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The season starts in about two weeks. Let me go ahead and make some preseason predictions. There are a few free agent stragglers out there, most notably Cheryl Ford and LaToya Thomas, but I'm assuming they'll all be staying where they were.
Let's start out West:
1. Los Angeles
Surprised? Yes, losing Lisa Leslie is a big blow. Penny Toler did the smart thing and brought in a wily veteran, Taj McWilliams-Franklin, to fill in. She's more than adequate, talent-wise, and can fit the veteran leader role. The other major change here is the return of Michael Cooper. He's got the highest winning percentage in WNBA history and a couple of rings, and that's a huge step up from Jellybean Bryant. Chamique Holdsclaw hasn't really had a championship quality coach in her career, this could mark a significant turning point for her. I see the Sparks winning the West pretty comfortably.
I think the Monarchs will be down a bit. Switching coaches from the highly successful John Whisenant to the untested Jenny Boucek is a gamble. They lost their second leading scorer, Erin Buescher, in free agency. Yo Griffith came back for another year, which makes them contenders, but they're still relying heavily on DeMya Walker's ability to stay in the lineup, Kara Lawson's consistency and Ticha Penicheiro making enough shots to keep the defenses honest. None of those sound like very safe bets to me.
This is basically the same team that's won 18 and 20 the last two years. I don't know why they're standing pat with a team that's not able to get over the hump. They should have about the same record as they've been having, which will put them here.
Yes, they lost their two leading rebounders (Kristen Rasmussen and Kamila Vodichkova) for nothing. Yes, Tangela Smith is a questionable boarder for her size. Yes, the Merc have missed the playoffs a league record six consecutive seasons. All that having been said, I think they'll sneak in this year. I don't see the team being much better than last year, but I don't think they need to be much better to get the last playoff spot.
5. San Antonio
The SASS have incredible depth in the backcourt. How Dan Hughes manages to get time for Ferdinand, Hammon, Johnson, Wecker, Crossley, and Darling will be worth seeing in and of itself. The frontcourt isn't as deep, but Riley is a solid veteran and Young is a star. Buescher should be the key reserve there. Add in Thomas and Little at the wing and there's plenty of talent here. I don't think they're quite ready for prime time. This is the most volatile pick. I could see them anywhere from 1st to 6th in the West.
Then there's The Comets, who are the polar opposites of the SASS. Houston had one of the league's weakest backcourts last year, then lost both starters (Dawn Staley to retirement, Dominique Canty to free agency). The guards on the roster are all rookies or retreads. The frontcourt looks good, of course: Snow, Thompson, and Swoopes are as good a starting group as there is anywhere. Lyttle and Byears bring athleticism and attitude, respectively, off the bench. There's hope. If Ashley Shields is really a diamond in the rough, if Erin Grant has bulked up, if Swoopes returns to her 2000 form, if Thompson can stay on the floor for 30+ games for once, then this is a dangerous team. But I see it as a transition year.
The Lynx are headed in the right direction. The Harding deal was a great one. They've got a pretty good stockpile of young talent going. The team will be better this year. Not enough to make a playoff run, but enough to make it interesting for a while.
How about the East?
The Fever are fully loaded. They added Tammy Sutton-Brown and Sheri Sam to an already potent lineup. They lost their old nemesis, the Sting. This team will steamroll over the rest of the East and could win 30 games unless they develop ego problems. Tamika Catchings has to be the preseason favorite for MVP.
They addressed their #1 weakness, guard depth, in a big way, signing "Pee Wee" Johnson and drafting Ivory Latta. The only real question mark is at center, where Ruth Riley was dealt to San Antonio. Will it be Kara Braxton or Katie Feenstra? Whoever it is, will she able to match Riley's production and presence? The Shock are a definite threat to repeat.
The Sun are slowly setting. With Taj McWilliams-Franklin gone and their favorite whipping girls from Charlotte out of the league, it's going to be nearly impossible for Connecticut to match their 26 wins from a year ago. With Asjha Jones moving into the starting lineup and Erin Phillips out, the already thin bench will be stretched to the breaking point. They should remain competitive, but the days of playing in the Finals are over for now.
I don't really think the Mystics are very good. I expect a losing record, in fact. However, in the East, they don't need to be that good to make the playoffs. They have plenty of depth in the backcourt and plenty of age in the front. However good Alana Beard is, these are still the same old Mystakes.
The Sky should be much better this year. Yeah, they've got issues up front. They'll be back in the lottery for next year's post-heavy draft. But they can win 10 or so games. That would be a good year for them.
6. New York
Rebuilding is hard work. The Lib have a sold foundation. From a talent standpoint, there's nothing wrong with a lineup of Moore, Baker, Christon, Jackson and Davenport. The problem is that they're very young, not that deep, and play for a team that has high expectations. This should be the bottoming out year in the rebuilding process. With the core of young talent they have and another lottery pick a year from now, the future in New York is very bright.
That's what I think. We'll come back at the end of the season and see how I did. Next time I'll be doing preseason award predictions!
We've had a week to think about the draft, so how do we think everyone did? I grade on a curve, so don't be too mad if you get a bad grade.
Armintie Price, Round 1, #3
Carla Thomas, Round 1, #10
Stephanie Raymond, Round 2, #20
Jenna Rubino, Round 3, #27
Price should step right in and start. Her skills and size make her an ideal candidate to convert from a shooting guard to a point guard, ala Lindsay Whalen. I was lukewarm on Thomas coming into the draft and I'm still skeptical about her ability to play at the pro level. She has very little range and isn't a very good rebounder for her height. Raymond and Rubino should be glad they landed on an expansion team, otherwise they would have no shot at making a roster
Kamesha Hairston, Round 1, #12
Sandrine Gruda, Round 1, #13
Cori Chambers, Round 2, #26
Kiera Hardy, Round 3, #39
I love Hairston, who really blossomed once she got out of Candice Dupree's shadow. Gruda is quite talented, but who knows when or if she'll ever come to the States? Chambers and Hardy aren't much more than camp fodder.
Ivory Latta, Round 1, #11
A year ago, I was busy trying to convince people that Latta had no shot at being the #1 overall pick. A week ago, she plummeted to #11. The truth of Latta is somewhere between those extremes. She's not the best player in the draft, but she's better than 11th best. The Shock got max value out of a mediocre pick.
Ashley Shields, Round 1, #8
Dee Davis, Round 2, #14
Kristen Newlin, Round 3, #34
I've heard some disturbing things about why Shields went so high after being completely off the radar coming into draft day. Suffice it to say I don't like this pick. I've also heard some worrisome things about Davis' knees not being up to snuff. She was playing 35+ minutes per game right up to the end of the season, so that might be overblown. Newlin was the third best post player on her team at Stanford, so I don't see her staying long.
Alison Bales, Round 1, #9
Lyndsey Medders, Round 2, #22
Ashley Key, Round 3, #35
Bales is a need pick, I suppose. Indiana was weak at the five, so they've drafted Bales and signed Tammy Sutton-Brown. I don't think Bales will be that useful for the offense-challenged Fever, she doesn't have much in the way of post moves. She is big, though, and that's a plus. Medders has a chance to make the roster with a good camp. Tully Bevilaqua won't last forever, so they should be looking for an heir to the PG spot. Key won't make the team.
LOS ANGELES SPARKS
Sidney Spencer, Round 2, #25
Amanda Brown, Round 2, #38
The Sparks were the worst 3-point shooting team in the league last year and with Lisa Leslie out, they need some front-court depth. At the point where L.A. was drafting, Spencer was the best choice to fill both needs. Brown is a practice body.
Lindsey Harding, Round 1, #1 (trade from Phoenix)
Noelle Quinn, Round 1, #4
Shay Murphy, Round 2, #15
Brooke Smith, Round 2, #23
Kathrin Ress, Round 2, #24
Harding was a nice pickup. I'm surprised they did the deal, considering they spent a first round pick on a PG last year, Shona Thorburn. I didn't expect them to give up on her so fast. Quinn is talented, but I'm not sure how she fits in with the Lynx. She plays the same position as Seimone Augustus. The next likely position would be the three, but the Lynx cored Svetlana Abrosimova. They're not going to pay her a max salary to sit on the bench. That's not even considering the possibility that they might want to get Amber Jacobs or Chandi Jones some minutes. Murphy is in sort of the same predicament, except that she's behind Quinn. Smith may sneak onto the roster, especially with Vanessa Hayden out. Smith's tendency to fall over makes me doubtful about her long-term prospects. Ress is likely the odd person out; don't be shocked to see her cut early.
NEW YORK LIBERTY
Jessica Davenport, Round 1, #2 (trade from San Antonio)
Tiffany Jackson, Round 1, #5
Shay Doron, Round 2, #16
Martina Webber, Round 3, #29
The Davenport deal was brilliant. The Lib are rebuilding, and by the time they're done, Becky Hammon will be well over the hill. Instead of trying to milk her popularity, they managed to acquire the best player in the class of '07 and add a first-round pick in next year's very strong looking draft. Jackson is also a good pick. She's athletic and added a bit of a mid-range game this year. I expect both of these players to step right in and start. Doron played her high school ball in N.Y. and should help ease the loss of Hammon at the turnstiles. Webber is a long shot to make the roster, but no more so than most third rounders.
Tyresa Smith, Round 2, #18
Leah Rush, Round 3, #28
Chrissy Givens, Round 3, #31
Emily Westerberg, Round 3, #37
Obviously the big prize here is Tangela Smith, acquired for #1 pick Lindsey Harding. Smith is good, but I'm not sure she's worth the #1 pick, even in a relatively weak draft like this one. Smith, Rush and Givens are all wings, an area where the Merc are quite fully stocked. Westerberg is a local girl who will provide some press interest during camp.
Jessica Dickson, Round 2, #21
Selection voided, Round 3, #36
I don't see Dickson making the roster. She's a shoot-first-ask-questions-later sort that really isn't going to fit in with the Monarchs. As for the other, third-round picks should never be counted on to make a roster. That having been said, there is a slim chance of getting a useful player if you select someone who is eligible.
SAN ANTONIO SILVER STARS
Camille Little, Round 2, #17
Nare Diawara, Round 3, #30
The key addition for the SASS is Becky Hammon, who joins a guard-heavy lineup. They already had Helen Darling, Marie Ferdinand, Vickie Johnson, Jae Kingi-Cross, Kendra Wecker and Shanna Zolman in fighting for backcourt time before adding Hammon. I know Dan Hughes likes to sub early and often, but even he's going to have a hard time satisfying all of those guards. Little will surely make the roster; the announcement that Agnieszka Bibrzycka is taking the summer off pretty much ensured that. Little could fit into the Biba role quite well. Diawara won't make this highly talented roster.
Katie Gearlds, Round 1, #7
Brandie Hoskins, Round 3, #33
I fully expect Gearlds to push Iziane Castro Marques out of the starting lineup and be a contender for Rookie of the Year. She was quite a bargain for Seattle, the 3rd or 4th best player in the draft available at #7. Hoskins is a good third-round pickup. She won't be able to play this season due to her injury, but she's better than third-round talent and will be a fine addition in 2008.
Bernice Mosby, Round 1, #6
Megan Vogel, Round 2, #19
Gillian Goring, Round 3, #32
Let's get one thing clear. Mosby is not Sophia Young in any way, shape or form. Mosby is a tweener, not big enough for the four and not quick enough for the three at the WNBA level. She's much more like LaQuanda Quick than Young. Vogel is good, but the Mystics have many players who play her position. She'll have to fight to make the roster. Goring will have an even tougher time.
The twins named a best dressed player at the draft, and I will too. My opinion is considerably less expert than theirs. I'll give the award to Camille Little, who was rocking the traditional little black dress. There's a reason the classics never go out of style.
I know what you're thinking. Draft day is only eight days from now, so where's the mock draft? Why aren't the fan blogs filled with predictions and analysis of the prospects? Why won't someone tell me who the Merc are going to take #1?
When I signed on to be a fan blogger, I asked what I could do in terms of talking about college kids. I don't want to jeopardize anyone's eligibility and I certainly don't want to get booted from blogging, so I thought it would be best to get an idea of the rules/guidelines in this area. Here's what I was told:
We can't openly rate or discuss players individually as pro prospects while they still have eligibility. You can talk about how a player played -- stats, performance, etc. -- without editorializing about how their game affects any pro status. It's a gray area that is so nebulous that we stay away from it as much as possible.
That means I can't tell you about the likely draft positions of Candace Parker or Sylvia Fowles for 2008 at all, since they both have eligibility into next season. Of course, if you need me to tell you where those two rank, then this whole discussion would be lost on you anyway. I could talk about Jessica Davenport or Lindsey Harding now, since both are done with college ball, but I would have to leave out other players still in the tournament who are contenders for high draft status. That makes mock drafts problematic, since the draft occurs almost immediately following the end of the NCAA Tournament and there are bound to be some top seniors in the final.
Draft speculation is fun, but ultimately not that meaningful. It's easy to get "baby happy" this time of year, looking at all the kids with the great college numbers and performances and dreaming about how great it would be if they could do that for your WNBA team. In reality, it doesn't work that way. The truth about prospects is that in a typical WNBA season there are 2 or 3 rookies who will earn starting positions and another 1 or 2 who will play 20+ minutes off the bench. Only one of the last seven seasons featured more than 5 rookies who played 20+ MPG (2001, the best college draft ever, when there were 13). Another 4 or 5 may eventually turn into rotation players, some of whom will be "prospects" from other countries or might come out of left field somewhere. The rookies who make an immediate impact will most likely all be taken in the first half of the first round. Players taken later will have to fight their way into the lineup. There are exceptions, as WNBA.com showed us recently, but generally, later round picks either don't amount to much of anything or take a few years to develop.
In the spirit of fun speculation, however, I'll give you a name to keep an eye out for in the late rounds: Reicina Russell. Russell is a 6-6 center who played one season for Penn State. You may remember her showing off her impressive wingspan in ESPN's promos for the 2004 NCAA Tournament. She didn't score much, just 4.4 ppg, but she led the Nittany Lions in rebounding at 6.7 per game and blocked 87 shots in 34 games. Her lack of scoring had more to do with Penn State's style -- they were perimeter oriented with Kelly Mazzante doing the bulk of the scoring -- than Russell's skill. She shot 61% from the floor. Russell didn't see eye-to-eye with then-Penn State coach Rene Portland, so she transferred to Georgia, then dropped out and got pregnant. She's had the baby and word is that she's in great shape and is itching to play in the W. I can see a team taking a third-round flyer on her, and I have a feeling she'll do well if she gets a shot.
The free agent period started quietly enough, but as soon as I take a week to go to Prezcon, all heck breaks loose. Three trades go down in two days! Let's take a look at these deals and see who did well.
San Antonio gets Sandora Irvin
Phoenix gets a second round pick (#17 overall)
Dan Hughes must be an economist. He clearly believes in buying low and selling high. He got former #2 overall pick Chantelle Anderson for a late first-round pick two years ago and now he's picked up former #3 pick Sandora Irvin for even less. Anderson still hasn't played like a lottery pick, but she's improved mightily from her days on the Sacramento bench. Irvin has been a disaster in Phoenix, unable to crack the rotation for the post-starved Mercury and ineffective (to put it charitably) in the few minutes she did get. Irvin has off-court issues that may or may not be solved by a move to San Antonio. Perhaps David Robinson can do for her what he did for Katie Feenstra when she first arrived. This is potentially a great deal for the SASS, but it's more likely to be nothing-for-nothing in the long run.
Los Angeles gets Taj McWilliams-Franklin
Connecticut gets Erika DeSouza, a first-round pick (#12 overall)
Taj is a great player. However, she's 36 years old and has been talking retirement. The Sparks needed someone to fill in while Lisa Leslie is on maternity leave. Taj isn't Leslie, nobody is, but she's as close as they were going to be able to come. The question is whether they paid a fair price. DeSouza was nothing to the Sparks. She was never going to play in L.A. again. It's questionable whether she'll play in Connecticut, but even if she does, it's not likely that she'll have much impact. The history of #12 picks is mixed. Tangela Smith was a #12, but so were Natalia Zasulskaya and Allison Curtin. Unless the Sparks are able to take the title with Taj or the Sun get lucky with the pick, this is going to be much less of a big deal that it appears at first glance.
San Antonio gets Ruth Riley
Detroit gets Katie Feenstra and the option to switch first round picks with the SASS
The SASS have a bunch of talent on their roster. They now have six players who were top-five draft picks, plus three-time All Star Marie Ferdinand, plus Vickie Johnson. If they can keep Ferdinand and LaToya Thomas on the floor they really ought to be pretty good. Ruth Riley is exactly what they need, a player with championship experience who knows what it takes to get to the next level. It's not that she's any better than Feenstra -- the numbers suggest that she's not as good -- it's just that she has the kind of history that the SASS need. As for the Shock, they needed some salary cap relief. With Cheryl Ford coming off of her rookie deal and Swin Cash, Deanna Nolan and Katie Smith already maxed (or close to it), they were up against the wall. They couldn't very well let Ford, an MVP waiting to happen, walk away in free agency, so something had to give. Feenstra is bigger than Riley and has posted better numbers, but more importantly she's younger and cheaper. This move allows the Shock to keep the rest of their core together for at least two more seasons, assuming they're all happy. After that, well, I'm sure Trader Bill will come up with something if he hasn't bolted for the NBA by then.
None of these trades strike me as lopsided. It's just different teams with different needs finding ways to help each other. That's what makes the offseason so much fun!
"Beauty depends on size as well as symmetry" - Aristotle
The New York Times, in a rare mention of women's basketball, discusses the phenomenon of female athletes embracing their size and rejecting the commonly accepted notions of what female bodies should look like. There's quite a bit to discuss there.
The NCAA doesn't require women's basketball teams to list player weights on rosters, it discourages the practice, and in fact almost no schools do so. On the other hand, virtually all Division I men's teams have weights listed for their players. It's a silly double standard on one part, you're not supposed to ask a woman her weight, but it's rooted in something even more ridiculous than that. Supposedly, weighing female athletes might "cause undue anxiety and even trigger unhealthy weight-loss practices". I find it very hard to believe that any person prone to that level of anxiety about their weight wouldn't be mounting a scale on their own time. All that's accomplished by not weighing is that the players with eating disorders will have an easier time hiding it. Jim Foster, the head coach at Ohio State, said "putting your head in the sand is not an attractive alternative" and he's exactly right. The NCAA and the universities are more concerned about the liability they would have if they weighed an athlete who turned out to be bulimic than the health of the players.
