Things to Watch Heading into Training Camp

With WNBA training camps opening in less than 10 days, we look at five storylines to keep an eye on as we head toward the opening of the 2009 WNBA season on June 6.

Candace Parker Baby Watch

When will the reigning MVP return?
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Candace Parker, the reigning MVP and Rookie of the Year, is due to give birth to her first child sometime this month. First and foremost, we all wish Candace the best of luck with a healthy labor and delivery and a healthy baby. But the obvious question on the minds of WNBA fans is, “When will she be able to return to the Sparks?”

If you look at the history of motherhood in the WNBA, the answer to that question has varied on a case-by-case basis. Parker’s L.A. teammate, Lisa Leslie, took the entire 2007 season off after having her first child. San Antonio’s Helen Darling did the same in 2002, but after having triplets how can you blame her? On the flipside, players like Tina Thompson and Sheryl Swoopes were able to make speedy recoveries and return to the floor the same season.

Again, the top priority is the health of Candace and the baby, but it’s safe to assume the countdown to her return will begin as soon as the baby is born. Another thing to keep in mind is that Leslie and Coach Michael Cooper have both announced that this will be their final season with the Sparks. Does that put any additional pressure on Parker to try to make it back as soon as possible in order to be a part of this season?

With the additions of Thompson, Betty Lennox and Noelle Quinn, Los Angeles has positioned itself to remain among the elite teams in the league even as they await the return of their young phenom.

Update (5/13/09): Parker gave birth to a healthy baby girl on Wednesday, May 13 at 11:29 a.m. PT. She plans to rejoin the Sparks once she has received clearance from her physician.

Lauren Jackson Repercussions

The Mercury were unable to lure Jackson away from Seattle.
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This week, Lauren Jackson announced her decision to re-sign with the Seattle Storm rather than join the Phoenix Mercury, ending months of speculation on which team she would play for during the 2009 season.

For Seattle, this keeps the core of Sue Bird, Jackson and Swin Cash together for a second season and keeps the Storm’s playoff hopes firmly intact. Seattle parted ways with Swoopes and Yolanda Griffith, but added Shannon Johnson to back up Bird and welcome back Janell Burse from a year off, which should provide Coach Brian Agler with great frontcourt depth this season.

The bigger question on this topic is, “What happens to Phoenix?”

With the possibility of adding Jackson now gone, and the status of fellow Aussie Penny Taylor in doubt, the Mercury are in a tough spot in trying to find the third member of their big three.

That’s not to say the Mercury’s 2009 season is finished before it started. They still have Diana Taurasi and Cappie Pondexter, and a healthy Tangela Smith returns to the team after missing nine games a year ago with a knee injury that required surgery.

Phoenix also brought in Temeka Johnson to run the point, Nicole Ohlde and Alison Bales to help bolster the frontline, and got a player in the draft – DeWanna Bonner – that still has Head Coach Corey Gaines smiling.

While the addition of Jackson would have been a huge boost for Phoenix, which missed the playoffs last season after capturing the WNBA title in 2007, the roster they are left with should still be in the playoff hunt in the Western Conference.

Training Camp Competition

Training camps around the league open on May 17.
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With only 11 roster spots per team this season, competition at WNBA training camps is bound to be as fierce as ever. While each team will have its core players that will undoubtedly be on the team, there is likely to be two or three roster spots that are undetermined and open for competition during training camp.

With the talent level in women’s basketball as deep as ever, competition for those final few rosters spots should prove to be intense.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the WNBA season has been pushed back from a May 17 opening day a year ago to a June 6 start this season, thus allowing players to finish their overseas commitments and return to the U.S. in time for training camp, rather than just a few days before opening day.

With a more complete roster to work with during training camp, coaches should be able to evaluate their teams more accurately and have more strategy put in place by the time the games begin to count.

The Transactions Wire

Some notable free agents still remain unsigned as training camp draws near.
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The transactions page may be the most updated page of all on WNBA.com over the next couple of weeks as teams make the tough decisions on who to keep and who to cut as they form their respective rosters for the 2009 season.

Keeping roster size and salary cap implications in mind, there will likely be some talented players that are let go over the next couple of weeks. If they do not fit into the puzzle for one team, they may be able to fit in with another, which could lead to a revolving door of player movement as we get closer and closer to opening day.

Also take into account that a number of free agents remain available as training camps draw near, including a number of veterans that could still make an impact on a team if they are given the opportunity.

Swoopes was let go by Seattle this offseason, and although her stats last season (7.1 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.5 steals per game) do not match what she has done in her prime (career averages of 15.8 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 2.2 steals), the three-time MVP could still provide a solid veteran presence both on the floor and in the locker room.

This should be a fun time to watch the teams come together and speculate on which players will make each team.

Old Faces in New Places

Lindsey Harding was traded from Minnesota to Washington during the offseason.
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From the dispersal draft, to trades and free agent signings, there has been a great deal of roster turnover from a year ago and training camp will be the first opportunity for coaches and general managers to see if they made the right choices with their offseason moves.

If you take a look at our Player Movement Central page, you can see the number of players that will suit up for a new squad this season.

The Atlanta Dream, for example, has brought in Michelle Snow (free agent), Sancho Lyttle (dispersal draft), Chamique Holdsclaw (out of retirement), Nikki Teasley (free agent) and said goodbye to its leading scorer from a year ago in Lennox, along with Bales and Kasha Terry.

The Minnesota Lynx have been involved in multiple trades this offseason and have a bunch of new players, along with four draftees – including three players taken in the top 15 – to evaluate in the upcoming weeks.

A few teams have remained quiet – the defending champion Shock, the Liberty and the Silver Stars have not made many changes to their respective rosters from a year ago – but the rest of the teams in the league welcome a number of new faces that will have to get acclimated to their new teams.

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Video

Fever vs. Sparks

Nneka Ogwumike scores 21 points and Alana Beard adds 17 to help the Sparks beat the Fever, 77-73.

Sky vs. Shock

Odyssey Sims scores 24 points to lead the Shock to a win over the Sky, 79-69.

Lynx vs. Sun

Maya Moore scores 17 points to help the Lynx beat the Sun, 76-65.

Dream vs. Mystics

Ivory Latta scores 21 points and Kara Lawson adds14 as the surging Mystics beat the Dream, 77-67.

Liberty vs. Mercury

Diana Taurasi records 15 points and 10 assists, Britney Griner adds 18 points as the Mercury roll to their 15th straight win.