One Day Away

As the WNBA is set to embark on its 13th season on Saturday, here are 13 reasons to Expect Great in 2009.

1. A final hurrah for some WNBA legends
Lisa Leslie and Yolanda Griffith have already announced that 2009 will be the final year of their brilliant careers. Here is your final chance to see two of the best centers to ever play the game before they hang up their high tops for good. The two – who have had many battles over the last decade, especially when Griffith was a member of the Sacramento Monarchs – will face each other two times during the regular season so mark your calendars for June 12 and August 10.

2. Sylvia Fowles ready for a breakout season?
A knee injury early in the season forced the No. 2 overall pick in the 2008 draft to miss half of her rookie campaign. During her time on the court for the Sky and for the U.S. Olympic Team, she showed flashes of brilliance. After a successful offseason in Russia, Fowles is back in Chicago and ready to push the Sky to new limits.

3. The rookie class
This year’s group of newbies has large shoes to fill as a follow up to the Parker-Fowles-Wiggins class. Led by No.1 overall pick Angel McCoughtry, a pair of Terps in Marissa Coleman and Kristi Toliver, and the floor general of the reigning NCAA champs in Renee Montgomery, this class is ready to make some noise of its own.

4. Comets land in cites across the country

No, it’s not a plot to a bad movie with Bruce Willis and an Aerosmith song. With the Houston Comets suspending operations after the 2008 season, a number of players have scattered around the WNBA through the Dispersal Draft and free agency. Michelle Snow and Sancho Lyttle have landed in Atlanta, while Matee Ajavon joins the Washington Mystics, Hamchetou Maiga-Ba returns to Sacramento, Shannon Johnson settles in Seattle, Tamecka Dixon joins Indiana, and ...

5. Tina Thompson returns home to Los Angeles
The No. 1 overall pick in the WNBA’s inaugural draft returns to her hometown of Los Angeles after spending her entire career as a member of the Comets. She joins former high school and college teammate Lisa Leslie – after Leslie did a nice recruiting job at the NBA All-Star Game in Phoenix this year – and will be called upon to help fill the void left by the reigning Rookie of the Year and MVP …

6. Candace Parker
The newest WNBA mom is less than four weeks removed from giving birth to a healthy baby girl and there is already talk of when she will return to the Sparks. Lisa Leslie has already said she expects Parker to return by late June and Parker has already been seen attending Sparks practices. We’ll all be watching closely as Parker prepares for her return to the court and see how long it takes her to return to MVP form.

7. Can the Shock repeat?

Bill Laimbeer’s squad has won three of the past six WNBA titles, but has not been able to successfully defend its title during the time. After winning their first championship in 2003, the Shock were bounced in the first round in 2004. The Shock raised their second trophy in 2006 and came within seconds of successfully defending that championship as they held a lead in the final minute Game 4 of the 2007 WNBA Finals while holding a 2-1 series lead. Detroit was unable to stop Cappie Pondexter in the final seconds of Game 4 and the Mercury would go on to win Game 5 to win their first title and end Detroit’s title defense. The Shock have a third chance to defend their title this year as they return the core of the roster that led to the 2008 championship with the Finals sweep of San Antonio.

8. Deep and talented rosters throughout the league

With roster sizes being trimmed from 13 players to 11 players this season, the competition just to make a roster has been fierce over the past three weeks of training camp. The result is that only the best of the best players in the world will make a WNBA roster this season. With the talent level at an all-time high, the result should be a higher level of parity and competition throughout the league. Every team has bolstered its roster this offseason through the dispersal draft, the collegiate draft, trades and free agency. There is no such thing as an easy win in this league this season.

9. The return of Chamique Holdsclaw
One of the most dynamic players of the last decade, Holdsclaw returns to the WNBA as part of a revamped Atlanta Dream squad that should be competitive night in and night out this year, after only claiming four wins in their inaugural season. A six time All-Star and 1999 Rookie of the Year, Holdsclaw should bring plenty of excitement to Atlanta as they enter their sophomore year.

10. Coaching Carousel

The season will open with two new head coaches in the WNBA with Julie Plank – a longtime WNBA assistant coach in Indiana and Minnesota – taking the reigns of the Washington Mystics. And just this week, former WNBA player Jennifer Gillom was promoted to head coach of the Minnesota Lynx as former head coach Don Zierden left the team to take an assistant coaching job with the Washington Wizards. We already know that this will be the final season for Los Angeles coach Michael Cooper as he has accepted the head coaching position of the women’s basketball team at the University of Southern California. How will the new coaches perform in their rookie campaigns, and what does Cooper have in store for us before he exits the WNBA stage?

11. Familiar Faces in New Places

A number of players will be seen in new unis this season. Among them are:
Tina Thompson – from Houston to LA as a free agent
Betty Lennox – from Atlanta to LA as a free agent
Temeka Johnson – from LA to Phoenix by trade
Michelle Snow – from Houston to Atlanta as a free agent
Chamique Holdsclaw – from retirement to Atlanta as a free agent, rights to negotiate acquired by trade with LA
Yolanda Griffith – from Seattle to Indiana as a free agent
Tamecka Dixon – from Houston to Indiana as a free agent
Lindsey Harding – from Minnesota to Washington by trade
Kelly Miller – from Phoenix to Minnesota by trade
Noelle Quinn – from Minnesota to LA by trade

12. Lauren Jackson returns to Seattle

While the 2008 MVP will start the season on the sidelines, the 2007 MVP is back and ready to play after being on the sidelines for the final eight games of the regular season and the postseason last year. An unrestricted free agent following last season, Jackson decided to return to the Storm rather than bolt to sign with the Phoenix Mercury, the only other team in contention for her services. Jackson arrived in Seattle only a few days ago, but reports are that she looked sharp in practice.

13. Some new blood in the playoffs?

Looking at the playoff brackets from the past two years, the teams that have qualified for postseason play have become repetitive. In both 2007 and 2008, the Eastern Conference playoffs included Detroit, New York, Connecticut and Indiana. In the West, San Antonio, Sacramento and Seattle have all made the playoffs the last two years, with the only spot changing from 2007 to 2008 come from Los Angeles climbing past Phoenix. Is this the year that the playoff bracket gets mixed up a bit. The non-playoff teams -- Minnesota and Phoenix in the West and Chicago, Washington and Atlanta in the East -- from a year ago have all improved their rosters dramatically in the offseason and enter 2009 ready to compete for a spot in the postseason.