The WNBA lists weights for its players on rosters and has right from day one. It's standard procedure for professional leagues, and I'm glad the W hasn't tried to be dainty about it. It's handy for fans, who can see more easily why Iciss Tillis (at 165) has trouble banging in the post with Kamila Vodichkova (at 190). I haven't heard about any WNBA players suffering from weight anxiety or developing eating disorders, further casting doubt on the NCAA's reasoning behind not wanting player weights listed.
What message is the NCAA sending by hiding this information? I think the suggestion is clear; these healthy, athletic women should be ashamed of their weight. They're really feeding the stereotype by not letting young girls see that their role models weigh more than 100 pounds. The fact that Asjha Jones, who is quite beautiful and not at all fat, weighs 196 lbs was hidden from the public during her time at UConn. Why? Who benefits from this being kept secret? Nobody, except maybe the people making My Scene dolls, derives any advantage from confidentiality on this matter. Better to let the kids, and the adults too for that matter, see that a woman can be fit and healthy and sexy and still weigh that much.
I think the WNBA should be at the forefront of the movement to show how women can look great and be physically fit without starving themselves into a size 2. There are plenty of players who would make great role models in this regard. Tamika Williams is getting married soon and weighs 195, she's a fine example to show that potential mates won't be scared off. Chantelle Anderson, 6'6 and 192 lbs, is model-gorgeous. Ruth Riley weighs more than any of the other players I've mentioned and has no shortage of admirers. Athletics are supposed to make people healthier. Why not take it one step further and demonstrate that being healthy also means avoiding freak diets and unrealistic body expectations.
The W once licensed a WNBA Barbie Doll. It's past time for the league to break off completely and say loudly that women aren't supposed to look like that.
I know everyone is caught up in the Superbowl hype. Looks like it will be a good game. I'm picking the Colts, for whatever that's worth.
All the talk about Peyton Manning being the best quarterback, if not best player, in the NFL to never win a Superbowl got me thinking. Who's the best player in the WNBA without a title?
I decided to look at numbers first. Stats may not be everything, but it's a good place to start. Who are the current leaders in points, rebounds, assists, and minutes among those who haven't won a title? I decided to cut it off at a minimum of 90 games played. It's too early to say Seimone Augustus is the best player in the league without a title. I was going to cut it off at 100, but a couple of players are just below that who could reasonably be considered. Anyway, the leaders...
|Diana Taurasi||Chamique Holdsclaw||Lindsay Whalen||Tamika Catchings|
|Chamique Holdsclaw||Tamika Catchings||Shannon Johnson||Chamique Holdsclaw|
|Tamika Catchings||Taj McWilliams-Franklin||Diana Taurasi||Diana Taurasi|
|Alana Beard||Michelle Snow||Tamika Catchings||Shannon Johnson|
|Nykesha Sales||Margo Dydek||Helen Darling||Taj McWilliams-Franklin|
|Marie Ferdinand||Wendy Palmer||Alana Beard||Nykesha Sales|
|Taj McWilliams-Franklin||Tamika Williams||Vickie Johnson||Alana Beard|
|Tangela Smith||Nicole Ohlde||Stacey Dales||Vickie Johnson|
|Penny Taylor||Tammy Sutton-Brown||Chamique Holdsclaw||Marie Ferdinand|
|Shannon Johnson||Tari Phillips||Tamicha Jackson||Crystal Robinson|
Catchings and Holdsclaw are the only players on all four lists. Catchings is in the top 5 of all of them. Alana Beard, Shannon Johnson, Taj McWilliams-Franklin, and Diana Taurasi each made three.
Stats don't tell the whole story, of course. Let's look at awards
MVP TOP 10
|Nykesha Sales 7||Tamika Catchings 3/2||Chamique Holdsclaw 6|
|Chamique Holdsclaw 6||Diana Taurasi 2/1||Tamika Catchings 5|
|Taj McWilliams-Franklin 5||Katie Douglas 1/0||Diana Taurasi 3|
|Tamika Catchings 4||Chamique Holdsclaw 0/3||Tari Phillips 3|
|Shannon Johnson 4||Shannon Johnson 0/3||Taj McWilliams-Franklin 2|
|Tari Phillips 4||Taj McWilliams-Franklin 0/2||Nykesha Sales 2|
|Becky Hammon 3||Nykesha Sales 0/1||Shannon Johnson 2|
|Marie Ferdinand 3||Tari Phillips 0/1||Katie Douglas 1|
|Diana Taurasi 2||Wendy Palmer 0/1||Wendy Palmer 1|
|Alana Beard 2||Betty Lennox 0/1||Alana Beard 1|
|Margo Dydek 2||Becky Hammon 0/1||Lindsay Whalen 1|
|Vickie Johnson 2||Alana Beard 0/1||Becky Hammon 1|
|Michelle Snow 2||Seimone Augustus 0/1||Seimone Augustus 1|
The All-WNBA column shows times named to the first/second teams. MVP top 10 is the number of times the player has finished in the top 10 in MVP voting. There are also a bunch of players with one All Star appearance and no titles. Too many to list. What else is there? Catchings has won Defensive POY twice. Holdsclaw and Taurasi each led the league in scoring once. Holdsclaw also led in rebounding twice. Catchings led the league in steals thrice, Sales shared the title one time. Dydek led the league in blocks eight times. Catchings has been in the top 5 in MVP voting five times, only one other player (Lisa Leslie) has ever done that.
Seems to me that Tamika Catchings has earned the "honor" of being called the Best Player in the WNBA who hasn't won a title.
As you've probably heard, Major League Soccer's LA team, the Galaxy, have signed British star David Beckham to a five year deal supposedly worth $250 million. Now he's not really going to make that much, and he's certainly not getting all of that from the Galaxy. Let's say his MLS salary will make up 20% of the deal. That's $50M over five years, or $10M per year. That would exceed the combined salary cap of all 14 WNBA teams from last season.
MLS announced attendance, according to Kenn Tomasch, was 15502 per game. That's a little more than twice the WNBA average of 7476 per game. Of course they had fewer games, so their total attendance of 2976423 was only about 67% higher than the WNBA's 1779366.
MLS attendance figures are grossly inflated. Mark Ziegler at the San Diego Union-Tribune found that "few, if any, leagues have a greater disparity between what is announced and what is actually in the stadium" and "subtract the international doubleheaders that swell MLS crowds - the seven last season had an average announced crowd of 48,589 - and the per-game paid attendance in 2005 drops below 10,000."
Last summer, the Washington Post reported that "the WNBA's television ratings are higher than the National Hockey League's cable ratings and Major League Soccer's TV audience." A few weeks later, MLS signed a new TV deal worth $8M per year for eight years.
So, if the WNBA and MLS have similar attendance and TV ratings, how is it that they can make a deal like this? You got me, but it seems like a desperation deal. It could break the league. If I were an MLS fan I wouldn't be pleased that they're putting so many eggs in Beckham's basket.
Does that mean the WNBA is on the verge of absurd contracts like Beckham's? No. The popularity disparity between the US and the rest of the world is unique to soccer. There's no WBB player that can command that kind of cash. However, it does suggest that the WNBA's next TV deal will be a big step up from the current one. With better ratings, and presumably better demographics (i.e. younger and more female), than MLS, the WNBA should be able to pull down a contract in the $10M per year range, if not more. That would push the teams towards the black and might even make the league profitable overall. What better way to shut up the sports radio cavemen and make the owners who are getting out now look foolish?
I had a whole anti-Robert Johnson rant ready to go, but I scrapped it. He's just not worth the effort. Suffice to say that he's a wretched human being. Now, on to new business.
Donna Orender has drawn quite a bit of criticism over the way the Sting's contraction went down, notably from Melissa Oliveira at Sportspage Magazine and Clay Kallam at Full Court Press. I'm not sure how much of that is justified. As late as September 29th team spokespersons were saying "plans call for the Sting to remain a part of Bobcats Sports & Entertainment through the 2007 season". This isn't like 2002, when the league was able to relocate two teams. Back then the old owners announced immediately after the season that they weren't interested in continuing, giving Val Ackerman and company several months to get the job done. The Sting news didn't drop until the eve of the 2007 schedule release, barely a month before the start of the free agency period. It would have been miraculous if they had been able to move the team in that time span.
That's not to say that Donna O is blameless. She's the president, the buck stops with her. Everyone knew the Sting weren't in Bobcat Sports' long term plans. Their former owner spent his first NBA owners meeting pleading for the league to sever ties with the WNBA. Every other team in the league started selling 2007 ticket packages almost immediately after the end of the 2006 season, if not earlier. The Sting never did. An underfunded local group expressed interest in purchasing the Sting during the season and Bobcat Sports never denied they were looking to sell the team. When the newspapers were reporting Kansas City and Bentonville as possibly joining the league in 2008, everyone I talked to expected the Sting to be moving to one of those cities.
The demise of the Sting is sad, yes, but it's part of the pain that comes from the evolution of the league. Like I've said many times before (and likely will many times again), separating WNBA teams from dilettante NBA owners is a 100% good thing and the sooner we have no teams owned by them the better.
As a side note, Andrea Stinson's retired jersey has been hanging in the Bobcats arena. It may still be hanging there, depending on the efficiency of their staff. I wonder what will happen to it. I can't imagine they'll keep it on display. Will they send it to Stint? Give it to the league office? Donate it to the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame? Stuff it in a closet next to the 2001 Eastern Conference Championship banner they refused to hang? Put it on ebay? Who owns such a thing in a situation like this?
I've seen people on various message boards here saying Penny Toler is the worst GM in the league. I've criticized her myself. OTOH, a look at the Sparks' record under her tenure reveals a very impressive run of success. In her seven seasons the Sparks have seven playoff appearances, six first place finishes, five conference finals trips, three WNBA finals appearances, and two WNBA titles. In the three years before her appointment as GM, despite the presence of Lisa Leslie in the paint, LA made the playoffs only once and never finished better than four games behind Houston. Clearly something is going right out there in SoCal. Maybe we should take a closer look at what Toler has done and see if she's really that bad.
Two constants have marked Toler's career as GM. First, the Sparks always bring in lots of free agents to training camp, particularly undrafted rookies and players that are viewed as possibly being over-the-hill like Jen Gillom in 2003 and Teresa Weatherspoon in 2004. LA always has lots of bodies in April & May, and often wind up with players on the team that come seemingly from nowhere. The second thing is that she drafts quite poorly. In her first four drafts, she never got a first rounder that played a single minute for the Sparks and received only minimal impact from later rounds. The last few drafts have been better. Christi Thomas is solid off the bench and Lisa Willis made the roster. That's a substantial step up from Nicole Kubik and Rosalind Ross.
Michael Cooper was named Sparks coach for 2000 a few weeks before Toler landed the job as GM. With the starting lineup of Figgs, Dixon, Mabika, Milton, and Leslie set, Toler did little. Signing Vedrana Grgin-Fonseca was the big move. The Sparks dominated the regular season and blew Phoenix off the court in round one of the playoffs before falling to Houston in the conference finals.
That wasn't good enough, so in October of 2000 the Sparks made two trades. In the first they dealt Allison Feaster and Clarisse Machanguana to Charlotte for Rhonda Mapp and EC Hill. That didn't work out too well. Hill never played in LA while Mapp got token minutes over two seasons. Feaster ended up scoring double digit points/game for the next four seasons for the Sting while Machanguana was later traded for a first round draft pick. In the second trade, LA struck gold. They traded La'Keshia Frett to Sacramento for Latasha Byears. Frett never amounted to much more than an end-of-the-bench type player, while Byears brought much needed toughness to the Sparks bench. Tot played two full seasons for LA and the Sparks took home the trophy both times. When she left, they stopped winning the big one. Toler made a remarkably good and astute deal there.
The 2001 Sparks were one the league's all time great teams, of course, breaking all kinds of records on their way to the WNBA title. Toler made one small in-season trade, dealing Camille Cooper to New York for a second round pick. The pick turned into Gergana Slavtcheva, who was part of the next big deal.
If you were the GM of a team that won its conference by 8 games, waltzed through the playoffs like Ginger Rogers on speed, and whose oldest rotation player was 29 (and who just happened to win MVP by the widest margin in the history of the league), what would be your instinct during that off-season? Raise your hand if you said "trade the starting point guard". Oh, put your hand down you liar! Anyway, in April of 2002 that's exactly what Penny Toler did. She dealt Ukari Figgs and Slavtcheva to Portland for Nikki Teasley and Sophia Witherspoon. This trade has been as thoroughly dissected as any trade in league history. Most everyone agrees it was a good deal for the Sparks. Teasley played two more seasons in LA after Figgs' premature retirement and the transition didn't stop the Sparks from taking the 2002 WNBA title. Teasley may not have ever been as good as Figgs was as Sparks PG in 2001, but she's a fair sight better than Figgs was as a Toyota engineer in 2004 or 2005. Witherspoon was also useful as a bench shooter for the 2002 title team.
The 2002 Sparks repeated as champs, albeit in less impressive fashion than the 2001 team. Again Toler made one in-season deal, trading LA's first round pick to Miami for Marlies Askamp. Askamp didn't play much, she got zero minutes in the WNBA finals for example. The pick was never taken, the Sol folded, but looking at what was available when the Sparks' pick would have occured it doesn't appear that much was lost.
The 02-03 offseason was uneventful for the Sparks. They signed Jennifer Gillom, who came in out of shape and wasn't effective, and acquired Shaquala Williams for a third round pick (again the pick was never taken, this time it was the Rockers who folded). During the 2003 season the Sparks waived Latasha Byears over an alleged offcourt incident. Toler, as GM, would normally be responsible for such an action, which in retrospect seems like a gross overreaction, but in this case the decision almost certainly came from someone higher up the food chain. LA wound up losing to Detroit in the WNBA finals. Many believe the difference was the Sparks losing home court advantage due to a Lisa Leslie injury at the All Star Game.
The 03-04 offseason was another quiet one in LA. No trades, but they brought in Teresa Weatherspoon and Tamika Whitmore as free agents and got Laura Macchi and Rafaella Masciadri to come over from Italy. Spoon was shot as a player and Masciadri never got much PT, but Macchi and Whitmore both played key roles for the 2004 Sparks. Michael Cooper left 2/3 of the way through the season to pursue an NBA opportunity and interim coach Karleen Thompson couldn't get LA out of the first round of the 04 playoffs.
The 04-05 offseason finally brought some action. Well, sort of. The Sparks dawdled in picking a head coach, naming Henry Bibby just a week before the draft. Bibby was a disaster. He didn't know the WNBA talent, couldn't get along with his players, and generally acted like an SOB because he was unhappy at the way his career had turned. He lasted less than a season before being replaced by Jellybean Bryant. That wasn't the only shakeup in LA. In March, Toler traded Delisha Milton and the Sparks' first round pick to Washington for Chamique Holdsclaw. In essence this is the same kind of trade as the Figgs/Teasley deal, swapping a savvy veteran for a younger, more erratic player. In this case it's being done at a much higher talent level. The Mystics traded the pick they got to Detroit for Iciss Tillis. The Shock used the pick on Dionnah Jackson. At the time this deal was made I said it could turn out to be the worst trade in WNBA history, in LA's favor, and it might yet. With Holdsclaw anything is possible. So far Holdsclaw has put up better numbers than Milton and the Sparks have been a much better team than Washington, so it looks like a win for LA.
In 2005 the Sparks finished 17-17 and barely made the playoffs, getting knocked out in the first round. It was the first time since 1997-98 that LA had gone consecutive seasons without reaching the conference finals. and the first time since 1998 that they hadn't had a winning record. Leslie, Dixon, and Mabika had become aging veterans. What would you do if you were GM? Raise your hand if you said "trade the starting point guard". Haha, put your hand down, you knew that was the answer. In March of 2006 Toler traded Nikki Teasley and LA's first round pick (#8 overall) to Washington for Temeka Johnson, Murriel Page, and the Mystics' first round pick (#5 overall). The Sparks got Lisa Willis with the #5 pick, Washington took Tamara James at #8. Again, LA clearly has the ede on this trade so far. Teasley/Johnson was pretty much a wash. Teasley shot better from three, Johnson better overall. Teasley had more assists, but also more turnovers. Johnson had the edge in steals and rebounds (at 5'3, compared to the 6' Teasley) and is generally acknowledged to play better defense. Willis played twice as many minutes as James and was slightly better, number-wise. And then there's Page, who gave the Sparks a solid 20 minutes/game off the bench. The Sparks rebounded to take first in the west again and lost in the conference finals, mostly because The Claw was unable to play.
Looking over it all, there's not too much to suggest that Toler is a bad GM. She's made eight trades. Only one (Mapp & Hill for Feaster & Machanguana) was a definite loss for the Sparks while all of the other major deals have been net gains, some of them tremendously in LA's favor. The drafts have been poor, but given that LA usually goes at the end of each round it's been far from disastrous. LA had the last pick in 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2005 and the next to last pick in 2000 and 2004. You might debate whether she could have gotten something for Tamecka Dixon instead of letting her walk after the 2005 season, but that kind of trade has been difficult to pull off for all teams. New York couldn't do it for Vickie Johnson or Tari Phillips, Phoenix couldn't do it for Jennifer Gillom, Charlotte couldn't do it for Andrea Stinson, and those are all better players than Dixon.
Toler isn't perfect, I certainly wouldn't call her the league's best GM, but it looks to me like her reign as GM has been a good one overall for the Sparks.
Over at ESPN's Page 2, Bill Simmons has an interesting article about what he calls "Tantalizers". These are players with Tremendous Upside Potential that somehow never live up to their supposed greatness. He lists five types:
1. A TUP player with a decent chance still to be very good or great.
In WNBA terms, this is Janel McCarville. The #1 pick in the 2005 draft has averaged 3.2 points and 3.1 rebounds in 12.6 minutes over 58 games in her first two seasons. That's not exactly the kind of production you expect from someone picked that high. She improved pretty dramatically from her first season to her second. There's no shortage of people who will tell you she's about to break out and become a star. The Charlotte fans I've talked to are very leery of trading JMac, even to the point of suggesting it might be OK to let Tammy Sutton-Brown walk in free agency.
2. Someone who's been around long enough for us to have embraced her TUP, digested it and digested it again ... and now we're just waiting for her to realize it.
