Storm Passes on Dispersal Draft

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Kevin Pelton, | December 8, 2008
As expected, the Seattle Storm came away empty-handed from Monday's Dispersal Draft of former Houston Comets players. What was something of a surprise was that so too did five of the WNBA's other 13 remaining teams.

With several key Comets ineligible as unrestricted free agents, including forward Tina Thompson and center Michelle Snow, the pool was limited to 11 players who were either with Houston last season or whose rights were held by the Comets. That included forward Lucienne Berthieu and center Polina Tzekova, neither of whom had seen WNBA action in years. Holding the 12th pick, then, the Storm did not anticipate coming away with a player.

The option for teams to pass ended up looming large because of the hefty contracts of the former Houston starting backcourt of Tamecka Dixon and Shannon Johnson. Though they were productive in 2008, the desire for teams to maintain flexibility in terms of the salary cap and the limits on guaranteed contracts on a given roster meant both players went unselected.

"It doesn't reflect on them as players or as people," said Storm Head Coach Brian Agler. "It has to do with their contract obligations. Shannon Johnson had a guaranteed contract, and Tamecka Dixon had a contract that wasn't guaranteed but was substantial. I think ourselves and other teams passed because, once they got in through that one round of the draft, they become free agents and you can negotiate with them in the free market.

"I thought there was a team or two that might take Shannon, but that didn't surprise me at all."

Sancho Lyttle Matee Ajavon Mistie Williams
A look at the players selected in Monday's Dispersal Draft through the lens of Kevin Pelton's exclusive WARP rating system. Players produce value by playing better than replacement level and based on their minutes played. Each point of WARP is equivalent to an extra team win.
Sancho Lyttle
Matee Ajavon
Mistie Williams
Roneeka Hodges
Sequoia Holmes
Erica White
The Atlanta Dream began the Dispersal Draft by taking forward/center Sancho Lyttle, by consensus the top player available. Lyttle averaged 8.2 points and 6.2 rebounds per game in just over 20 minutes a night during her fourth WNBA season, shooting 58.2 percent from the field. That shooting percentage would have ranked second in the league had Lyttle played enough minutes to qualify, while she also ranked second in both rebounds and steals per 40 minutes. Lyttle figures to have far and away the most impact of any of the draftees with their new team (see chart at right).

With Lyttle off the board, the Washington Mystics added more potential to their backcourt by taking Matee Ajavon, Houston's 2008 first-round pick. While the Rutgers grad struggled to consistently make shots, shooting 33.1 percent, she also showed flashes of brilliance during her rookie season. The Mystics will attempt to harness that talent under new Head Coach Julie Plank.

From there, the available talent dropped off considerably. Chicago and Minnesota added depth with the selections of post Mistie Williams and guard Roneeka Hodges, the latter a restricted free agent whose rights will be assumed by the Lynx. Phoenix drafted wing Sequoia Holmes, whose game might be better suited for the Mercury's high-octane attack.

After Indiana addressed a potential need at point guard with the addition of sophomore Erica White, the Sacramento Monarchs made the most intriguing pick of the Dispersal Draft, Australian guard Renae Camino. The Comets drafted Camino in the second round of the 2006 WNBA Draft, but she has yet to come to the U.S. Camino is currently playing for AIX Basket in France, averaging 11.1 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game.

Following Sacramento's selection, the remaining six teams opted to pass, meaning Dixon and Johnson will become unrestricted free agents. Free agency begins a week from today, when teams and players are allowed to begin negotiating. Contracts can be signed starting Jan. 5. The WNBA offseason action continues tomorrow, when the league will conduct its annual draft lottery for the first three selections in the 2009 WNBA Draft.