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Inside The W with Michelle Smith: Early Anticipation For 2019 Season

It’s way too early, right? Way too early to look ahead to 2019 and predict, anticipate and prognosticate.

But it’s not too early to be excited after a WNBA season that showed us new stars, Hall of Fame performances, unparalleled parity and a compelling postseason.

What will the WNBA show us in 2019?

Let’s make some educated guesses.

A Minnesota makeover. The Minnesota Lynx came into the 2018 season as defending champions and title favorites, and they departed in the first round of the Playoffs after posting their lowest win total since 2010. The point guard that has led them to four titles, Lindsay Whalen, is officially retired, off to write her next chapter as the head coach at the University of Minnesota. Seimone Augustus and Rebekkah Brunson are nearing the end of their careers, too. The Lynx need bench help, a point guard of the future and some younger players to complement still-in-their-primes Maya Moore and Sylvia Fowles. The rest of the league caught up with the WNBA’s standard-bearer this season. How will Cheryl Reeve and Co. respond?

Another Ace in the hole. The Las Vegas Aces barely missed the playoffs, entered the lottery and ended up with the No. 1 pick in the draft for the third year in a row. Bill Laimbeer’s team didn’t look far away from being a real factor in the league this year behind 2018 No. 1 pick A’ja Wilson, and with another top pick, it could be just what Las Vegas needs to join the ranks of the top teams in the league.

More fond farewells? Alana Beard was named the WNBA’s Defensive Player of the Year for the second straight season at the age of 36. Seimone Augustus and Rebekkah Brunson are 34 and 36, respectively.

Sue Bird is the oldest player in the league at 37, and she just led her team to another title. Diana Taurasi had one of the best seasons of her career at 36. The legends of this league don’t appear to be done yet. But it’s getting closer and it’s hard not to imagine a couple more farewell tours in 2019.

The Cambage Watch. Liz Cambage put up MVP numbers in her first year back in the WNBA since 2013 for Dallas. But the fact that the Wings stumbled into the Playoffs with 10 losses in 11 games to close the regular season was not the best way to enter a tight Playoff picture. Cambage wasn’t happy when head coach Fred Williams resigned near the end of the season. She has publicly questioned whether she wants to return to the league in 2019. Here’s to hoping that she decides to come back.

Is it time for a Dream season? Nobody played better in the second half of the season than the Atlanta Dream. Even without the franchise’s all-time leading scorer, Angel McCoughtry on the floor, the Dream – led by guard Tiffany Hayes – pushed Washington to the limit in the Semifinals, falling one win short of a trip to the Finals. WNBA Coach of the Year Nikki Collen’s first-year coaching job in Atlanta was so impressive that the franchise gave her a contract extension. With McCoughtry back, Atlanta will be at or near the top of everybody’s list of title contenders in 2019.

Healing powers. The WNBA Finals series between Seattle and Washington might have been different if Elena Delle Donne was fully healthy and not fighting through the ugly knee injury she had sustained in the Semifinals against Atlanta. Delle Donne managed to lead her Washington Mystics team to its first WNBA Finals, and if she stays healthy in 2019, she might be able to take them one step further and finally hoist a championship trophy.

A New York state of mind? The Liberty spent the 2018 season in ownership limbo, playing in the smallest venue in the WNBA. Katie Smith’s first season as a head coach was a struggle, as New York put up a 7-27 record (losing 13 in a row to close the season) — the worst mark in franchise history. Star center Tina Charles needs more help.

A lot of things need to be decided for this franchise. Who will buy them? Where will they play? Can they keep Charles happy? Can they improve their fortunes on the floor with all of this swirling? Those are a lot of questions marks. Landing the No. 2 pick in the Lottery was a positive start.

Another Season of Stewie? At the tender age of 24, she is the league MVP. She was the WNBA Finals MVP. She won her first WNBA title in her third season. She set the league record for postseason scoring average. She led the league in scoring for much of the season and began the youngest player in league history to put up 700 points and 250 rebounds in a season. What’s next for this young superstar? Another title, perhaps? The first repeat MVP season since Cynthia Cooper in 1998? It’s going to be fun to watch and see.

Does the parity party continue? Five teams won 20-plus games, matching the highest total in league history. Just five games separated the No. 2-7 teams in the standings. The two teams that played for a championship in 2017 – LA and Minnesota – were matched in a first-round elimination game a year later. It was arguably the most competitive WNBA season in history, as many teams upgraded their talent to close the gap with the league’s top teams. Can it continue? Is this the new normal?

Let’s hope so. Bring on 2019.

Longtime WNBA reporter Michelle Smith writes a weekly column on throughout the season. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the WNBA or its clubs.