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As the Seattle Storm prepare to draft the 7th player in the 2007 WNBA draft, I figured it was time to sit down and analyze the team's needs and try to predict which players might be available at the 7th spot to fill those needs.
The Storm hasn't done much in the offseason free agent market, other than tie up their two free agent starters, Janell Burse and Iziane Castro-Marques. We picked up Tyesha Fluker in the dispersal draft, giving us another big body to rotate behind Lauren and Janell, along with the expected return of Wendy Palmer from her 2006 season-ending injury. We are looking pretty good in the paint.
However, the Storm have been a little weak on the wing behind our starters. The backup point guard position behind Sue Bird has been a rotating cast of players since Tully left for Indy, with Zara filling the position in 2005 and Edwige Lawson-Wade in 2006. However, we have heard that Edwige won't be coming back to the W this year, leaving the Storm with another hole backing up Bird.
In the shooting guard position, we have Betty Lennox as the starter, but production from that position fell off greatly when Betty was on the bench. Backup Tanisha Wright has some defensive skills, but doesn't look for her shot and was very inconsistent for the Storm in 2006.
And finally, at the small forward position, we have an undersized Barb Turner backing up Castro-Marques. Barb brought a lot of energy to the backup position and showed some ability to get around the ball, though she hit a wall halfway through the season and wasn't much of a factor around the end.
When you look at the draft, thankfully, there seem to be more impact talent on the wings than there is in the paint. The top bigs, along with the two best point guards, will go in the first 5 picks, leaving some outside talent available to the Storm with the 7th pick. Three candidates that I could see wearing Storm green this year are:
Armintie Price - Mississippi: Price raised her stock in this year's draft with her wonderful play in the NCAA Tournament. Combining great defensive skills with an ability to create her own shot, she would be a great complement to Betty in the two spot. My only concern is that she might get lost attacking the paint with all the big bodies the W boasts.
Katie Gearlds - Purdue: Katie is more of a pure shooter, reminding me of two other Katies: Katie Smith of the Shock and Katie Douglas of the Sun. Gearlds has long arms, but will need to work on her defensive skills to flourish in the W. Thankfully, she has all the athletic ability and you can teach the skills with some hard work on the player's part. Katie is a bit of a tweener between the two and three spot, and might be able to move between them as needed, giving the Storm greater flexibility with its on-court pairings.
Camille Little - North Carolina: Camille was overshadowed by Ivory Latta all year, but was a big part of the glue that kept that team running smooth. Camille plays bigger than her size might indicate and has a knack for being around the ball and getting rebounds. She would be a great addition in the three spot for the Storm.
The Storm should be able to get a high quality backup with the 7th pick and with a little luck, a star in the making for the future.
OK, most of you probably thought that I dropped off the earth and died or something. The last time I blogged on WNBA.com, I was predicting the results of the 2006 WNBA Finals. After that, nothing, nada, zilch. You see, every year I throw myself into the WNBA season body and soul. I live and breathe the W and frankly, it tires me out. So after the season ends, I need a little break from my favorite pastime. I need a chance to make other things a priority in my life. Usually, this is no big deal, because there is not a lot going on between the close the one WNBA season and the start of the next. Usually. Obviously, this year saw quite a bit of news and this blog is an attempt to catch up with all the offseason happenings and give my 2 cents. With the picking of my new season ticket seats a few weeks back (2nd row, courtside, across from the visitor's bench, aisle seat), I am starting to get psyched again for a new W season!
I watched the World Championships from Brazil this year and I must say, the world is catching up with the US. We all knew that Russia and the Aussies could give the US a run for its money, but I saw much improved play from most of the teams in the tournament. It seems that the experience many of the other teams had in the W coupled with the fact that most of the them were able to practice for months with each other rather than a week or so before the tournament has leveled the playing field. I also think that the team selection process was flawed. When stars like Katie Douglas and Deanna Nolan aren't on the team, there is a problem. Also, why did we only have one true point guard on the team? Alana and Katie are NOT point guards, and it showed when Sue was on the bench resting. Lindsey Whalen should have been on the team to give the US two true point guards. In the last Olympics, the US team had THREE point guards in Dawn, Pewee, and Sue. The final eye-opener at the World Championships was the play of Candace Parker. We all knew that she would be great someday, but I was surprised that "someday" was now! Candace looked like she had been playing at a high level in the W for years, and though she wasn't a starter, she could have been and was many times one of the first players off the bench.
The other scheduled activity that every W offseason has is the draft lottery. This is where the nonplayoff teams get to decide their draft order. And wouldn't you know, the Mercury once again scored a high draft pick. Last year they had the second pick in the draft and used it to pick Cappie. This year, they scored the top pick, even though they were in the playoff hunt up until the last day of the season and were arguably the hottest team in the league at that time. I really don't understand the whole rationale for the lottery in the first place. I think that the NFL gets it right, by having the team with the worst record pick first and on down the line. The league would be much better off if the teams that are basement dwellers could guarantee themselves a difference maker in the draft. It might help those teams build interest in their teams while they are rebuilding. Instead, the talented get even more talented, while the teams that could really use the talent influx draft near the middle of the round. Parity will help keep local fans interested in their teams. Look at the New Orleans Saints in the NFL. They went from 2-14 in 2005 to a berth in the NFC Championship game the next year. Picking Reggie Bush in the draft was part of that resurgence and might not have happened in the lottery system.
One of the top news items of this offseason is all the turmoil surrounding teams changing ownership or even folding! Two of the oldest and proudest teams were sold this offseason-the Sparks were sold to two season ticket holders and the Comets look like they will be sold to a Houston businessman. There are still questions about the futures of the Storm and Monarchs, two of the remaining three teams which have won the title. And Charlotte finally folded and its players were dispersed to the four corners of the league. Is it just me, or is the WNBA shedding its connections to the NBA at an alarming rate? Change can be good. Many fans have pointed out that having enthused and energetic owners instead of force-fed NBA owners could be a good thing. I agree. However, you need to have deep pockets to run a basketball team. I worry that these new owners will have the deep pockets needed to keep these teams on the top of their game. Only time will tell, I guess.
Free agency is also right around the corner (teams can sign players starting February 1st). We have the opportunity for more players to move than ever before in the history of the league, and yet, it is a bit of an illusion. The players who could really make a difference to another team have all been cored, allowing them to only go back to their original team for the max salary. Now, that isn't all bad for the players, but it does mean that you won't see much top notch talent switching teams. Other players are already on winning franchises and really have no wish to leave their teams. So seeing their names on the free agency list doesn't really count, as they will resign with their current team. The place where free agency gets interesting is in those young 6th, or 7th players on each team. You know the ones who have talent and promise, but can't quite fit under the team's cap if some other team decides to take a flyer on them. That is where free agency gets interesting, because teams can pick up these players and potentially make their teams better. It is rare that you are going to get a starter in free agency, but you might find that key backup that could become your future starter.
Finally, I want to end up talking a bit more about Candance Parker. This girl has the potential to come into the W and make a huge impact. Because of an injury a year ago, she has more years of eligibility at Tennessee than she needs to finish her degree. Because she is going to graduate academically this year, she can opt to enter the W in 2007 and give up here remaining eligibility in the NCAA. And because of the lottery system, she has an intriguing opportunity. If Candance declares for 2007, the Mercury will surly make here their first pick, and in my opinion, another dynasty to rival the Comets one would be born. Taurasi, Pondexter, Taylor, Parker, possibly Steponava. Who could beat that team? If you are Candance Parker, wouldn't you rather come into the W on a team stinking with talent and promise, or wait another year and potentially be stuck on a team where you would have to shoulder the burden all by yourself? I know what I would choose. It will be interesting to see what develops as the draft gets closer.
So, I am back in the saddle. I am wearing my Storm shirts to work again and prowling the Rebkell boards for news and tidbits. April doesn't seem so far off as the days lengthen and the temperatures rise. Time to play ball!
The final two combatants have fought their way through one of the most grueling seasons in WNBA history and now stand on the precipice of a championship! This is what every player strives to win. This is what all the hard work has been for. And it couldn't be sweeter than to win the championship in the WNBA's 10th season.
Earlier this year, I wrote a column called "Anatomy of a Champion." I would like to revisit that criteria and rate Sacramento and Detroit to see which one should be the champ.
Star players playing at a high level: When it comes to star players, Detroit has the edge here. All of their starters have been All Stars. Deanna Nolan was unconscious in game one versus the Sun, sinking 21 points and handing out seven assists. There have been times in the playoffs where it looks like she can't miss. One of the prettiest shots in the game. And Cheryl Ford has been having another monster season. In game one versus the Sun, she pulled down a WNBA playoff record 23 rebounds. If Katie Smith gets hot from downtown, then watch out!
Team Depth: Sacramento's game plan is to wear you down with smothering defense, which leads to easy looks on the offensive end of the court. The secret is one of the deepest benches in the league. Sacramento plays a real team game, with the whole team chipping in, from the top to the bottom. The spark can come from the starters or from the bench. All year they have proven that there are no weak links on the Monarch's roster. Detroit used to be all about their fab five, but with the emergence of Plenette Pierson in the later half of the season, and solid contributions from Kara Braxton and Kedra Holland-Corn, they aren't that far behind the Monarchs. I give a slight edge to the Monarchs here.
Third and Fourth Scoring Options: Detroit wins this one hands down. Nolan is their biggest scoring threat, looking absolutely confident in the first two rounds. Ford can have a big game off of second chance points. Katie Smith is one of the most potent scoring guards in WNBA history. And don't look past Swin Cash or 2003 Finals MVP Ruth Riley. Either could go off for a big game. The Monarchs almost always get a big game from Griffith, but need Powell and Lawson to step up with their outside game if they want to have a chance to win.
