Teams Pretty Even Heading Into Playoffs

September 11, 2008 | by Ericka Sanders

Frank McGrath/PS&E Photo
Before the WNBA season began, President Donna Orender spoke excitedly about the future of the league by publicizing her goal of adding at least two teams during the next five years.

It was the explosion of talent, as well as how teams have drafted and traded making rosters more deep and competitive, that suggested her goal wasn’t out of reach.

Fever assistant coach Jim Lewis, who was around the league during its second year calls the difference between now and then, “night and day.”

“Look at the expansion team Atlanta,” he says. “Even though their record is not good, they were very competitive and won (a game against us). Teams have gotten better.”

There is no better proof showing the improvement of teams than the upcoming playoffs.

Last season’s WNBA champions, the Phoenix Mercury, will not get a chance to repeat because they’re currently last in the Western Conference. The Los Angeles Sparks, who were an early favorite to not only win the West but also the championship, are in third and only leading the Sacramento Monarchs by one game.

In the East, the New York Liberty weren’t on anyone’s radar during the preseason. However, they will likely be seeded third in the playoffs (depending on how the last couple games turn out) only a game or two out of first place.

Indiana, who entered the season touting the return of Katie Douglas, had dreams of besting their 21-13 record in 2007, but at best will finish the season at .500, seeded fourth in the postseason.

“I think you have to look at the parity in the league, especially in the East. Any one team can advance because we have beaten one another,” said Liberty coach Pat Coyle. “When you get to the playoffs it comes down to people being healthy, people playing well and some luck.”

Fever veteran Tammy Sutton-Brown echoes Coyle.

“The talent has spread evenly within the playoffs teams. No one really clinched a spot until the last few games and going into the playoffs it's fair game for anybody,” she said. “Even for us, though we’re in fourth place, the playoffs are kind of like a new season and everybody is pretty much even.”

Like last season, no WNBA team will end the regular season with single digit losses. Again, it’s attributed to the abundance of talent that has entered the league since its inception in 1997.

This year’s draft class will likely go down in history as arguably the best, similar to the 2003 NBA draft that produced LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wayne and Chris Bosh – four Olympic gold medalists. The 2008 WNBA draft class produced several players who played significant roles for their teams, most notably Candace Parker in Los Angeles, Sylvia Fowles in Chicago and Candice Wiggins in Minnesota. Like the aforementioned NBA players, Parker and Fowles won gold in the Beijing Olympics.

“When the league first started a lot of the players were probably in their prime. What you’re seeing now is a lot of those players retiring, and the players that the fans – especially the college fans – are familiar with, are coming out of college,” said Coyle. “I think the influx of the young talent has really helped this league. I’ve been in this league for 10 years and it’s amazing with the amount of talent. The league is much, much stronger.”