Veteran Swin Cash brings maturity, leadership to Liberty

Liberty's Swin Cash drives against Los Angeles Sparks' Liberty's Swin Cash drives against Los Angeles Sparks' Nneka Ogwumike during the second quarter of a WNBA basketball game at Madison Square Garden on Friday, July 11, 2014. Photo Credit: Jason DeCrow

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Swin Cash called it "awkward."

A few days prior, she'd been a member of the Atlanta Dream. But that day in mid-July, she was donning her new Liberty jersey, staring across the court at her Atlanta friends, trying to figure out how much their play calling might've changed in the past few hours.

"It's the nature of the game," the 12-year veteran said.

But that's not even the least of it -- not the least of the change nor the awkwardness. With her trade to the Liberty, Cash -- author, former All-Star and MVP, television analyst and one of the most recognizable faces in the WNBA -- also has been reunited with her old coach, Bill Laimbeer. It was Laimbeer who coached her to two WNBA championships with the Shock, and the one who eventually caused her to leave Detroit in 2007.

Cash, who had six points and five rebounds in a loss to the Phoenix Mercury Saturday night, cited a "failure to build a consistent relationship with her coach" then and said in a Huffington Post interview last year that, despite a once-strong relationship, she felt hurt when Laimbeer told the media that her work ethic was lacking (at the time, Laimbeer was aware Cash was privately battling kidney cancer, she said).

She wrote about it in her book, "Humble Journey: More Precious Than Gold."

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Awkward.

"Yeah, we had a talk," she said, laughing. "I like to call it a coming-to-Jesus moment. We had a great talk and we both were able to move on from there . . . I think we both matured a lot."

At 34, Cash, who went to the University of Connecticut, is coming to the end of her career, but though Laimbeer questioned her toughness all those moons ago, Cash's experience and grit are the reasons he gave for the trade (the Liberty sent vet DeLisha Milton-Jones to the Dream on July 9).

"I think she brings energy and leadership and competitiveness," said Laimbeer, who said previously this season that his team was mentally fragile and had problems overcoming adversity. "I think as you get older and you get to a certain age, it's not just the physical qualities , but the mental and leadership qualities."

With age, too, comes better understanding of what happened in Detroit. "All strong-willed people have clashes from time to time," Laimbeer said. "We talked and we understand each other. That was a long time ago."

So now, Cash will provide a stabilizing presence off the Liberty bench. In four games so far with the Liberty, she's playing more minutes (15.5 per game, as opposed to 8.8 with Atlanta) and averaging four rebounds. The numbers may pale when compared to her four All-Star seasons, but after back surgery, cancer (she's been cancer-free for seven years), and the natural wear and tear that comes from being a 34-year-old, it's exactly what the Liberty wanted and expected.

Cash, meanwhile, appears content with her role.

"This is something new, but I think the organization as a whole is one of the best in the WNBA for how they treat the Liberty," she said. "The fans are die-hard . . . You see Spoon [Teresa Weatherspoon] on the sideline and I remember watching her. I'm glad to be a part of tradition."

And Laimbeer? He's not so bad, either. "He just made the comment that I work really hard," she said. "If you would've asked me years ago, would this ever happen again, I would have been like 'no!' " she said. "Whereas now, I'm a person that relies on faith . . . So if God has brought us back together, there's a reason. We'll see how it works out."

Notes & quotes: Tina Charles had 20 points and Cappie Pondexter 12 for the Liberty (10-14) in the loss to Phoenix.

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