Inside The W With Michelle Smith: 12 Teams, 12 Storylines

Three months from the start of another season. Two months from the draft. Free agency happening now. As we move decisively toward the 22nd season of the longest-running women’s professional league in history, every team in the league is trying to write its new story for 2018.

1. Minnesota

The Title: The Drive for Five

The Plot: The Lynx have a chance to be all alone among WNBA champions if they can pull off another title run with a team that was already the oldest in the league a season ago. But it’s getting to be time to think about the future beyond 2018. Who is the heir apparent to Lindsay Whalen at point guard? Is Rebekkah Brunson, in her 15th season, going to be able to anchor this team on the boards? How can they build some depth at small forward? If anyone can come up with the answers, it would be Cheryl Reeve.

The Star: Maya Moore. All Moore has done is help deliver four titles in her seven years in the league. She is still playing at her peak. One of the best in the world.

2. Los Angeles

The Title: Third Time’s a Charm

The Plot: The Los Angeles Sparks have gone down to the wire against Minnesota in the WNBA Finals in back-to-back seasons, winning the title in 2016 and losing in 2017. The Sparks would very much like to join the four-championships club with Houston and Minnesota in 2018 while they are still at the height of their powers with Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike. Alana Beard is back. Odyssey Sims re-signed in free agency and was a huge factor in last year’s run at a title. The Sparks look poised to be back for more success.

The Star: Candace Parker. Parker enters her 11th WNBA season still capable of doing everything for her team – scoring, rebounding, dishing. And her close relationship with Ogwumike has solidified this team’s place in the league’s elite.

3. Phoenix

The Title: Pieces in Place

The Plot: Back at full strength and ready to challenge, the Mercury will have a rested Diana Taurasi, a peaking Brittney Griner and DeWanna Bonner back after a season away after giving birth to twins. That potent trio alone gives WNBA opponents enough reason to worry that the Mercury are back in championship form.

The Star: Brittney Griner. Griner might have given Sylvia Fowles a run for MVP last year if she hadn’t gotten hurt in the second half of the season. Still, she finished as the league’s leading scorer and is at the height of her considerable skill set right now. She is unstoppable.

4. Dallas

The Title: Creating A Postseason Pattern

The Plot: Liz Cambage, the No. 2 pick in the 2011 Draft, is indeed returning to the WNBA this season after five years away. The Wings’ future suddenly looks very bright. One of the best post players in the world gets added to a mix that already includes Skylar Diggins-Smith, reigning Rookie of the Year Allisha Gray and versatile Glory Johnson and Karima Christmas-Kelly.

The Star: Skylar Diggins-Smith. While Cambage will get a lot of attention, Diggins-Smith is the one who will pull the spotlight in her direction on the floor with her ability to be among the league’s most exciting scorers.

5. Seattle

The Title: Fit for a Title (Run)

The Plot: It’s a new beginning for the Storm under head coach Dan Hughes, who is looking to make the most of a roster anchored by the dynamic inside-outside combination of Jewell Loyd and Breanna Stewart. Sue Bird, at the age of 36, has proven that she has many good basketball days still ahead. The Storm were the second-worst rebounding team in the league last season and need some help on the boards through free agency or the draft.

The Star: Breanna Stewart. In her third year as a pro, “Stewie” has a chance to bust out and become an MVP candidate if the Storm can figure out a way to get more consistent.

6. Las Vegas

The Title: All In

The Plot: The Aces will be one of the most interesting stories of 2018 after their relocation to Sin City under the leadership of Bill Laimbeer, one of the most successful coaches in league history. The team that moved from San Antonio has seen its share of struggles, with the worst record in the league over the past three seasons. The time has come for a turnaround behind young guards Kelsey Plum and Moriah Jefferson, who missed the end of the season with a knee injury and is rehabbing in Vegas. The Aces, who have the No. 1 pick in the draft, need a go-to post, some veteran leadership and to make a big decision about re-signing Kayla McBride.

The Star: Bill Laimbeer. The moves Laimbeer makes in this first season will set the tone for this franchise for years. The Aces have already signed Carolyn Swords and Tamera Young in free agency, plus Kelsey Bone via trade.

7. New York

The Title: Give Them Liberty

The Plot: The Katie Smith era begins for the Liberty, who don’t merely want to be a playoff contender, but a title contender. The Liberty need to shore up a roster that could use another scorer on the wing to support Tina Charles and Epiphanny Prince.

The Star: Tina Charles. The Liberty will lock in their star, the player who has made them go for the past few years. Now it’s time to build a championship-caliber team around her.

8. Connecticut

The Title: No More Surprises

The Plot: The pleasant surprise period is over the Sun, who now become a true threat in the league for the first time in half a decade after last year’s breakout success for young stars Jonquel Jones, Jasmine Thomas and Alyssa Thomas. Integrating Chiney Ogwumike back into the lineup will be the biggest task in the early part of the season. But having a player like Ogwumike on the floor only makes the Sun stronger, deeper and more dangerous.

The Star: Jonquel Jones. A double-double machine. A raw young talent with a very high ceiling. A player that every veteran in the league is watching with excitement.

9. Washington

The Title: Second Chances

The Plot: The Mystics made a strong statement in 2017 that they were a franchise to be reckoned with after adding All-Stars Elena Delle Donne and Kristi Toliver to the roster. Mike Thibault’s team will be looking to take the next step in 2018 and make a push at being a title contender. But in order to do that, the Mystics need backcourt depth and scoring from the wing.

The Star: Elena Delle Donne. One of the best players in the world when she’s healthy. Her versatility in Thibault’s quest to play “positionless basketball” raises the Mystics to a new level.

10. Chicago

The Title: Heading Downtown

The Plot: The Sky are headed to a new downtown arena and using the opportunity to start fresh after missing the playoffs in 2017. Alaina Coates, the former South Carolina star who missed her rookie season with an injury, is ready to make her WNBA debut and to complement the experienced backcourt of Allie Quigley and Courtney Vandersloot. This is a team with two of the top four picks in the draft, a chance to get deeper at small forward and perhaps gain some depth inside.

The Star: Experienced, talented point guards are hard to come by. Vandersloot’s heady play is the key to the Sky’s fortunes.

11. Atlanta

The Title: Dreaming Big

The Plot: The Dream get their guardian Angel back for 2018 alongside a backcourt full of talented young guards, including Layshia Clarendon, Tiffany Hayes and Brittney Sykes. They also get a new head coach in Nicki Collen, who will navigate bringing Angel McCoughtry, one of the most consistent scorers in league history, back into the fold.

The Star: McCoughtry. Has she lost anything in a year away from the game? We will find out.

12. Indiana

The Title: Starting Over

The Plot: The Fever ended the league’s longest-ever run of consecutive playoff appearances in 2017 at 12, the first following Tamika Catchings’ retirement. In 2018, the Fever have a new role for head coach Pokey Chatman, who has also taken over general manager duties, and a centerpiece in veteran forward Candice Dupree. The Fever also have the No. 2 pick in the draft and the chance to bring in an impact player, possibly 6-3 Russian center Maria Vadeeva, who has been playing professionally since she was 16. What the Fever need is scoring, after finishing 2017 as the lowest-scoring team in the league.

The Star: Dupree. An All-Star in her first season with the Fever, the forward showed she’s still capable of leading a team on the court. With mainstay Briann January traded to Phoenix, Indiana will rely on Dupree even more as a leader in the locker room.

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.