On Monday, the Indiana Fever addressed their two biggest needs in a pair of moves that became official just hours apart.
When the day opened, the only center on the Fever roster was Teaira McCowan. The bigs who backed up McCowan last season — Bernadett Hatar, Jessica Breland, and Lauren Cox — have joined other franchises. Indiana needed depth behind their lottery selection from 2019.
To acquire said depth, General Manager Tamika Catchings turned to another former lottery pick: 2017 number two overall pick Alaina Coates. Indiana signed Coates, now the second tallest player on the roster, on Monday.
“Alaina is having an excellent overseas campaign in Turkey,” Fever head coach Marianne Stanley said of Coates in a team-issued statement. “She will bring another solid post presence to compete for a roster spot on our team.”
Coates and Fever guard Tiffany Mitchell were teammates in college at the University of South Carolina, and the pair helped the Gamecocks reach the Final Four in 2015. Mitchell and Coates combined for 23 points in USC’s final battle with the University of Notre Dame that season, but they ultimately lost to the Fighting Irish and guard Lindsay Allen, who the Fever just re-signed last week.
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Emma Cannon and Jantel Lavender could fill as Indiana’s backup centers in a pinch, but the Fever needed to add some height to their frontcourt reserve crew. Bringing in Coates does just that. The three-year pro signed a training camp contract, so she will have to fight for a spot on the roster — something Stanley alluded to in the announcement of the signing.
In addition to Indiana’s need for center reinforcements, they also required more talent on the wing. After the weekend concluded, most of Indiana’s perimeter-minded forwards were either better suited to play in a guard role or a frontcourt role.
But on Monday, the Indiana Fever brought back a familiar, talented wing and re-signed Victoria Vivians. Vivians was a first-round pick in 2018 and has spent her entire career in Indiana, and she was a restricted free agent this offseason. The Fever weren’t going to let her get away. She has skills on the perimeter, but also the size to manage obstacles when she is forced to duck in the paint every so often.
“I’m a stretch four, I can shoot it or I can take it off the bounce. I feel like that’s very beneficial for our team,” she said during the 2021 season.
Vivians has had a roller coaster of a career between injuries and role changes in her trio of seasons. Yet she is still an underrated piece for the team in the Circle City. The Fever’s offense was a full point per 100 possessions better with the Mississippi State product on the court, but on defense its impact was even more obvious — Indiana had a defensive rating that was five points per 100 possessions better with Vivians in the game compared to when she sat on the bench.
Yeah, the Fever needed her back.
“We had to bounce around a lot with her this year, playing the three, then ended up having to move to the four, which she really really excelled at,” Catchings said of Vivians last season.
Vivians, like Chelsey Perry did earlier this offseason, signed her qualifying offer. That means she is on an unprotected training camp deal heading into this season, though she still has a great chance to make the Fever’s final roster.
“Victoria has proven to be a versatile scorer in our league since her rookie season. It was extremely encouraging to see her play all of last season and it is a positive sign for her heading into this upcoming season,” Stanley noted of Vivains in the Fever’s release about the signing.
The Coates and Vivians additions bring the Indiana Fever roster to 12. And that doesn’t include the three first-round selections the franchise has in the 2022 draft. Catchings will have some tough decisions to make when determining who should be on Indiana’s final roster, and there are several candidates to be waived after training camp. Coates, in particular, may need a strong preseason to make the Fever’s regular season roster. But it may depend on who Indiana selects in the draft.
The Indiana Fever have filled all of their immediate needs, so they may not make too much more noise on the free agency front, though they could use a tad more depth on the wing. If the franchise decides to do anything else substantial on the team-building front, a trade is more likely than a signing. But the Fever appear ready to add youth to a similar roster they had last season and hope that they can improve thanks to internal development. After going 5-4 during the months of July and August last season — the two healthiest months the roster had — it may be a sound plan even if it seems crazy from the 1,000 foot view. But with many draft picks in hand, Indiana’s offseason is far from over.