This is Nicole Powell. We've seen what she can do in the playoffs, just shooting opponents out of the building. She's done it occasionally in the regular season too. Unfortunately she also mixes in a generous share of 1/8 and 3/10 (0/3 from three) games. She could be the best player on the Monarchs, even with Yo and DeMya aboard, but she's not because she hasn't been able to perform at a consistently high level.
3. A prospect who can't reach her TUP because she keeps getting hurt, until we find ourselves saying, "Man, if she could only stay healthy, we might really have something here, only we're in denial, because she'll always be better at getting injured than actually becoming a go-to player."
Tina Thompson might fit here, but she's a little more established than what The Sports Guy had in mind. This is LaToya Thomas, who looked so good in 2004 only to have everything come off the rails the last two seasons. I suggested Thomas as a key component to a potential Sue Bird trade a while back and the Seattle fans I was talking to thought I'd lost my mind. Thomas is potentially dominating if/when she gets healthy, and her presence in the lineup is a prerequisite for any realistic scenario in which the SASS are contenders.
4. An older TUP player who never lived up to her hype but has shown just enough over the years to make a breakout still seem conceivable, even though we have a staggering amount of evidence at our disposal that argues it's not in her.
Svetlana Abrosimova is the name that comes to mind when I read that description. I'm constantly amazed at how many people see her as untradeable or even as a key element for a contending team. When you watch her play she always seems to be more productive than she really is. She misses a lot of dramatic shots and almost gets quite a few rebounds. Plus she'll occasionally put up absurd games like the one she had against LA early last season (8/9 from the floor, 5/5 from three, with 8 rebounds). Add in the UConn mystique and there will always be people thinking she'll put it all together one day.
5. A young star who reached much of her TUP before being derailed by injuries. Now she's battling her way back, and it's painfully obvious she's not the same, only we can't admit that, because she looks the same and she's too young to be past her prime, and if that's not enough, there's always a chance she could still spin the fairy-tale finish.
Obviously this is Chamique Holdsclaw. The Claw won't be 30 until late next season, but her speed, demeanor, and declining numbers look more like someone who's pushing 40 and thinking retirement. She's had all kinds of injuries and bizarre events in her career, and it looks like it's finally gotten to her. She might play another ten years or she might quit tomorrow. She might go out and win eight MVP awards before she retires, she still has a talent level that makes anything possible, or she might be content to be second fiddle to Lisa Leslie or someone else until the end.
The potential for greatness is part of what makes sports special. The WNBA has plenty of it, which is very tantalizing, don't you think?
The Monarchs named Jenny Boucek as their head coach a few weeks ago. She replaces John Whisenant, who has decided to be only Sacramento's GM after several years of holding both jobs. There are plenty of interesting notes about this hiring…
Boucek is the first WNBA head coach who was born in the 1970's. She's not the youngest head coach ever. Julie Rousseau was only 32 years, 8 months old when she coached her first game for LA in 1997*. By the time of Boucek's first regular season game, she'll also be older than Heidi Vanderveer and Carolyn Peck were at the time of their first games. That's not an encouraging list for Monarch fans, none of those younger coaches were very successful.
Boucek is the 18th head coach to come from the WNBA assistant's ranks (including interim coaches). However, she's only the 2nd to be an assistant for one team and be hired as head coach for another. The Monarchs were also involved in the one other occasion that this happened. Sonny Allen was an assistant for the Shock in 1998 before being hired by Sacramento as head coach in 1999. Allen did pretty well, winning over 60% of his regular season games, but couldn't beat LA in the playoffs and was eventually replaced by Maura McHugh after 2½ seasons.
Boucek is the 4th head coach to have been a WNBA player, following Cynthia Cooper, Nancy Lieberman, and Suzie McConnell-Serio. She's the 1st to have been a WNBA player, assistant coach, and head coach. Again, not a very encouraging list if you're a Monarch fan. None of the former players turned head coach have done very well.
There were 14 players in the WNBA last season who are older than Boucek:
Amazingly, only four of them played for Houston! McCray, Pettis, and Staley have retired. It wouldn't surprise me to see another couple be gone next season.
Boucek is one of only four people who have been assistant coaches for three different teams. The others are Shelley Patterson, Cheryl Reeve, and Heidi Vanderveer. Vanderveer has gotten two interim jobs, Sacramento in 1998 and Minnesota in 2002. She kept the Monarchs job the next season. Patterson and Reeve are still waiting for the call. I think Reeve will make an outstanding head coach.
This is the first time a team that went to the WNBA finals replaced their coach before the next season. The Sparks went to the 2003 finals then had to replace Michael Cooper during the 2004 season when he left to pursue an NBA job. They wound up losing in the first round of the playoffs.
I'm curious to see how she'll do. I'm generally in favor of coaches paying their dues in the assistant ranks before getting head jobs, so I'm going to be rooting for her to start a trend in that direction.
* I have been unable to track down dates of birth for four former WNBA head coaches: Jim Lewis, Mary Murphy, Linda Sharp, and Karleen Thompson. It's possible, though unlikely that one or more of them might have been younger than Rousseau when they started their WNBA head coaching career. If anyone knows the DOB for any or all of them, please let me know at email@example.com.
And not sing by my house all day.
Over at oursportscentral.com , Bruce Baskin has an article pondering whether or not the Storm should trade Sue Bird. Baskin is best known as a baseball guy, writing extensively about central and south American leagues and being involved with the Washington Women's Baseball Association . It's good to see him taking the WNBA seriously, so many sportswriters and analysts don't.
As to the matter at hand, is it time for the Storm to trade Sue Bird? Baskin gives four key reasons why he thinks it is…
1 Her overall offensive statistics have declined since that magic 2004 season
2 She doesn't seem to know when to stop pulling the trigger when her shooting is off
3 She spends too time complaining to refs
4 Seattle's first-round exits over the past two postseasons would indicate that a change may be in order
Let's look at each point separately.
Bird's stats are really only down from 2004 in two areas: FG% and assists. As a PG, those are important stats. In 2004 she shot 46% from the field and 44% from three. Those are both career highs and well above what a reasonable person could expect her to maintain. Last year she was at 41% from the floor and 37% from three, both below her career norms. Numbers closer to her averages, 43% from the floor and 40% from three, would be more than adequate. I wouldn't think trading her based on one sub-par shooting season would be wise.
As for the assists, Bird was still third in the league despite posting a career low of 4.8 per game. The shorter shot clock is partly to blame. Assists overall were up slightly, but considerably more diffused. Twice as many players averaged 4+ assists in 2005 as did in 2006, but many more players averaged 3+ or even 2+ in 2006 than in 2005. There were also more unassisted baskets (62% of WNBA buckets were assisted in 2005, 57% in 2006). Nikki Teasley's 5.4 per game in 2006 was the lowest number for the league leader in league history. I don't see Bird's assist dropoff as significant at all.
More fundamentally, it's bad policy for a team to trade a player after a bad stat year. That's when the trade value is lowest, and players generally tend to bounce back to near their career averages unless they're well over the hill. Bird, who turned 26 last month, is just reaching the top. Besides, a bird is not in its ounces and inches, but in its relations to Nature. That's as true of Sue in Seattle as it was of Emerson's heron. She has value beyond her numbers.
The second question is Bird's overshooting. Baskin mentions games against Sacramento, Detroit, and LA, in which Bird took a larger than usual number of shots, shot poorly, and the Storm lost. Leaving aside for the moment that those were arguably the three best teams in the league, let's look at the extenuating circumstances. Lauren Jackson didn't play in the 18 July game against the Monarchs and only played nine minutes in the 28 July game against Detroit. With Jackson out, Bird has to take more shots. Janell Burse was also out in the Detroit and LA games, which left the Storm with almost no inside game. You can hardly blame Bird for Seattle's bench woes. I find this argument wholly uncompelling.
Does she complain to the refs too much? Well, yeah, she does it more than I would like and I do think it affects her play. That's more of a coaching issue than anything particular to Bird. Anne Donovan lets Bird do that without repercussion. I don't have any reason to think she would treat another PG differently in that regard.
The last point is probably the best one. Early playoff exits usually prompt teams to make changes. That's what got Detroit to pull the trigger on the Katie Smith deal. That's what made LA go for Chamique Holdsclaw. Sacramento canned Sonny Allen with a 60%+ career winning percentage because they couldn't beat LA in the playoffs. Seattle did the exact opposite of what most people do. They dumped two starters (Sheri Sam & Kamila Vodichkova) and their best bench guard (Tully Bevilaqua) after the title year in 2004 but have stood pat sense then. They do need to shake things up, and a trade of Bird would certainly do it.
One subject that often comes up in WNBA discussion is bad trades. Every offseason there's a new argument about what the worst trade ever was. I'm an opinionated sort, so let me give you my list of the 10 worst trades in WNBA history.
#10: Draft Day 2004. Phoenix traded #8 pick Chandi Jones to Detroit for #13 pick Shereka Wright, #23 pick Erika Valek, and Sheila Lambert. Lambert and Valek were cut before the season started, so the Mercury essentially traded the #8 pick in the draft straight up for the #13 pick in the draft. Neither Jones nor Wright have been anything special. The Shock were able to parlay Jones into something better, as we'll see later in the list.
#9: April 2003. Detroit traded Dominique Canty to Houston for Allison Curtin. Curtin never played a minute in the WNBA, while Canty has become a solid rotation player for The Comets. Bill Laimbeer is involved in three of the ten trades on this list. This is the only one of the three he came out on the losing end of.
#8: August 2005. Houston traded Kristen Rasmussen, Adrienne Goodson, and a first round pick to Charlotte for Dawn Staley and a second round pick. The proverbial deal that's bad for both teams. Charlotte dealt Staley, an all time great, and got two players who left in free agency at the end of the year and a draft pick that turned out to be Tye'sha Fluker. Houston, on the other hand, had a ton of momentum. They were 14-10 after a poor 4-5 start, tied for second with Seattle, and had Tina Thompson just returning from her annual injury. They were ready to make a run at first place Sacramento. Instead, they depleted their bench to add an over-the-hill point guard. They wound up losing to the Monarchs in the playoffs in no small part because they didn't have enough front court depth to deal with Sacto's great frontcourt. Staley did play another year in Houston, proving once and for all that she was long past her prime.
#7: March 2002. This is a little complicated. My buddy bluewolfvii over at rebkell's explains it best, so I'm going to turn you over to her…
On March 4, 2002
Phoenix Mercury traded its first round pick (eighth overall) in the 2002 WNBA Draft to the Cleveland Rockers in exchange for Pollyanna Johns Kimbrough and a first round pick (15th overall). The Mercury then traded Johns Kimbrough and the 15th pick to the Miami Sol, in exchange for Tracy Reid and a first round pick (13th overall). Indiana received Miami's 13th pick and Bridget Pettis in exchange for Gordana Grubin to complete the trade.
In this scenario, Cleveland gave up its first-round (15th overall) and little-used Polyanna Johns to move up to 8th overall in the hopes that one of the first rd guard prospects would fall to it. [Starter Helen Darling was pregnant with triplets.]
Nikki Teasley didn't fall far enough, however, and Charlotte, in an eleventh hour trade, boxed Cleveland out of being able to draft PG prospect Sheila Lambert.
Orlando Miracle acquired center Clarisse Machanguana from the Charlotte Sting in exchange for a first round pick (seventh overall) in the 2002 Draft
Rockers coach Hughes, forced to look in a different direction, drafted small forward Deanna Jackson.
Anne Donovan got to pick again by virtue of her [Charlotte's] own 1st rd pick. She turned around and traded that pick (9th overall) to Minnesota.
Charlotte Sting traded No. 9 pick Shaunzinski Gortman to the Minnesota Lynx for forwards Erin Buescher and Maylana Martin
Who came out ahead that day? Johns went on to start 30 games for the Miami Sol, but the team finished out of the playoffs and after that season it folded.
Gordana started 31 games for Phoenix and set career highs in scoring, assists, and steals, but Phoenix finished 11-22 in a season in which its head coach (Cynthia Cooper) resigned one-third through.
Deanna Jackson became a favorite of Cleveland's Dan Hughes, but the following season became part of a logjam at forward along with 2001 first rd pick Penny Taylor and 2003 first rd pick LaToya Thomas. The Rockers never did find the answer at PG and when Ann Wauters held out they came up short at center. Cleveland folded after the 2003 season.
Shaunzinzki Gortman became a little-used reserve in Minnesota and washed out last season in Washington. Erin Buescher was a throw-in the Nicole Powell trade. Maylana Martin, Clarisse Machanguana , and Traci Reid are out of the WNBA.
So of all of that trading and maneuvering to out-smart the competition, who ended up as the winner? That was a team who the season before had seen its top scorer retire and its best player tear her ACL yet still managed to make the 2001 WC Championship series.
It was a team who sat and watched with disbelief as the other teams schemed, traded up and down, and dealt players like Erin Buescher, Clarisse Machanguana, Polyanna Johns, Shaunzinski Gortman, and Maylana Martin.
It was the Houston Comets, drafting 10th, yet somehow managed to draft the player nobody else wanted, Tennessee's Michelle Snow.
That quote is from before last season, so Buescher may have moved up in blue's opinion after winning MIP. I recall watching all that maneuvering with increasing disbelief. 2002 was a thin draft, but it provided a ton of offseason interest.
#6: March 2004 Washington traded Asjha Jones to Connecticut for Tamicha Jackson. Jackson actually came from Phoenix, this was a three way deal in which the Merc got a first round pick from the Sun (the same pick, in fact, that they traded to Detroit in our #10 bad trade). It's hard to see what the Mystics were thinking here. They already had Stacey Dales and Coco Miller, both of whom were clearly superior to Jackson, and they spent their first round pick on Alana Beard a couple of weeks later. Even if they were suckered in by the Reverse Asjha Jones Theory of Mystic Success*, they should have been able to get more for a capable young front court player than someone to be the 4th guard on the roster.
#5: December 1999. Utah traded Elena Baranova and a first round pick to Miami for Kate Starbird and a second round pick. Starbird never amounted to much in Utah. Candi Harvey wasn't much of a bench person even in the best of circumstances, she certainly wasn't going to give time to frail, 37% shooting wings. Baranova sat out 2000 to play for the Russian Olympic team, which is what made this trade happen, but she played quite well for Miami in 2001. The Sol traded the pick to Minnesota for Marlies Askamp, who was quite solid for them in 2000 and not bad off the bench in 2001 before being traded to Los Angeles for a first round pick in the 2003 draft. Utah used the second rounder to get Jameka Jones.
#4: May 2003. San Antonio traded Natalie Williams and Coretta Brown to Indiana for Sylvia Crawley and Gwen Jackson. The SASS realized, correctly, that Williams had started on the downside of her career. Somehow they failed to see that the same was true of Crawley, especially given the way her numbers had been steadily declining. The difference? Williams is a Hall of Famer, her downside is still all-star level play. Crawley's downside is a coaching career. As for the rookies, Jackson played well in 2003 but has had nothing but upheaval in her career since then. She was traded away midway through 2004. Brown had some moments that year, she's now deep on the bench for an expansion team.
#3: June 2002. Minnesota traded Betty Lennox and a first round pick to Miami for Tamara Moore and a second round pick. Lennox really couldn't get along with then Lynx coach Brian Agler. After this trade she said she felt "betrayed" by him. Anyway, Moore mostly sat on the bench for the Lynx and left at the end of the season. Lennox went on to be finals MVP for Seattle. The draft pick never got taken, the Sol folded, but anyone Minnesota could have gotten in the 2003 lottery would have been an improvement over half a season of Tamara Moore. Even adding in Jordan Adams, which is who the Lynx got with the pick they received from Miami, Minnesota blew this move. Oh, and Agler was fired a few weeks later, so there was really no need to trade Lennox at all.
#2: May 2000. Portland traded Tari Phillips to New York for Carolyn Jones-Young. Of course the worse move was Orlando leaving Phillips available in the expansion draft for Portland in the first place, but then Carolyn Peck did a lot of things that didn't make sense. The Tarnado went on to four all-star appearances and pretty much carried the Liberty to the 2000 finals. Jones-Young played a handful of minutes for the Fire in 2002, fewer than Phillips had played for the Miracle in fact. Given what Phillips had done in the ABL, I can't understand why Orlando and Portland didn't see the value she had. This was the gold standard for bonehead trades until…
#1: July 2005. Minnesota traded Katie Smith and a second round pick to Detroit for Chandi Jones, Stacey Thomas, and a first round pick. When this trade first happened, I did my best to defend the Lynx end of it. I liked Jones, still do for that matter, and there was a fair chance that the pick would be a lottery pick. Smith was at that early 30's age when so many two guards drop off the face of the earth (see Merlakia Jones, Ruthie Bolton, Nikki McCray, etc) and was coming off of a knee injury, plus the Shock already had a really good two guard in Deanna Nolan. As it turned out, Jones was streaky for Minnesota the rest of 2005 and was injured for most of 2006. Thomas played three minutes in a Lynx uniform. The pick Minnesota got wasn't a lottery pick. They used it on Shona Thorburn, who had a decent game or two early on but finished shooting 18% from the floor in very limited minutes. Smith isn't what she used to be, but she's still very, very good. Her play is a big part of what took the Shock from barely making the playoffs in 2004 and 2005 to the 2006 title. The pick the Shock got was Ambrosia Anderson, who got cut and wound up deep on the bench in Connecticut. The Shock got the missing piece they needed for another title run, and got it very cheaply. That makes them the big winner in the worst trade ever.
* What the heck is the Reverse Asjha Jones Theory of Mystic Success? It's a statistical anomaly from 2002, Jones' rookie season. The more minutes Jones played for Washington that year, the worse the team's record was. When she played 20+ minutes they were 6-11. When she played 10-19 minutes, they were 7-3. When she played fewer than 10 minutes, they were 4-1. According to the theory, this meant that the Mystics were better off not playing her very much, regardless of matchups or other factors. It's really an example of how statistics can fool you if you let them. Anybody who watched the Mystics that year could tell that Jones wasn't hurting the team by being on the floor. The pattern didn't hold in 2003, in fact it swung dramatically the other way. Washington went 7-13 when Jones played 20+, 2-12 when she didn't. That overstates her value the other way.
On 24 March 2001, a young woman named Jackie Stiles put on one of the most amazing displays in NCAA basketball history, dropping 41 points on top seeded Duke and leading SW Missouri State to an 81-71 upset of the Blue Devils. Watching that game, there was no accomplishment I would have put past her.
