Top Storylines of the 2014 WNBA Season
The 18th WNBA season tips off on Friday, and after a record season both on and off the court, expectations are high for 2014.
Here are the 10 storylines you need to know for this season.
The term dynasty is perhaps thrown around too loosely these days, but if the Lynx are to advance to a fourth straight appearance in the Finals and win their third title in four years, the label of dynasty would be justified. Ever since winning the 2011 Draft lottery and selecting Maya Moore, the Lynx have been the league's benchmark. Now, the trio of Moore, Seimone Augustus and Lindsay Whalen -- all Olympians -- has the potential to rival the earliest dynasties in this league -- the Houston Comets (four titles from 1997-2000) and the Detroit Shock (three titles from 2003-2008).
WNBA basketball is returning to Madison Square Garden this season and with it comes New York native and 2012 MVP Tina Charles. The former star at Christ the King High School in Queens was dealt to the Liberty on Draft day. Charles' presence in NY instantly makes the Liberty a top contender in the East, and the double-double machine figures to mesh well with coach Bill Laimbeer of Pistons "Bad Boys" fame. Charles' move to New York also marks the first time guard Cappie Pondexter has been teamed up with a legitimate superstar since she won two titles with Diana Taurasi in Phoenix (2007, 2009).
The WNBA welcomed one of the biggest names in all of basketball this offseason when an investment group led by the legendary Magic Johnson purchased the LA Sparks. Johnson has immediately become an ambassador for the women's game and his presence alone brings extra excitement to the Staples Center. Now all that's left is for the Sparks -- a supremely talented team led by reigning MVP Candace Parker -- is to win a championship. The Sparks have not won a title since 2002 -- when the team was led by all-time great Lisa Leslie -- and a championship is the only accomplishment that has eluded Parker thus far.
Among last year's "Three to See", it was Elena Delle Donne that shined the brightest, taking home Rookie of the Year honors. Displaying a brand of inside-outside basketball that's rarely seen in the women's game, EDD has announced that she will be a star in this league for years to come, the only question now is how high she can climb? And with that, she has already flashed the next evolution of her game; the 6-foot-5 Delle Donne showed up to training camp having added 12 pounds of muscle that she believes will allow her to be even more physical in the post and also increase her chances to stay healthy.
For a team that secured the No. 3 seed in the West last year while seemingly underachieving, the expectations are high for the Mercury in 2014. Phoenix did end up making the Conference Finals last year, but a championship-caliber roster has this team reaching bigger. Diana Taurasi is back and will undoubtedly be one of the top scorers in the league. So, the fate of this team could hinge on 2013 No. 1 overall pick Brittney Griner. At 6-foot-8, Griner has all the physical tools to dominate in this league. If she takes another step to fulfilling that potential on both ends of the floor, Phoenix could be the lead candidate to dethrone Minnesota.
There's no more explosive player in the league than Angel McCoughtry, and despite taking her team to three WNBA Finals in four seasons (yet to win a title), she too often gets left off the short list of best players in the league. Armed with a strong supporting cast this season, Angel and the Dream may very well be the team to beat in the East, and if the Dream are able to capture that coveted title, it would be impossible to leave McCoughtry off of any elite list.
Off the court, Skylar Diggins has become the league's transformative star, rubbing elbows with the likes of Jay Z as she signed with his RocNation agency, increasing her exposure by working at ESPN and even appearing in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. On the court, her rookie year saw ups and downs, but if the preseason is any indication -- she's averaging 26 points over three preseason games -- the former Notre Dame star is ready to take the next step in her game. Anchoring a versatile and young Shock backcourt, Diggins may deserve even more attention this year.
Two of the league's most accomplished players will return this season. Seattle's Sue Bird and San Antonio's Becky Hammon missed all of last season due to injury, but both are back in command of their teams this season. Between the two of them, they have 14 All-Star appearances, and they add another layer of depth to the talented Western Conference. While Bird won another title in Russia this offseason for UMMC Ekaterinburg, Hammon spent time this offseason with the San Antonio Spurs coaching staff.
Two teams in the East -- Connecticut and Washington -- have made considerable investments in the future. The Sun drafted Chiney Ogwumike with the No. 1 overall pick and also added No. 4 overall pick Alyssa Thomas and last year's No. 5 overall pick Kelsey Bone via their trade wth New York involving Tina Charles, while Washington dealt All-Star Crystal Langhorne to Seattle and brought in the UConn duo of Stefanie Dolson and Bria Hartley. The future is undoubtedly bright for both teams, but seeing how quickly these teams can mature this season will be an important subplot in the East.
In a league that unqestionably brings together the best collection of women's basketball talent in the world, the question of who is the best player is often raised. Coming into 2014, a handful of players can make legitimate claims to that throne. Maya Moore is the sport's predominant winner. Candace Parker is the reigning MVP. Diana Taurasi is the league's fiercest competitor and you can make the argument that Indiana's Tamika Catchings is still the league's best two-way player. And that's leaving out a few. The 2014 season, which tips on May 16, is an opportunity for these players to separate themselves in this conversation.