Inside The W with Michelle Smith

Before we dive too deeply into fantasy, we need to deal with a reality check.

Sue Bird, who has started every game for the U.S. Women’s National Team in the last three Olympic Games – leading them to gold in each – sustained what looked to be a potentially serious knee injury in the quarterfinal win over Japan on Tuesday.

But by Wednesday morning in Brazil, Bird underwent an MRI and was diagnosed with a right knee capsule sprain. She was listed as day-to-day and both Bird and the U.S. team breathed a collective sigh of relief.

“The hardest part is waiting and not knowing,” Bird said Wednesday in a statement released by USA Basketball. “So, to finally get the thumbs-up from the doc that everything was okay was incredibly relieving and exciting, and obviously I’m very happy.”

Bird did not come to practice on Wednesday, according to the Associated Press, and it’s not clear whether Bird will be available to play in Thursday’s Olympic semifinal matchup against France – a rematch of the 2012 Gold Medal Game in London. The U.S. team is likely preparing for the possibility that they will play without Bird on the floor in an Olympic Game for the first time since 2000 in Sydney.

Lindsay Whalen, who has been coming off the bench to play the point, could potentially replace Bird in the starting lineup if she can’t go. And Diana Taurasi, the U.S. team’s leading scorer thus far, could also spend time at the point.

Bird has started all six games of the Olympic tournament for the American team, leading the team with 30 assists with just three turnovers. Bird is one of the most decorated women’s basketball players in history with a combined seven Olympic and World Championship medals. One more gold and she will match Teresa Edwards for the most all-time.

Bird, the longtime Seattle Storm point guard and two-time WNBA Champion, is having one of the best seasons of her late career. In Seattle this season, she has been a mentor to young stars Jewell Loyd and Breanna Stewart and the consummate leader on the floor.

At 35, this is very likely Bird’s last Olympic Games. Let’s hope she gets to finish her illustrious career not only on the top of the podium, but on the floor with her teammates.

PROJECTED ALL STARS

As the WNBA’s Olympic break enters its fourth week, and the U.S. Women’s National Team steamrolls toward a sixth straight gold medal, the mind starts to wander a bit.

The Olympic break means that there’s no All-Star Game for the WNBA this summer, no gathering of the league’s best and most popular stars for a weekend of fun, festivities and, let’s just admit it, very little defense.

While some of the best players in the world are gathered for the Olympic Games, not all of them are. And that means there’s plenty of outstanding basketball that’s not been played over these past few weeks.

If the WNBA had held at All-Star Game this season, the rosters might have looked a little like this:

Predicted West All-Star Team
*Sue Bird, Seattle
*Maya Moore, Minnesota
*Candace Parker, Los Angeles
*Diana Taurasi, Phoenix
*Breanna Stewart, Seattle
Sylvia Fowles, Minnesota
Brittney Griner, Phoenix
Moriah Jefferson, San Antonio
Jewell Loyd, Seattle
Nneka Ogwumike, Los Angeles
Odyssey Sims, Dallas
Lindsay Whalen, Minnesota

Predicted East All-Star Team
*Alex Bentley, Connecticut
*Tamika Catchings, Indiana
*Tina Charles, New York
*Elena Delle Donne, Chicago
*Angel McCoughtry, Atlanta
Tiffany Hayes, Atlanta
Tayler Hill, Washington
Emma Meesseman, Washington
Tiffany Mitchell, Indiana
Chiney Ogwumike, Connecticut
Sugar Rodgers, New York
Elizabeth Williams, Atlanta

*Starters

Who would win between these two projected teams? The West, for the second year in a row. While the top two individual scorers in the league come from the East in Tina Charles and Elena Delle Donne, there is just too much offensive firepower on a combined west roster.

Who might win the game’s MVP award? Nneka Ogwumike. There’s every reason to assume that the L.A. Sparks star’s remarkable season would continue in the league’s midseason showcase.

What we might have missed without an All-Star Game?

A Candace Parker showcase. Parker’s omission from the Olympic roster has almost certainly fueled her fire during the WNBA season and the Los Angeles Sparks are the beneficiary. Parker might have further decided she would like to prove her point on the All-Star Game stage, and it’s hard not to imagine she might have had herself a very big game.

Nneka vs. Chiney. The Sparks’ other MVP candidate, Nneka Ogwumike, might have had another opportunity to go up against sister Chiney in an East vs. West matchup in the post. While Nneka is blowing up the league’s record books this season with her 71 percent field-goal percentage, Chiney is making a strong midseason recovery from the knee injury that cost her the 2015 season and slowed her at the start of 2016. In fact, Chiney averaged 17.4 points and 8.7 rebounds over the last seven games heading into the break.

Rookie debuts by Moriah Jefferson and Tiffany Mitchell. Both of these young players are having strong debut seasons. Jefferson is averaging 12.2 points per game on an injury-saddled San Antonio roster. The UConn All-American ranks second in San Antonio behind Kayla McBride in scoring this season, but McBride is now out for the year with a foot injury, putting Jefferson in the Stars’ active scoring lead. Mitchell, the promising South Carolina product, is averaging 10.5 points per game for the Fever, second on the Fever.

Catchings’ last stand. Tamika Catchings’ farewell tour is not going to include one last All-Star Game appearance and that’s feels unfortunate. The league’s All-Stars would have had a collective opportunity to pay their respects to one of the greatest, and most beloved players in league history. To see her on the All-Star stage one more time would have been a treat.

High scoring guards. Who would have taken control of an All-Star game? Would it have been Diana Taurasi? Or Seattle’s second-year star Jewell Loyd,? Or how about another youngster, such as Dallas’ Odyssey Sims? Undoubtedly, somebody was going to have a big game from the perimeter.

A new venue. Eight of the current 12 WNBA cities have never hosted an All-Star Game. It seems time to spread the game around and to energize some established WNBA fan bases with an All-Star weekend. First up should be Minneapolis, the team that has so robustly supported its Minnesota Lynx through the past few years. Minnesota is a model market for how WNBA teams are marketed, embraced and treated by their communities. The practice facility is the best in the league, the team is integrated into promotions with the NBA team, the up-and-coming Timberwolves, and the arena is often full and loud. It’s past time to reward the Lynx’s hometown with an All-Star Game.


Longtime WNBA reporter Michelle Smith will have a weekly column on WNBA.com throughout the 2016 season.

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