“Two, Seven, Ten.”
Indiana Fever interim General Manager Lin Dunn repeated those three numbers several times, roughly a half-dozen, at her introductory press conference in Gainbridge Fieldhouse last week. It’s a reunion for Dunn, and she is now back with the franchise that she guided to a WNBA Championship as head coach in 2012. But now, she’s the GM, and that trio of numbers means everything to her.
Those digits represent the Fever’s first-round draft picks coming up this spring, where they will pick second, seventh, and tenth overall. In turn, those numbers represent the Fever’s best chance at improvement. The franchise has been stuck in the basement of the WNBA for the past half-decade, and those draft selections provide the team a path out of their current sunken place.
Dunn took over in Indiana just a few weeks ago in the wake of Tamika Catchings stepping down from her post. Her goal is to build on Catchings’ moves from the past three winters, and she even complimented the moves Indiana made during the 2022 free agency period.
“We did a really good job in free agency, and I want to give Tamika credit for that,” Dunn stated. “We re-signed some players we needed to re-sign. We made a really good trade for Bria Hartley and got some more draft picks. The draft is coming up in the spring and I’m optimistic about it.”
Dunn’s analysis is logical. Indiana made smart deals, brought back the right vets, and added talented young pieces in February. It was, all things considered, the best free agency period of Catchings’ tenure as GM. The rebuilding Fever got better.
Now, Dunn wants to build on those positive steps and take the Indianapolis-based team to the next level. To do that, in her eyes, the upcoming season is all about improvement.
“Today what I want to talk about is improvement. That’s what we’re going to do this year. We’re going to improve, we’re going to get better,” Dunn shared during her opening statement. Later, when she was asked about goals for this Fever team, she echoed those comments. “Our goal right now is to get better and to improve… I don’t want to say, ‘hey, we’re going to make the playoffs.’ No, we’re going to get better. And if we get enough improvement, then maybe we’ll challenge for the playoffs. But I don’t want to put any pressure on anybody right now.”
Any advancements made by the Fever over last season will be a welcome sight; they have struggled mightily in the past few campaigns. And simply improvement stating as a goal is a shift in philosophy for the franchise — before Dunn took over, reaching the postseason was seen as the target, and one that Dunn even suggested could be out of reach.
Becoming a playoff team is a natural objective for any struggling group. But it is likely too high of a bar for Indiana to clear in the coming season. They are still a key piece or two away from becoming a team that plays in October, and expecting a postseason berth in the 2022 season seemed unrealistic.
Improvement, however, is a practical goal and one that could ultimately set up the Fever to be a postseason team in the future. Incremental improvements are vital in getting a team out of the WNBA cellar, and Lin Dunn realizes that already.
Another factor at play for the red and blue that makes improvement a sensible goal — they will have a similar roster in 2022 to the one they had in 2021. Indiana’s top-six players in minutes last season are all returning for another campaign, including eight of the top-nine in playing time. Having that much continuity will make it much easier to evaluate how much the team is improving.
“I think if we do the right things in this draft, if our core players that are overseas now come back better, then we have a situation where we will improve,” the interim GM declared.
With free agency done, and much of the roster from last season coming back, the best way for the Indiana Fever to improve in 2022 may be through the aforementioned draft, where Dunn stated that she needs to do the right things. Since the team from the Circle City has three first-round picks, they could dramatically change their core and fortunes on draft night.
Don’t forget those three numbers. Two, seven and ten. Lin Dunn won’t let them escape anyone’s mind, and for good reason. This draft is the Fever’s best chance to get back on track, especially in the short term.
“Our challenge is to use those three picks the best way possible,” Dunn said. “So that the end of the draft, we are significantly better, we’ve made improvement, and we’re moving forward.”
Dunn views talent evaluation as one of her biggest strengths. She has sharpened that skill often throughout her career. Dunn drafted Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson as General Manager of the Seattle Storm, a former role Dunn held that will help her tremendously in her work with the Fever. The 74-year-old saw what the best talent can do when she coached Indiana to a WNBA championship in 2012 and two other Finals appearances. In addition, she learned what can make younger players grow as an assistant at the University of Kentucky. Dunn has worn many hats in her career, and they all have elevated her abilities as a talent evaluator.
Partially because of that scouting mastery, Lin Dunn is uniquely positioned to help the Indiana Fever in the upcoming draft. She also acknowledged that the Fever could go in many different ways with their selection strategy come draft night.
“When you draft in the first round, you are looking at ‘who are the best players available’? Dunn shared. “By the time we get to 10, I may say, ‘okay, what do we need now? I’ve taken a great player at two. I’ve taken a great player at seven. And we’re excited about that. And then I’ll look there and say, ‘okay, we’re going to take the next best player, or do we need a power forward? Or do we need a backup point guard?’” Dunn detailed. The best player available is the right plan for a team coming off of a six-win season. “So I think I have a plan what we’re going to do with two, seven, and ten.”
There’s a ton Dunn can do come draft night since his team owns 25% of all 2022 first-round picks. She is excited about that, and those picks act as the Fever’s best shot at showing improvement this year. If the franchise will achieve their now-stated goals, it will be because of a successful draft night with two, seven, and ten.
Something Else Dunn is excited about is simply being back with the Fever. She regretted not wearing her championship ring to her introductory press conference, but being a short distance away in Lexington the last few years has allowed Dunn to keep her eyes on the team, which made jumping back over to the WNBA and coming out of retirement feasible . And her connections to the franchise, both geographically and emotionally, made Indiana the only place Dunn would exit retirement for.
“I wouldn’t go back to another franchise. This would be the only place that I would consider coming out of retirement,” she vocalized. “I’ve retired several times. It’s kind of like Cher,” she joked before reiterating that she would not have considered working in any capacity for a different team. Only one organization was going to be able to bring in Lin Dunn for a new chapter of her life.
And really, a lot is new for Dunn. The league as a whole is fresh compared to her coaching days. The stadium the Fever play in is different, in both name and design. The ethos of the franchise is entirely different. It’s all pristine for Dunn.
But what isn’t new to Lin Dunn is evaluating talent and growing it. And that is exactly what the Indiana Fever needs her to do. Armed with picks two, seven, and ten, and partnered with a Basketball Hall of Fame Finalist coach in Marianne Stanley, Dunn could be able to guide Indiana to improve quickly. That is the goal, after all.