoke with Laimbeer, and he didn't have anything negative to say about the organization. He didn't sound upset or angry.

He explained how the former Detroit Shock organization was different from New York. In Detroit, Laimbeer felt that as coach and general manager, he had a lot of autonomy and answered to only one person: the president and CEO of the Pistons and Shock.

With Madison Square Garden, which owns the Liberty, Laimbeer thought there were a lot of cooks in the kitchen. Although, that's my phrase for it. The phrase he used was, "They've got a lot of moving pieces."

My biggest frustration with the Liberty, who are an original WNBA franchise, had always been that there were people who had power -- at least in name -- with the organization but were not entirely engaged with the Liberty.

But I also knew Kristin Bernert, senior vice president of business operations, is plugged into the Liberty, and with her history in the WNBA, she truly understands the league.

So when I heard during the winter months -- from sources outside the Liberty -- Bernert was being somewhat kept in the dark about the plan for replacing Laimbeer, I just shook my head. If that was the case, it was the Liberty being the Liberty, in a bad way.

Then in January -- viola! -- Laimbeer was back. Furthermore, he didn't even sound all that surprised about it, almost as if he anticipated the whole thing going the way it did, as strange as that sounds.

Then in May, another shoe dropped when Isiah Thomas was named team president and given an ownership share, although the latter issue requires approval from the Board of Governors and has been tabled for now.

The Thomas announcement brought a wave of bad publicity for MSG head James Dolan and the Liberty, which was well-deserved. Thomas was at the center of a sexual-harassment lawsuit that cost MSG $11 million in 2007, and neither Thomas nor Dolan has shown the least contrition for what took place.

But in the middle of this mess was Laimbeer. He prepared the team for the season and attempted to shift the focus toward the players and away from his former NBA teammate Thomas. While at the same time, trying to appear supportive of the team's new president.

Looking back now, is it possible that late last year, Dolan actually considered making Thomas the Liberty's coach then realized that really would be a disaster? Did that -- or some other grand plan -- fall through, leaving the Liberty to go back to Laimbeer?

Well, whatever the case, Laimbeer did his job this season. His players appear to relate to him well, and he hasn't tried to make the Liberty a carbon copy of what worked for him with the Shock. Yes, there are elements that are the same, but the personality of the squads seem different.

While in Detroit, the Shock were -- as former assistant and current Minnesota head coach Cheryl Reeve terms it -- "functionally dysfunctional." The Liberty don't have that vibe. They seem confident and cohesive, disciplined and hungry to win. If they also have a little of the "Laimbeer edge," it's not a bad thing.

The Thomas situation isn't any more palatable, but that's not something the players, or Laimbeer and his staff, have a say about. The Liberty fans for the most part seem to be focusing on their team and not on the sideshow MSG ownership tends to be with all its properties.

Sure, Laimbeer has his critics. The cat-and-mouse game he sometimes plays with the media can be a little grating, but most coaches do that at least to some degree. Not as many seem to enjoy it as much as he does -- but, hey, that's Bill.

He has contributed some positive things to the WNBA while with two different organizations. He had my vote for coach of the year this season. It's lucky for New York he didn't spend the past several months fishing and otherwise passing time away from the WNBA. Because it seems unlikely the Liberty would be in the same position they are now without him.