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Former Las Vegas Aces coach Bill Laimbeer says coaching career is over but won’t rule out future in basketball

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  • Mechele VoepelESPN.com

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      Mechelle Voepel covers the WNBA, women’s college basketball, and other college sports for espnW. Voepel began covering women’s basketball in 1984, and has been with ESPN since 1996.

Although Bill Laimbeer won’t entirely rule out a role in basketball in the future, the former Las Vegas Aces coach said Saturday that he’s sure about one thing.

“I’m not ever going to coach again,” Laimbeer said in a video call with media from Las Vegas before the Aces hosted Phoenix. “I just don’t have that kind of energy. I don’t have that willpower. It’s an all-consuming thing.

“Whether I participate in basketball going forward, I don’t know. It’s too early to tell. I just had six months off. I’ve never spent a summer at my farm in Michigan. So I’m looking forward to that. What the future holds, I don’t really have a solid handle on right now. I’m having fun. I’m relaxed.”

Laimbeer, who celebrated his 65th birthday on Thursday, played in the NBA from 1980-81 to 1993-94, spending all but his first two seasons with the Detroit Pistons. In 2002, he took over as head coach of the WNBA’s Detroit Shock during the season, and led the team to the first of three WNBA titles in 2003; the Shock also won the championship in 2006 and 2008.

He stayed with the Shock until leaving early in the 2009 season and taking an assistant’s job with the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves. He returned to the WNBA as a head coach with the New York Liberty from 2012 to 2017.

When the San Antonio franchise relocated to Las Vegas starting in the 2018 season, Laimbeer took over the team — newly named the Aces — as coach and led them the past four seasons. That included a trip to the 2020 WNBA Finals.

The Aces had the second-best record in the WNBA last season but lost in the semifinals to Phoenix. Laimbeer said he was ready then to leave coaching but thought he would need to come back for 2022.

“It was an easy decision, but it was hard to implement,” Laimbeer said. “Last year, it was clear to myself — and I think some of the players — that I was running out of energy. I had just run my course in the coaching ranks.”

Still, he told the Aces players in their exit interviews after last season that he would return. But he encouraged new team president Nikki Fargas to look for his replacement. And when former WNBA player Becky Hammon was mentioned, Laimbeer was hopeful.

“I told [Fargas], ‘Our franchise is very high profile and we’re still in our infancy stage … get somebody with high-profile basketball credibility,’ ” Laimbeer said. “She brought up Becky’s name and I said, ‘Absolutely, that would be a wonderful thing for this franchise and it would give me the opportunity to march off to some other country and not have to worry about this basketball team any longer.’ I didn’t think it was going to happen, but it did.”

Laimbeer said he was pleased to be able to exit the way he did.

“Most of the time when coaches go away, they’re fired because they suck or because they leave a bad team,” he said. “I was fortunate to pass the [torch] to a quality up-and-coming young coach with a very good basketball team. So she’s set up for success immediately.”

The Aces are now a WNBA best 6-1 after their 100-80 win over Phoenix, as Hammon – who spent eight years as an assistant with the San Antonio Spurs – is off to a strong start.

“I’m just sitting here right now watching the good things that are happening to this franchise,” Laimbeer said. “I like the way they play.”

Laimbeer worked as a general manager along with coaching when he was in Detroit and New York. Asked what he was most proud about in his time in the WNBA, Laimbeer said influencing playing style, free agency and rules changes. He also thinks that Las Vegas helped elevate the WNBA All-Star Game in hosting it in 2019 and 2021.

“Nothing changes dramatically in one-fell swoop,” Laimbeer said. “It’s talking to the league all the time and prodding them. Just being part of the team that got [this league] to where it is today.”

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