She was already the NCAA's all time leading scorer, of course, but after that game I calculated how many points she would need to pass Lynette Woodard for the all time college record (Woodard played before the NCAA took control of the sport). Stiles was 310 points away from Woodard and had three games, at most, left in her career. I recall being not 100% sure that Woodard's record was safe.
Stiles spent that summer playing for the Portland Fire, winning Rookie of the Year despite being stuck on a team full of has-beens, never-weres, and aren't-yets. The next year, 2002, her body started breaking down. She only played 21 games that year and it looked like about 21 too many. She played through pain, worsening the damage to her wrist, shoulder, and ankle. She hasn't played in the league since.
Stiles' first surgery was in New York City on 11 September 2001. That was an eventful day in the city and the world, but she spent much of it in the sleep of anesthesia. Now, five years later, Stiles has had a total of 13 surgeries. She's been stitched up more times than Frankenstein's monster.
A year ago I would have said there was no chance of her ever returning to the W. She's finished, dunzo, over and out, run her course, vis-à-vis professional basketball she's had her lot, retired, never to return, gone to Knoxville, any statement to the effect that her career is an ongoing concern is null and void. She is an ex-player.
Not so fast, my friend. Stiles has discovered the miracle of Augmented Soft Tissue Mobilization and is making a comeback. She's playing in Australia's WNBL this winter. Her first game was 4 November, she played seven minutes and scored one point. Not the most auspicious beginning, but for someone who couldn't even stand on her toes without pain a short time ago it's nearly miraculous.
I hope she makes it all the way back to the WNBA. It would be the feel-good sports story of the year.
Back in 2000, when The Comets ruled the league and nobody else could do anything about it, there was a debate about whether or not the Houston dynasty was good or bad for the league. Detractors said the continued excellence made the WNBA playoffs anti-climactic & boring and demonstrated a severe lack of quality players in the league. Supporters usually echoed Sue Wicks; "I heard it a few times that it was a bad thing. I don't know how it could be a bad thing. Everyone in America loves a champion." Nobody was suggesting that The Comets didn't deserve their titles, obviously they were earned on the floor. It was just speculation that perhaps the league would have been better served if someone had knocked them off.
Today there's a somewhat similar situation going on with the MVP award. Lisa Leslie won it again this year after Sheryl Swoopes took it a year ago. Between the two of them they've taken six of the last seven awards. Like The Comets of old, it's not that Leslie & Swoopes are undeserving of the award, it's a question of whether the league would benefit from someone new taking the trophy.
The WNBA has made plain its desire to attract younger fans. By that they mean fans who grew up watching women's college ball on TV all the time. To the post-Lobo generation, Leslie & Swoopes are old school. They might have seen Swoopes at the 1993 Final Four, they almost certainly never saw Leslie at USC. Their heroes are Holdsclaw, Taurasi, Catchings, Beard, Bird, and all the rest of the players they identified with when they were skinny college girls. Someone who's a high school senior today would have been five years old when Swoopes carried Texas Tech to the title. By the time they saw her again in 1998 they would have seen Chamique Holdsclaw play 20+ games on ESPN for Tennessee. Which one will they think of as their player? The Claw, of course. Yeah, the kids of today know who Leslie & Swoopes are and admire & appreciate their skills, but they're not Leslie or Swoopes fans. What happens when Leslie or Swoopes takes home another MVP? The kids don't much care. If Diana Taurasi wins one, the league will sell a million MVP t-shirts.
The one player who has won MVP and wasn't around when the WNBA/ABL got started, Lauren Jackson, isn't that helpful in this regard. She was virtually unknown in the US before she came to the Storm and she's from somewhere else. The kids don't have the kind of connection with Jackson that they have with players who have had their college games televised for years before hitting the league.
The second major problem with Leslie & Swoopes dominating the MVP award is that it undercuts the idea that the league's talent is improving. The media and the general sporting public see the same two women win MVP every year and they perceive that the talent level is stagnant. This is exacerbated by the fact that the two players in question have both been with the league since day one. People who tuned in back in 1997 or 1998 and got turned off by the often sloppy play the league featured in those days see the same players winning MVPs now that were dominant then and assume that they'll see a similar thing if they check out a game today. If a younger player finally breaks through it could persuade them to take another look.
From a league standpoint, there's not much that can be done about it. Any perception that they're manipulating the results would be 100 times worse than having Lisa Leslie win a 4th MVP award or even a 10th. The WNBA may not have been born organically, but it needs to grow that way if its roots are going to be strong. I think Donna O is smart enough to know better than to try and fix the award voting.
The bottom line is, one day soon a younger player is going to step and take the MVP away from the Leslie/Swoopes primacy. As marvelous as those two are, that will be a great day for the WNBA. It's time for an MVP for the new millennium, I hope she steps up soon.
For a trip to paradise?
There have been two new developments recently. A group led by Cindy Sisson is raising capital to purchase the Charlotte Sting, and Les Alexander has put The Houston Comets up for sale.
I've said on any number of occasions that separating WNBA teams from NBA owners that don't care about them is unequivocally a good thing. Committed owners are the key to success in any sports league. An owner that cares about the team won't do what Gordon [expletive deleted] Gund did to the Rockers in 2003….
Sorry, I had to stop typing there for a second. Thinking about Gund and the Rockers still pisses me off. As a side note, whatever goober decided to push those PSAs with Gund talking about macular degeneration during WNBA games in 2004 did more harm to that cause than anybody in the history of charity. How would I feel if I couldn't see my favorite team? I'd feel like a Rockers fan, you *******!
Anyway, a serious owner isn't going to be put off by operating losses. Almost all sports teams lose money, on paper anyway, and the bigger the league the further in the red they are. If Bud Selig is to be believed, the average Major League Baseball team loses more money every season than the entire WNBA does in five years. Sports franchise owners don't make money by making money, they make it on the appreciation of franchise value. The dynamic is complicated, it's illogical for a business that loses millions of dollars every year to increase substantially in value, but somehow it works. There is some creative accounting at work, of course. Teams don't lose as much money as they say. Even the Sting, with relatively low attendance, have gross ticket income that's more than double than their payroll. That doesn't add up to a major operating loss unless you tell your accountant you want it to.
As to these specific happenings…the Sting were forced on Robert Johnson as a condition of him getting the NBA franchise in Charlotte. He's never shown any real interest in the team nor made any serious effort on its behalf. I think Charlotte is a good market for the W, and I certainly think abandoning the entire southeast would be a bad plan. This effort needs to be encouraged.
The Comets have been rumored to be for sale before. I don't think it's coincidental that this announcement comes shortly after the disclosure of Alexander's divorce settlement (it had been sealed until a few weeks ago). Even assuming a local buyer can be found, the team will almost certainly have to move out of the Toyota Center. Luckily, Houston has several options for the team to move into. This should go smoothly unless Alexander decides to get prickly over the terms.
Unlike many people, I'm not at all concerned that a team might fold. There are people out there who want to buy the franchises. Only a fool would dissolve an asset that someone is willing to pay $10M for. I don't think we have any of those left in the W.
The official free agent list was released the other day. Without core designations, which won't be made until January, there's no telling who might actually be available. I love to speculate, however, so let's look at the list…
Svetlana Abrosimova, Minnesota. The Russian turnover machine had a career best in FG% and actually reduced her TOs to historic lows (for her). I wouldn't think the Lynx would core her. She'll draw some interest. If Crystal Robinson follows through with her annual retirement talk Svet might fit in with the Mystics. Seattle could also be an interesting place for her.
Tully Bevilaqua, Indiana. The Stud probably wouldn't start too many other places besides Indiana. Certainly not for another contender. Well, maybe Houston. I don't see her as a core player, but I'd expect her back in Indiana if the money is right.
Edwina Brown, Houston. She'll be happy to get the veteran minimum from anyone.
Janell Burse, Seattle. No way the Storm let her go. I realize they let Kamila Vodichkova walk in a similar situation two years ago, but I'd like to think they've learned their lesson. Burse is considerably better than Vodichkova anyway.
LaTasha Byears, Washington. Tot got banged up in the early part of July and wasn't much of a factor down the stretch for Washington. Even before that she wasn't quite up to the standard she set back in the day. She turns 34 late next season, so you have to wonder whether she'll ever regain her old form. Someone will take the gamble.
Dominique Canty, Houston. The Comets are pretty well obligated to core Swoopes & Thompson, so The Dominator should be on the market. If she's set on playing for a contender then Houston & LA seem like the best fits. She might make more money playing for someone like Chicago, her home town. She's going to have options. Keep an eye on Indiana as a possible destination for Canty.
Katie Douglas, Connecticut. Will be cored.
Allison Feaster, Charlotte. Feaster had a disastrous season in 2006. The worst of her career by any measure. She might bounce back to her usual self next season, but even her normal production level isn't starting quality in many places. 38% shooting two guards are not exactly a hot commodity, and she's at that early 30's age where so many of them have fallen off into oblivion. She'll be on someone's bench to start training camp.
Marie Ferdinand, San Antonio. This feels like a sign-and-trade situation. The SASS made some progress last year with Vickie Johnson providing veteran leadership at the two. Marieeee is a three time All Star, they can't let her walk for nothing. I don't think they'll lack for takers, even at a max contract.
Yolanda Griffith, Sacramento. If she doesn't retire, and I don't think she will, then Sacto will core her.
Chamique Holdclaw, Los Angeles. The Sparks kinda have to core her, don't you think? She had the worst season of her career, statistically, and still managed to finish 11th in the league in scoring and 14th in rebounding. I will say this…put The Claw playing Paul Ball in Phoenix and the Merc would be WNBA champions.
Shannon Johnson, San Antonio. Will be cored.
Tiffani Johnson, Seattle. She was available for more than a year with no takers before landing with the Storm last year. Vet minimum, that's it.
Amanda Lassiter, Chicago. I like Lassiter. Good defensive wings are always valuable, so she should have no trouble finding a spot unless she's dead set on starting every day.
Lisa Leslie, Los Angeles. I estimate that the number of players who have left a team the season after having the stadium floor named for them is zero. I don't expect that to change in the near future.
Taj McWilliams-Franklin, Connecticut. Retired or cored. I don't think she's retiring.
Chasity Melvin, Washington. Will be cored.
Kelly Miller, Phoenix. Some intrigue here. You wouldn't think Cryin' Kelly would be core material. She probably won't draw max contract offers elsewhere. On the other hand, she's valuable enough that the Merc might not want to risk having her go to another team. I would love to have her in Houston!
Astou Ndiaye-Diatta, Houston. Like Tiff Johnson, she was available without interest for a year before signing in 2006. Veteran minimum at best.
Ticha Penicheiro, Sacramento. Despite being exposed in the finals, Penicheiro will probably be cored by the Monarchs. Kristin Haynie isn't ready to take over as an everyday starter. Penicheiro has lost a step, to be sure, but she's still very, very good.
Elaine Powell, Detroit. I was talking to someone a while back about the chances of Houston trading up to get a point guard in the draft. That would be out of character for Van Chancellor. He's never taken a guard in the first round, let alone a point, and every season acquires a new not-quite-over-the-hill veteran to fill in. To be more succinct, I put it "Our PG next season is far more likely to be Elaine Powell than Lindsey Harding". I don't think Detroit is going to put much effort into re-signing her, nor do I think they'll be able to afford her with Cheryl Ford coming off of her rookie contract and moving to a max deal. She fits Houston's needs and signing history. I can see this happening.
Kristen Rasmussen, Phoenix. The well traveled Rasmussen could be with her 7th team in an eight year career next season. Rumor has it that San Antonio is quite interested in her.
Sheryl Swoopes, Houston. I still wouldn't completely discount the possibility that she might be traded, but there's no way The Comets let her walk in free agency.
Tammy Sutton Brown , Charlotte. There seems to be a notion floating about that Charlotte might let her go uncored. I guess that comes from a transaction history of questionable competence. Anything is possible with Trudi Lacey, but I would bet TSB is on the core list.
Penny Taylor, Phoenix. Core-worthy if she's going to play full seasons. That's a common theme in Phoenix.
Tina Thompson, Houston. Will be cored.
As for restricted FAs, anyone really worth having will get matched. Anyone else you'll probably have to overpay for. A more in-depth look coming later…
Back in the mid 1980's, noted baseball author and current Red Sox executive Bill James developed something he called "The Favorite Toy". It's used to estimate a player's chance of reaching a statistical goal. He invented it, along with several other statistical playthings, for use in baseball. Most of the things he came up with are so specifically baseball oriented as to not be adaptable to other sports, but The Favorite Toy can be used for basketball with relatively little modification.
Here's how it works. There are four factors to be considered:
1 The Need Points. That's the number of points needed to reach the goal. This could be the need rebounds or need assists or whatever stat you're considering. For example, Alana Beard has scored 1482 points in her career so if we want to estimate her chances of reaching 5000 career points we would subtract 1482 from 5000, which is 3518. That would be her need points.
2 The Years Remaining. This is represented by a formula: 27 - (age * .75). A 20 year old player has 12 years remaining, a 25 year old has 8.25, a 30 year old has 4.5. Any player who plays regularly is considered to have at least 1.5 years remaining regardless of their age. The player's seasonal age is used, which is their age as of July 1st. Continuing to use Beard as our example, she turned 24 back in May so her seasonal age is 24. That gives her 9.0 years remaining. Note that this is different from the formula used by James for baseball players. Basketball players tend to have shorter careers than baseball players and drop off more quickly once their prime has passed.
3 The Established Point Level. It's three times the points scored in the most recent season plus to times the points scored in the previous season plus one times the points scored in the season before that, divided by six. Beard scored 614 points this season, 422 in 2005, and 446 in 2004. ((614 * 3) + (422 * 2) + 446) / 6 = 522, so that's her established point level. Again, this could be the established rebound level or established block level or whatever. Players in their first or second year in the league get 0's for the years they did not play.
4 The Projected Remaining Points. It's the Established Point Level multiplied by the Years Remaining. 522 * 9.0 = 4698. That would be Beard's Projected Remaining Points. Once again, this could be rebounds or any other stat you like.
Once you have all that, the estimated chance of the player reaching the goal is (Projected Remaining Points / Need Points) - .5. If the Projected Remaining and the Need are the same, the player will be estimated at a 50% chance of reaching the goal. If the Projected Remaining is 20% higher than the Need, the estimate will be 70%. For Beard, we get (4698 / 3518) - .5 = an 84% chance of her reaching 5000 points for her career. Normally, fractions are rounded to the nearest whole. However, if a player shows a positive number that's less than 0.5% I will go ahead and show them as having a 1% chance. Nicole, for example, comes up with a 0.4% chance at 4000 career rebounds so I show her at 1%.
One last special rule, no player's chance of reaching a goal can ever exceed 97%. That's to prevent absurdities that sometimes occur when a player ends a season very close to a given goal. Lindsay Whalen, for example, only needs 18 points to reach 1000 for her career. Without this rule, she would show a 16492% chance of reaching that goal.
Now that I've explained all that, let's get on to some results. I'm going to start points at 5000, because anything lower than that winds up including too many players. 47 WNBA players show some chance of scoring 5000.
Lisa Leslie, the MVP, already has over 5000 points. She shows a 97% chance of reaching 6000, a 37% chance of reaching 7000, and a 3% chance of reaching 8000. She's got a 97% chance at 3000 rebounds and a 9% chance at 4000. She has over 500 blocks and has a 1% chance at 1000. Leslie is currently the all time leader in points & rebounds and is second all time in blocks. She would reach 6000 points next season if she scores 588 or more. She's done that three times in her career, including this year. She should reach 3000 rebounds next year, barring injury or other catastrophe.
Lauren Jackson shows a 97% chance at both 5000 and 6000 points, 88% at 7000, 58% at 8000, 39% at 9000, 25% at 10000, 15% at 11000, 8% at 12000, and 2% at 13000. She also shows an 84% chance at 3000 rebounds, 32% at 4000, and 9% at 5000. She has a 97% chance of reaching 500 blocks and a 29% chance at 1000. Last year she was showing a slight chance at 14000 points, her limited minutes brought her projections down a bit.
Diana Taurasi shows a 97% chance at both 5000 and 6000 points, 75% at 7000, 55% at 8000, 40% at 9000, 29% at 10000, 20% at 11000, 13% at 12000, 7% at 13000, and 2% at 14000. She shows a 31% chance at 2000 assists, a 9% chance at 750 steals, and an 8% chance at 500 blocks. You might be wondering why Taurasi has a lower chance than Jackson at 7000 & 8000 points but a greater chance at the higher numbers. Taurasi is a year younger, so she's expected to have slightly longer left in her career. That gives her a better chance at reaching those absurdly high numbers. Jackson, on the other hand, has scored almost 1500 points more than Taurasi in her career. She's so much closer to the lower numbers that her chances of getting there are a little better.
Chamique Holdsclaw shows a 97% chance at 5000 points, 78% at 6000, 36% at 7000, 15% at 8000, and 3% at 9000. She has a 44% chance at 3000 rebounds and a 1% chance at 4000. The Claw had career lows in just about every stat this year. Don't be surprised to see her bounce back with some monster numbers.
Tamika Catchings shows a 97% chance at 5000 points, 75% at 6000, 44% at 7000, 26% at 8000, 14% at 9000, and 5% at 10000. She shows a 60% chance at 3000 rebounds, 19% at 4000, and 1% at 5000. She has an 18% chance at 2000 assists and a 16% chance at 500 blocks. She shows a 97% chance of reaching 750 steals, 63% chance at 1000, and 11% at 1500. Catch is the only one showing a chance in all five categories I measured.
Tina Thompson shows a 97% chance at 5000 points and a 21% chance at 6000. The oft injured Thompson has averaged less than 24 games per season over the last five years. If she could stay on the court more, her chances would likely rise.
Cheryl Ford shows a 38% chance at 5000 points, 19% at 6000, and 6% at 7000. She shows a 97% chance at 3000 rebounds, 54% at 4000, 26% at 5000, and 10% at 6000. She has a 21% chance at 500 blocks. Ford is the only player to show any chance at 6000 rebounds.
Ticha Penicheiro shows a 97% chance at 2000 assists and a 49% chance at 750 steals. Her assist totals have been declining, but she should break 2k in 2009. She could make it in 2008 if she plays more like her old self.
Margo Dydek shows a 5% chance at 3000 rebounds. She already has well over 500 blocks at has a 68% chance at 1000. I would say that 68% is a pretty conservative estimate. By the time Large Marge retires the block record will be all but unbreakable.
