12 Questions for 12 Teams in 2010

Training camps around the league tipped off the weekend of April 24. While many players still remain overseas, rookies and camp hopefuls gather round for the opportunity to break in the new shoes, stretch out the legs and make a go for the 2010 WNBA season.

Coming back from an offseason that had teams trading all stars, drafting future stars and, in one particular case, starting relatively from scratch, we’re reminded it’s never too early to question each club’s role in the upcoming season.

Atlanta – Can they remain consistent?
The Dream is still a young franchise, but the turnaround of success between 2008 and 2009 was a move well beyond its years. After winning only four games in 2008, the Dream’s sophomore effort churned out a record of 18-16, good enough for the franchise’s first playoff berth. Despite an early bump from the semifinals at the hands of Detroit, the 2010 roster remains fairly unchanged. Maybe it’s a “stick with what works” mentality. It could even be an “add to the core” approach. Whatever the case, Atlanta raised the bar high last season and will look to make a similar run in 2010.

Chicago – How will the Sky get by without Candice Dupree?

Candice Dupree's absence in Chicago won't go unnoticed
Gary Dineen/NBAE/Getty Images
Epiphany Prince was a wild card of sorts when it came to the 2010 WNBA Draft. International commitments may have played a part in those who speculated she’d go lower in the class, but Chicago wasn’t hearing any of that. Lucky for Chi-town, there’s a chemistry building already between center Courtney Paris and first-round pick Prince, as both are actively playing overseas in Turkey with Botas-Spor. That’s the sort of thing that can go a long way by the time both return stateside to reunite in Chicago. Losing three-time all-star Candice Dupree will hurt, but the blow is lessened when looking at how the Sky received a palpable return on the investment with Shameka Christon and Cathrine Kraayeveld. Now that Kristi Toliver has a year under her belt, head coach Steve Key can rely on her a bit more and increase the workload while easing Prince into the pros, a transition that may not take that long given her play overseas.

Connecticut – How soon can they get the ball rolling?
You already know by now that the Connecticut Sun made a huge splash on draft day. Now the real question is, how soon can they put the pieces together? Coach Mike Thibault will have to remain patient over the course of some prototypical rookie growing pains, but there’s no denying the talent level and skill set he has at his discretion. Tina Charles is in an elite class of her own, but there’s still a transition period on the horizon. Heck, the same can be said of any rookie on any team. But going first overall certainly keeps a player under the microscope. Perhaps the added pressure on Charles may allow fellow classmen Kelsey Griffin and Allison Hightower to ease into their roles without an immediate need to produce. Doing so would undoubtedly come as a relief to Griffin and Hightower, while also firming Charles’ role as a leader on this young roster. Lindsay Whalen’s departure to Minnesota in exchange for Renee Montgomery stood as one of the bigger trades of the offseason. Combine that with Kara Lawson signing on from Sacramento and there will be a lot of fresh faces in Connecticut.

Indiana – Can they rebound?
In 2009 the Indiana Fever came within just one game of capturing the franchise’s first championship. Debilitating as that may be, Indy’s roster hasn’t changed much during the offseason. Logic would suggest the same squad can make a similar run in 2010, especially when you factor in the addition of first-round draft pick Jene Morris. However, other teams in the past have stood pat and avoided roster shuffles with the hope of making a return effort. See also the 2008 and 2009 San Antonio Silver Stars. To quote then head coach and current General Manager Dan Hughes, “I think that we in the WNBA, if you’re standing still your competition may be getting better.” Under the tutelage of head coach Lin Dunn, there’s little question as to whether or not this team will dust itself off and make another go. But how far they go may depend on how well other teams stocked up during the offseason.

Los Angeles – Who can play in the middle?
For more than a decade the Los Angeles Sparks relied on Lisa Leslie to hold down center court. She posed as a focal point all on her own; a position the Sparks didn’t have to think twice about because it was being controlled by one of the all-time greats. Then, prior to the 2009 season, Leslie announced it would be her last. Now what do the Sparks do? Head coach Jennifer Gillom is also entering her first season on the sidelines, taking the reigns from Michael Cooper. Gillom helped develop post players like All-Star Nicky Anosike during her time in Minnesota, and will look to do the same with her center options in LA like Vanessa Hayden, LaToya Pringle, Tiffany Stansbury and even third-round pick Rashidat Junaid. One thing’s for certain – whoever gets the nod will certainly have big shoes to fill.