Home Court Dominance: Detroit was dominent at the Palace this year, going 14-3 at home, with their losses coming to Phoenix, Seattle and Charlotte. Amazingly, the Monarchs were also a stellar 14-3 at home this year. Since the Shock have home court advantage due to their regular season record, I have to give the edge to Detroit.
Road Warrior Mentality: Sacramento had a losing record on the road, going 7-10 on the year. Detroit actually had a winning record this year, going 9-8. So once again, a slight edge to the Shock.
Ability to Overcome Injuries: The Detroit Shock were the poster children for good health this year, only losing two games by Cheryl Ford to injury. While other teams had to go deep on their bench to fill in for injured players, the Shock were staying together as a team and developing a stellar team chemistry. The Monarchs had to overcome an early season loss of DeMya Walker who was coming back from pregnancy, but for the most part have managed to keep away from season ending injuries. Once more, I give the slight edge to the Shock.
Great Coaching: Coach Whisenant and Coach Laimbeer couldn't have two more different coaching styles. Coach W. is a constant voice of coaching from the sidelines, urging his team to greater and greater efforts. He never gives up on a game. Even when the Monarchs were down by double digits in their first game versus the Sparks, Coach W. never gave up and his team responded with an incredible comeback. Coach L. on the other hand is the fiery motivator. Nobody rides the refs with more intensity than Bill. His team rallies behind his "bad boy" style, developing an us vs. the world mentality. My only complaint about Coach L. is that he seems to just give up when his team is down by a large margin. He also gave up on Cheryl Ford in game one versus the Fever and I think that is just inexcusable. Advantage to the Monarchs.
Strong Fan Support: Both teams have very strong fan bases and will pack their arenas to the gills with loud and vocal crowds. This is one of the reasons why each team has such a strong home record. I think I will call this one a draw.
Swagger: You can see it in the face of Kara Lawson after a huge three. In the calm demeanor of Deanna Nolan as she sinks another perfect jumper. Both of these teams seem to have that swagger about them that told you they weren't going to be stopped until the trophy was theirs! Both teams have won the championship. They know what it takes. Once again, I call this one a draw.
Peaking at the Right Time: Both teams peaked at the end of the regular season and have pretty much steamrolled through the playoffs. The Shock had a slight hiccup in game two versus the Sun, while the Monarchs almost blew game one to the Sparks. But in the end, both of these teams are playing their best basketball right now. Once again, we'll call this a draw.
Based solely on home court advantage, I am going to predict that the Shock win the championship in five of the hardest fought and exciting Finals games since my Storm went the distance with the Sun two years ago.
I was all set to write a blog about offense in the playoffs. I had even done a detailed statistical analysis that would make Kevin proud. So as not to lose all that hard work, let me show you what I came up with. I had started to think about the first round of the playoffs after watching Indiana lose to the Sun in Indy a week and a half ago. And what I was thinking was that teams in the playoffs that have a lot of "weapons" will be hard to beat, because the defense can't focus on taking out just one player when there are so many weapons that can step up and beat you. And I defined weapons as players who have had at least two 20-point games, because I figured that any player could "go off" once, but to do it twice, means that you have to take that player more seriously. And here is what I found as of the end of the regular season (with total 20 point games for the team coming at the end):
Jackson - 15
Bird - 3
Burse - 3
Lennox - 5
Castro Marques - 2
TOTAL - 28
Ford - 6
Nolan - 5
Smith - 5
TOTAL - 17
Sales - 3
Douglas - 7
McWilliams-Franklin - 5
Jones - 2
TOTAL - 18
Catchings - 9
Whitmore - 10
DeForge - 2
TOTAL - 22
Beard - 17
Teasley - 2
Milton-Jones - 3
Melvin - 5
Sanford - 2
TOTAL - 30
Leslie - 17
Mabika - 3
Holdsclaw - 6
TOTAL - 26
Griffith - 4
TOTAL - 5
Thompson - 9
Swoopes - 6
Snow - 3
TOTAL - 21
While I do think that there is still a lot of validity in the "pick your poison" offense, watching the playoff games this weekend reminded me how much more important great defense is.
Just take a look at the Monarchs. They aren't loaded with too many "weapons" by my analysis above, but because of their great defense and the offense that it created, they were able to rout the Comets and sweep them from the playoffs. Heck, they even set a WNBA record for most points in a playoff game.
And how could you not watch the play of Katie Douglas this weekend as she held Alana Beard to 9 points in their first game, and though Alana scored 21 in the second game, much of that was once Katie got injured at the end of the game. Everybody has been talking about how great Katie's offense has become, but I really think that she is one of the greatest shut down defenders in the league. And it was her defense that allowed the Sun to sweep.
And finally, you have to tip your hat to the Sparks, who held my Seattle Storm without a bucket for 14 minutes last night. 14 minutes! With their backs to the wall, facing a 15 point deficit and elimination from the playoffs, the Sparks got down to defensive basics and the Storm didn't get off a quality shot the whole third quarter.
So while I am still a big fan of high flying offenses, it is obvious that defense wins championships.
"Tully, Tully, Tully! Three Tully's on the board!" How I ached to hear David Locke's call as one of my favorite WNBA players drained her second of back to back 3-balls to put her team back into the lead! But alas, Tully now calls Indiana home and her team is the Fever. And tonight, I wasn't at my beloved Key Arena, but rather at Conseco Fieldhouse watching my favorite Eastern Conference team, the Connecticut Sun, take on Tully's Team, otherwise known to most WNBA watchers as the Indiana Fever. With playoff positioning on the line, as well as a potential preview of the Eastern Conference Finals, I knew that the game was going to be a barnburner!
Once a year, my business takes me to the city of Indiana in early August for the GenCon gaming convention. I have been blessed the last few years that the Fever have been playing home games during my sojourn in their city. But this year, I hit the mother load as the Sun would be in town to play the Fever. Wanting to get the best seats possible, I didn't just want to go to Ticketmaster, but rather talk to a fine human being. Thankfully, Slovydal from the Rebkell boards came to my rescue and put me in touch with Darla Jo Parker, Ticket Services Coordinator for the Fever. And boy did she set me up with great seats! As Bob Uecker would say, "I'm right in the front row." Now my season tickets with the Storm are pretty close to the action, being effectively three rows back from the floor. But this was the first time I have ever sat right on the court. I could get VERY used to it. Katie Douglas throwing the ball in one foot in front of you is almost intoxicating.
As it turns out, Vic and I were seated next to Judy Vlcek, also know to Sun fans as Super Judy. You can recognize her at games by her bright orange and yellow hair, blazing like the sun! Judy is a super Sun fan like I am a super Storm fan. Actually, she probably even takes it to a bigger extreme. From talking with her, I got the impression that she has traveled all over WNBA-dom watching her Sun take on all comers. She was even in Seattle for both Finals games a couple of years ago. Super Judy is probably a pretty good moniker. Now one thing you have to know about Judy is that she is probably the most positive fan I have ever sat next to. She continuously shouts out encouragement to the Sun players and if there isn't a player in need of particular encouragement, she just screams out "Go Sun" at the top of her lungs. Never once did I hear a negative comment leave her mouth about the Fever. Nor the refs. And trust me, the latter was a tough one, even for a neutral fan like myself, because the refs were awful tonight. But more on that later.
Judy and I talked about the Sun in detail, discussing their playoff chances and the depth of their bench. I asked lots of questions about how the fans cheer on the Sun at Mohegan, because I am always curious how fans in other cities support their team during play. I was shocked to find out that the Sun fans don't know the Aussie Cheer to support their two resident Aussies, Laura Summerton and Erin Phillips. At Key Arena, you can regularly hear eruptions of "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie! Oi, Oi, Oi!" as our own favorite Aussie, Lauren Jackson, makes spectacular play after spectacular play. So I drilled Judy on the cheer and told her we would use it tonight when any of the three Aussies playing made a great play.
And great play we got. Both teams were playing with playoff intensity. Great defense was evident early, with buckets being scored only after making great moves or using a great pick. And throughout the game, the lead see-sawed back and forth. You couldn't of asked for a more exciting game! And then the refs had to step in. For most of the game, Lamont, Tina and Barb had called a pretty even game. What I would expect from a professional crew. But with about four minutes left in the game, all of that went out the window with 3 or 4 just plain bad calls that all happened to adversely affect the home team. Now I am not saying that the Sun wouldn't have won the game without those calls, but I am saying that the refs affected the outcome by forcing the Fever to intentionally foul down the stretch when we could have had a classic ending, with one of the teams hitting the game winning bucket at the buzzer. Which is a shame, because this game had the potential to be one of those classics
The Sun pulled out a great road win and move towards that magical 30-win mark. And the Fever has to look forward to playing the Sun again on Friday, this time at Mohegan. I wish I could be there with Super Judy!
My team has put together a string of 4 straight wins to clinch a playoff spot in the West. Right now, we would be playing Sacramento, but Houston could have a thing or two to say about that before the season is done. I am really proud of my team for overcoming all the adversity of injuries and the sale of the team, to come together down the stretch. I really feel we are playing our best basketball right now, and it couldn't come at a better time. All five starters are playing in top form and I look for the Storm to be competitive in the West. Melissa and I have vowed to do a co-blog if our teams make it back the Finals for a rematch. Here's hoping we have the opportunity!
They are dropping like flies. You know it is bad when there are practically more women in street clothes at the end of the bench then there are hooping it up on the floor. Back in May when we started this all, I gave the following as one of my keys to the season:
"Teams that avoid the injury bug will have a step up on the other teams. There is less time for injuries to heal and more games that will be missed due to key injuries than in previous years. Those teams which develop numerous injuries might find themselves out of the playoff hunt before they get better again."
Well that old injury bug has been popping his face up at a critical time-the playoff push! And it is affecting our teams and their ability to make that run for a championship.
