Houston Comets: 2006 Preview
There's no denying the Houston Comets are the WNBA's "Team of the Decade," but after five straight seasons without a trip to the WNBA Finals, Sheryl Swoopes, Tina Thompson and company will look to end the decade on a high note.
The Comets are certainly headed in the right direction. They followed up their first losing season with a 19-15 record in 2005, and captured their first playoff series since the 2000 championship when they upset Seattle with back-to-back road wins.
The Comets, a team that returns eight players from last year's roster, are built to win now. Seven of their players have seven or more years of WNBA experience. That doesn't include Janeth Arcain, who has yet to commit to playing in 2006.
The free agent signing of three-time All-Star Tamecka Dixon should negate the impact of Arcain's possible departure. Their career scoring averages are nearly identical, and Dixon is a better ball distributor and a more accurate three-point shooter. She's also five years younger than Arcain.
Younger legs will be at a premium as the WNBA transitions into the 24-second clock era, so Houston's window of opportunity may soon close. Nevertheless, a guard rotation that includes Dixon, Dominique Canty and Dawn Staley in her final season is among the league's best.
The one thing this unit lacks is the ability to consistently hit the three. Last year, Houston shot a league worst 30.2 percent from downtown and hit only 62 treys all season, or seven fewer than league-leader Nicole Powell of Sacramento made all by herself.
Houston's front line of Swoopes, Thompson and Michelle Snow returns. Though the least heralded, Snow put up some of the most impressive numbers last season, scoring 12.0 points a night, leading the team in rebounding (6.9) and blocks (1.2), and shooting a league-best 55.1 percent.
Thompson, returned from maternity leave to make 15 starts, and looked every bit the four time all-star by playoff time, averaging 13.8 points and 5.6 rebounds in five postseason games. Though she's one of eight players to play in all nine WNBA seasons, she's still only 31 and plenty capable of approaching her career average of more than 34 minutes a game.
Swoopes, meanwhile, seemingly knows no limits. Last year, at age 34, she averaged a league-high 37.1 minutes a night, was the league's leading scorer (18.6 ppg), finished second in the league in steals (2.0) and set a personal best with 4.3 assists. She won her third WNBA MVP award and earned a place on the all-defensive first team.
With all three frontcourt players logging big minutes, the Comets shouldn't need a lot of depth, but they have it in Tari Phillips and Sancho Lyttle. Lyttle's contributions could be limited; she tore her right ACL playing pickup ball during in October, and only recently resumed practicing. Kayte Christensen, a reserve for four seasons in Phoenix, provides insurance.
Recognizing that this team needs an injection of youth, the Comets - whose first-round pick went to Charlotte in the trade for Staley last season - traded the draft rights to Ann Strother, the 15th overall pick, to Phoenix in exchange for forwards Liz Shimek (18th overall) and Mistie Williams (21st overall). In the third round, they added Tiffany Stansbury. At least one should emerge among that group to provide additional depth.
Anything less than a playoff berth would be disappointing for this team of veterans, and a good playoff run shouldn't be ruled out. This group knows its running out of time. That motivation, and a five-year title drought, should give Van Chancellor's club a fighting chance to revisit the glory days.