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October 30, 2006 -- As fall slowly gives way to winter and the WNBA offseason approaches its third month, teams finally know where they stand in the upcoming WNBA Draft and the free agent signing period is only two months away. That means coaches and general managers are busy working to put together the best team they can for 2007 and find the best players available to round out their team. As the college basketball season quickly approaches, teams are also preparing lists of college players who they would like to see play in person and are marking key game dates on their calendars.
"Once the college season gets going teams get to go out and evaluate the talent that's out there, look at the prospects and get ready for the upcoming draft," Charlotte Sting coach Muggsy Bogues said.
But the college season opening day will not be the first time coaches and general managers get to take a look at the future 2007 WNBA Draft class. New York Liberty head coach Pat Coyle put it best when asked about how the Liberty are preparing for the Draft.
"We've been tracking the seniors for four years now. We've watched tape and seen them live."
Seattle head coach Anne Donovan said that her team has already "broken the college players down" and evaluated who they think are the lottery picks and who might be the next tier.
Teams will continue scouting players who they believe will still be available when it is time to make their selections. For example, the Connecticut Sun, who make the final selection of each round (barring any trades), will not heavily scout a projected top-five player. But last week's Draft Lottery, where the Phoenix Mercury and San Antonio Silver Stars lucked out and moved up in the Draft, did change the way some teams are approaching their player evaluation process.
"We kind of wanted to wait to see what the Lottery did," San Antonio Silver Stars head coach Dan Hughes said. "The Lottery bumped us up, so it's a good thing. We're going to spend a little more time looking at the top of the Draft class."
College games will not be the only place that team management will be scouting players during the offseason. Although some believe that they already know about most of the talent overseas, several coaches and GM's will make trips around the world to look for hidden talent while evaluating current WNBA players offseason play.
"My general manager has been over there and we have players overseas," Bogues said. "We use that as one of the resources and you have to find where the best players are so we can have access to them."
However, some coaches are not as interested in searching for foreign talent and would like to focus more on scouting college players.
"Most of the players are already known," Detroit Shock head coach Bill Laimbeer said of potential overseas talent.
Laimbeer also believes that "very few new foreign players come on the scene." But teams are certainly paying close attention to what is going on around the world. Silver Stars assistant coach Sandy Brondello keeps an eye on overseas action and informs Coach Hughes about what's going on in leagues throughout the world. The Silver Stars will likely make a trip overseas this year.
And, of course, several teams will look to improve their rosters and fill in open holes via free agency. Signing a key free agent could turn a borderline playoff team into a contender overnight, might add more depth to an already-talented team or a proven veteran to assist younger players and allow a team to fill other needs. There are currently 26 unrestricted free agents and 18 restricted free agents.
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The Sting and Liberty are two examples of teams that will likely look to sign the best player available without much regard to position.
"We're going to look to see who's available and then look back and see what best player fits our team and then go from there," Bogues said about the Sting free agency plans.
Pat Coyle said the Liberty are "just going to look at the best available players right now at all positions."
The San Antonio Silver Stars are a prime example of a team that has specific needs with holes they wouldd like to fill in their lineup.
"I'd like to see us improve ourselves rebounding-wise on the front line and maybe some veteran type of presence in that area with what we already have," Hughes said. "Also, I think a defensive presence on our team would be a good addition. I thought we really improved offensively. We averaged over 10 points a game more than the year before, but I liked to see defense and rebounding addressed in free agency."
With free agents signing on with other teams, some teams could possibly lose key players. The Seattle Storm, for example, are entering the free agent period with one restricted free agent and one unrestricted free agent.
"Janell Burse is an unrestricted free agent, so we'll work hard to keep Janelle in market, and Iziane Castro Marquez is a restricted free agent, so I'm sure she'll test the waters a bit," Donovan said about Seattle's two free agents.
There are also some teams that are in a position where signing a free agent is not necessary because they already have enough players under contract. According to coach Laimbeer, the Detroit Shock will not be able to participate in free agency because all of their starters and key reserves are under contract.
However coaches and general managers decide to improve their rosters for the upcoming season, expect several changes coming into the 2007 season. The offseason began with a team with a 2.5% chance of winning the Draft Lottery come out with the top overall pick, and that is just the start to what is sure to be an exciting offseason.