There are a few things to note about these estimates.
Players in their first or second year in the league will show artificially low chances at any given goal. That's because the Established Point Level is based on three years of performance, and the young players will have zeros in the missing years. That's why Seimone Augustus only shows a 42% chance at 5000 points. I think that's a good thing overall. It keeps us from over projecting players who flame out, like Jackie Stiles, or have fluke numbers as rookies, like Murriel Page's 200+ rebounds in 1998.
The projections are dependent on the league structure remaining relatively stable. If the WNBA decides to extend the season to more games or play 48 minutes instead of 40 then everyone will have a better chance of making each landmark. The 24 second shot clock increased scoring substantially this season, so look for everyone's projections to rise over the next couple of seasons.
The years remaining formula is one that Dean Oliver has used for NBA analysis. It's possible that the typical career arc for WNBA players will be different than that of NBA players. As of now the league is too young for any definitive research into that question. If you follow other sports then you've probably noticed that women tend to peak at a younger age and have shorter overall careers than their male counterparts. This is especially noticeable in tennis but also shows up in golf, soccer, and Olympic sports. Once the league has matured a bit this will need to be examined to see if the formula needs to be tweaked.
That's about it for the Favorite Toy. As the name suggests it's something to play around with more than something to take very seriously.
For a complete breakdown of all the players showing a chance of 5000 points, 3000 rebounds, etc. you can come visit me here:
It's been said, many times in fact, that the ABL had better talent than the WNBA in the days before the former folded. I was wondering if that was really true or if it was just a mantra of disillusioned ABL fans who feel they were cheated when the ABL went under and the WNBA survived. So I decided to take a look to see what the evidence of eight years with the players combined suggested.
From here on, old WNBA players refers to players who played in the WNBA before 1999. Where applicable, I included Nikki McCray with the ABL players even though she played in both leagues prior to the ABL's dissolution.
I started with MVP voting. From 1999-2006, only one ABL player won the MVP, Yolanda Griffith in 1999. Two old WNBA players, Lisa Leslie and Sheryl Swoopes, have won it a total of six times in that span. Expanding to top ten finishes, we see that eight ABL players (Jennifer Azzi, Griffith, Shannon Johnson, Taj McWilliams-Franklin, Tari Phillips, Katie Smith, Dawn Staley, Natalie Williams) have combined for 22 top ten finishes in MVP voting. Ten old WNBA players (Janeth Arcain, Sandy Brondello, Cynthia Cooper, Kym Hampton, Merlakia Jones, Leslie, Mwadi Mabika, Brandy Reed, Swoopes, Tina Thompson) have combined for 27 top ten finishes in MVP voting. Not only do the old WNBA players have an edge, but they're trending better. No ABL player has finished better than 4th in MVP voting since 2001. An old WNBA player has been either 1st or 2nd or both every year except 2003 (Leslie was 3rd that year, no ABL player was higher than that).
While I was looking at awards, I also studied the All WNBA teams. Since 1999, six ABL players (Griffith, Johnson, McWilliams-Franklin, Phillips, Smith, Williams) have made 18 All League appearances, seven first team and 11 second team. Ten old WNBA players (Arcain, Cooper, Tamecka Dixon, Jones, Leslie, Mabika, Ticha Penicheiro, Swoopes, Thompson, Teresa Weatherspoon) have made 30 All League appearances, 18 first team and 12 second team. This is a more decided advantage for the old WNBA players and the appearance of players here that weren't in the MVP voting suggests greater depth of talent among the old WNBAers.
Awards can be deceptive. There could be an anti-ABL bias in the voting somehow. So I decided to look at statistics next. No biases going on there!
I started with scoring. Only one ABL player, Katie Smith in 2001, has won a scoring title. Cynthia Cooper and Sheryl Swoopes have combined for three since 1999. As for top tens, seven ABL players (Adrienne Goodson, Griffith, Johnson, Nikki McCray, Phillips, Smith, Williams) have combined to finish in the top ten in the league in scoring 16 times. Nine old WNBA players (Arcain, Cooper, Jennifer Gillom, Leslie, Mabika, Reed, Andrea Stinson, Swoopes, Thompson) have combined to finish in the top ten in the league in scoring 28 times. Like the MVP, this is trending badly for the ABL. No ABL player finished in the top ten in the league in scoring in 2005 or 2006. ABL players have only one top 5 finish since 2001. Old WNBA players have had at least two top ten finishers and at least one top four finisher every year.
How about rebounding? Yolanda Griffith and Natalie Williams have three rebounding crowns between them. Only Lisa Leslie in 2004 has one since 1999 among old WNBA players. Expanding, six ABL players (Goodson, Griffith, McWilliams-Franklin, Phillips, Val Whiting-Raymond, Williams) have combined for 22 top ten finishes in rebounding. 11 old WNBA players (Marlies Askamp, Elena Baranova, Vicky Bullett, Margo Dydek, Leslie, Rhonda Mapp, Murriel Page, Wendy Palmer-Daniel, Thompson, Kamila Vodichkova, Sue Wicks) have combined for 25 top ten finishes in rebounding. That's pretty close, although the ABL totals are built on a small number of very good players.
Next is assists. No ABL player has finished 1st or 2nd in the league in assists. Ticha Penicheiro has five assist titles since 1999. Eight ABL players (Azzi, Debbie Black, Teresa Edwards, Johnson, Andrea Nagy, Elaine Powell, Staley, Coquese Washington) have combined for 27 top ten finishes. Eight old WNBA players (Cooper, Dixon, Suzie McConnell-Serio, Penicheiro, Stinson, Swoopes, Michele Timms, Weatherspoon) have combined for 25 top ten finishes. Unlike the other stats, this one is trending well for the ABL players.
I looked at steals and blocks too. The old WNBA players have a slight edge in the steals thanks to Penicheiro and Swoopes. In 2006 there were three old WNBA players (Tully Bevilaqua, Penicheiro, Swoopes) in the top ten in steals and only one ABL player (Shannon Johnson). Blocks is no contest. Dydek by herself has nearly as many as all the ABL players combined, add in Leslie and Baranova and Tangela Smith and the rest and it gets really ugly.
OK, numbers are all well and good but it's winning that counts. Surely the teams winning titles are being led by ABL players.
Through 2004, no team won a WNBA title with an ABL player as their leading scorer. No team won a WNBA title with an ABL player as their second leading scorer. No team won a WNBA title with an ABL player as their leading rebounder. Only one team (the 2003 Shock with Elaine Powell) won a WNBA title with an ABL player as their assist leader. The 1999 & 2000 Comets plus the 2001 & 2002 Sparks were led in scoring and rebounding by old WNBA players, both Comet teams also had old WNBA players as their assist leader. This year's Shock had Katie Smith, but she didn't lead the team in scoring, nor was she the second leading scorer. She also didn't lead the team in rebounding or assists. Their stat leaders were Cheryl Ford and Deanna Nolan, new kids. That brings us to the 2005 Monarchs. Their assist leader was an old WNBA player and their rebounding leader was an ABL player. As for scoring, during the regular season they were led by DeMya Walker, another newbie. During the playoffs they were led by Yolanda Griffith, an ABL player. I'll let Yo have the benefit of the doubt and call that one for the ABL. The old WNBA players still have a commanding lead in this area.
What about Team USA? It's been dominated by ABL players, especially the 1996 and 2000 Olympic teams.
That's true, at least in terms of numbers of players, but there are some things to consider. Not all of the best WNBA players were on the team. Cynthia Cooper was the best player in the world in 1996 and close to it in 2000, but wasn't on the Olympic team either year. Teresa Weatherspoon was unquestionably better than Azzi in 1996 and arguably better than Staley in 2000, but she wasn't on the team. Andrea Stinson and Tina Thompson also had strong cases in 1996 and 2000 respectively. There's also the matter of foreign talent. The ABL had very little. The WNBA had quite a bit. It's not much of a stretch to think that Janeth Arcain and Elena Baranova could replace Katy Steding and Kara Wolters, to say nothing of Penicheiro or Timms. The 2000 US Olympic team's two leading scorers were both old WNBA players. Three of the top four scorers on the 1996 team were old WNBA players. In 2004 even the player ratio was down to 4-3 in favor of the ABL and the three old WNBA players were 1-2-3 in scoring on the team.
So what's the bottom line? The evidence at hand doesn't support the idea that the ABL had better talent than the WNBA. For the most part, it tends to point the other direction. The ABL may have been better in concept and better in intent, but it wasn't better in talent.
Back in June, when ESPN was doing their best WNBA team ever tournament, I ranked the previous champs thusly…
1. 1998 Comets
2. 1999 Comets
3. 2001 Sparks
4. 2000 Comets
5. 2002 Sparks
6. 2005 Monarchs
7. 1997 Comets
8. 2003 Shock
9. 2004 Storm
Where do the 2006 Shock fit in this ranking?
Not a chance that they crack the top three. If they were that good they would have finished first in the east and wouldn't have had such struggle all through the playoffs. I also don't think they go in the bottom three. They have too many good players to be that far down the list. I'm thinking they should go ahead of the 05 Monarchs and behind the 00 Comets. With the 02 Sparks they match-up pretty well head-to-head but I think the Sparks are better against more different kinds of teams. I would slot the 2006 Shock in 6th place right now. Further reflection might make me change my mind.
WHAT TO DO NOW?
It's 270-ish days until next season starts. What can you do between now and your next WNBA fix?
College basketball starts in November, of course. Check around, there's bound to be a school near you that has a women's bball team. It's usually inexpensive to get in, and if you're lucky you might get to see the next big WNBA star. There's also high school girls ball everywhere.
The World Championships start this week in Brazil. Team USA is filled with WNBA stars, plus Candace Parker, and many of the other teams feature familiar names as well. If you can't make the trip, NBATV will be televising Team USA's games and FoxSports is showing them on tape delay. Check your listings, and wnba.com's coverage of the event.
If you happen to be abroad between now and next season, there are basketball leagues playing all over Europe, Asia, and Australia during the winter (well, it'll be summer in Australia) and many WNBA players spend their offseasons there. It's weird to see players who play for rival teams here as teammates there, but you'll get used to it.
You should take a trip to visit the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville. There's always time to "honor the past, celebrate the present, and promote the future" of women's basketball. They're always adding new things and there's a ton of stuff already there. You could go every year and never get tired of it. Check the WBHOF website here http://www.wbhof.com/ for more info.
Take the time to play some basketball. If you work hard enough, do what your coach says, and keep your grades up, then one day maybe someone will be writing about your great WNBA career.
Lastly, keep checking back here at wnba.com for league news. The lottery results come in November, free agency in January, and the draft in April. In between those there are always coaching changes, retirements, and the occasional trade to keep up with.
Why, pray tell, would I be writing an entry about the MVP vote from three years ago? Something happened that year that had never happened before and hasn't happened again. A player, Lauren Jackson, was named MVP even though her team missed the playoffs. Not only has no other player from outside the postseason won, none have finished 2nd. Anyway, this one flukey vote has led to an endless parade of Diana Taurasi fans suggesting that she should be MVP despite missing the playoffs, citing 2003 as a relevant precedent. Taurasi has a case, but I don't think 2006 and 2003 have much in common in terms of the MVP race. Let's take a look at the top 10 finishers in the 2003 race…
#10 was Cheryl Ford. Ford was rookie of the year that year and broke every rookie rebounding record imaginable. There was no question that she played a major role in the Shock's worst-to-first turnaround. She wasn't considered a serious contender for MVP, and took 10th with a handful of points in the voting.
#9 was Yolanda Griffith. Griffith had missed about half of the 2002 season and the Monarchs had missed the playoffs because of it. In 2003 she posted 13.8 points and 7.3 rebounds per game, both of which were career lows for her at that time. Sacramento was back in the playoffs, thanks to John Whisenant taking over mid-season. Like Ford, Griffith was not a serious contender for MVP.
#8 was Tina Thompson. This was the first year that she was thought of as possibly the best player on The Comets. She led the team in scoring and they finished 2nd in the west. The big downside was that she was out for six games and Houston didn't miss a beat while she was gone. Still, there were some very serious people arguing that Thompson should win and many were surprised that she finished this low.
#7 was Chamique Holdsclaw. The Claw was 2nd in the league in scoring and 1st in rebounding in 2003. The problem was, as usual, that she missed too many games (7) and the Mystics were terrible (9-25). Her name kept creeping into the debate because Lauren Jackson was being touted despite missing the playoffs and Tamika Catchings was getting support even though her team had a losing record. If winning and/or making the playoffs isn't that important, the argument went, then Holdsclaw has to be in the mix. Winning 16 or 18 games is a fair sight better than winning nine, so Mique finished down here.
#6 was Sheryl Swoopes. Her Majesty was the defending MVP, winning a hotly contested race over Catchings and Lisa Leslie in 2002. She scored 15.6 ppg, matching her then career low for a full season, and shot a career worst .403 from the field. She didn't seem like herself all season. Despite that, she played marvelous defense and was still seen as the difference maker on a 20 win Comet team. People arguing for her were saying "look beyond the numbers", which is usually code for "she doesn't have the numbers that the other contenders have". She's got a presence, no matter what her stats are, and the voters recognized that enough to put her here.
#5 was Swin Cash. Cash had the best-player-on-the-best-team argument working on her behalf. The Shock finished with the league's top record at 25-9. Cash led the team in scoring and was clearly the emotional leader on the floor. Leading Detroit in scoring put her at 7th in the league, low for MVP. Every MVP so far has been in the top three in the league in scoring. The one thing she did lead the WNBA in was turnovers. A big part of that was Laimbeer's style, but MVP voters saw it as a weakness in her game and put her 5th.
#4 was Katie Smith. Smith was 5th in the league in scoring. She led the Lynx to their first ever playoff appearance as they finished 4th in the west at 18-16. Despite her greatness as a player, Smith always suffers in voting for MVP and the like because it's so heavily influenced by statistics. Smith has never had eye-popping numbers in rebounding, assists, steals, blocks, or anything besides shooting & scoring. She's a good defender, but she doesn't have the reputation as a lock-down type like Katie Douglas. In this case she was also outscored (per game) by all the folks ahead of her in the voting, so her 4th place finish isn't surprising.
#3 was Lisa Leslie. Leslie was 4th in the league in scoring and 3rd in rebounding. The Sparks finished 1st in the west at 24-10 and only one game behind the Shock for the league's best record. Sounds a lot like this year, right? So why didn't Leslie run away with the award in 2003 like she probably will in 2006? She got injured in the All Star Game and was out for 11 games. That killed her chances. If she hadn't gotten hurt she would have won a landslide. If she'd missed only a few games she would still have won comfortably. Even if she'd missed 8 or 9 games I think she might have pulled it out. Once the outage reached a double digit number of games it was nearly impossible for her to have a chance. It's just one of those psychological things. In a similar vein, scoring 20.0 points per game will get a player a huge boost in voting over scoring 19.9, but moving up from 20.0 to 20.1 will have almost no impact at all. Anyway, Leslie's 3rd place finish despite missing all those games is remarkable, the fact that it was her worst MVP finish from 2000 to 2004 even more so.
#2 was Tamika Catchings. Catch was 3rd in the league in scoring, 6th in rebounding, and 2nd in steals. The Fever went 16-18, which put them 5th in the east. She was also 2nd in Defensive Player of the Year voting. She played every game and led the league in minutes (both total and per game). Why didn't she win? Indiana was below .500 and a disappointment. They had gone 16-16 and made the postseason in 2002. They made the deal to get Natalie Williams in the offseason. People were expecting big things from the Fever in 2003 and they didn't deliver. It's very difficult to win MVP on a losing team, unless you're a baseball player. Doing so on a losing team that's expected to win is even harder. The Fever could have lost without Catchings just as easily as they did with her, after all.
#1 was Lauren Jackson, of course. Jackson led the league in scoring, came in 4th in rebounding and was 3rd in blocks. The Storm went 18-16 and missed the playoffs on a tie-breaker. One of the things that helped Jackson is that even though her team missed the playoffs they had a better record than one team (Cleveland) that did make it. That created a perception that it was bad luck more than bad play keeping Seattle at home for the postseason. That wasn't entirely true, but it was clear that the Storm would have made the playoffs had they been in the east. Not only did they have a better record than the Rockers, they had the same record as the 2nd place Sting and 3rd place Sun. In addition, the Storm swept all three of those teams in the regular season with only one of the games decided by fewer than 12 points. That really defused the "her team didn't make the playoffs" argument. Her numbers were so far ahead of all the players from better teams, like Cash & Swoopes and to a lesser degree Smith, that it was hard to justify picking one of them. Catchings had arguably better numbers but played for an even worse team. Leslie had reasonably comparable numbers for a much better team but missed 1/3 of the season. Add it all up and Jackson won a very fractured and pretty close MVP vote.
Now, when you look at this year's MVP race and ponder Diana Taurasi's chances it's immediately obvious that the situation which allowed Jackson to take the award despite missing the playoffs doesn't exist here. Taurasi's numbers, outside of scoring, aren't as good as Jackson's were. There are serious candidates from much better teams than Taurasi's this year. It's not at all clear that the Mercury would have made the playoffs if they'd been in the east, certainly not to the degree it was with Seattle in 2003. I think there's a good chance Taurasi will finish second in the voting. I think that's too high. I'd put her about 5th.
This picking against the Monarchs thing really isn't working out too well. Have I learned my lesson? Keep reading…
This is where the Monarchs decimated Houston and LA. They've outscored their opponents in the paint by more than 10 points per game. The Shock are perhaps even more dominant up front. They outdid the Fever and Sun by nearly 12 ppg in the paint. If you look at rebounding, the Monarchs are a little ahead in terms of rebound % and margin in the playoffs. Sacto hasn't gotten much out of their reserves here. Brunson hasn't been effective in the postseason and Buescher has been all but invisible. Detroit, meanwhile, has gotten quality play from Pierson, and Braxton has done well at everything except hitting layups. I think Griffith & Walker is a slightly better starting tandem than Ford & Riley, mostly because Riley is so thoroughly outclassed by both Walker and Griffith. At the three it's Powell vs Cash. There's no question that Powell has been playing better than Cash.
I'm going to give the slight edge here to Sacramento. The caveat being that Ford is the best front court player on either team and could single handedly tip the balance the other way.
