Swin Cash finished her women’s college basketball career as one member of, quite possibly, the greatest starting five the college game had ever seen – one that went 39-0, won an NCAA national championship and helped elevate her to become the No. 2-overall pick in the upcoming WNBA Draft.
So when her professional career began with 13 consecutive losses and the Detroit Shock’s head coach, being fired, she wondered what she’d become part of. Losing simply wasn’t acceptable, but she started to notice a rising amount of complacency inside the team’s locker room.
So she did what few rookies would, taking a one-on-one meeting with newly-hired head coach Bill Laimbeer to find a solution.
“I about had an attack in the locker room because people were talking about what their plans were going to be for after the season, and culturally I didn’t understand that — I wasn’t built like that,” she said. “I came from UConn, and my mindset was "you do whatever it takes to win."
“I sat down with Bill Laimbeer, and he asked me "You’re going to be the franchise, what do you want?" And I told him "I want people that want to be here to win.”
That following season, Cash’s Shock went from the worst record in the league to a WNBA title.
Ever since he was hired as the New Orleans Pelicans executive vice president of basketball operations in April, David Griffin has been on a search to mine and hire some of the greatest minds and talents around the game of basketball. They need not check certain boxes or be expected to fill a finite set of roles — Griffin’s ideal front office, he’s said repeatedly, should look more like a set of Swiss army knives who are incredibly smart and attract winning.
Cash, Griffin said, fits the bill as the team’s next vice president of basketball operations and team development. The hire was formally announced Monday before the two spoke with local media on a Tuesday morning conference call.
“Every single point of contact in this franchise has to be part of driving us towards what we really care about, and that’s winning, and it’s about winning the right way,” Griffin said. “Swin is a great example of this — winning is a frequency, and you don’t learn how to tune to it unless you’ve had to do it, and Swin knows how to find that frequency.
“She’s won championships at every level of basketball, and because of that, I know unequivocally she knows that championship frequency. She knows the thought process, and she understands how to raise people to be that and to feel that.”
Cash’s impact on the organization will be felt quickly — in fact, she said Tuesday she’s already in New Orleans helping Griffin and newly-hired general manager Trajan Langdon put last-minute details on preparations for the NBA Draft — especially important should the Pelicans ink a deal in the next week to ship off Anthony Davis in a trade that includes 2019 draft picks.
The team’s latest VP finds herself uniquely positioned for this role, having already filled a hybrid front office role with the New York Liberty since she retired from playing professionally in 2016. During the offseason, she’s been a TV analyst covering both the men’s college and NBA games. This new position, where she will be instrumental in everything from prospective talent evaluation to team development on and off the court, meshes those passions she’s pursued since retiring as one of the women’s game’s biggest legends.
And interestingly enough, Cash’s hiring has been something in the works, or at least a dream she and Griffin shared, for a little while.
The two crossed paths during a crossroads in their lives — Griffin having left his general manager role with the Cleveland Cavaliers in the summer of 2017 during the time the two shared while working with NBA TV.
They spoke about the future team Griffin would lead and the hypothetical role he’d bring Cash in to hold, so when the former was hired in April, Cash knew she may not be far behind.
“Once he got the job and had the opportunity to see what he was building, we talked again,” she said. “And I really started buying into what Mrs. Benson’s vision was for this team and how we were going to move forward.
“There’s the bandwidth that (Benson) has pretty much given Griff to build something very special here. I think it was Griff’s approach to really bringing in not only the best people, but people that want to work together and are striving for the same goal.
“And it was just a good fit for me at the right time. I’ve had other conversations and opportunities to look at other things in the past, but the reality is that I do believe that the people you work with, the investment to the team, it contributes to me being able to have success and being able to help and reach all our goals.”