2014 Western Conference Preview
The Western Conference -- and the entire league for that matter -- is looking up at the Lynx.
For all the justified talk of the West being "stacked" or "loaded", it is the same Lynx team, with its core intact, that has represented the West in the Finals in each of the past three years, winning two titles (2011, 2013).
This year, like year's past, Minny will have plenty of competition at the top, but a fourth straight trip to the Finals for this dynasty in the making would shock nobody.
So, who could knock off Maya Moore, Seimone Augustus and Lindsay Whalen from their perch? The conventional wisdom favors Phoenix, arguably the deepest team in the league, or Los Angeles, who feature a "Big Three" of their own with reigning MVP Candace Parker, 2012 Rookie of the Year Nneka Ogwumike and up-and-coming superstar Kristi Toliver. But some could point to Seattle and San Antonio, each receiving a boost from players returning from injury and new acquisitions. And others could believe in Tulsa, a young team on the cusp of putting it all together and becoming a contender.
A Brittney Griner jumper away from the Conference Finals last year, the Sparks will be among the favorties for the WNBA title this season. Candace Parker, still looking for her first WNBA Championship, remains the league's most unique physical talent and her supporting cast improved in the offseason with the additions of Candice Wiggins and French import Sandrine Gruda.
Maya Moore is at the top of her game, Seimone Augustus is one of hardest players to guard one-on-one and Lindsay Whalen has been the league's best floor general the past few years. And the trio of Olympians play well together. So, despite some injuries to key members of the supporting cast like Rebekkah Brunson, Monica Wright and Devereaux Peters, it doesn't appear like much can slow down the Lynx.
A roster that reads more like a potential All-Star team, cohesion, especially with a new coaching staff in place, will determine how far this team can go. Diana Taurasi is still as fierce a competitor this league has to offer -- and the addition of Erin Phillips will allow Taurasi to do more damage of the ball -- while Brittney Griner is primed to make a leap in her second season.
San Antonio's season was derailed before it really began last year as both Becky Hammon and Sophia Young-Malcolm were sidelined with injury. With both returning -- and the addition of No. 3 overall draft pick Kayla McBride -- the Stars are on the upswing. A coach on the floor, Hammon has fine-tuned her basketball acumen even further after an offseason spent with the Spurs coaching staff.
The Storm surprised many by making the Playoffs last year and this year they add two significant pieces -- Sue Bird returning from injury and Crystal Langhrone, acquired via trade with the Mystics. Seattle coach Brian Agler gets as much out of his talent as anyone in this league and the Storm will undoubtedly be a Playoff contender once again.
Tulsa will rely heavily on Glory Johnson, who made significant strides in her second season in 2013. And, if the preseason is any indication, Skylar Diggins is on pace for a similar sophomore breakout. That duo will combine forces with a young backcourt that also boasts No. 2 overall pick Odyssey Sims and Riquana Williams, who scored a league-record 51 points in a game last year.