Things may have changed in San Antonio, but the team will still be led by Sophia Young, left, and Becky Hammon.
D. Clarke Evans/NBAE/Getty Images

Season Outlook

Last season, it seemed like the San Antonio Silver Stars were peaking at the right time, as they won four of their last six games to close out the regular season with all their parts in place and healthy. Entering the postseason they were finally resembling the team that had won the Western Conference in 2008. The problem was, because of the sub-par effort the Silver Stars had turned in for most of 2009, they barely snuck into the playoffs with a below-.500 record (15-19) and the lowest seed, which meant a first-round date with the Phoenix Mercury -- the team that finished with the WNBA's best mark. As expected, San Antonio put up a valiant fight in the opening round series, taking the opener and nearly pulling off the upset in Game 3 in Phoenix. Ultimately though, savvy San Antonio succumbed to the Mercury's awesome offensive juggernaut.

The interesting thing about 2009 was that GM and then coach Dan Hughes decided to essentially stand pat with that team that had gotten him to the 2008 WNBA Finals. After all, the Silver Stars ran into a little bad luck in the championship defeat to the Detroit Shock, with guards Edwige Lawson-Wade and Helen Darling suffering injuries just prior to the matchup. The train of thought was to get everybody back, stay healthy and they'd be right back where they wanted to be. But not upgrading proved to hinder the Silver Stars' growth in 2009, especially since standout center Ann Wauters didn't join the team until early August. The lack of success that resulted from the lack of change in 2009 appeared to motivate Hughes to shake things up this past offseason.

The move that turned the most heads had nothing to do with player personnel; it was Hughes stepping down as coach while staying on as GM. Head coaching duties have been passed on to Sandy Brondello, who herself played five seasons in the league and had been the team's lead assistant coach for that past five years. Already knowing the San Antonio system inside and out should allow for a smooth transition for Brondello. However, she likely won't be pacing the sidelines for every game, as she is expecting her second child sometime later this month with husband Olaf Lange, who is San Antonio's Associate Head Coach. So Brondello figures to miss a handful of games this season, leaving Lange to step in when necessary.

As unconventional as that may seem, this isn't the first time the Silver Stars have had to interchange coaches during a season. Back in 2007, Hughes tore his Achilles' tendon and had to miss some time. Brian Agler, who currently heads up the Seattle Storm, led the team while Hughes was out and the Silver Stars didn't miss a beat.

In terms of the product on the court for 2010, it was clear by the moves Hughes made that improving the frontcourt was a priority. Last season, San Antonio was last in the league in rebounding (30.1 rpg) and rebounding differential (-4.0). So during the offseason the Silver Stars went out and traded for Michelle Snow and Crystal Kelly, acquired Laura Harper in the Monarchs dispersal draft, signed free agent Tasha Humphrey and selected Stanford's Jayne Appel and Middle Tennessee State's Alysha Clark after both slipped to the team in the draft.

Add that to the fact that Sophia Young is one of the best post players in the game and suddenly the forward and center positions seem to be pretty well solidifed. That's despite playing the upcoming year without Wauters, who announced that she is taking the season off. With Wauters out, that leaves an opening at the starting center position, which will likely be filled by nine-year veteran Ruth Riley to start the campaign, although there should be ample opportunity for others to win that spot or at least garner a lot of minutes.

But in bolstering the frontcourt the Silver Stars may have overlooked other needs that mainly resulted from the retirements of Vickie Johnson and Erin Perperoglou. San Antonio did add sharpshooter Roneeka Hodges, who comes over from Minnesota, and that could prove to be an underrated signing. But the team also lost Shanna Crossley (dealt to Tulsa for Kelly) and didn't make too much noise otherwise. That means both Edwige Lawson-Wade and Belinda Snell will need to step up this year and take some of the pressure off Becky Hammon in the backcourt. Hughes has always been high on Lawson-Wade -- he viewed her untimely injury during the 2008 Finals as a big reason why his team struggled against Detroit -- so perhaps he's expecting 2010 to be the year she establishes herself as a consistent threat, which she showed in last year's playoffs that she is very capabale of. During the opening-round series versus Phoenix, Lawson-Wade averaged 10.7 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists in the three games while shooting a torrid .667 from the field, including .615 from three-point range.

The Silver Stars are also hoping for a big season out of second-year player Megan Frazee, who showed herself to be a versatile offensive threat at times in 2009.

Potential and uncertainty. Those seem to be the two buzz words for the Silver Stars heading into 2010. But Hughes has apparently learned his lesson from 2009 by upgrading his arsenal to compete with the perennial powers in the West as well as those on the verge.

Mark Bodenrader

Player on the Spot

For reasons mentioned above, it's tempting to go with Lawson-Wade in this spot. How well the combo guard embraces her bigger role on the team in 2010 will go a long way to determining the fate of the Silver Stars. However, she won't bear nearly as much pressure as the team's leader will this season.

Entering her 11th season, it's safe to assume that Hammon's window is closing regarding her chances to win a WNBA title. At 33, just how much longer can Hammon remain an elite point guard and a player that can will her team to a championship?

Of course, the numbers Hammon put up last year would suggest she still has a ways to go before reaching the downside of her career. She led the team in scoring (19.5 ppg), assists (5.0 apg) and steals (1.58 spg) and propelled San Antonio to its third straight postseason appearance. But Hammon was forced to step up her game and pick up her energy last year as the team stumbled through most of the season before hitting its stride when it was too late.

And this season, things have changed. Gone is Johnson, who not only spent the past three seasons as Hammon's backcourt mate in San Antonio, but 10 of her 11 WNBA seasons as they were teammates on the New York Liberty. Johnson was invaluable because she could create her own offense as well as handle the ball when the team wanted to relieve some of Hammon's duties. It remains to be seen if Lawson-Wade can do the same for a full season. As for the rest of the backcourt, Helen Darling and Snell should see a lot of minutes, but Darling is also nearing the end of her career and Snell is coming off an inconsistent first season with San Antonio. Then there's the matter of easing in newcomer Hodges and getting her the shots she needs.

There are all the new faces in the frontcourt as well that Hammon has to incorporate. And there's the added wrinkle of being the extension of a new head coach out on the court. Suffice it to say, Hammon will have her hands full in 2010.

Mark Bodenrader

Projected Lineup

G.Becky Hammon
G.Edwige Lawson-Wade
F.Megan Frazee
F.Sophia Young
C.Ruth Riley

Players Added

G.Charel Allen
C.Jayne Appel
G.Quianna Chaney
F.Alysha Clark
C.Laura Harper
G.Roneeka Hodges
F.Tasha Humphrey
F/C.Crystal Kelly
F.Lacey Simpson
C.Michelle Snow

Players Lost

G.Shanna Crossley
G/F.Vickie Johnson
F.Erin Perperoglou
C.Ann Wauters

2008 Leaders

PPGBecky Hammon19.5
RPGSophia Young6.5
APGBecky Hammon5.0
SPGBecky Hammon1.58
BPGRuth Riley1.45

Team Stats

Points Scored76.9(6th)
Points Allowed78.3(8th)
Field-Goal Percentage.427(8th)
Opponents’ FG%.439(10th)
Rebounding Diff.-4.0(13th)