On paper it's a mismatch. Nolan & Smith against Penicheiro & Lawson. In the two regular season matchups, Katie and Tweety outscored Ticha and Kara 34-8 and 16-5. Dorrell started both of those games and played more minutes than Lawson but was no more effective. Dorrell has been a non-factor in the playoffs. Off the bench the Monarchs have mostly used Haynie, the Shock have used Powell some but the starters are both averaging 37+ minutes per game.
The advantage here is clearly to Detroit.
Whisenant has the better record, both overall and in the playoffs. I find the Monarchs' style of play to be quite boring, but it's unquestionably effective and you won't see them beating themselves.
The Shock have home advantage. Both teams are loaded with playoff experience. Sacto has nine players who have won WNBA titles, Detroit has six. The Shock also have one player with an ABL title. The Monarchs haven't lost a playoff game so far. Both teams are healthy, which is a big part of why they're here.
Edge to Detroit. Home ad has always meant victory in the WNBA finals.
The thing to watch will be the guard play. Nolan and Smith need to outscore Penicheiro and Lawson by at least 15 points for Detroit to win. The other x-factor is Cheryl Ford. She'll need to step her game up over what she did in the last two games against Connecticut. I know she's capable, and I think she'll do it. I'm taking…
Shock in four!
I did well in the east, not so well in the west in round one. Let's do the west first this time…
SACRAMENTO VS LOS ANGELES
The Monarchs looked awfully good in round one. I'd say they've been the most impressive team in the post-season so far. The Sparks struggled, losing game one and having to fight right to the end to win the last two at home.
The Sparks took each of the three regular season meetings, all by double digits. Mwadi Mabika averaged 22.3 ppg in those games. Two of the three were in LA.
What's the key to the series? Chamique Holdsclaw. If she can't go, or can only play limited minutes as she did against the Storm, then LA is in trouble. If she's able to play 30 minutes per game at her usual level of play, they should win. All indications are that she'll be ready to go.
Over the past 10 years I've learned one thing: Never, ever underestimate The Claw. She's going to have a big series and the Sparks win in three.
DETROIT VS CONNECTICUT
The Shock and Sun were both strong in round one. I think Detroit showed a little better, winning by wider margins over a better opponent. The Sun were bothered by an injury to Katie Douglas and some highly questionable officiating.
The Shock took all three regular season meetings. The first two, both in Connecticut, were close. The last, in Detroit with the Sun resting players and the Shock needing the win to secure home ad over Indiana, was not. Katie Smith averaged 20.7 ppg in those games.
I don't believe for a second that Douglas is going to sit out this series. I also don't think it will much matter. She shut down Deanna Nolan in both of the first two meetings between these teams, but the Shock still found a way to win.
The Shock have Connecticut's number this year. I see a sweep.
Let's start in the east.
CONNECTICUT VS WASHINGTON
Everybody and their mother is picking the Sun and it's not hard to see why. They took two out of three from the Mystics in the regular season and neither of Connecticut's wins were close. The Sun have been rolling over everybody while the Mystics have been up and down since mid-June. In fact, on June 17th both teams were 7-3. Since then Connecticut is 19-5 while Washington is 11-13. The Sun have great depth, plenty of playoff experience, and home court advantage.
I'm not going to be the one to break from the pack. This series feels like a mismatch. The Sun are too good not to sweep this one.
DETROIT VS INDIANA
My last post, about the tie breakers, gives you an idea of how closely matched these two teams are. They split 2-2 during the season and all four games were tight. These are probably the two best defensive teams in the league. The Shock finished stronger, going 12-5 over the last half of the season while the Fever were 9-8. The Shock have tremendous talent. Everyone who plays significant minutes for them is a former first round pick (or Katie Smith, who would have been had the league not taken her out of the draft). The Fever have Tamika Catchings, who is perhaps the most dominant single player in the game.
Here's the thing…the reason home advantage was so important in this matchup is that the home team won all four regular season games. I expect that to hold true again in the post-season. I'm picking the Shock in three tight, exciting games.
LOS ANGELES VS SEATTLE
Unlike the eastern conference, this matchup features an underdog that won the regular season series. You might dismiss the first game, since Chamique Holdsclaw didn't play. The Sparks are an entirely different team when The Claw plays, 21-4 with her in the lineup compared to 4-5 without her. On the other hand, this will be the first time the Storm have both Lauren Jackson and Janell Burse on the floor against LA. Jackson has been resting the last two games, so she should be ready to play heavy minutes in this series.
I think Jackson's health is the deciding factor here. After 10 days off she should be raring to go. I see her putting up big numbers as Seattle pulls the upset.
SACRAMENTO VS HOUSTON
The western conference finals rematch also features an underdog that won the regular season series. The Comets won the first three, the Monarchs the last one. Sacto has played much better than Houston over the last half of the season, going 12-5 to The Comets 7-10. There's something of a mitigating factor, however, in that Tina Thompson missed most of those second half games. Thompson showed that she's in game shape with back-to-back 30+ point games to close out the season.
That's really the bottom line here. With Tina Thompson, Houston is 3-0 against Sacramento. Without her they're 0-1. She's playing in this series, so I have to pick The Comets.
There you go, two favorites in the east and two underdogs in the west. Let's see who makes me wrong.
Did you miss me? I took a little vacation, but now I'm back!
Most of the tie breakers are pretty easy to figure out. You don't have to be a mathematical genius to figure out that Houston has beaten Seattle and Phoenix every time they've played them, giving The Comets the tie break over both of them.
The big exception is Indiana/Detroit. The Shock are 21-10, the Fever are one game back at 20-11
The #1 tie breaker is head-to-head, which they split 2-2.
#2 is conference record. Right now Detroit is 12-5 and Indiana is 11-6. Each team has three conference games and no non-conference games remaining. For them to end up tied, we'd have to see one of these scenarios:
Any scenario that ends with the two teams tied overall also has them tied in conference record.
#3 is record against teams with .500 or better record at the end of the season. Right now that makes…
Each has two games left against teams on this list. If Indiana wins both and Detroit loses both then they'd be tied. The only way this can work is if the Fever beat Connecticut twice and lose to the Sky while the Shock beat Chicago and lose to both the Sun and Mystics.
There's a wild card here, however. Phoenix is currently under .500 but could end the season at 17-17 or 18-16. Indiana is 2-0 against the Merc, Detroit is 0-2. If Phoenix ends the season at .500 or better that makes both teams 10-8 with two left. That leaves many possibilities…
|Team||L3||L2vsW||overall||vs over .500|
Clearly Fever fans should be rooting for the Mercury!
Let's suppose that one of the tie scenarios in #3 plays out. The #4 tie breaker is point differential in head-to-head games. The four scores were…
So Indiana will win the #4 tie break if it comes to that.
The #5 tie break is a coin toss. A couple of baskets the other way and we might be wondering what kind of coin Donna O would use for such an occasion.
Suzie McConnell-Serio stepped down as coach of the Lynx on Sunday. Nothing terribly surprising about that, she was known to be on the hot-seat and even the Minnie fans over at Women's Hoops Blog were speculating as to whether she would be replaced during the season or afterwards. Carolyn Jenkins gets the interim job. I would guess that she's not very likely to be the full time coach next season. I'm sure the rumor mills will recycle the popular names like Cheryl Miller and Lin Dunn. We'll hear about WNBA assistants who deserve a shot, like Cheryl Reeve and Karleen Thompson. Perhaps even some former players like Jennifer Azzi or former Lynx Teresa Edwards will be touted as possible replacements. The smart money will be betting on a man with NBA coaching experience and some ties to Minnesota. If Sidney Lowe hadn't just taken the NC State men's job he would be the kind of person I'm talking about. Maybe the Raptors will start slow again and Sam Mitchell will be available.
The sale of the Storm (and Sonics) to a group in Oklahoma has already been blogged on by both Lisa and Rebecca. You can read up on the ongoing efforts to keep the team(s) in Seattle at stormfans.org. My opinion is that the best way to keep the Storm in town is to find independent ownership. Otherwise the team is at the mercy of owners who are really only interested in the Sonics. If this ownership group doesn't move them, the next one will. Having WNBA ownership separate from NBA ownership makes the league stronger. I know, you know it, Donna O knows it, even David Stern knows it. When Stern says he wants the W to be as strong in basketball as the WTA is in tennis, he's not ignorant of the fact that they got there by separating themselves from the men's tour. Long term success for the W will only come when its teams are no longer the property of dilettante NBA owners.
Teams are starting to get knocked out of playoff options. The Liberty & Sky are already out of home court advantage, even in the first round, and the Lynx & Sting can't finish first. At least one team will probably be out of the playoffs by this time next week. We could know all four east playoff teams as early as Thursday. Nobody has clinched a playoff spot yet, but the Sun probably will tomorrow.
The trading deadline is coming up Thursday, that’s the 20th. Clearly the Sting, Liberty, and Sky are out of it and could be looking to deal veterans. The Lynx are close to that point. The Mercury and SASS could go either way, neither looks like a long term playoff player but even getting in might be worth it to them. Everyone else has to consider themselves contenders.
I’m not going to speculate here as to what sort of deals we might see. Instead, let’s check out deadline deals from years past to see how they turned out.
The first such trade happened in 1999. The Shock acquired Wendy Palmer and Olympia Scott-Richardson from the Starzz for Cindy Brown and Korie Hlede. It worked out well for Detroit. Palmer had a nice run and they made the playoffs, losing in the first round to Charlotte. A few years later they traded Palmer away for Elaine Powell, one of the keys to the 2003 title run. As for Utah, they went 8-3 after the trade but fell short of qualifying for the post-season. Brown retired after the 1999 season and they didn’t reach their potential until they got Marie Ferdinand to replace Hlede in the lineup. The Shock won this deal all the way around.
No more near deadline deals happened until 2002, when there were two. First was the Storm getting Kate Starbird from the Starzz for Semeka Randall. Seattle went on a tear, winning the first five games Starbird played in and going 7-2 with her in the lineup to finish 17-15 and make their first ever playoff appearance. They were easily dispatched by the Sparks, but the playoff experience they gained was a huge advantage for the 2004 title run. Starbird herself shot 46% from the field as a bench gun, but never played for Seattle again after 2002. Utah went 4-4 after the trade and barely escaped Houston in round one before getting their beat down from LA. Bullseye played limited minutes, as is normal for reserves when Candi Harvey is the coach, and stayed on the bench in San Antonio for two more seasons. I think Seattle came out ahead. As mentioned before, the playoff experience was key to them winning it all two years later. 2002 was the high water mark for the Starzz, but it likely would have been the same with Starbird instead of Randall.
The other 2002 trade was The Comets sending Coquese Washington to the Fever for Rita Williams. Houston went 7-2 after the trade and looked ready to add one for the thumb before blowing the series against Utah in round one. Williams played single digit minutes. She was traded to Seattle for a 3rd round pick before the 2003 season. Indiana surged to an 8-3 record after dealing and made their first playoff appearance, dropping a tough series to the Liberty. Washington played very well, posting a 2.0 ATO and doubling her scoring efforts while playing about 30 MPG. The next year she reverted to form; shooting poorly, dribbling out shot clocks, and posting a 1.6 ATO. Indiana rates a slight edge in the trade. For Houston it was addition by subtraction. Washington had worn out her welcome and probably would have grumbled and poisoned the lockerroom atmosphere if she’d had her minutes cut, much like she did in Indiana a year later. The Fever weren’t going anywhere before the deal and Rita Williams was also a well known clubhouse cancer, so making the playoff run was a big deal for them.
In 2003 there was one minor trade made near the deadline. The Shock got Stacey Thomas from the Mercury for Tamara Moore. Neither of them played very much or very well afterwards. The big winner in that deal was Thomas, who got a championship ring for her efforts.
Last year there were two very big deals near the deadline, of course. In one, The Comets got Dawn Staley and a 2nd round pick from the Sting for Adrienne Goodson, Kristen Rasmussen, and a 1st rounder. Houston, who had been playing very well, went 5-5 after the trade then upset Seattle before bowing out to eventual champion Sacramento. Staley only started three of the ten games and played decently. This year she’s started every game. The draft pick turned out to be Ann Strother, who was traded on draft day for Mistie Williams and Liz Shimek. Shimek is gone and Williams has played very little. Charlotte was the worst team in the league both before and after the trade. Rasmussen and Goodson both left as free agents after the season. The draft pick turned out to be Tye’sha Fluker, who has played more minutes than Williams but not nearly as effectively. It’s a little early to tell who won this one, but Houston has the edge so far. Staley is clearly on her last legs, but they’re all time great legs. Williams/Fluker is pretty much a wash right now, but if one turns out to be significantly better than the other it could turn the decision on this deal.
In the other 2005 deadline trade, the Lynx sent Katie Smith and a 2nd round pick to the Shock for Chandi Jones, Stacey Thomas, and a 1st round pick. Detroit went 7-6 after the trade, good enough to sneak into the last playoff spot where they got swept by the Sun. Smith played OK, shooting 37% and scoring 9 ppg, but had a rough go in the post season, falling off to 27%. She’s doing a little better this year, up to 39% and 13 ppg. The draft pick turned out to be Ambrosia Anderson, now in Connecticut. Minnesota dropped like they’d been shot after the trade, going 3-8 to finish at 14-20. Jones didn’t play all that well, shooting 35% for 8ppg, but had some flashes of brilliance. Thomas played three minutes in one game. This year, Jones has been injured and hasn’t played at all while Thomas left as a free agent. The draft pick turned out to be Shona Thorburn, who has played sparingly. The Shock definitely have the edge in this deal so far. Smith isn’t the player she was a few years ago but she has been a key element in the team’s resurgence this year. Jones has stud potential if/when she’s able to play and Thorburn could develop, so the long term result may yet be positive for Minnesota.
That’s all the deadline deals in WNBA history. Stay tuned to see if something big happens this year!
Here we are at the All Star Break. Let's take a look at a couple of the award races and see how they stack up…
I see seven real contenders, none of whom play for the Sun.
Seimone Augustus has to be mentioned because she's leading the league in scoring. I think she's a long shot. MVPs don't play for last place teams, and the voters have historically been unfriendly to rookies when deciding this award.
Alana Beard is playing well for the fading Mystics. The MVP has always come from a team with a winning record, usually a team that's well over .500. Washington is 10-10 and 3-7 over the last ten games. Beard is only a marginal candidate as it is, if the team keeps sliding she'll be out of the race.
Tamika Catchings is the glue that holds the Fever together. However, her low FG% (under 35%) and the fact that she's not even Indiana's leading scorer will probably keep her from winning the award despite all the other things she does.
Cheryl Ford is a serious contender. She's on pace to break the league record for rebounds per game and she's the leading scorer for a contending team. She's dropped off a little the last few games, a week ago I would have made her my pick, but she's still very much in the thick of the race. Not to go off on a tangent here, but can someone explain why Diana Taurasi was on the All Decade 30 list instead of Ford? Both won ROY, both have been All Stars every year they've been in the league, both have made the All WNBA team. Taurasi, however, has never been in a playoff game while Ford has won a championship and been in the playoffs every year of her career. Ford has led the league in rebounding, Taurasi has never led the league in any major stat. What exactly is it that we're celebrating and why is Taurasi more qualified than Ford to be a part of it?
Lauren Jackson is also a real threat to win. She's up to 5th in the league in scoring and the Storm are starting to come together. Seattle also has a beneficial schedule, nine games left against the weak East including two with New York and two with Charlotte. That should pad both the Storm's record and Jackson's stats.
Lisa Leslie has to be the favorite right now. She's well liked among MVP voters, she's the best player on the best team, and she's the leading scorer among players on teams with winning records. A great player having a great year on a team with a great record, that's what MVPs are made of.
Diana Taurasi is the last contender. Like Augustus, she suffers from being on a losing team. There's also a chance that she won't be the leading scorer on her team, like Catchings. Currently she has a slim lead on Cappie Pondexter for that honor. She's having a spectacular season, but she won't win if the Merc finish 6th or even 5th.
I would rank them: Leslie, Jackson, Ford, Catchings, Beard, Taurasi, Augustus.
Rookie of the Year
There are really only four contenders, and even that might be a stretch.
Seimone Augustus is the leading scorer in the league, and the leading candidate for ROY. Of the eight previous awards, six have gone to the highest scoring rookie. The other two (2001 & 2003) went to the second highest scoring rookie. In 2003 LaToya Thomas scored 10.78 ppg to Cheryl Ford's 10.75 ppg. Ford set every imaginable rookie rebounding record and was an integral part of the Shock's worst to first turnaround, so the voters gave her the award despite Thomas' slim scoring edge. In 2001 Lauren Jackson outscored Jackie Stiles 15.2 ppg to 14.9 ppg. Stiles won the award. There have been umpteen pages written about that race on the message boards, most of it favoring the notion that Stiles won based on hype from her college days and/or that Jackson should have won and lost votes because she had played pro ball, more or less, in Australia before coming to the WNBA and some voters thought that should have made her ineligible. My opinion is that Marie Ferdinand should have won the award that year.
Candice Dupree is the longshot of the four. Playing for a bad team doesn't hurt as much in ROY voting as it does in MVP voting, but it does count a bit. Besides that, Dupree's numbers just aren't up to the level of the others. She's having a nice rookie season, though.
Cappie Pondexter is second in scoring among rookies. She's also second among rookies in assists. Assists haven't historically been a big deal in ROY voting. Only twice (2000 & 2005) has the rookie assist leader won ROY and one of those times (Betty Lennox in 2000) the assists were an afterthought at best. That's why you won't see Monique Currie, this year's rookie assist leader, listed as a contender.
Sophia Young leads all rookies in rebounding. The leading rookie rebounder has won ROY four times (1999, 2000, 2002, 2003). Young's ppg is less than half that of Augustus, which makes her an unlikely winner. Like Dupree, she's having a nice rookie season.
I'd rank them: Augustus, Pondexter, Young, Dupree.
7 Leslie & Sales
6 Griffith, Smith, Swoopes, Thompson
5 Jackson & Staley
4 Bird & Catchings
3 Ford, Hammon, Nolan
2 Beard, Dydek, Taurasi
1 Augustus, Douglas, Pondexter, Whalen, Whitmore, Young
Three rookies ties an All Star record set in 2002. There were two in 1999 and 2001; one in 2000 and 2003; none in 2005.
33% of the rookies named to previous All Star teams have never been named to a second (two of the players, Stacey Dales & Betty Lennox, are still in the league and could eventually make another appearance).
This is the first time Chamique Holdsclaw has not been named to the All Star team (unless she gets named to replace Thompson).
