The Girls of Summer Head For Home

DETROIT, September 18 -- Do you remember that last night of camp every summer, the final night around the campfire when everyone gets together for one last time to share the memories of a great couple of months, all the while knowing that it will be over in the morning when everyone has to go their separate ways for the winter?

Well that's how I feel right about now (and I could really go for a group hug).

The best WNBA postseason (and regular season, for that matter) in the 11-year history of the league is now over, we've all said our farewells and have already headed off in our different directions (summer bloggin', had me a blast).

The Mercury triumphantly returned to the desert, where they held a championship celebration outside the US Airways Center and shared the trophy with thousands of faithful fans on Tuesday afternoon (I wonder if there was cake being served in the mess hall). And they all deserved it. After dropping Game 3 at home and finding themselves in a hole in Game 4 (just seconds away from elimination), the Mercury rallied to win it all. And on the road, no less.

In the final two games of the series (the ultimate Color War: blue vs. purple), Finals MVP Cappie Pondexter put on a dazzling display of offensive skills the likes of which this league has likely never seen before. Coach Paul Westhead stopped calling plays in the final moments of Game 4 and told Cappie to simply "take over." Seriously, can you imagine any coach saying that to a player as his or team fought to stay alive (unless the player's initials were M.J.)? But the Finals MVP Award could just as easily have gone to the Mercury's fiery leader, Diana Taurasi or to Penny Taylor who, despite struggling in Game 4, helped put the Shock away early in Game 5 (talk about a bunch of happy campers).

Pondexter, Taurasi and Taylor are the most lethal trio the league has seen since the Comets had Cynthia Cooper, Sheryl Swoopes and Tina Thompson in the last millennium. They combined to average an astounding 63.1 ppg in the postseason (the Mercury scored a record 95.8 ppg). Any one of the superb threesome was capable of beating teams this season, and in Game 5, all three did just that to the Shock (they were responsible for 73 of the 108 points scored).

But today, the inseparable trio of Mercury stars and the rest of the world champions have begun to part ways, clean out their lockers and return to their homes like a victorious army dispersing after battle. In all likelihood, the full team will never be together again in as a complete championship unit (with free agency and player movement, that's what happens). They will only have their memories (and championship rings).

Taurasi and Pondexter are on their way to meet up with the U.S. National Team back East (no rest for the weary) while the rest of their teammates are headed home to get ready for their overseas campaigns. Taylor will head to Russia for the winter (she should be safe from the horseflies and poison ivy), but her return to the WNBA next season depends on how homesick she gets: she'll be training for the Olympics with the Australian National Team. (The Summer Games are next August in Beijing, China.)

Even Westhead (everyone's favorite head counselor), who made history in becoming the first person with an NBA title and WNBA title as a head coach, will now begin to consider his career options as well and could make the move back to the men's game (though why would anyone want to go from head coaching to an assistant job? Sounds like a step down to me).

The final bonfire has also died out in Detroit as the status of a number of Shock players remains very much up in the air. They were painfully close to wrapping up their second straight title and their third in five years in Game 4 back in Phoenix, but couldn't seal the deal (and we know what happened in Game 5). But this once-invincible team has a number of free agents to deal with and must wait for the new collective bargaining agreement that the players and the league will begin working on.

No matter what happens in the months to come, the Shock had a tremendous season and could very well be back to the Finals again in 2008 (you know camp bully Bill Laimbeer is going to field a competitive team).

Around the league, the other 11 teams that got an earlier start to the offseason have already moved on, though they did give us some great memories from the summer. Lauren Jackson's MVP season, Becky Hammon and Sophia Young leading the Silver Stars to the Conference Finals, the triple-OT game between the Fever and Sun (I think Anna DeForge just hit another 3, by the way), sensational rookies like Armintie Price, Lindsey Harding and Marta Fernandez, the surprising, young New York Liberty, All-Star excitement in Washington (and much, much more to write home about).

But alas, all the bags are packed and everyone is going home for the winter. (Join our hands and hearts and voices... voices, hearts and hands.)

However there will still be plenty to talk about and keep us occupied in the meantime. The U.S. (of Americans) Team leaves for Chile on Friday (F-I-B-A, who do we appreciate?!?) and will return for an exhibition tour against many of the top collegiate teams around the U.S. in late October. And the 2008 WNBA Draft Lottery is only two weeks or so away with a few non-traditional Lottery teams like Los Angeles and Houston in the running (a scary prospect out West if Lisa Leslie, Temeka Johnson, Taj McWilliams-Franklin, Sheryl Swoopes, Tina Thompson and Michelle Snow are all healthy and back in place).

Oh yeah, and the college basketball season begins in less than two months and we all need to start (or continue) watching and taking notes on what could be the most talented Draft class in WNBA history (I feel like we say that every year, but it's always true). Superstar talents like Candace Parker and Sylvia Fowles may already be locked in as lottery picks, but there are about 150 other women out there who will be looking to state their cases during their senior seasons.

And, of course, the biggest of all offseason headlines won't be made until the free agency period gets underway sometime in 2008. A lot of that will depend on the new CBA, but expect to see more new faces in new places than ever before (kind of like when the new kid joins the bunk).

All in all, the memories of our great summer will be something we can cherish and hold on to during the cold, dark months ahead (not to mention all of the great photos and videos we'll keep sharing throughout). But for now, the orange-and-oatmeal balls have been stored away in equipment closets, the fancy, new uniforms have been folded up and tucked away and the lights have gone dark in WNBA arenas across the country (though the future is still shining as bright as ever).

So get home safe and we'll see you back again next summer...