My Seattle Storm is looking more like a M.A.S.H. unit lately than a basketball team. The other night against the Shock, in the third quarter, we had almost as much of our roster injured as was playing. Lauren Jackson, Betty Lennox, Janell Burse, Wendy Palmer, Shaun Gortman, and Cisti Greenwalt were all benched either before the game or during, leaving us with 7 players to try to knock off one of the top teams in the WNBA, playing with a starting line-up of All-Star players. My Storm gave it their all, playing their hearts out on the floor in front of a sold-out arena, but this was a case where heart was trumped by fatigue and superior firepower.
But my Storm isn't the only team to have to fight through injuries. Looking at last night's box scores, a number of injured big names jumped out at me:
LaToya Thomas (Silver Stars), Chantelle Anderson (Silver Stars), Nykesha Sales (Sun), Becky Hammon (Liberty), Kelly Schumacher (Liberty), Tina Thompson (Comets), Dominique Canty (Comets), Brooke Wyckoff (Sky), Deanna Jackson (Sky), Crystal Robinson (Mystics)
You could put together a pretty darn good team with talent like that! That list also doesn't take into account all the players that have previously missed games because of injury or are playing at less than peak efficiency because of injuries. And the teams that have stayed mostly healthy (every team has dings and dents) have taken advantage of the situation by pulling ahead in the standings. The Detroit Shock, Indiana Fever, LA Sparks, Sacramento Monarchs, and Connecticut Sun have been able to field their best teams for most of the year, which has given them a huge advantage. As I predicted in May.
For those teams with the injury bug, now is the time when you get to see how good your bench depth is. This is the point in the season where the GM earns their pay by bringing in the talent to fill in for injured stars and stepping up to the plate. For the Storm, newly acquired Ashley Robinson stepped up big time for us against the Shock, pulling in 13 rebounds and having a number of acrobatic blocked shots. Sure we missed Lauren Jackson quite a bit, but Ashley took advantage of the opportunity to play and I think we have a really good player in the making.
As we come down the stretch, the teams which avoid further injuries and find a way to ride out the ones they have will be playing in the postseason. The rest will have an entire offseason to rest those wounds and come out firing next season. It is crunch time!
Things are a bit brighter here in Stormland than they were during my last blog. There is still a very real possibility that my team will be leaving sometime in the future, but the new owners have convinced most of the fans that they would truly like to make a go of it in Seattle if a new arena deal can be cut. Which gives us hope. And the fans of both the Storm and the Sonics have rallied together behind that hope and are doing what they can to sway the citizens of our region to support building a new arena for our teams. The fans over at stormfans.org have joined forces with a group from saveoursonics.org to provide a united fan front. Signs and t-shirts have been made and passed out at the last two games urging the new owners to keep our teams in Seattle. Heck, fans in Phoenix also displayed the signs during the recent Mercury/Storm game! An effort has been made to Kram the Key, resulting in near lower bowl sell-outs for the past few games. Donations of money for tickets have been pouring in from all over the world, with the tickets going to needy kids. Fans of both the Sonics and Storm have been showing up on TV and radio talk and news shows to show why Seattle needs to keep its basketball teams. In short, we have rallied and are now joining the fight. As I said before, we will fight for our team with every pass, dribble, and basket. Go Storm!
Today I lost one of my best friends.
The day started off as most other days. The Storm was playing its annual matinee game, with tip-off at noon. After an early lunch at the FSN HD Lounge at Key Arena, I went courtside as I usually do. The players from both sides were warming up. We were playing the Sacramento Monarchs, the defending champions, who were two games up on us in the standings. This was a chance to take the season series and move to within one game of them. Being a matinee, throngs of young kids were already filling the stands, beating on their yellow thunder sticks in anticipation of the game ahead.
When the teams came out for shooting drills before the game, I quickly noticed that LJ was missing. Then I noticed that Tiffany Johnson was in the starting line-up on one of the stats displays. Did LJ get hurt? Was she sick? When Anne Donovan came out for the pregame announcing of the players, for the first time in all the Storm games I've been to, she didn't smile. She looked sick. LJ, still fully dressed was announced as a reserve. I figured that Anne must have benched her star much like she did against the Comets last year. Only that could explain LJ's absence from the game and Anne's facial expression. If you knew our LJ, she would have to be crippled not to play such a big game against such a fierce rival. Something was up, but I didn't know what it was.
The Storm started off strong. They kept with the Monarch despite missing their superstar. And then it hit. A fan a few rows back got my attention. Had I heard? The Sonics and Storm had been sold. With the game raging in front of me and the high-pitched screams of thousands of kids screeching "Defense, Defense" I absorbed the news. A lump formed in my throat. I asked for details and all he had was that it was sold to some businessmen in Oklahoma City.
After a quick debrief with my seatmates, we watched the rest of the half as our thoughts swirled. During timeouts, questions popped from our mouths. Fears started to rise. Were we losing our team?
During halftime, I ran into Jayda Evans, the Seattle Times' Storm reporter, in the courtside restroom. As we waited for a stall to open, I had to ask her about the rumor. And she confirmed my worst fears. The Storm was sold. It would probably be moving to Oklahoma City, probably in 2008. There was a press conference at 3pm. She asked me if I would support the Storm in their final games and/or seasons. With tears starting to build in my eyes, I said "Of course. How could I not?"
Back courtside, I filled in my seatmates. All of the fans had started to hear the news. Anger. Sadness. Rage. Fear. Shock. All these feelings filled the Key. A sign appeared behind the basket near the Storm bench. "Oklahoma. Not OK." And the Storm team started to react like their fans. Sue looked lost, like she was going to burst into tears. The team was just going through the motions, each player lost in their own thoughts, their own questions. And the raving Monarchs defense tore them apart. But somehow, that didn't seem to matter anymore. I could barely focus on the court anymore as my mind went from anger to tears and back again in a matter of moments.
With three minutes left in the game, I had to leave the surreal environment. The game was lost. My team was more than likely lost. And I couldn't stand it one more moment. As we left the Key, I moved through a gauntlet of Storm employees, each with forced smiles, wishing me goodbye and to have a nice day. Surreal.
The Five Stages
As the day went by, my phone rang off the hook. I'm sorry, but I heard you lost your team. People I rarely talk to were calling and offering their condolences. It was like a death in the family.
I scanned the web for more details. The FAQ on the Storm site indicated very strongly that the new management were committed to keeping the team in Seattle. But somehow, their words rang hollow. I had all been keeping up on the Key Arena battle the previous management had fought with the City of Seattle and somehow, I didn't think that some out-of-town businessmen were going to be able to succeed where local business stalwarts had failed.
On the Rebkell boards, the scene was kind of like the soldiers at the foot of Christ's cross. Everyone was scrambling to dole out the Storm's players to their local teams. The Liberty wanted Bird. The Mercury could sure use LJ. It was like watching your possessions being auctioned away at a bankruptcy sale. I couldn't take anymore of it and went over to Stormfans.org.
The fans there were already starting to fight for their team. The new website http://www.okisnotok.org/ was started by a fan. T-shirt ideas supporting the Storm were thrown out for fellow fans to comment on. A full-page ad in the Seattle Times was proffered with many fans agreeing to kick in for the cost. One fan even suggested that the team might be bought by the fans for $15 million. If we could just get 1000 fans to each kick in $15k then… Rallys are starting to be planned. Planning meetings to plan the rallys. You get the picture. Storm fans may be hurt, but we aren't going down without a fight!
As a businesswoman and entrepreneur myself, I can understand the business half of this equation. The Basketball Group of Seattle signed a bad lease with the City of Seattle for Key Arena. The Sonics were losing them money (to the tune of $60 million in five years). The Storm was breaking even, but they weren't about to carry their big brother financially. Something needed to be done. You can't run a business losing $10 million each year. They had a duty to their shareholders to either get a better business situation that could make the company money. This would require a new arena and a better lease. Or they had to sell the team. Economically, it is pretty simple.
I've personally had to cancel product lines that fans were invested in. I have seen the grief and the pain they suffered through. I am not looking forward to it. But business is all about making money. The Storm are a strong franchise but the Sonics aren't. And, unfortunately in this case, the Storm is going to pay for the sins of their big brother. The only way these teams can stay in Seattle is with a new arena or a redesigned Key. And I am not sure tax payers are willing to foot that bill while still paying for the new baseball and football stadiums. The well may very well be dry.
And so I have to face the very real prospects of losing a team that I have given my heart and soul to. That I think about and dream about and talk about and laugh about. I plan to do everything in my power to keep them in Seattle, but I am not sure that can be more than a voice in the throngs of Storm fans. I will be there at the Key, fighting for my team with every dribble. Every pass. Every bucket. And in the end, I expect to lose them.
Every year, I eagerly await this game. The clash of two titans. The game that pits two of the top teams against each other in a no-holds barred match. When my two favorite teams line-it up and leave it all on the court. Yep, I am talking about the Storm vs. the Sun at Key Arean. Ahhhhhhh.
Ever since the 2004 championship series, I have been enamored with this match-up. Two of the best coaches in the WNBA unveiling their strategies as the game moves along, each looking to one-up the other. And the players always bring their absolute best game. The action moves up and down the floor like somebody has stolen the remote control and switched it to fast forward. And there is the All-Star cast - Douglas, Jackson, Whalen, Bird, Dydek, Burse, McWilliams-Franklin, Lennox. What is there not to love about this game?
As always, I hit courtside almost an hour before tip-off. After watching the Sun lose in an all-out brawl in Sacramento the day before, I expected to see them dragging a bit. But while the Storm was stretching, what did I behold but Coach Thibault and Coach Hawk working with Katie Douglas and Margo Dydek on their shots. The pair must have shot 50 to 60 balls at a time when many of the other players are hanging in the locker room chilling before the game. I give them credit for WANTING to win SO BADLY that they put in that kind of extra effort. And it paid off, which each shooting close to 50% for the game.