Bird & Catchings are the only current players to have started every All Star Game played during their careers. Catch also started The Game at Radio City in 2004. Beard, Ford, Jackson, Leslie, Sales, and Taurasi have appeared in every ASG that's been played during their careers. All but Beard & Jackson played in The Game at MSG in 2004 (Jackson was not eligible to play).
Now for the opinion portion of the post. :)
I don't understand why Katie Smith made the team over Nikki Teasley. Teasley is having a better year and the Shock already have two other players on the roster. It's one thing for fans to vote in a questionable pick, like Dawn Staley, but the coaches really should know better.
Sales & Thompson probably won't be able to play, so replacements will have to be named. Teasley should get the East nod. When a player is leading the league in assists they really should be a no-brainer. Holdsclaw will probably get the West. The Sparks have the league's best record, a second All Star would seem appropriate. I'd prefer Michelle Snow. But then I'm a Comet fan.
Assuming the game is somewhere other than NY, I expect to be there in person next year. You should go to at least one in your lifetime. Heck, go this year. Find a scalper, get some tix on ebay, whatever. It's Dawn Staley's last trip to NY as a player (barring a Comets/Liberty meeting in the WNBA finals), how can you miss that?
Some might question (and already have on various message boards) why the 2002 Sparks got a higher seed than their 2001 counterpart, especially when the '01 version won more games and lost fewer games. Answer: Nikki Teasley. Brought to L.A. in a draft-day trade that sent starting point guard Ukari Figgs to Portland (and also added veteran Witherspoon), Teasley came through in the clutch. In Game 1 of the WNBA Finals, she dished out 11 assists, then did it again and added 11 points in Game 2. Still, the Sparks didn't seal their second straight title until Teasley's 21-foot 3-pointer with 2.1 seconds left (and subsequent deflection on a desperation heave by New York's Teresa Weatherspoon) closed the book on a 69-66 victory
You've seen all the message boards I read, and the only person I've seen questioning the Sparks' seeds has been me.
Yes, Teasley had 11 assists in Game 1 against the Liberty. She also had 7 turnovers, a number that remains a finals record today. The Sparks were never able to put the Lib away, the eight point final was their largest lead of the night. The 2001 Sparks had a similar result in Game 1 against the Sting, winning by 9 after trailing much of the game. The 2001 Sting were a better team than the 2002 Liberty, IMO. Oh, and the shot that put the 01 Sparks up for good in Game 1? A nice drive to the basket by Figgs.
Yes, Teasley hit the game winner at the end of Game 2. It was the only three she hit the whole series, and it obscures the fact that LA blew a 9 point lead with 2:30 to go thanks to Teasley's dumb fouls on both ends of the court and her leaving Tot Byears hanging out to dry for a 3-second call with under a minute left. Calling that last second win an improvement over what the 01 Sparks did in Game 2, a 28 point blowout of Charlotte, is downright silly.
Let's do some more comparisons, this time directly between 02 Teasley and 01 Figgs. Figgs scored more both in the regular season and the playoffs. Figgs shot for a better FG% and 3P% than Teasley in both the regular season and the playoffs. Despite Teasley's height advantage, Figgs outrebounded her both in the regular season and in the playoffs. Teasley in the playoffs had 47 assists and 22 turnovers. Figgs had 41 assists and 6 (six) turnovers. That's right, Teasley had more TOs in Game 1 of the finals than Figgs did in all seven playoff games. Figgs had 0 (ZERO!) turnovers in the 2001 finals. Even in the regular season Teasley's much hyped passing wasn't materially better than Figgs'. Teasley averaged just 0.5 more assists with an inferior ATO ratio.
I don't see it as a close call. Figgs in 2001 was far superior to Teasley in 2002, and so were the Sparks.
9: 2004 Seattle Storm
20-14 regular season, 6-2 playoffs
PG Sue Bird
SG Betty Lennox
SF Sheri Sam
PF Lauren Jackson
C Kamila Vodichkova
Key Bench: Janell Burse, Tully Bevilaqua
Coach: Anne Donovan
The Storm had the worst record of any WNBA championship team. They never seemed like a team destined to win it all, but everything just seemed to fall into place. The Comets fell apart after the Olympic break, meaning they wouldn't have to deal with the uber-experienced Swoopes & Thompson. Michael Cooper left the Sparks, and while I like Karleen Thompson as a coach it's too much to ask anyone to take over that late in the season and make a playoff run. Katie Smith got hurt, so they essentially got a first round playoff bye. The Monarchs did their annual Game 3 meltdown in the conference finals, Kool Kesh missed the gamer in Game 2 of the finals, Big Game Betty went nuts, and suddenly the Storm are champions. Not bad for a team with so-so defense and only one consistently reliable scoring threat.
8: 2003 Detroit Shock
25-9 regular season, 6-2 playoffs
PG Elaine Powell
SG Deanna Nolan
SF Swin Cash
PF Cheryl Ford
C Ruth Riley
Key Bench: Kedra Holland-Korn, Barb Farris
Coach: Bill Laimbeer
I'm sure some people will be surprised to see this team ranked this low. The more I look at them the more they seem like a fluke. All the other championship teams had prior playoff experience. The Shock hadn't been to the post-season since 1999. The only player left from the 1999 team was Astou Ndiaye-Diatta, who played all of six minutes in the 2003 playoffs. All the other championship teams had a core of players that had been together for several years. Nolan was the only Shock starter who was in Detroit before 2002. All the other championship teams (except the 2002 Sparks) turned the ball over fewer times than their opponents. The Shock had the worst TO differential in the league by a wide margin. The Shock caught lightning in a bottle, their subsequent mediocrity demonstrates what an anomaly the title really was.
7: 1997 Houston Comets
18-10 regular season, 2-0 playoffs
PG Kim Perrot
SG Cynthia Cooper
SF Janeth Arcain
PF Tina Thompson
C Wanda Guyton
Key Bench: Tammy Jackson, Tiffany Woosley
Coach: Van Chancellor
I don't know what to do with this team in this ranking. On talent, they probably belong last, but I just can't put any team with Coop on it at the bottom of the list. That's really the big lesson of 1997. Never, ever bet against a team with Cynthia Cooper on it.
6: 2005 Sacramento Monarchs
25-9 regular season, 7-1 playoffs
PG Ticha Penicheiro
SG Chelsea Newton
SF Nicole Powell
PF DeMya Walker
C Yolanda Griffith
Key Bench: Kara Lawson, Rebekkah Brunson
Coach: John Whisenant
After three conference finals losses in four years, Coach Whiz did something bold. He traded Tangela Smith for Nicole Powell (give or take a draft pick and a few benchies). Trading away a key starter is something very few teams trying to get over the hump to a title have done. Smith was really good for Sacto, so it's not like Seattle dealing Amanda Lassiter, a decent player forced into a too prominent role for the Storm in 2002-2003, or LA moving Allison Feaster, a prospect who didn't flower until she got to Charlotte. Anyway, Powell gave them the big outside threat they needed to balance the inside game of Griffith & Walker and hit those absurd threes against Houston to break the conference finals jinx. And, of course, no discussion of this title team would be complete without mentioning the injury to Lindsay Whalen in the finals, which may or may not have been the deciding factor in the championship.
5: 2002 Los Angeles Sparks
25-7 regular season, 6-0 playoffs.
PG Nikki Teasley
SG Tamecka Dixon
SF Mwadi Mabika
PF Delisha Milton
C Lisa Leslie
Key Bench: Latasha Byears, Sophia Witherspoon
Coach: Michael Cooper
I was talking a minute ago about the relatively easy road the 2004 Storm had to the finals. I'm here to tell you that no champion ever had an easier playoff slate than the 2002 Sparks. In the first round they faced the not-ready-for-prime-time Storm, with a rookie Sue Bird and a 21-year-old Lauren Jackson making her playoff debut. Check Lo-Jack's 4 point effort on 1/9 shooting in Game 2 if you think a player of her caliber is unaffected by nerves. In the second round they faced the Starzz, another team in uncharted territory after having been gifted with a win in round one. They were also a team that LA owned, having beaten them senseless in every meeting that year, and a team that had an all-time playoff choker at point in Jen Azzi. Nobody on Earth thought Utah would win a game, and they didn't. In the finals LA got the last gasp of the classic Liberty. New York had finished first in the godawfully weak east at 18-14 and wheezed through the playoffs with no road wins, a bad stat when the other team has home court in the finals. Even at that it took a last second three from someone who had been 0/7 from long range to put it away.
4: 2000 Comets
27-5 regular season, 6-0 playoffs
PG Janeth Arcain
SG Cynthia Cooper
SF Sheryl Swoopes
PF Tina Thompson
C Tiffani Johnson
Key Bench: Tammy Jackson, Coquese Washington
Coach: Van Chancellor
In the first four years of the league, The Comets won four titles. There were only two points at which I really thought they were in danger of not winning. The first was in the middle of 1997, when the team got clobbered by LA to fall to 7-5. Coop talks about that in her book, She Got Game. It was after that game that she confronted Van Chancellor in his office and he told her to do her thing on the court. The second time I thought The Comets might not win it all was with about 30 seconds left in Game 2 of the 2000 finals. The Lib were up three and Houston looked deflated by their complete inability to do anything to stop Tari Phillips. You know what happened after that, Coop hit the three to send it to OT then dominated the extra period to finish off the 4-peat. I had forgotten the rule I learned in 1997 about betting against Coop. Unfortunately I wouldn't need to remember it anymore after this season.
3: 2001 Sparks
28-4 regular season, 6-1 playoffs
PG Ukari Figgs
SG Tamecka Dixon
SF Mwadi Mabika
PF Delisha Milton
C Lisa Leslie
Key Bench: Latasha Byears, Nicky McCrimmon
Coach: Michael Cooper
Lisa Leslie had the most dominating playoff run of any player ever in 2001. Six double-doubles in seven games. 31 blocks, with at least two in each game. She even averaged three assists per game. Boy did she know how to finish people off too. In the final game of the first round against The Comets she had 28 points and 18 rebounds. In the deciding game of the conference finals against the Monarchs she had 35 points, 16 rebounds, and 7 blocks. In the last game of the finals against the Sting she had 24 points, 13 rebounds, 6 assists, and 7 blocks. This team was on a mission from the start. They were 9-0 before anyone knew what hit them and people were talking seriously about them going undefeated before a late June swoon had them losing three in a row. After that was the record 18 game win streak. Unlike their '02 counterparts, this team had a very rugged set of playoff opponents. The four time defending champion Comets (albeit without Cooper and Swoopes), then the very tough Monarchs led by Yolanda Griffith, then a Sting team that had finished by going 17-4 over the last 2/3 of the season and winning two straight playoff series on the road. It was going to take a great team to dethrone The Comets. This was a great team.
2: 1999 Comets
26-6 regular season, 4-2 playoffs
PG Sonja Henning
SG Cynthia Cooper
SF Sheryl Swoopes
PF Tina Thompson
C Polina Tzekova
Key Bench: Janeth Arcain, Tammy Jackson
Coach: Van Chancellor
How good was this team? The Liberty got a real live, bona fide miracle at the end of Game 2 of the finals, and it still wasn't enough for them to beat The 1999 Comets. If I were making a list of the most mentally tough WNBA teams ever, this team would have to go at the top of the list. They had to deal with the illness and eventual death of Kim Perrot. It was the first year that Cooper & Swoopes were really butting heads over who the alpha dog of the team was. They had to face the influx of ABL talent that turned the league upside down. They were even starting to get some grumbling from Comet fans about Van Chancellor's drafting strategy. And in the end they had to see umpteen million replays of "The Shot" before the decisive game of the finals. I shudder to think what it would have taken to distract this team from its goal.
1: 1998 Comets
27-3 regular season, 4-1 playoffs
PG Kim Perrot
SG Cynthia Cooper
SF Sheryl Swoopes
PF Tina Thompson
C Monica Lamb
Key Bench: Janeth Arcain, Tammy Jackson
Coach: Van Chancellor
It's a tough call between the 1998 and 1999 Comets for #1. Ultimately it came down to the plain fact that Kim Perrot ran the team better than anyone else ever did. When people talk in reverential tones about the great Houston teams it's this lineup they're thinking about, not the team with Wanda Guyton or Tiff Johnson or Sonja Henning. The irony, of course, is that The 1998 Comets came closer to losing in the playoffs than any of the Houston championship teams. They were down a game and trailing in the second half of Game 2 against Phoenix when Van Chancellor went to the small lineup, with Arcain in for Lamb. The Merc couldn't handle it, nobody could, and The Comets legend was born.
There has never been a WNBA season without at least one coach being replaced during the year. Only once has there been an off-season without a coaching change (after 1997). Check this chart of the number of coaching changes made each season and off-season:
|Year||Changes During||Changes After||Teams|
Utah/San Antonio has made the most in-season coaching changes, making the move during the 1998, 1999, 2001, 2003, and 2004 seasons. Washington has the most off-season moves, doing the deed after 1998, 2000, 2001, 2003, and 2004.
Almost all coaches start to lose effectiveness with a team after a few years, often leading them to be fired. This usually brings condemnation from irate fans, saying that the coach is being made into a scapegoat for the team's problems. Ms. Weeble was a good coach a couple of years ago, wasn't she? She just won coach of the year two years ago, didn't she? If she was a good coach then why isn't she a good coach now?
There are several reasons why this happens, but the overriding principle is that a successful coach changes the needs of the organization and in doing so she makes herself obsolete. The first thing a coach does when taking over a team is to determine what changes need to be made. Over time, coaches tend to lose the ability to see what needs to be changed.
Coaches (and teams) can be measured along many different lines….offense/defense, use the bench/iron five, young players/experienced players, high pressure/low pressure, fast break/half court set, and so on. New coaches are effective because they pull the team out of the rut caused by over-emphasis on any one category.
Henry Bibby, for example, was a very high pressure coach. The Sparks stopped responding to him late last year and the team replaced him with the very low pressure Joe Bryant. They finished 4-2 under Jellybean last year and have the league's best record this year. I don't know too many people who think Bryant is a great coach, or even a better coach than Bibby. He's just the right coach for LA right now.
The same sort of thing happens in all the categories. If a team doesn't use its bench, the subs won't be sharp and the team will be vulnerable to injuries. If the bench is overused the team won't be able to develop stars. Dan Hughes is a fine example of the latter. He had good teams in Cleveland, but when it came crunch time he never had a go to person. This bit him in the 2003 playoffs against the Shock. With game 1, and perhaps the series, on the line Swin Cash was able to turnover Deanna Jackson because the Rockers had no star to get the ball to in the waning seconds. If a team loads up on veterans then age will catch up with them quickly, but if they use too many young players then they probably won't be able to make a title run until a new coach brings in some veteran leadership.
Another issue is that of loyalty of a coach to her players. If a new coach comes in, she doesn't owe anything to anyone. She can bench or release players who aren't getting the job done without apology or explanation. An established coach can't do that as easily. She would have to break faith with players who have given her their best effort. This can affect the whole team. When the established coach decides to release a long time teammate, the remaining players feel betrayed. Coach can't be trusted anymore. Teresa gave all she had and look what happened to her. When a new coach does the same thing the reaction is more like Nobody's job is safe here. I better get my butt in gear or I'll be out on the street. Free agency can make this a little easier on the coach, as they can sometimes say that the decision was out of their hands.
Generally speaking, coaches are hired for good reasons and they're fired for good reasons. A team brings in a coach to fill a need. Once that's done, the team will have a different need and most likely will need a new coach to fill it. Getting fired doesn't mean someone is a bad coach. It just means the team needs a different kind of coach.
I'm a huge women's basketball fan but my favorite pro league is really starting to tick me off. They keep producing these sickeningly cute features for their website while ignoring a great many things that would be of interest to fans of the sport. For example…
They webcast a great many games, but the links on the website don't always work and when they do they open in an awful browser that can't even resize the picture. I don't want to see a game on a postage stamp, I want it full screen! I'm thankful that RebKell has found links that open them in a better browser but I hate that my league makes me go offsite to find them.
They sometimes have games broadcast on Fox Regional Sports networks or the MSG network, but they're almost always blacked out for me even though I live nowhere near a WNBA team. Does someone really think the Monarchs' attendance will be adversely affected by having their games available for broadcast in Georgia? Of course the networks and the cable/satellite providers blame each other, and my league stands by and does nothing.
They continue to have inaccurate or incomplete information about players and teams on their site. I can't find out how many games Nykesha Sales has started in her career or how Bridget Pettis did before this season, but I can find out what KB Sharp's favorite movie is. Sheryl Swoopes was listed as probable for a game in Washington when she didn't even make the trip. Just a couple of weeks ago they listed Ashley Robinson, Anna DeForge, and Penny Taylor as probable starters for the Mercury against the Shock even though none of them are playing for Phoenix this year.
I love this league, Swin, and I know you do too. It just seems that their priorities are out of whack. It hurts me to see them screw up the things that would give them the most positive exposure while putting out loads of puff pieces that make people take the league less seriously. I need your advice on how to express my displeasure without making them think I'm one of those yohos that just hate's women's ball. Please help!
- Kevin, Macon GA
OK, I know you've all seen the official All-Decade team. I worked out my own list a while back (yes, I voted) and 7 of the 10 are the same as the actual list. I had Cooper, Griffith, Jackson, Leslie, Smith, Swoopes, and Thompson. In place of Bird, Catchings, and Staley I had…
Ruthie Bolton. A sentimental pick, I guess. Bolton was the WNBA's all team leading scorer for six days in 1997 and I wanted to include her just for that reason. Beyond that, she was a great player, tough as nails and completely fearless on the court.
Chamique Holdsclaw. Here's my boggle. How can Katie Smith be on the team ahead of Holdsclaw? Holdsclaw averages more points (18.0 to 17.0), rebounds (8.6 to 3.2), assists (2.6 to 2.4), steals (1.3 to 0.9) and blocks (0.6 to 0.2) per game than Smith and has a higher FG% (.439 to .410). Holdsclaw has made the playoffs three times (2000, 2002, and 2005) and made the conference finals once (2002). Smith has made the playoffs twice (2003, 2005) and was eliminated in the first round both times. Smith led the league in scoring once, as did Holdsclaw. Holdsclaw also led the league in rebounding twice, while Smith has never led the league in any other major category. Neither has ever finished higher than 4th in MVP voting. I think both should make the team, but if I could only have one I would have to take The Claw.
