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July 10, 2011 at 9:33 PM

Los Angeles fires coach Jennifer Gillom

JoeBryant.jpgLos Angeles became the second Western Conference team to make a coaching change this weekend, firing Jennifer Gillom and naming assistant Joe Bryant as the interim coach.
Bryant, Kobe’s father, coached the Sparks in 2005, going 4-1 during the regular season as he guided them to the playoffs. He finished 25-9 in 2006, leading LA to the postseason with the top record in the West. The Sparks defeated the Storm 2-1 in the opening round and were swept by defunct Sacramento in the conference finals.
“This was a very difficult decision, but I felt it was necessary to take the team in a different direction at this point in the season. Joe’s familiarity with the Sparks organization puts us in the best possible position to compete going forward, and should make for a seamless transition,” said GM Penny Toler in a released statement. Toler has been traveling with the team during the seven-game road trip. “We respect Jennifer’s commitment to the Sparks and understand she has faced adversity with player injuries during her tenure. That being said, with a short season and playing in the competitive Western Conference, winning games early in the year is critical and the Sparks’ goal remains to contend for a WNBA Championship.”
Gillom’s removal isn’t surprising after the Sparks’ past two losses. The team has crumbled in the second half after building solid leads, sometimes to rotations or lineup moves by Gillom.
In a 99-80 loss to Seattle on Saturday, Gillom benched legends Ticha Penicheiro and Tina Thompson in hopes of shaking a four-game losing streak. The players didn’t enter the game until the second quarter and Thompson didn’t play in the fourth, the team already behind 70-60.
Although professional, it appeared as if the change caused tension. When asked, Gillom said it was a difficult discussion, but it had to be done.
“I was pretty happy with that lineup,” said Gillom of putting rookie Jantel Lavender (21 points, nine rebounds) and top reserve Kristi Toliver (17 points, five assists) in as starters. A 16-point showing by Storm star Swin Cash in the third quarter altered the game, however. “Who knows, probably should have played them longer. But it at least gave me something to look at and something to look forward to down the road.
“It is tough and it bothers me (benching Ticha and Tina), because I understand what they’re going through. Sometimes you have to make changes.”
Whether Bryant returns Penicheiro and Thompson to the starting lineup will be known on Tuesday when the Sparks play at San Antonio. But Toler did have to seize the timing of a coaching change.
Quickly nearing the halfway point of the WNBA season, LA already lost ground with the loss to Seattle in attempts to get in the playoff race. Still, they’re not far behind with the 4-6 record. Phoenix tops the West by wins with a 8-4 record.
LA is on a five-game losing streak, its longest since 2007.
Gillom, who began her career at Minnesota, has battled injuries throughout her tenure in LA. Last season All-Star Candace Parker played just 10 games due to shoulder surgery and this season the 2008 MVP is out with a knee injury. Gillom was also without F LaToya Pringle (ankle) on Saturday, who could have helped put defensive pressure on Cash, who scored a game-high 26 points.
A former WNBA favorite as a player for Phoenix, Gillom was 17-27 in her stint as Sparks coach, getting swept by Seattle in the opening round of the 2010 playoffs.
Toler and Gillom were not immediately made available for comment.
LA’s coaching change joins Tulsa’s move on Saturday. Coach Nolan Richardson stepped down and Hall of Famer Teresa Edwards has replaced him. The Shock is 1-11, joining the Sparks as the only teams without a win on the road.
*PHOTO CREDIT: Joe Bryant returns to LA Sparks’ head position by Jeff Lewis of The Associated Press



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