The decision for former Las Vegas Aces head coach Bill Laimbeer to leave the franchise may have come as a surprise to many outside the organization but inside, it was the best kept secret.
In his first media availability in about eight months, Laimbeer was pretty candid in the reason for his departure.
“Last year, it was clear to myself and to some of the players that I was running out of energy,” the 65-year old said. “You’ve got to do this job with tremendous energy. I just ran my course in the coaching ranks.”
In four years at the helm for Las Vegas, Laimbeer compiled a 77-45 overall record two trips to the conference finals and one trip to the WNBA Finals.
Following the team’s most recent playoff exit at the hands of the Phoenix Mercury, Laimbeer knew his decision was imminent.
“I told all the players at the exit interviews, ‘At this point in time I am going to come back,’” Laimbeer said. “Because I didn’t really have an alternative. I told [Aces President Nikki Fargas], ‘If I’m forced into doing it, I’ll do it. But I think it’s the wrong move.’”
Former No. 1 overall pick Jackie Young was drafted by Laimbeer along with fellow former No. 1 overall pick A’ja Wilson.
“It was cool having him here,” Young said. “I mean he drafted me. He was just telling me how proud he was of me after – I don’t know if I’m [his] favorite or not but it was fun having him here.”
Laimbeer was recognized by the Aces franchise as part of “Bill Laimbeer Night” Thursday, May 19.
That night, Laimbeer, along with his daughter Keri, sat under one of the baskets on the baseline in a white golf shirt with pink and turquoise markings. Not a sound came from the former coach as he watched the game from his spectator’s seat.
“I’ve got to thank [owner Mark Davis] and Nikki for bringing me in here with my family,” Laimbeer said. “They took care of us, got a nice hotel room, dinners and things like that. It was wonderful, it was a really quality thing to do.
“It’s my first time seeing the players – I still haven’t told them why I left. They know it but I haven’t told them yet.”
Las Vegas beat Minnesota by six points in front of its former coach while improving its new head coach, Becky Hammon’s record to 5-1 in the process.
Prior to Hammon’s arrival, Laimbeer was vocal in pushing for his replacement.
“I encouraged [Fargas] to go out and find my replacement,” Laimbeer said. “Our franchise is very high-profile and we’re still in the [beginning] stage, get somebody with high-profile basketball credibility.”
Laimbeer also held up a mirror to himself and confronted some harsh realities. As part of that, he admitted to what he believed would be an inability to adapt.
“I enjoyed today because I watched the players play a different style than I coached,” Laimbeer said on Bill Laimbeer Night. “My style got us to a point, it didn’t win – we came close but we didn’t win so it’s somebody else’s time.”
In addition, he admitted that at this stage of his career, his paint-dominant style offense was “probably” not going to change.
Under new leadership, Las Vegas are 7-1 so far this season and lead the league in scoring, field goal percentage and three-point percentage.
“If I had stayed around also I would’ve prohibited some of this growth,” Laimbeer said. “I told my wife as I was watching the first game and I said, ‘Holy crap, they actually boxed out which I never could get them to do.’”
While he isn’t coaching anymore, he has been and is still active in helping the Aces organization where he can.
Some of those things included organizing plane schedules and hotels along with salary cap and roster building input including extensions.
Young and guard Chelsea Gray have already signed contract extensions this season.
Even with more than 40 years of basketball experience under his belt, Laimbeer acknowledges the unique spot he finds himself in.
“When I go, it’s very important that I do not reach back and stick my fingers in anything,” Laimbeer said. “Fortunately, or unfortunately, I’ve been a very high-profile presence in all the organizations I’ve been in and I do believe the new regime has to come in and make their own decisions.”
The word “unclear” made several appearances during Laimbeer’s availability; however, he did make one thing crystal clear.
“I never want to coach again,” he said. “I just don’t have that kind of energy, I don’t have that willpower – it’s an all-consuming thing.”
As it presently stands, Laimbeer is not living in Las Vegas. Instead opting to spend his time on his farm in Michigan.
While the word retirement has been tossed around, Laimbeer has only accepted it in the realm of coaching and nothing beyond.
“Whether I participate in basketball going forward – I don’t know,” he said. “It’s too early to tell, I just had six months off. I’ve never spent a summer on my farm in Michigan. And I’ve had it for over 20 years now and I’ve never been there during summertime so I’m looking forward to that.
“But as for what the future holds, I don’t really have a solid handle on that.”