But what was even more amazing to me is that Coaches Thibault and Hawk spend time working out with their players before the game. I can't think of a single other WNBA coach who does this before a game. Usually, you are lucky to see them stride into the arena just before tip-off. But these two classy coaches work with their players, giving them tips, drilling the, getting them ready. The camaraderie and respect between the coaches and players is also very evident. It is no wonder that the Sun are consistently one of the best teams in the WNBA. As I have said before, it all starts at the top.
The energy was really high in the building with almost 9,000 fans screaming for a Storm win. And the team responded with a blistering first half where they notched up 50 points on almost 50% shooting. Meanwhile the Sun was staggered a bit by the early pace, but a time-out by Coach Thibault led to a decision that changed the tide of the rest of the game.
Coach Thibault decided to replace Summerton in the line-up very early on with Asjha Jones, giving him a formidable frontcourt of Dydek, Jones, and McWilliams-Franklin. This caused match-up problems with an undermanned Storm team. Usually this placed Jones on our rookie Barbara Turner. Coach Thibault ran play after play isolating Jones on Turner, with devastating effect. When Lauren Jackson came to give help, that left Taj open on the other side for the easy lay-in. I really liked the big line-up for the Sun. I wonder if Coach Thibault will run with this as the starting line-up until Sales is back.
I also have to give big credit to Whalen and Douglas for keeping the Sun in the game during the first half. This dynamic duo took almost everything the Storm could throw at them and responded almost blow for blow. On an night when it would have been very easy to wilt under a tough back-to-back roadtrip, in an arena where you have never won a game before, it would have been easy to give up when the Storm was cruising and up by 16. But instead, the team dug in and came out in the second half firing on all cylinders.
Third Quarter Blues
I don't know what it is about the Seattle Storm and third quarters, but they have been our Achilles Heel all year. In the past, the Storm would come out of the locker room on fire and make a run that would leave little doubt who was going to win the game that night. It was the mark of a championship team and one that is sorely missing this season. It seems that night after night, the Storm wilts in the third quarter, only to come on strong in the fourth. Sometimes that is enough. Other times, it falls short, like in last night's game. Heck, against the Fever a weekend ago, the Storm almost made up for a 30-point deficit in the fourth.
The reasons for this third period lethargy are beyond me. Last night, the Storm scored 10 points, while scoring 50 in the first half. It was the turning point in the game, and against the team like the Sun, that is enough. If the Storm is going to make a run at the playoffs, they are going to need to turn around their third quarter play and have more consistent games.
Congrats to the Sun for a great win! I look forward to another edition of WNBA Nirvana, hopefully in the championship series this year.
As we come into the All-Star break, I've started to think about what factors make a team a championship team. There is no doubt that parity is becoming more of a reality in the W, so what separates the champions from the rest? The following is my recipe for a championship team:
Star players playing at a high level: Every team has its share of star players. But in order for a team to become a championship team, those stars need to be playing at a level that meets or exceeds their career best. A great example of this in 2006 is Lisa Leslie and the Sparks. Lisa has elevated her game in the offseason and is practically carrying the Sparks to their league leading record. This was particularly important due to the early season absence of Holdsclaw and the new mix of faces on the team. With 10 of their final 13 games on the road, LA is going to need Leslie to step up even more.
Team Depth: The WNBA season this year is more of a sprint than a marathon. I read somewhere that the average number of hours between games is something like 56. That is quite a bit of wear and tear on the bodies of a team's players. So it just stands to reason that a team that has a deep bench and that can get quality minutes from that bench will have a better chance of surviving the 2006 season and be ready to strive for a championship.
Third and Fourth Scoring Options: I think the teams that have a real shot at the WNBA Championship this year all have very valid third and fourth options for scoring. You can come up with defenses that limit the first two options that each team has, but if a team has a valid third and fourth option (or heaven forbid a fifth option) then you are going to have to play them more straight up and this will give the first and second options a better chance to shine. Teams like Detroit and Connecticut have so many weapons in their arsenal that it drives coaches crazy trying to scheme them.
Home Court Dominance: Not in our house! You've seen this sign at games all across the W! For a team to win a championship they have to be almost unbeatable at home. If you can cause a visiting team to doubt themselves coming into your arena, then you have just won half the battle. If you look through the history of the W, championship teams have posted very impressive home records, and until last season, the team with home court advantage has always won.
Road Warrior Mentality: If you are strong at home, the area where you can separate yourself from the pack is on the road. Long flights, short practices, hostile arenas, missing the comforts of home. This can take the fight out of any team. Those that can rise above the distractions and fatigue can turn a few potential losses into wins that may mean the difference between going on the road once more with the championship on the line.
Ability to Overcome Injuries: Injuries are just a part of playing the game. But how a team overcomes them can spell the difference between a ring and a lottery ball. Tina Thompson, Nykesha Sales, Christi Thomas, Delisha Milton-Jones and Wendy Palmer have all had injuries that have affected their teams. The wear of tear of the shortened season will probably see more teams facing injuries. My own Storm had to fly to LA on the 2nd night of a back to back without Lauren Jackson (bad shins) and with Lisa Leslie coming off a 41 point night and the Sparks undefeated at home. Their gutsy victory that night could set the tone for the second half of the season.
Great Coaching: Coaching always seems to get overlooked amidst the double doubles, career scoring nights, All Decade Teams and All-Star rosters, but the importance of a great coach should never be overlooked. A great coach knows how to change up their scheme to exploit a perceived weakness in an opponent. A great coach knows how to build up the confidence of a slumping player. A great coach knows how to build that infamous team chemistry. A great coach knows how to use role players to their best advantage. A great coach knows how long to rest their stars to keep them fresh for that final four minutes of the game. A great coach does all these things and more. Paul Westhead has made a great change in the Mercury defense, going to something called the contested zone. Four players play a box zone with Diana Taurasi roaming to wherever the ball is and cutting off passing lanes. It stymied the Shock the other day and almost did the same to the Sun.
Strong Fan Support: You can't say too much about the importance of a team's fan base. They give the team emotional energy when they need it the most. Their financial support of a team gives the team the ability to purchase the staff and equipment they need to succeed. They provide that hostile environment for visiting teams, giving the home team a much needed edge. A great fan base can mean the difference between pulling out close playoff games and going home for the year.
Swagger: Great teams just have this feel about them. This swagger. This feeling of self-confidence. You get the feeling that they can't be beat. That every shot is going to fall. That every call is going to go their way. The Comets of the late 90's had that swagger. The Sparks of the turn of the century also had it.
Peaking at the Right Time: Another often overlooked aspect of a championship team is peaking at the right time. You can win the first 20 games of the season, but limp into the playoffs in the end and get swept in the first round. Early success may be important for winning the division and guaranteeing yourself home court advantage, but building momentum at the end of the year and flying into the playoffs firing on all cylinders is perhaps even more important. Remember the Sparks of 2004? The dominated the regular season, only to lose to the Monarchs in the first round.
For me, game day starts off by trolling the web for info about the Storm's upcoming game. There is almost always a preview of that day's Storm opponent up on http://www.wnba.com/storm/. Written by our webmeister, Kevin Pelton, it gives some great info about that day's match-ups, how the players are doing lately, what the team's strengths and weaknesses are, and of course enough stats to drown even a stat fiend.
Storm fans are blessed with three newspapers that post regular Storm coverage on their websites. The best is http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/storm/, the website for the Seattle Times. Not only do they boast daily coverage on our Storm, but they have a regular blog from columnist Jayda Evans, who actually travels with the Storm to all their games. The other two sites http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/wnba/ and http://www.thenewstribune.com/sports/storm/ aren't as robust as the Seattle Times site, but their coverage is more than just spitting back the AP newswire's story.
Finally, I check out what the überfans are posting on http://www.stormfans.org/ and http://boards.rebkell.net. There is almost always some great tidbits on these two sites, with fans of all stripes checking in with info about the upcoming game. It is a way to feel like you really know your stuff when it comes to talking to the other fans at the game. And Storm fans are really knowledgeable.
I arrive at Key Arena an hour and a half before tipoff. Usually I make it 10 minutes earlier, to hang with my fellow fans and discuss the latest news, but today, I'm 5 minutes late. Today's game against the San Antonio Silver Stars is on a Friday and traffic is fierce as folks make their way home after a long week of work.
Vic and I always have dinner at the Fox Sports Northwest HD Lounge before each game. They have an amazing buffet spread that is not only good, but really creative. Today we have some sort of amazing spicy seafood pasta with great hunks of crab and giant mussels, blackened red snapper with mango salsa, chicken parmesan, and some fresh shrimp and veggie rolls. There is always a number of salads, a few appetizers, and a full line-up of desserts. If we are lucky, there is another WNBA game playing on the TVs-tonight it is the Sky vs. the Sun. There are a number of regulars who sit in the same seats each night. We talk shop, get each other fired up for the game, and start putting our game face on.
You see, a hardcore Storm fan takes their job as the sixth "man" very seriously. We love it when the opposing team comments on the crowd during their postgame quotes. We really dig hearing the players, coaches and front office staff rave about the fans and how they feed off of us. In past seasons, we had our spiritual leader. We called him "pirate guy" because he always wore a Storm bandana on his head. This guy sat behind the basket near the visitor's bench and was cheering non-stop. His enthusiasm would get the rest of us fired up and the Key would rock. Unfortunately, he is no longer a season ticket holder, so our job is much harder than it used to be.
