When she made the move, it made all the sense in the world.
Who better to usher the Indiana Fever into its next era of contention than the person who led them to a trio of WNBA Finals appearances and a title?
Two years later, Tamika Catchings is moving on from her role as vice president of basketball operations and general manager. She leaves behind a franchise that has been the worst in the league since her playing days ended. Since 2017, the Indiana Fever have the worst winning percentage (40-116, .256) of any team in the WNBA, NBA, NFL or NHL.
“While change is never easy, now it’s time to take a step back from my role as General Manager, take a well-earned rest, and prioritize my family, my philanthropy, our community, and my other passions,” she said in a statement.
More:10 difference-makers the Indiana Fever could take at No. 2 in 2022 WNBA Draft
Catchings’ short-lived and tumultuous tenure as Fever executive doesn’t diminish her impact on the franchise’s past successes. The greatest player to don a Fever uniform retired as a four-time Olympic gold medalist, a 10-time All-Star, a Hall of Famer and a WNBA champion. She remains an iconic Indianapolis figure, and will continue to make an impact through her philanthropic efforts.
However, her time as the franchise’s general manager was nothing short of a disaster.
She took over for Pokey Chatman in January 2020, who led the team to a 28-74 record in three seasons as the team’s general manager and coach. During her introductory press conference, Catchings said roles she had taken after her retirement, as a member of the USA Basketball Development Committee and the Fever vice president of basketball operations, had prepared her to be the franchise’s general manager.
“You have to evaluate, you have to scout, you have to talk to players,” she said. “All the things that it takes to be a GM, I’ve been preparing to do the last three years.”
She said she was excited to work with Marianne Stanley, who Catchings had played a role in hiring as the team’s next coach to replace Chatman.
“As a player you remember me as being super inclusive and being a team player. As we look at our roster, we look at free agency, we look at the college players, getting out and going to a variety of games,” she said “We’ve been attached at the hip, sitting in the room going through our roster.”
In 2020, a season significantly altered by the pandemic, a lack of training camp and injuries, the team went 6-16. The team got off to a 5-7 start, including a win over the eventual WNBA champion Seattle Storm, but it won just one game the rest of the season.
Lauren Cox, selected third overall in the 2020 draft, averaged just 2.6 points and 2.7 rebounds in 25 games before being waived in June 2021.
The struggles continued in 2021, as the team finished 6-26. Kyrese Gondrezick, selected fourth overall in the draft, managed just 1.9 points through 19 games before stepping away for personal reasons. She was cut from the team in January.
Midway through the season, team president Alison Barber preached patience
“With our fans, they’re not only loyal, but patient, and that’s an important quality,” Barber said. “When you’re rebuilding your team like we are with new coaches, athletes, players from the draft and bringing veterans on to our team, so you always want loyal fans, but you really need loyal and patient fans.”
At the time, Barber said Catchings “has that intentionality and purpose to help our team members to be great. And that’s the sign of a true leader who is using their abilities to help other people grow.”
Lin Dunn, who led the franchise to a trio of WNBA Finals appearances and the 2012 championship from 2008-2014, will take over as interim general manager and senior advisor for Fever Basketball Operations.
She figures to make moves that will dictate the team’s chances of short-term contention and long-term success — the team picks second in April’s draft. Stanley is currently expected to return for his third season as the team’s coach. The team returns its three leading scorers from last season in Kelsey Mitchell, Tiffany Mitchell and Teaira McCowan. But a team that averaged the second-fewest points per game in the league last season needs help.
The team finds itself at a crossroads once again, just as it did when Catchings took over two seasons ago. Meanwhile, the franchise icon moves on.
“I’m excited for all that’s on the horizon,” she said, “but whatever comes next I will always be a part of the Fever family.”