Minnesota – Can they stay healthy?
Losing Seimone Augustus for the season in 2009 subsequently put Minnesota in a position where they could gain some young talent while also regaining that veteran leadership upon Augustus’ healthy return. Call it a Catch-22 of sorts. However, the latest news out of Minny suggests Seimone will likely miss some additional time, as she underwent surgery on Saturday to remove fibroids. To make roster matters worse, she will also be joined off the court by Candice Wiggins, who just this past weekend discovered a meniscal tear in her right knee that could keep her out of the lineup for up to a month. Lindsay Whalen returned home to Minnesota back in January, so if the Lynx can manage to stay healthy then the additions of Rebekkah Brunson and number-two pick Monica Wright can pay dividends.

New York – Can Cappie capture Lady Liberty her crown?

New York is happy about Cappie
Christian Petersen/NBAE/Getty Images
Thirteen seasons, four Finals appearances and four Finals losses. The Liberty is looking for a winner to make them a winner. Two-time champ Cappie Pondexter may very well be the link they’re looking for. Same can be said of head coach Anne Donovan, entering her first season with New York, who won a title with Seattle in 2004. The city has its star. It’s also added Nicole Powell, veteran leader Taj McWilliams-Franklin and drafted Kalana Greene. General Manager Carol Blazejowski recently commented in a team release with regards to the off-season additions. “With Cappie and the addition of Nicole Powell, Taj McWilliams-Franklin and the rest of our core group on this club, we will believe we have positioned ourselves to get back on top of the Eastern Conference and challenge for the WNBA championship this season.”

Phoenix – Can they repeat?
Isn’t that the obvious question for any championship team? However, it would seem a key component to repeat success is the ability to keep the winning team intact. You know, that whole securing a dynasty thing. While they may have lost Cappie Pondexter, they did acquire Candice Dupree and re-sign Penny Taylor and Temeka Johnson, key components to the 2009 championship run. Besides, the Mercury still has four-time All-Star and 2009 MVP Diana Taurasi. In other words, maybe the better question should’ve been, why can’t they repeat?

San Antonio – Will the pick ups in the paint pay off?
It may be just one side of San Antonio’s attack, but General Manager Dan Hughes placed a lot of emphasis on adding post-up players during the offseason. One can imagine the sparkle in his eye when Stanford standout Jayne Appel remained an option on the draft board with San Antonio’s fifth pick. And yet, on the flipside, he even played a bit of a balancing game of sorts by also selecting Alysha Clark 17th overall, a player some deemed too small by WNBA standards. Factor those additions in with Michelle Snow, playing predominantly under the rim, and Laura Harper, who came over in the Sacramento dispersal draft, and there are enough bigs to go around for any situation. The emphasis may have been on post-up players but it’s looking like a well-balanced attack on both sides of the ball. Head Coach Sandy Brondello will have her run of the floor with this versatile roster.

Seattle – Can they get past the first round?
Since winning the 2004 WNBA Championship, Seattle has not gone deeper than the first round in five consecutive seasons. When you look at the roster and what has changed during the offseason, you won’t notice many new faces. So what’s it going to take to improve on the previous five seasons? Well, a healthy stretch toward the end of the year could do wonders. Every year it seems like the Storm plays well enough to make it to the playoffs before the injury bug starts taking names throughout the locker room. Perhaps an interchangeable question would be, “Can they stay healthy?”

Tulsa – How quickly can they pave a new path?
I just recently purchased a new car. The salesman at the dealership told me to take it slow (ie. don’t gun it off the line), ease into my first 2,000 miles and come back for a quick checkup in a month or two. In a way, that horribly stretched metaphor is a way to describe Tulsa’s first season. They may not be a new team entirely, but they did lose a number of players in the move from Detroit to Tulsa, although a few former Detroit players remain unsigned. For all intents and purposes, the new kid on the block may just need some time before it gets the engines roaring. If they plan on taking a page from Atlanta’s book, one year may be all they need to make a playoff run. But even then the difference rests in Atlanta being a 2008 expansion team, while Tulsa relocated entirely. However, there’s no denying the interest generated around the likes of Marion Jones' return to basketball, combined with off-season trades for Chante Black and Amber Holt. Top that off with Nolan Richardson manning the ship and you may quickly watch this team grow right before your very own eyes.

Washington – Can they get by without Alana Beard?
Before Washington could even solidify training camp plans, they instead had to announce the team’s 2009 leading scorer Alana Beard would miss the entire 2010 season with an ankle injury. Eleven-year vet Katie Smith will no doubt receive a brunt of the work in the guard position, while sixth-overall pick Jacinta Monroe transitions to the pro level and Crystal Langhorne looks to repeat her playoff dominance during the regular season. It may be hard to write off Washington entirely, but it’s going to take a tremendous team effort to overcome the loss of Beard.