I usually make it courtside about 50 minutes before the game starts. Players are just finishing up their stretches and are shooting around. This is my first opportunity to gauge the players first hand. Who's having trouble hitting shots? Who's not dressed for the game? I usually spend a few minutes talking with my buddy Jack. Jack sat next to me behind the visitor's bench for the 2004 Championship season. You go through a season like that cheering until you are hoarse, and you come out friends. Both Jack and I have migrated towards center court. The view is better (just try watching the game with Bill Laimbeer standing if front of you all game) and you are closer to the action on both sides of the court.
I tend to pace around my seat like a caged animal before the game starts. Adrenalin starts to pump through my veins as I start thinking about the night's match-up. I am more pent-up than normal tonight because my Storm hasn't been consistent at home, having lost to Phoenix two nights earlier and blowing a big lead in the 3rd quarter to these same Silver Stars a few weeks back. It doesn't help my mood when I notice Jae Cross nailing something like ten 3-pointers in a row during warm-ups.
By the time we hit the national anthem, I am pumped. We were given these big pink thunder sticks before the game (they are usually yellow, but we are celebrating breast cancer awareness tonight, so it is pink) and by the time the Storm are being introduced, Vic has my pair blown up tight. If you get them blown up just right, they can make the loudest racket. I can't seem to blow them up well at all, but Vic is a meistro and mine rock! We are polite as the Silver Stars are announced, saving our biggest cheer for Assistant Coach Sandy Brondello, who played her final seasons for the Storm. Then the lights go down, the music swells and we are treated to our pregame video. The beat rushes through me as I watch LJ hit a three, Sue cut through the lane, and Izzy make Katie Smith look like her feet are stuck in concrete. I get a chill every time as I watch Betty shoot a game finishing three-ball as radio announcer David Locke screams, "And its Betty for THE DAGGER! Betty Basketball! She's unreal!" Then the players take the floor one by one to an appreciative and loud crowd. The Key seems pretty full and it is rocking.
Storm fans always start off every home game on their feet until the Storm scores its first points. I can remember times in the past where it took four minutes or so for the Storm to score so we could sit. Tonight, it takes all of 13 seconds, as Janell hits a short jumper on a pass from LJ.
We have the usual choreographed cheers of "Defense!" followed by two claps or bangs of your thunder stick, and "Go Storm Go!" when we are on offense. We also love to encourage our Aussie contingent with the "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie! Oi, Oi, Oi!" cheer. But being a great sixth "man" is much more than that. It's understanding the game enough that you can have an affect on the outcome. I make it a point to learn the first names of all the officials on the floor. Tonight we have Bob, Lamont and Keith. As the game wears on, I make a point to tell the refs when they have messed up a call or missed something. Much like the coaches do. You would be surprised how often that works. The refs try to ignore the crowd, but if I see Katie Feenstra using her elbow or forearm to get clearance from Janell, then I am going to mention it to the men in stripes. More often than not, they will call a foul soon after I point something out to them. Coach Donovan can't always get in a word with the refs, especially on the visitor's end of the court, so I help out.
Tonight, the sixth "man" had an impact at the end of the 3rd quarter. Shanna Zolman had the ball with around 12 seconds to play. She was being guarded closely by the Storm when a fan behind me yelled out "5…4…" and as if this was a regular thing, the Storm fans in our area chimed in "3…2…" and Zolman threw up a prayer of a shot. With 8 seconds left in the half. And missed badly. This gave the Storm a chance to get the final shot. Its those little things that make home court an advantage.
We have all the usual contests and such that most teams have during time-outs. You know the various races, shooting contests, trivia contests, etc. for fabulous Storm prize packages or free tickets to an upcoming game or seat upgrades at the current game. These are all fun and everything, but aren't unique to what I would call the Storm fan experience. They just keep us amused while the players are huddling with the coaches. There is also the Storm Dance Troupe (young kids) and the Storm Hip Hop Squad (adults). One of the most anticipated timeout events is Doppler's Train. Basically, Doppler grabs some kid out of the crowd and starts the train on the court. Kids and some adults rush out of the stands from all sides and join the train. Tonight it seems like a couple of hundred kids are out there smiling and bopping along. At the end of the time-out, a siren blares and kids go flying in all directions like some mad Chinese fire drill.
At the end of the game, the players toss t-shirts to the fans in the stands. Tonight LJ presents a game ball to a kid in the stands. If we win, we are treated to the Voice of the Storm, David Locke, interviewing one of the Storm players on the court. Tonight it is Janelle Burse, whose 16 points and 9 rebounds helped take the pressure off of LJ and provide some needed firepower.
It is always hard for me to describe what it is like going to a Storm game. It's kind of like visiting your best friends and they are having this great party that is a heck of a lot of fun. See, not very easy. Storm games are much more than great basketball for me. They are somewhat of a ritual of summer. Something I look forward to each year and something that I am bummed about when it is all over. It is an intense camaraderie with fans whom I never would have interacted with , but during a game I wouldn't hesitate to high-five or even give a hug to should the moment seem right. And most of all, it is 8,000 fans all gathered together and giving it their all with the same goal-helping our team win!
Congratulations to the 10 wonderful women chosen to represent the first 10 years of WNBA history! Looking through the list, I see a lot of good memories and great highlights. The final 10 looks almost identical to my personal ballot, with the exception of Nykesha Sales replacing Dawn Staley in my voting.
My criteria for voting was that a player had to at least be playing in their fifth year considering we were voting for the best of the first ten years. Secondly, I looked for players that have given me personally that "wow" moment. You know, that moment as a fan when you said, "Holy #$%&! That was unbelievable!" For me, those are the moments that define the WNBA and its fans. Those are the moments that move a fan from being a casual attendee of a sporting event to a frothing WNBA fanatic.
So that narrowed the list down a bit. I can hear some folks saying "How could you have left off Tspoon then? 'The Shot' that beat Houston in the playoffs is definitely one of those defining moments! And what about Ticha? Certainly she has made you go 'wow' with all of her crazy, acrobatic passes!" All of these are true and I could probably go down the list and come up with similar moments for most of the players. I mean, the votes had to be for ten of the thirty most dynamic women in the history of the WNBA. This wasn't easy.
My next step was to look at stats, awards, championships, and other easily measurable success factors in a player's career. Players that consistently lead the WNBA in points, assists, steals, rebounds, blocks and other categories got moved higher up my list. Then I started to look at the impact that player has had on the WNBA. Their impact on the growth of the game. Did their presence in the league redefine how we think about the position they play? Do young girls look up to this player and base their own personal game style on the player? Is this player responsible for bringing in new fans of the WNBA and helping to make sure that the league thrives and grows for another 10 years?
Even with all this criteria, my voting wasn't easy. The 30 women chosen are all absolutely amazing and should be proud just to be on that list. But I think that the WNBA, its fans and the media did a really decent job of meeting my criteria and coming up with an All Decade Team we can be proud of. Congrats again to all!
One of the byproducts of the announcement of the All Decade Team is the angry posts I have seen on the subject on the message boards I frequent. To be truthful, I was amazed and saddened at the anger and negative feelings shown by some of the posters against these wonderful athletes. Sure, I could absolutely understand showing frustration at having one of your favorite players not make the cut. But to take that frustration out on another player and try to undermine their moment just blows my mind. These athletes are all worthy bearers of this title. No matter how many we would have picked for the team, somebody would have been slighted somewhere. There always has to be those who just missed the cut. But that doesn't warrant saying nasty things about some of the players who did make the cut. I have to say that reading those negative threads was one of the low points of being a WNBA fan for me. Quite sad.
Obligatory Storm Content
After having played four of the five games in the Storm's first Summer Death March, I am starting to see my team gel. Like I hoped in one of my earlier blogs, the adversity of a long road trip is bringing the team together, building chemistry, and giving the bench players a chance to shine. In particular, Tiffani Johnson and Shaunzinski Gortman have picked up their game and come through big for the Storm on this road trip. Tiffani has helped to fill the gap for the missing Wendy Palmer with some big boards and critical shots down the stretch of the last few games. And Shaun has provided help with her great defense, helping to limit the amazing Seimone Augustus to just 6 points in the final quarter in Minnesota. Betty Basketball is back in the house also, with B-Money providing energy and points when LJ and Sue have been under the weather. She had an amazing first half against the Fever. And finally, LJ broke out of her recent slump with an amazing 15 points in 8 minutes in last night's game in Chicago. She finished with 27 and 10 rebounds for her first double double of the year. With one more game against the reigning champions at Arco, the Storm has a chance to come out of this road trip with a winning record going into a long home stretch. Kudos to Anne and the rest of the team for making lemonade out of lemons!
I got my first look at our newest expansion team on Wednesday. The Chicago Sky made their first and only trip to Key Arena and played a gutsy game, never folding until the Storm made a late run. The talent on the team is probably the best I have ever seen on an expansion team. Candace Dupree is going to be very good in the not too distant future. She made some post moves on LJ that reminded me of Nicole Ohlde in her rookie year.
That said, it is probably going to be a long year for Sky fans. They just don’t have the depth off of the bench to match up with a more mature team’s supporting cast. But it shouldn’t take them too long to get competitive, thanks to the strong expansion draft they had.
I would like to give a shout out to Coach Dave Cowens for having a great wit about him. During the early part of the game last Wednesday, the Storm had jumped out to a 13-4 lead with a three-pointer from LJ. Dave was standing right in front of me and I shouted, “Hey Dave, it looks like it is time for a time out!” Without missing a beat, he turned to me in the crowd and said, “You’re right. Thanks!” Before turning to the ref and calling his time out. His response got a great chuckle from the crowd. Kudos to bringing it right back at us Dave!