Teresa Weatherspoon. Let's forget about numbers for a second (although even there Spoon stacks up pretty well against Staley). The New York Liberty have reached the WNBA finals four times and the team has the third highest winning percentage of any franchise in league history. Now, when it's time to celebrate the first decade of play we're going to forget all that so we can honor players who played for perennial underachieving teams like Smith & Staley or Jenny-come-lately's like Catchings & Bird? That makes no sense to me. T-Spoon was the face of the great Lib teams from the first introduction in 1997 (Jasmina Perazic-Gipe) all the way to Nikki Teasley's last second three ball in 2002. That's enough to put her on my All Decade Team.
Two notes from previous entries:
As it happens, there's yet another original 1997 player who has come back this year. Bridget Pettis is back in Phoenix. Somehow I overlooked her when I was writing about Tot Byears.
When I was writing about places to talk WNBA I kept feeling like I was forgetting something. Sure enough, I left out Full Court Press. It's another subscription site, although the message board is free. I think it's worth subscribing for serious fans. Check out the board here.
I got an email the other day from someone who read the blog and wanted to provide some feedback. They contacted me through the email address on my website, the one in the bio. They also wanted to know how to contact the other bloggers, since there's no comments or other way to contact them listed here on wnba.com. I helped as best I could. I have email addresses for all the other bloggers but didn't quite feel right handing them out to just anyone.
The person who contacted me was also lamenting a lack of other WNBA fans to talk with. Like me, she lived far from any WNBA team and that limited the number of local fans. I pointed her to a couple of places online to talk W, and that got me thinking. I bet there are a lot of people like my new friend who would like to have people to talk about the league with but don't know where to look.
Let me tell you about some of the places I frequent….
At the top of the list has to be the WNBA message board at ESPN. That's where the Hot Topics under the Our Voices section of wnba.com come from. It's been in operation since 1999, making it one of the oldest WNBA message boards around. There are lots of enthusiastic fans here.
ESPN also has individual team boards, but they are not heavily used. They're also a little out of date. There's no Sky board but there is a Rockers board.
Probably the most active board is Rebkell's Junkie Boards. It started in the 2004 season when the ESPN board was having technical difficulties. This place can keep you occupied all day and all night just trying to keep up with all the posts! Most of the fan bloggers post here (all but the twins, I believe) so if you want to tell Queenie how great she is this is the place. Rebkell also offers a WNBA fantasy game similar to the Virtual GM game that ESPN used to run.
I have a great affection for wnbatalk.com. It's slowed down, activity-wise, from a few years ago but the people who post there have a unique insight into the league. This one also has individual team boards.
Basketballboards.net has a WNBA forum. It's mostly links to WNBA news posted by truebluefan, but when you can get people to talk they're usually on the ball pretty well.
Of course AOL, yahoo, and icq all have WNBA forums. Yahoo is the busiest. AOL's was just restarted at the beginning of the season.
Womenssportsnet.com has a collection of message boards, including a basketball board. The main site is a must for anyone interested in women's sports.
Women's basketball magazine has a message board, although it's not heavily used. The magazine is very nice, however, and is definitely worth checking out for WNBA fans.
As for individual teams, well…
The Lynx have Lynx Lane, which even features occasional appearances by Lynx front office people.
The Storm have stormfans.org. This is the one that announced Jessica Bibby's injury even before Anne Donovan knew about it a couple of years ago.
The Comets have thehrr.com. The message board is free. Most of thehrr is a subscription site, but it's well worth the price if you're interested in Comets, Rockets, or Houston area college ball.
The Shock have a message board attached to their website. It's funny to me to see fans clamoring for the coach to be fired on an official team website.
The Mercury have gotnext.com. It seems like its been around forever, and maybe it has. It's always fun to check up on the adventures of the Mercury Brigade.
There are probably other boards too, but these are the ones I check in on and that should be enough to keep you busy.
However, there are two more places I'm going to tell you about.
You can keep up with WNBA news at The Women's Hoops Blog. Sara, Ted, and all the guest bloggers do a great job with the news of the WBB world.
Womensbasketballonline.com is a great treasure trove of stuff. Stats, transactions, links, interviews, attendance figures, and who knows what else. I'm putting it here at the end because everyone knows you should save the best for last…
Suppose I told you there was another original WNBA player in the league now. Would you think that Elena Baranova or Janeth Arcain made a surprise return? Maybe you would think Andrea Stinson decided to unretire. Perhaps you would think that Jessie Hicks was making another comeback and snuck onto a roster without anyone in the league office noticing. As far as I know, none of those things have happened. However, there is another player who played in the W in 1997 and is playing in the league now.
I'm speaking of Latasha Byears, of course. In 1997 she started 19 games for Sacramento and in 1998 she led a dreadful Monarchs team in scoring. She was traded to Los Angeles after the 2000 season and as the enforcer off the bench was a key player in their 2001 & 2002 title runs. She was abruptly waived by the Sparks early in the 2003 season. I'm not going to go into the reasons for her dismissal. You can google it if you don't know already. Suffice to say that she was accused of some very ugly stuff, but no criminal charges were ever filed, no civil case was ever brought, and no evidence of her guilt has come into public view. I wouldn't presume to use the word innocent to describe Tot, but in this case she certainly hasn't been proven guilty.
Anyway, after two seasons of exile she's back in the league and playing well. She had a double-double against the Lynx the other night. Why is she conspicuously absent from the league's celebration of the few players remaining from 1997? She signed with the Mystics back in February so they had months before the start of the season to add her in. I can think of a couple of reasons the league might have left her out.
Byears is not on the best of terms with the league. She was involved in a highly visible lawsuit against the WNBA that was settled this off-season. She was critical of the league while she was on the outside, most notably in a lengthy interview with Scoop Jackson that appeared on espn.com and a long feature story about her in the LA Times. It would seem a bit petty for the league to leave her out based on that, but stranger things have happened.
Byears doesn't fit the WNBA's marketing strategy. She's been busted for marijuana possession. She has grillz that Nelly would kill for. She hangs out with guys named Juju, Neckbone, and Killer. She parties hard in places and with people that the league would rather not be associated with. She says stuff like "You know what my attitude is? (Expletive) the world. I'm a winner". She has more tattoos on either arm than Deanna Nolan has on her entire body, and they're not cutesy things like Cappie Pondexter's WNBA logo. She once tried to take off Michelle Marciniak's head with a basketball. In short, she doesn't present the family friendly image the WNBA wants to promote.
Byears' recent absence is somewhat embarrassing for the league. Putting her on the list of originals would almost require some mention of her missing 2004 and 2005, and the explanation of it would require some serious spin. It's something the league, and Tot too, would probably prefer to leave alone and move on from.
I understand the reasons the league has for leaving her out of the remaining players celebration. I don't agree with them, but I get why they've done it. Most people probably didn't notice or care that she was left out, but I'm one fan that knows Latasha Byears belongs on that list at the top of this entry.
The eight core members of the US World Championships team were announced on May 23rd. They are…
That's a pretty formidable core group. There are four more players to be added, who should they be?
There are only three guards in the core group and only Bird is really a point guard, although Taurasi can play there if needed. If Lindsay Whalen's ankle is sound, I'd make her the top choice as the other point. If not, Shannon Johnson and Becky Hammon are both decent choices. Johnson plays better defense while Hammon is stronger on the offensive end. I lean towards Pee Wee, but either would work.
As for the other back court spot, both Smith and Taurasi are primarily perimeter players. A slashing type guard would make for a good change of pace. That suggests Alana Beard, who is not only a slasher but also a lock down defender. I like Deanna Nolan and Nykesha Sales also, both of them can work inside and out to give coach Donovan more options. Neither would be a liability on defense, Nolan is great on ball while Sales is better off of it. I'd take Nolan, given the choice.
In the front court, I think we need a center and big dog rebounder. Clearly the biggest and doggiest boarder we have is Cheryl Ford, so I'd take her. As for the alternatives, if we went by talent alone you would have to consider Chamique Holdsclaw. However, the Claw is persona non grata in Team USA circles and, more fundamentally, she's a diva headcase and we don't need that. Taj McWilliams-Franklin is a possibility, but she'll be 36 this year, she's likely to be coming off of a long playoff run, and she's been talking retirement.
At center, you have to start with Yolanda Griffith. If she wants to go, I'm not going to say no. However, like McWilliams-Franklin, she's on the downslope of her career, is expecting a long playoff run, and has talked retirement. If she doesn't want to play, the top alternatives at the five are Nicole Ohlde, Ruth Riley, and Michelle Snow. Riley was on the World Championships and Olympic team the last time around, so she has the most national team experience. Snow played the best of the three in the spring exhibitions, averaging 12.7 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. I think Snow has the most complete game of the three, but I'm a Comet homer so what do I know?
Congrats to Tangela Smith for being the 10th player to score 3000 career points.
Smith is 29 years, 1 month, 22 days old. That makes her the 4th youngest to reach 3000. Nykesha Sales was only four days younger when she hit the mark.
She took 256 games to reach 3000 points, tying Vickie Johnson for the slowest ever to that mark.
The Sky have only two rookies! And they have all these old folks like Nikki McCray and Stacey Lovelace! What kind of expansion team is this?
In fact, they're a pretty typical expansion team. Counting player ages as of 1 July this year, the average age of the Sky roster, including inactives, is 25.8 years. There have been nine previous expansion teams, the average age of the players who played for them…
1998 - Shock - 26.5 (Lynette Woodard at 38 drove this one up)
1999 - Miracle - 26.3
2000 - Storm - 26.2
2000 - Fever - 26.1
1999 - Lynx - 26.1
2000 - Sol - 25.5
1998 - Mystics - 25.5
2000 - Fire - 24.7
The Fire had only one player over 27, Sophia Witherspoon was 30. The Mystics had only one player over 29, 35 year old Tammy Jackson, and she only played half the season in DC. The Shock are the only team to post a winning record as an expansion team, of course, and the first expansion franchise to win a title. In fact, there's a rough correlation down the line between franchise success and the age of the initial roster. The Shock and Storm have won championships and the Miracle made two runs to the finals after being transplanted to Connecticut. The Fever, Lynx, Sol, and Mystics have all had some playoff time but none have been around for title time. The Fire folded without ever seeing the postseason. That's not so encouraging for the Sky, who are between the Lynx and Sol in terms of team age.
One other expansion note, this is the second time that Stacey Lovelace, Nikki McCray, and Elaine Powell have been on expansion teams. Lovelace played for the 2000 Storm, McCray for the 1998 Mystics, and Powell for the 1999 Miracle. Five other players have played for multiple expansion teams…
Kisha Ford - 1999 - Miracle; 2000 - Sol
Sheri Sam - 1999 - Miracle; 2000 - Sol
Alessandra Santos de Oliveira - 1998 - Mystics; 2000 - Fever
Charmin Smith - 1999 - Lynx; 2000 - Storm
Rita Williams - 1998 - Mystics; 2000 - Fever
OK, now it's game time!
Over at Orange & Oatmeal, John Maxwell and Kevin Pelton are examining the 30 nominees for the All Decade team using a modified version of Bill James' Keltner list. Let's look at Tari Phillips, who was unjustly left off of the nominee list.
1. Was she ever regarded as the best player in the WNBA? Did anybody, while she was active, ever suggest that she was the best player in the WNBA?
I don't think Phillips has been thought of that way, although during the 2000 playoffs you might have been able to convince some people.
2. Was she the best player on her team?
Phillips was the best player on the Lib from 2000-2002.
3. Was she the best player in the WNBA at her position? Was she the best player in the conference at her position?
Phillips was never the best center in the league, Lisa Leslie's best years came at the same time as hers, but you could say she was the best in the eastern conference from 2000-2002.
4. Did she have an impact on a number of postseasons?
Phillips carried the Lib to the 2000 finals almost single handedly. Phillips averages more points and rebounds per game in the playoffs than in the regular season. She averaged 22 points and 11 rebounds per game in the 2000 finals and Comet fans started celebrating their title when she fouled out of Game 2 even though there were about four minutes left in the game.
5. Was she a good enough player that she could continue to play regularly after passing her prime?
Phillips played regularly after she passed her prime. She still averaged double digit minutes last year at age 36.
6. Was she selected to any All-WNBA Teams?
She has one second team All WNBA selection.
7. Do the player's numbers meet All-Decade Team standards?
Phillips in the same 10 point / 6 rebound area as Vicky Bullett and Margo Dydek, who didn't make it, or Delisha Milton, who did.
8. Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by her statistics?
The reaction of Lib fans to Phillips' continued absence and eventual departure from the Lib in 2004 suggests that she was more valuable than the numbers she was putting up at that point. She averaged 14 points and 8 rebounds per game in her ABL career, better than her WNBA numbers, and her WNBA career averages are dragged down by her lack of PT during her 1999 season in Orlando.
9. How many MVP-type seasons did she have? Did she ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was she close?
Phillips has three top 10 finishes in MVP voting: 9th in 2000, 5th in 2001, and 8th in 2002. She had a case, albeit not a very strong one, for MVP in 2001 and 2002. Of the 11 players who have finished in the top 10 in MVP voting three times, Phillips is the only one not on the All Decade final 30. Of the 20 players who have ever finished in the top 5 in MVP voting, only Phillips and Michele Timms are not listed
10. How many All-Star-type seasons did she have? How many All-Star games did she play in? Are most of the other players who played in this many likely to make the All-Decade Team?
Phillips played in four All Star games. Of the 15 players with four or more All Star appearances, she is the only one not included on the All Decade final 30.
11. If this woman were the best player on her team, would it be likely that the team could make the playoffs?
The Lib made the playoffs with Phillips as their best player.
12. What impact did the player have on WNBA history? Did she help establish the league? Was she responsible for any rule changes? Did she change the game in any way?
Phillips was on the good side of the most lopsided trade in league history when she was dealt by Portland to New York for Carolyn Jones-Young. She's also the only player to foul out of an All Star game. Those aren't Earth shattering things, but colorful footnotes are part of the game too.
13. Did the player uphold the standards of sportsmanship and community service that the All-Decade Team, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?
As far as I know, she has.
I think if you compare Phillips' qualifications to some of the questionable All Decade nominees you'll see that she should have been included.
I'm sure most of the rest of the gang will be rambling on about preseason games and such. I barely pay attention to preseason games. It's nice for the new fans in Chicago to get some wins now, especially since they'll be hard to come by when they start to count, but the correlation between preseason success and regular season success is pretty much zero. The correlation between preseason and postseason is even less than that.
I'll tell you what I have been thinking about, though. I've been thinking about rookie classes, specifically the class of 1999.
If the question is "what was the best WNBA draft ever" the answer is inevitably 1999. The 1999 draft was bolstered by virtually all the players from the recently folded ABL, and as such it produced an inordinate number of players who were able to step in and play right away. 20 players from that draft went on to score 1000 or more points in their career. That's almost twice as many as the next best draft (2001) and about ¼ of all the thousand point scorers in league history.
What I've been pondering is the kids who were actually rookies that year. Would it be considered a strong class without the ABL players? I took out all the ABL players and tried to see how they stacked up.
The first glaring issue I had to deal with in trying to compare classes is what to do with Nykesha Sales. She graduated UConn in 1998 but didn't make her WNBA debut until 1999. If she'd been drafted and held out, ala Tamika Catchings in 2001, the answer would clearly be to keep her with her draft class. Sales was held out of the 1998 draft by the WNBA so that she could be assigned to one of the new expansion teams (the Orlando Miracle, as it turned out). I decided to go ahead and put Sales in with the class of 1999. By the same token, DeMya Walker was included with the class of 2000 even though she graduated in 1999 because she also went undrafted and didn't appear until the next season.
The next boggle was figuring out how to compare 1999 to the class of 1997. 1997 has the same type of issues, competing with a number of veteran players starting in the league at the same time as the real rookies. I decided to include any player who graduated in 1996 or 1997 and any foreign player who was less than 24 years old that year.
I looked at several different comparisons. First I looked at "players of note" I took all the players who had played for a championship team, won MVP, finals MVP, or Defensive POY, was named to an All Star team or All WNBA team (first or second) or All Defensive Team. 122 players have at least one of those honors. 51 of them either played in the ABL or were playing when the league started and didn't qualify for the class of 1997 as defined above. The rest broke down by rookie class thusly…
1997 - 8
1998 - 14
1999 - 5
2000 - 11
2001 - 13
2002 - 9
2003 - 3
2004 - 5
2005 - 3
That doesn't seem right. The 1998 and 2000 drafts are not considered strong, in fact 2000 is usually touted as the weakest ever. If you look at the list of players for 2000…
…you'll see that most of them are only there because they were deep on the bench for title winners. As a Comet fan, I know that including Gibson and Chakirova isn't evidence of quality.
I mentioned 1000 point scorers, let's see if that works better…
1997 - 6
1998 - 9
1999 - 6
2000 - 6
2001 - 11
2002 - 6
2003 - 0
2004 - 1
2005 - 0
The last three classes are still a little early in their career to judge on this basis. 1999 seems to be middle-low here. Three of the six 1k scorers from 1999 were undrafted (Gordana Grubin, Becky Hammon, and Sales), that's 60% of all the undrafted, non-ABL 1000 pointers in league history. 2000 only hangs in there because of two gift players (Walker and Anna DeForge) that should belong to earlier seasons. 1999 has three 2000 point scorers (Hammon, Sales, and Chamique Holdsclaw), only 1997 has more so far. 1999 has two 3000 point scorers (Holdsclaw and Sales), only 1997 equals that right now.
If we look at numbers of awards…
No 1999 has been first team All WNBA, they have five second team notices. 1997, 1998, 2001, 2002, and 2004 all have at least one first team All WNBA award. 2001 has the most, with six.
1999 has 14 All Star appearances, second only to 2001's 16. The bulk of them, 12, belong to Holdsclaw and Sales. Only three different 1999s have been All Stars, every other class from 1997 to 2002 has at least four and all but 2000 have at least five. 2001 has the most, with eight.
The 1999 class has only two championships (one each for Ukari Figgs and Mila Nikolich). 2005 also has two, every other class has at least three. 1997 and 1998 are tied for the most with 13 each.
It seems to me that the class of 1999 suffers from a lack of depth. The top of the class holds its own against just about any of the others but once you get past the top 5 or 6 players there's not much left. I would guess that the ABL influx is the major difference. Holdsclaw and Sales would be stars no matter what, but most of the second tier talent from that class got crowded out by all those pros from the other league.