Fever plans for 2013

By Tom Rietmann

INDIANAPOLIS -- With a new year will come new expectations.

The Indiana Fever players, coaches and officials know that. They would like nothing more than to give their supportive, red-clad fans a repeat WNBA championship in 2013. And their team-building plan for the offseason will reflect that goal and desire.

At the same time, however, look for the Indiana franchise to take a methodical and low-key approach as it prepares for next summer's league schedule.

The Minnesota Lynx went into 2012 with high hopes and ideas about becoming the first club since the 2001-02 Los Angeles Sparks to gain back-to-back WNBA championships. The Fever thwarted that strategy, defeating the gifted Minnesota team 3-1 in the best-of-five league finals.

"I think we saw with Minnesota, with the talent level they had, how hard it was for them with the competitive level of this league," said Kelly Krauskopf, the Fever's president and general manager. "As far as our team, my goal is to obviously bring back the core group, re-focus our goals, re-focus one game at a time and try not to talk about repeats."

Fever Coach Lin Dunn is acutely aware of what returning as reigning champs in 2013 will mean.

"We certainly will be the hunted and not the hunter. So we'll have to deal with that," Dunn said.

Dealing with it will start in earnest in January. Krauskopf and Dunn and her coaching staff will begin work on next year's blueprint. There likely will be no broad restructuring of the roster, just some tweaking here and there.

Forward Tamika Catchings, who was the Finals MVP, is an unrestricted free agent. Guards Briann January and Shavonte Zellous are restricted free agents. It would be a surprise not to see all three in Fever jerseys next summer.

Tammy Sutton-Brown, one of the Fever's valuable team leaders throughout the 2012 playoff run, also is an unrestricted free agent. Whether the veteran center, who turns 35 in January, will retire is uncertain.

"We haven't had any kind of conversation with her yet," Krauskopf said.

After the holidays, the Fever will begin examining the possibilities for free agency acquisitions. The team signed Erlana Larkins as a free agent before this past season, and she developed into one of the Finals' biggest headliners as she ripped down 48 rebounds in four games during the Finals.

With Larkins expected to be a mainstay in the 2013 starting lineup, Indiana will be looking for backups with rebounding and inside scoring ability.

Larkins, January, Zellous, guard Erin Phillips and center Jessica Davenport are all 20-something players that Indiana considers to be among its "core" group.

They are "old enough to have veteran experience but still young players in terms of their career," Krauskopf said. "That's a nucleus that I want to keep together."

Three younger players on the roster are held in high regard as well. Karima Christmas, a 2011 Duke graduate, made significant contributions in the Finals. Rookie center Sasha Goodlett is a player whom Indiana wants to develop further. Jeanette Pohlen, a 2011 Stanford grad, played a starring role in the close-out victory over Connecticut in the Eastern Conference finals, scoring 14 points off the bench when Katie Douglas suffered an ankle injury.

Pohlen sustained a knee injury in Game 2 of the Finals and underwent surgery after the postseason. Team doctors are happy with her progress, but her recovery period is expected to take eight or nine months.

Catchings and Douglas both will be 34 next summer. The Indiana club remains confident that neither is showing signs of age. Catchings averaged 22.2 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists in the Finals. Douglas had scored 24, 27 and 24 points in the three playoff games just before suffering her injury.

Certainly, Catchings and Douglas are expected to return as leaders of the core unit. They and the younger veterans will fill most of the 11 available roster positions. Free agents and three new draftees will compete for spots.

The Fever will pick at No. 9 in all three rounds of the April 15 WNBA draft. Whether the team can find a significant contributor that deep in the first round is questionable, but Goodlett (11th overall) and Pohlen (9th) are recent draftees who have helped the team as late first-rounders.

As for off-the-floor developments, Krauskopf said season-ticket sales are up about 11 percent over this time last year. The championship, she said, "definitely helped raise our profile another level."

The 2013 season will bring a few changes for Fever fans, who provided the team with packed houses and a thunderous sea of red during the two Finals games at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

"We re-organized the arena so we have some very specific seats between the baselines, and we're really trying to get our core fans and ticket holders into those areas," Krauskopf said, looking ahead. "We want to continue to create a great home-court environment, which I thought we did a really good job with."

The 2012 title also convinced some "fence-sitters who thought about buying (and) now they're going to buy," the team president added.

Another offseason project will involve designing the club's title rings, with the key veteran players having input. The championship that led to those rings wasn't the only unforgettable aspect of 2012. Krauskopf and her staff also produced a memorable ceremony surrounding the 40th anniversary of Title IX and later in the year announced Finish Line as a marquee partner of the franchise.

"Those are the kind of years you just file away in your memory bank," Krauskopf said about 2012. "We all try to hang onto it as best we can, but the reality is 2013 is going to be a brand new year with all kinds of new expectations and surprises. (Every team in the WNBA) is going to be better. But we're as hungry as we were at this time last year."