Watching the Sky got me to thinking about the WNBA’s expansion plans for the future. Donna Orender has made numerous comments that the WNBA was hoping to add 10 teams in 10 years. And this really has me worried. The quality of play in the WNBA is getting good enough now to get attention outside of its core fans. A lot of that increase in quality is coming from deeper benches. I can remember Storm games in their first few years where you cringed when a bench player came into the game because you knew that the quality of play was going to go down. Way down. Nothing deflates a crowd like knowing that your team just got much worse because you needed to give your stars a breather. But so far this year, I haven’t seen that happen in too many games. The quality depth on the various WNBA benches is really pretty darn good. Many times, I see bench players coming in to spark teams. This can only be good for the longevity and financial health of the league.
But then you have the expansion plans. If the WNBA is as aggressive in expanding as they say they are, two things are going to happen. First off, bench depth is going to go down in quality. That’s a given. So coaches are going to be forced to go to shorter rotations to keep the quality of play up and that is going to put wear and tear on the players. The other thing is that the quality of the expansion teams will go down as the benches lose their depth. Do you think that a new team has a chance in hell of garnering the legion of fans it is going to need to succeed when their team is composed of players that probably wouldn’t even make teams today? I think not.
The number of quality women’s players is growing every year as college programs spit out more high quality players than ever before and overseas players start matching their US counterparts in skill. So expansion is very possible, but only if it is in a controlled way. I would say that the league could support a new team every two years at the most. Otherwise, I think you risk a loss of quality and at a time when this young league is finally gaining well deserved respect, that would be bad.
On The Road
The Storm enters its first Summer Death March of the year, with 5 straight games on the road. And of course, it couldn’t come at a worse time, with Wendy Palmer sidelined for 4 to 6 weeks and Tiffany Johnson coming up lame with a groin injury. But champions are born of adversity, so I am hoping that this trip will help the players to gel and build that chemistry that will be needed to bring another trophy home to Seattle.
But one of the things I hate the most about these long road trips is the inability to follow the games except through the radio. It makes me feel like I have lost touch with my team. I went out and bought the Total Sports Package on DirecTv in order to get as many WNBA games as possible. So far, I have to say that I am disappointed with the lack of TV coverage.
If the WNBA is ever to grow and reach more people, Donna Orender is going to have to find a way to get all of the WNBA’s games available on TV. This doesn’t have to be free TV. I would gladly pay for a WNBA season package that brought me every WNBA game. I would pay good money for that. You could also have team packages that bring you every one of your favorite teams’ games. If Donna can get this to happen, you will have more fans getting excited about the WNBA and their home teams, instead of getting distracted by other summer events when these long road trips happen. Come on Donna! My credit card is in hand!
As a Storm season ticket holder, we get pretty used to winning at home. Key Arena has always been a daunting venue for opposing teams. But this year, there is an uncertainty in the air. The reason? We have no idea which Storm team will be showing up. Will it be the team that steamrolled the LA Sparks? Or will it be the one who bowed down before the mighty Houston Comets? Will it be the team that outrebounded the Mercury on Friday 45 to 27, holding Phoenix to 9 offensive boards? Or will it be the team that got outrebounded two days later by the Silver Stars 37 to 21, including giving up 18 offensive rebounds?
As a fan, one of the worst things that can happen to your team is inconsistency. You can handle losing. It happens. Each team has so many great players that any one of them could "go off" on a given night and beat you. On Friday, Cappie Pondexter made a valiant effort, scoring 30 points, including a late run where she seemed to hit everything she threw up. On Sunday, it was Kendra Wecker sparking the team with a stream of baskets in the second half that sent the crowd reeling. But that's not what troubles me. I can handle being beaten by Sheryl Swoopes having another career game. What I have trouble with is inconsistency and lack of effort. Every team has a down game now and then. It happens. But when you seem to have a down game every other game, that's a problem. Coach Donovan has been fuming at practice. Here's hoping that she can fix the Storm's chemistry and get this team on a roll.
Rookie of the Year
I had my first chance to see Cappie Pondexter in person on Friday and I have to say that I am very impressed. She played with poise. When her team was down double digits, she single handedly stepped up and brought them to within four, draining contested jumpers on every possession. This girl is the real deal. Any other year, she would be the hands down favorite for ROY. But this year, we are blessed with two rookie superstars. Seimone Augustus has been even more impressive of late, racking up her first Player of the Week award and actually leads the WNBA in scoring. Watching these two young superstars battle it out for the ROY award will be one that we will never forget.
In my preseason predictions, I said that the Silver Stars would be a vastly improved team this year. After watching their gutsy performance against the Storm on Sunday, I would have to say that is an understatement. Coach Dan Hughes has his team playing like a team, with well rounded scoring and great team defense. On Sunday, he had 6 players scoring in double digits. It seemed as if Coach Hughes could rotate in one scoring machine after another. Kendra Wecker, Sophia Young, Vickie Johnson, LaToya Thomas and Agnieszka Bibrzycka all came into the game and sparked the team with points, rebounds or defensive pressure. On a night where the Storm was shooting a lights out 47.4%, the Silver Stars retaliated as a team and prevailed. So my apologies to the Silver Stars for the preseason slight. This team is really good.
One of the biggest questions heading into the 2006 season was - "Can Paul Ball successfully transition to the women's professional game?"
So far, Paul Ball is 0-2 vs. the women's professional game, with blow-out losses to the defending Champion Monarchs and the Seattle Storm in the Mercury's home opener. The two losses were by a combined 40 points. Paul Ball is supposed to lead to high scoring, but currently the Mercury are 5th in the league in this category. Diana Taurasi has excelled in this system, as we all suspected, and rookie Cappie Pondexter has shown great potential, but the rest of the team just hasn't shown that Paul Ball is for them.
In the two games of Paul Ball that I have seen, the Mercury have gotten off to competitive starts, but seem to wear down as the game progressed. Their defense went from smothering to sieve-like in the course of 40 minutes. Most particularly noticeable is the total domination by their opponents in the paint. Teams are smartly slowing down the game when they have the ball and working it into the paint, where the Mercury are thin.
Another dagger in the heart of Paul Ball is the Mercury's shooting percentage of 37%, putting them 11th in the league. Paul Ball is all about taking open shots quickly and knocking them down. The Mercury haven't shown the ability to play that type of ball game.
I suspect that the Mercury will get better at playing Paul Ball as the season progresses. On a night where the team is red hot shooting the ball, we could very well see the WNBA points record broken. But I feel that the long-term success of Paul Ball in sunny Arizona lies in the Mercury acquiring players tailored to playing that type of fast-paced, no holds barred type of game. And that isn't going to happen in 2006.
This coming Friday, I will get my first in-person look at Paul Ball and I will let y'all know if I change my mind on its future with the Mercury.
Do We Have A Classic Rivalry Now?
On Saturday, I watched the incredibly thrilling Detroit Shock win over the Connecticut Sun and it got me to thinking. One of the things that made the NBA as successful as it is today is the great, classic rivalries. Who can forget the Lakers vs. Celtics. Bird vs. Magic. Or the Bulls vs. Pistons. Isiah Thomas vs. Michael Jordan. Do we have a classic rivalry developing between the Sun and the Shock?
The teams are very evenly matched and they play at a high level against each other. The games are almost always close. There's even last year's coach altercation to throw a little spice into the rivalry. And both teams are stocked with some of the best players in the WNBA. Whalen vs. Smith. Nolan vs. Douglas. Ford vs. McWilliams-Franklin. Sales vs. Cash. Riley vs. Dydek.
As a fan, it is a blast to watch these games. It is like a mini All-Star game. And we get at least 3 of them per year. If the experts are right, these are the two teams that will be battling it out for the Eastern Conference title this year. I can't wait!
When thinking back on the Storm vs. Comets game from last night, the words of the Daniel Powter hits song come to mind:
You had a bad day
The camera don't lie
You're coming back down and you really don't mind
You had a bad day
Some days it just seems that no matter what your favorite team tries to do, it all seems to go wrong. Shots rim out. Balls bounce just out of reach. The refs call fouls on your team but let the other team run free. Everything is out of synch and nothing seems to be able to change it. You know, you're having a bad day. Well, that is what last night's game felt like from the perspective of a Storm fan.
Spotlight On The Storm
Almost everything that went oh so right on Sunday went oh so wrong on Tuesday. The team seemed out of synch with each other and even a bit lethargic. The pressure defense that held the Sparks to 33.9% shooting, was replaced by the Storm defense that lost in the first round of the playoffs last year, giving up buckets at an alarming 57.6%.
Sue Bird was a bright spot again, being aggressive in the first half and almost single-handedly keeping the Storm in the game until the final minutes of the second quarter. However, the strong start didn't show up in the second half and Sue was barely a factor after the halftime break.
Barb Turner, the Storm's #1 pick this year, had her first extensive action of the year and took advantage of it, notching 11 points in 12 minutes of play and bringing a lot of hustle to the court.
One interesting thought did cross my mind. There was a very emotional presentation at center court before the game where the organization, players and fans said their farewells to the last original Storm player, Simone Edwards. The last time the Storm had an emotional pregame ceremony was the 2004 Championship banner raising and ring ceremony last year. Afterwards, the Storm played perhaps the worst game in Storm history, getting drubbed by the Sparks. And now, after Simone's retirement ceremony, they had their second unspirited performance. Coincidence? Perhaps the Storm should refrain from emotional pregame ceremonies in the future.
I don't think that this game is representative of what the Storm will do this year any more than the Comets and Silver Stars game from Sunday will foretell what the Comets season has in store for them. Great teams will move beyond this game quickly and get back on track.
Spotlight On The Comets
This was the Comets team that I saw dismantle my Storm in the playoffs last year. There was a lot of questions coming into the game, with the loss on Sunday and a rash of injuries causing some people to already start dismissing the Comets. Well, it looks like the doomsayers were wrong.
