TULSA _We can’t say absolutely for sure what the Tulsa Shock’s first season could have been like if key components had stayed on board for the move to Oklahoma. If Katie Smith were here instead of Washington. If Deanna Nolan and Cheryl Ford also were playing here, instead of sitting out the WNBA season.
If they’d all been on the Shock roster, would Plenette Pierson have found coach Nolan Richardson’s system more palatable, and not been so miserable that she was traded to New York? Would Shavonte Zellous somehow not have been dealt for a 2011 draft pick?
If all of those players were competing for Tulsa, I do feel pretty confident saying the Shock likely would not have any four-point quarters, as they did Saturday in the second period against the Mystics in a 69-54 loss.
Admittedly, four-point “outputs” in a quarter have happened to WNBA teams before: to Los Angeles (2006), Seattle (2007) and Washington (2007). But it seems hard to picture the Shock teams we saw win two WNBA titles _ and nearly a third _ in the previous four seasons struggle that much to score.
Then again, it seems hard to picture that Shock group in now-golden uniforms playing in the Bible Belt instead of the Rust Belt. So there seemed little point in asking Smith about any feelings she might have had in regard to playing the Shock on Saturday, because it really wasn’t a case of her facing her former team. It was in name, only.
There are only two holdovers left from the last squad in Detroit. Kara Braxton is still on the Shock and as enigmatic on court as always. Alexis Hornbuckle is still all over the place playing defense and competing with the energy of someone on a first-place team, not one in last place. Saturday, she crashed into the courtside fans trying to save the ball. On June 25, I saw her do the same thing trying to make a steal at the end of the game – with the Shock down double digits _ against the Liberty.
Hornbuckle says it’s just her competitive mentality, and it is that … but it also tells you a lot about her competitive character, which is most revealed in how athletes respond when nothing is going very well for them. And I would say, in general, that’s what I’ve seen from the Shock as a whole: They’re still trying.
They’ve lost 10 games in a row. They don’t have even one proven big-time scorer, let alone two or three as is needed to win in the WNBA. They are a team of role players without anyone to play a starring role.
But they haven’t given up. They aren’t mailing it in. And neither are their fans. The spectators aren’t filling up the BOK Center, obviously. But the ones who do come stay engaged. They cheer everything the Shock does well and crank up the noise as best they can when mascot Volt asks them to. They yell at the officials and shout out encouragement to players.
I don’t want to put some absurd smiley face on what has been so far a bummer of an inaugural season in which the Tulsa Shock are trying to figure out how to be a real professional franchise. But I do want to give credit to effort, and the bulk of the Shock roster and the majority of the fans are giving that.
What opponents keep saying is, “Well, they are tough to play. They do make you work.” And the foes don’t say it in a condescending, patronizing way. More like, “Wow, good thing for us they don’t pose much of an offensive threat. Otherwise …”
Once it became known that Smith, Nolan and Ford weren’t coming to Tulsa, expectations for the “new” Shock’s first season tumbled, of course. And the moves Richardson has made since did not upgrade the product. It’s just unrealistic to think that someone can just step into women’s basketball – or any endeavor with which they previously had no experience – and perform on par with those who’ve spent several years or their entire careers in the sport.
But can Richardson’s learning curve be relatively quick? Maybe, if he and the Shock management really do plan to be in this for the long haul. How much fortitude they all have could become evident with how they deal with the second half of this season.
The bizarre thing is, as “last place” as the 3-13 Shock surely look, Tulsa is nowhere near being out of the playoff race. In fact, thanks the entire Western Conference besides Seattle being far under .500, the Shock is even in striking distance of second place.
Now, do I think the Shock is somehow going to grab one of the three West playoff spots behind Seattle? No. But will they win at least one more game? Yes, I think so.
That’s not much to look forward to for the franchise or its fans in 2010. But it’s the nature of being an expansion team, and that’s truly what Tulsa is, not a “relocating” one. And so if you’re a Shock supporter, you look for smaller rays of light.
You breathe a big sigh of relief that Hornbuckle’s injury on Saturday night turned out to be a sprained ankle, rather than a problem with her knee. She did grab her knee when she went down, but it wasn’t actually what was hurting her. Thank goodness. Hornbuckle was listed afterward as “day-to-day.”
You hope that Amber Holt, who missed Saturday’s game with a wrist injury, is back soon. You appreciate Shanna Crossley’s 3-point shot. You cheer for Scholanda Robinson trying to carry far more of an offensive load than she would be saddled with on any other team. You hope the Shock figure out some semblance of a post offense, or at least a shadow of one.
And you think of the future. It’s as easy to jump off bandwagons as it is to jump on them _ and it’s equally as vapid. To commit to a team that has no stars and isn’t winning games and has no history in your town … that takes solidity and foresight from fans, and that’s the challenge for those in Tulsa.
I don’t know how long they will do it. But I know they can. And basketball is a sport where a couple of new faces – so long as they’re very talented – can make a great deal of difference.
The guy behind the front desk at my hotel said, “I heard the Shock didn’t do so well tonight, huh?” And I said, “No. It’s going to be a tough season. But, with a good draft and some other moves …”
And he said, “That’s right! Hey, the Thunder wasn’t very good in the first season, either. But this year, they made the playoffs.”
He was, of course, referring to the NBA’s Thunder in Oklahoma City, a team that relocated (was stolen from) Seattle. The Thunder, though, did things in a little different way, not making a lot of major changes between the team’s first and second seasons in Oklahoma. That was the smart because it gave young talent time to bond and develop.
That’s not what should happen with the Shock; this team has to make significant personnel upgrades for 2011 if it wants to be competitive. In the meantime, the Shock and their fans must make the best of what they have. All things considered, I think so far they’ve been doing that. Maintaining that all summer, though, could be quite a chore. I hope they are up for it.