Tina Thompson looks better than I have seen her in years. I don't think she missed a shot hardly in the first half and did a thorough job of demoralizing the Storm with her long range shooting. She looked fast and her defensive presence gave LJ fits. Coach Chancellor did a good job of keeping Tina fresh, resting her when LJ was on the bench and getting her back in the game when Anne put her star back in.
Another huge factor for the Comets was the play of Dominique Canty, who tied Thompson for the high scorer with 19 points, she pulled down 6 boards, and dished out 6 assists. Whenever the Storm seemed to get a bit of momentum built up, Dominique would squash it with a great play.
Sheryl Swoopes started off a bit slow, but when she saw the game within reach, put the nail in the coffin of the Storm with a great second half.
Saying Goodbye to the Heart of the Storm
Tuesday night was a special night for Storm fans and especially season ticket holders. Last Friday, the last of the Storm's original players announced her retirement. Our Jamaican Hurricane, Simone Edwards, finally shimmied into the sunset. Season ticket holders were treated to a special pregame party to say goodbye to the woman whose heart and smile made fans everywhere she went. If you measured Simone's value to the Storm based on her on court stats, you would be missing the point. Simone was never about the stats. If she could make you smile, make you laugh, then she felt she had done her part. The Storm will miss Simone most in the locker room, where her infectious personality made even the gloomiest game bearable. Good bye Simi! We'll all miss you!
I love the feel of opening day! Almost 10,000 screaming fans gathered in an arena to watch our beloved Storm square off against our hated rivals from LA. Last year, the Sparks rained on our Championship parade, so it was pay back time!
The game started off rather evenly matched, but the Storm managed almost 40 minutes of adding a few points every few minutes to our lead with only a few runs by the Sparks, leading to the blowout 90 to 67 win.
Spotlight On The Storm
Anne Donovan harped all preseason on improved defensive play, and it looks like her tutelage paid off. The Storm held the Sparks to less than 70 points, 33.9% shooting, outrebounded them 31 to 22, and picked up 12 steals, including a team record 7 from Sue Bird. The Sparks only got 7 fast break points, and only 22 points in the paint, an area of weakness for the Storm last year.
Another of Anne's keys for the Storm this year was veteran leadership coming off the bench. It didn't take long for that to emerge because of the injury to Janell Burse. Wendy Palmer stepped up in a big way for the Storm, notching a double-double with 18 points and 13 rebounds. On a night where the loss of Burse could have spelled big trouble against Lisa Leslie, Wendy helped Lauren Jackson keep Lisa under 30 points and got her to foul out of the game.
Anne also wanted Sue Bird to be more aggressive this year. With the new 24 second clock, Anne needs Sue to be more of a creator and to take open shots when they present themselves. Sue set the tempo early with the first points for the team, a 3-ball, and proceeded to shoot, slash and dish herself to a near triple double, with 13 points, 9 assists and 7 steals.
Lauren Jackson didn't seem to have any ill effect from her shins, and notched 23 points, including 2-2 from behind the arc and 7-9 from the field, despite being in foul trouble for most of the first half. Betty Lennox seemed to still be suffering from the car accident she had a few days ago, but finally got into the groove in the late 3rd quarter to finish with some vintage Betty Ball. Izzy had a perfect game, going 6-6 from the field. Her slashing moves to the basket made the Sparks look like they were standing still at times. Tanisha Wright had some key plays off the bench in backing Sue up.
In short, the Storm are just where Anne wants them to be. They are playing like a team with all the great chemistry you would expect from having 5 starters return. Tuesday night's game against Houston will say a lot about the Storm's chances for this year.
Spotlight On The Sparks
In my preseason preview, I mentioned that I thought the Sparks were going through a minor rebuilding year and last night's game didn't change my mind. The team was looking for an identity, and coach Bryant looked frustrated. The absence of Chamique Holdsclaw was obvious because of her playmaking ability. Without Mique on the court, all of the playmaking had to be done by Temeka Johnson. The fiery point guard showed some amazing footwork, and was able to create her own shot, but suffered from poor shooting, making only 2 of 11 shots.
Lisa Leslie showed that she still has a ton of game. She scored a game high 24 points and pulled down 5 boards. Unfortunately for the Sparks, Lisa is about all they have in the paint. Christi Thomas came off the bench for 6 points in 21 minutes of play, but starter Jessica Moore, filling in for Mique, put up a big goose egg.
Mwadi Mabika looks to be totally healed from last season's injury and was looking good, hitting 50% of her 3-point shots. She dropped a cool 19 points and 4 boards on the night. The other bright spot was the play of Doneeka Hodges Lewis, who tallied 10 points for the Sparks.
Without Mique on the field, the Sparks lack that valid 3rd scoring option. Their bench also seems to lack the depth it will need to keep up with the increased pace of the game with the new 24 second clock. The chemistry also seemed to be missing, with Temeka getting angry more than a few times when teammates weren't where they were supposed to be for a given play.
A Question Of Safety
Something happened during the game that got me wondering whether the WNBA needs to change its rules. In the 3rd quarter, Izzy Castro Marques crumpled to the ground when she got hit by the elbow of teammate Lauren Jackson. The play continued with Seattle moving the ball down court and shooting the ball before everyone realized that Izzy was still lying in a heap and not moving on the other end of the court. Anne quickly motioned to the refs and asked for an injury timeout, but referee Kurt Walker refused her, even though a player was obviously hurt and not moving. Wendy Palmer quickly fouled the ball coming down court, but I was floored that the refs wouldn't stop the game once they knew that a player was down and hurting.
Now I am not sure if the refs were following the rules or not, but I think that it is ludicrous that play was not stopped immediately upon them noticing Izzy laying there. A blow to the head could be a very serious thing, perhaps even life-threatening. The fact that medical staff couldn't attend to Izzy until the play was stopped could have cost her precious moments. She also could have been hurt further if play would have made it down to that end of the court, as she was crumpled right beneath the Sparks basket. Other players could have hurt themselves tripping over her as they continued play. In short, it was one of the most dangerous and stupid things I have seen and steps need to be made to change the rules or inform the refs so that game play can be stopped and the injured player can be tended to.
Donna Orender was at the game, and I implore you, Donna, to check into
this matter and help us keep our players safe. A clearly injured player on the
floor should stop play as soon as the refs see the injury. Period. Nothing is
more important than the safety of our players.
I find that trying to predict the West is kinda like one of those crowd games that many arenas or stadiums show on arenavision during timeouts. You know the one where there are racehorses or racecars or something like that racing around a track and you are supposed to pick the one you think will win. During the course of the race, the cars change positions all the time, with no rhyme or reason, until one shoots ahead for the win. Well, that's what the Western division race feels like to me. I have been waffling and changing my mind all season. I even tried to get some insight from David Locke, the voice of the Storm, and he kiddingly asked if he could use MY picks. Thus, my picks have the caveat that there is really very little separating these teams. Those teams which avoid the injuries and develop team chemistry early will do the best. Beyond that, I found that dartboards and blindfolds make a useful prognostication tool.
1. Seattle Storm - I know,
what a shocker. I didn't have the Storm in the top spot in my offseason picks,
but having watched the team in the preseason and having analyzed the offseason
moves that Coach Donovan made, I really think this team is poised to have its
best year ever. I got a chance to talk with Lauren Jackson at the Storm Tipoff
Breakfast yesterday, and I think she will be as effective as she has ever been.
With the chemistry of a returning starting five for the first time in Storm history,
and the deepest bench ever, I like our chances.
2. Houston Comets - Coach Chancellor has finally brought together a core of some of the best players of all time to make a run at the Championship again. Tina Thompson, Sheryl Swoopes, and Dawn Staley will all make the All Decade Team more than likely. With Michelle Snow improving in leaps and bounds each year and becoming quite a force in the paint, the Comets have one of the strongest starting fives in the West. I am worried about the wear and tear of a season stuffed into a shorter timespan on the older players, but this team is too good to not be in the playoffs and make a push for the Championship this year.
3. Sacramento Monarchs - It was hard for me NOT to put the reigning Champions at the top spot. However, they lost Newton to the Sky in the expansion draft, and with DeMya on maternity leave, I am not sure if the Monarchs have the depth to play Coach Whisenant's white line defense AND cope with the speed needed for the new 24 second shot clock. I do believe that this team is still one of the best in the league, so it will be fun to watch the season unfold this year. Be sure to watch Paul Ball run head first into the White Line this Saturday. Should be a hoot!
4. Minnesota Lynx - Going into the preseason, I didn't think that the Lynx would make the playoffs, but something changed for me. I should say, someone…Seimone Augustus. The Lynx's #1 draft pick looks like she could provide 3 to 4 wins just by being on the Lynx. Since the Lynx barely missed out on the playoffs last year, that is probably just what Coach McConnell Serio needed. With a great frontcourt of Nicole Ohlde and Vanessa Hayden, the Lynx are my dark horse in the West.
5. Phoenix Mercury - The Mercury have a killer perimeter with Diana Taurasi, Cappie Pondexter, and Kelly Miller, but with Penny Taylor most likely to miss some if not all of the season, and Svetlana Abrosimova skipping the season to practice with the Russian team for Worlds this fall, Phoenix is missing some of the key players that might put them over the top. Also, the shortened season is going to influence how much of the season will have gone by before the players pick up Paul Ball.
6. L.A. Sparks - This is probably my most controversial pick. With All-Stars Lisa Leslie and Chamique Holdsclaw holding down the fort, it is hard to imagine the Sparks not making the playoffs. But with the loss of Teasley and Hodges in the offseason, and another new head coach in Joe Bryant, I think this team is doing a bit of a rebuild and in a much tougher West, this could mean their first missed playoffs in a long, long time.
7. San Antonio Silver Stars - I really feel bad putting the Silver Stars in the basement again, as I think the team has really improved over last season. I expect to see some of their early draft picks from the past few years such as Katie Feenstra and Kendra Wecker starting to shine. The Stars will win more games than they did last year, but in this tough division, they still have some distance to close.
You know that at this time of year, all the pundits will put down their picks for how the various teams will finish in the upcoming WNBA season. Of course, none of them can predict what will really happen in the upcoming season. What injuries will befall which team? What previously unknown player will elevate their game to become a star? What older star will fade away to a faint shadow of their former self? I would also be remiss to not mention the P word. Parity. It is what every league president dreams of. Parity translates to hope for all the teams that finished out of the playoffs last year. Parity means that a few wins pulled from the flames of defeat could mean the difference between home-court advantage for the playoffs and watching for that lottery ball. Parity means that there is much less of a difference between the haves and the have nots. And thus picking how teams will finish is kind of pointless.
Of course, since I now have this soapbox upon which to pontificate, I couldn't resist the idea of making my own picks. We'll start with the Eastern division. There is a lot less parity in this division than there was only a few years ago. Some teams have fallen on hard times, while others have built storehouses of All-Star talent.
Sun - I don't think that there is a stronger team. The starting line-up of
Whalen, Sales, Douglas, Dydek and McWilliams-Franklin may be the best in the league.
The addition of Erin Phillips at the point guard position gives insurance should
Whalen's injury limit her time on the court. Add in Asjha Jones as one of the
best players off the bench, in the league and this team will once again be very,
very hard to beat.
2. Detroit Shock - Perennial underachievers after winning a championship three years ago, the Shock could very well have the best starting five, boasting All-Stars in Ford, Riley, Cash, Smith and Nolan. However, the lack of a true point guard (it looks like Nolan will be filling that spot for coach Laimbeer), could spell trouble for this ultra talented team. However, I can't believe that having a full preseason together to work on chemistry won't help this Shock team come much closer to their potential than in the last 2 seasons.
3. Washington Mystics - This is my dark horse team for the year. The offseason acquisitions of Crystal Robinson and Nikki Teasley add depth and experience to a team that just missed the playoffs last year. Alana Beard just gets better every year and I believe that Richie Adubato will have the Mystics playing at a much higher level in 2006.
4. Indiana Fever - I really like this team a lot. Tamika Catchings is one of the most talented and hardest working players in the league. You all know how much I love Tully Bevilaqua (see my previous blog). The offseason acquisition of Anna DeForge gives the Fever a great outside shooting specialist (and removes a thorn from the side of my Storm team in the process). However, I am worried about the Fever's strength in the post and think that teams like Detroit, Connecticut and Washington will take advantage of the Fever in the paint.
5. Charlotte Sting - The Sting have a good core of players in Tangela Smith, Sheri Sam, and Tammy Sutton-Brown, but lack the depth of some of the top teams in the league. Monique Currie has the potential to become a star and will be fun to watch this year.
6. Chicago Sky - I can't believe that I am picking an expansion team to NOT finish in the cellar this year. However, head coach Dave Cowens has put together a team of players that are hungry to prove themselves and during the preseason proved that they weren't going to be taken lightly in 2006. A strong expansion draft and the drafting of Candice Dupree give the Sky and their fans something to build upon for the future.
7. New York Liberty - It is almost impossible to lose 4 starters from last year's team and not be considered to be in a serious rebuilding year. The only starter to remain is All-Star Becky Hammon. The Liberty has gotten much younger and will get a chance to see what their draft picks from the last few years can do, but I don't expect them to be too competitive in an already strong division.
Training camp and the preseason are a wonderful time of year. Hopes run high as fans get excited about the coming season. Everyone is 0-0 and anything can happen. Those free agent signings could be just what we have been looking for. Our draft picks have a real chance to help the team. So and so has been practicing their shot all winter and has been nailing them in camp. This player has been in Europe all winter and tore up the league. Our new coach has changed the offense and I wouldn't be surprised to see 100 points per game!
You get the idea. Last year is but a fading memory (except for the Monarchs, who get to relive it all year, every time they hear "…your World Champion Sacramento Monarchs" blaring from the PA system). Alan Greenspan, former Federal Reserve Chairman, coined a phrase for this unbridled optimism…irrational exuberance. He was talking about the stock market boom of the mid 90's, but it applies just as well to the hardcore WNBA fan looking forward to the upcoming season.
But just like the stock market of the mid-90's, which went from boom to bust in a very short time, preseason basketball needs to be taken with a grain of salt. First off, each coach approaches preseason games with a different attitude, depending on what they need to get done during the preseason. If their starting roster is mostly set and the team is coming off a successful 2005 season, then the coach is probably looking to fill 2 to 3 backup roster spots, and thus will play their starters much less than normal and keep their reserves in the game longer in order to get a feel for how they will play if called into action. Wins and losses don't mean as much to this coach as making the right choice about which reserves to keep on the roster. Other coaches see preseason wins as a way to build momentum into the coming regular season. They also see wins as a way to build confidence, both among the players, and among the fan base. This might particularly be important if 2005 was less than thrilling.
Another reason to temper your irrational exuberance is the fact that many of the best WNBA players arrive late to camp because of commitments overseas. Beating a Connecticut team without Katie Douglas, Nykesha Sales, Margo Dydek, and Taj McWilliams-Franklin playing isn't quite that exciting as beating a fully stocked Sun team. Other teams may look much different than their previous incarnation because of players staying in their overseas home to prepare for the World Championships this coming September. The Liberty lost Ann Wauters and Elena Baranova. The Mercury will be without Maria Stepanova, perhaps the best player in the European league, and there is doubts about whether Penny Taylor will join the team for half a season or not. Janeth Arcain will be staying in Brazil instead of joining Houston.
Finally, these games just don't count. Plain and simple. Veterans know this and thus they aren't quite playing at the same level as they will be once the regular season starts. They're willing to risk less for a meaningless win. They won't dive for balls they will go after with gusto in the regular season. They won't risk body and limb banging it up in the post for a game that will disappear from the win-loss column come May 20th. Players on the bubble, on the other hand, are playing for their professional lives, and usually show all they have in these games.
So enjoy the luster of a new season. Get excited about your team's chances. Talk up all the speculation from training camp with your fellow fans. But remember, everything changes on May 20th.
Lisa's Obligatory Storm Content
I have to admit that irrational exuberance has grabbed ahold of me in regards to my Seattle Storm. I have even been spotted on message boards saying that I can feel a championship brewing this year. Anne has done an amazing job of building the best roster we have ever had in Seattle. Barring injury (knock on wood) we should have the deepest and most talented bench ever. Our fans are in mid-season form, with over 7,000 rocking the rafters at the Key for our preseason win over the Liberty. Sue is in great shape from her season in Russia. Even though Lauren is still dealing with her shin injury, she has looked amazing in the minutes that we got to see her during the Liberty game. Janell Burse looks stronger and has more post moves than ever if she can overcome the shoulder injury she sustained overseas. Tanisha Wright looks much more at home than the tentative rookie of a year ago. And Wendy Palmer looks like she still has quite a bit of game and will help solidify our post position throughout this season. It will be a long and grueling season, but I can't help but think my Storm will do very well. Que up Alan Greenspan.
Hi, I'm Lisa Stevens, and I'm a WNBA Junkie. It started off innocently enough. I played some b-ball in high school and a bit in college. Women's basketball was in my veins. But I kicked the habit once I left college and was clean until a team called the Seattle Reign moved into my town. I was able to resist the siren call of the ABL and even managed to ignore the called of the NBA's sister league when it started.
Then Lin Dunn came to Seattle, dribbling a basketball around our downtown until enough people had signed on as season ticket holders to get us a team. The Seattle Storm. I managed to partake of a game here and there for two seasons. It was like visiting an old lover. The magic wasn't quite there, but there was enough pull to keep me checking on the new girl in town. Then it happened. The Storm's third season. It wasn't Jackson and it wasn't Bird that lured me back to my old lover. It was a little pit bull named Tully. Tully played with passion. Tully played with drive. Tully gave 200% on every play. And I fell in love. Again.
In 2004, I moved in with the new girl in town and bought season tickets. It was a magical year. 20 wins. A WNBA championship. Life was good. Little did I know that my addiction was growing. The next year, the new girl and I celebrated our five year anniversary. She gave me a championship ring to call my own. As I stood there on the court, watching the banner rise to the rafters in Key Arena, I fell in love with this league. I am Lisa Stevens, and I'm a WNBA Junkie.
I hope to let you in on my little love affair with the WNBA. Show you my thoughts. My yearnings. My desires. With the Seattle Storm being my first love, I will always see the WNBA through emerald-colored glasses, but I hope that my love affair with this league will help you find a true love of your own to root for.
Keys To A Successful 2006
Like the Olympic year of 2004, this year in the WNBA will bring a number of new challenges to our teams that could make the difference between the playoffs and being a lottery pick contestant. A number of new factors inside and outside the WNBA will test the mettle of the best coaches and players. Those that overcome these factors best will have the greatest shot at this years WNBA Championship.
In 2006, teams will cram the same number of games as 2005
into a period of time that is almost one month less due to the World Championships
in September. This will have a huge effect on the chances of each team to win
the Championship this year.
The World Championships have created new conditions for success that teams will have to overcome to be successful. Throw in the new 24-second clock and you can see how this whole season could be up in the air! Next week I will endeavor to make my early season picks about who will overcome these challenges to make the playoffs.
Lisa's Obligatory Storm Content
I have never been more bullish on my Seattle Storm than I am right now. With one preseason game behind us, I feel that my team is more developed than they were halfway through last season. If you look at the factors listed above, you can quickly see why:
am really expecting a great year from my Storm, but with a fully-loaded Western
Conference, anything can, and will, happen. Is it May 21st yet?