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Inside the W with Michelle Smith: Training Camp Previews

WNBA training camps open May 5 on the way to the start of the league’s 23rd season, and it’s become clear that the excitement generated by some of the league’s young talent will be holding things down for a while in the absence of some of the WNBA’s brightest stars.

This will be a season without MVP Breanna Stewart or Maya Moore on the floor. Diana Taurasi will join the Phoenix Mercury late because of surgery, and it’s still unclear when or if Angel McCoughtry will be able to play this season for Atlanta after her knee injury last season. Skylar Diggins-Smith could miss time due to her pregnancy with her first child and Liz Cambage’s status in the league remains unknown after a reported trade demand.

But there is still much to anticipate as players vie for the 12 roster spots on each of the 12 WNBA teams.

A deep draft class brings an infusion of skilled, versatile players ready to make their marks at the next level. Promising teams like Las Vegas and Connecticut, full of youth and talent, appear ready to make a title run. Perennial contenders Minnesota will be retooling. And there’s new coaches for Los Angeles, Chicago and Dallas.

This will be a compelling WNBA season and it starts with the first whistle of camp.

Let’s take a quick look at what everybody is bringing to the floor.

Atlanta Dream

What’s New. The Dream have a new home at the recently renovated State Farm Arena and a new team president in Chris Sienko, and just two rookies coming to camp after dealing first-round pick Brianna Turner to Phoenix for second-year post Marie Gulich.

What’s Not. Angel McCoughtry’s knee injury, which happened in early August, is still hanging over the Dream’s collective head. Whether McCoughtry will be able to play at some point this season is still unclear. That will mean leaning heavily on veterans Tiffany Hayes, Renee Montgomery, Brittney Sykes and Elizabeth Williams.

What’s the Goal. The Dream haven’t made the playoffs in back-to-back season since 2013 and 2014. Getting back there after last year’s run to the Conference Finals is definitely the desired end point for Nikki Collen’s team.

Chicago Sky

What’s New. Coach James Wade begins his first season with the Sky with an offense featuring some of the best perimeter shooters in women’s basketball, including first-round draft pick Katie Lou Samuelson, the Connecticut product bringing her versatile game to the next level with high hopes.

What’s Not. Both Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley re-signed in the offseason, keeping an experienced and productive backcourt intact. And young talents Diamond DeShields and Gabby Williams will be looking to take big steps forward in their second seasons.

What’s the Goal. Wade doesn’t want to talk about the Playoffs yet. He said he wants to focus on the little things that will make Chicago a better team. The addition of Samuelson to a young, talented lineup looks like that may well be the case.

Connecticut Sun

What’s New. Adding uber-rebounder Kristine Anigwe to the mix for a team that already has one of the league’s best rebounders in Jonquel Jones means camp starts off on a good foot for the Sun.

What’s Not. Alyssa Thomas, Jasmine Thomas, Morgan Tuck and Courtney Williams are back to round out an experienced, offensively powerful team.

What’s the Goal. The Sun’s seasons have ended in the second round of the Playoffs in the last two seasons. Last year’s early end was particularly stinging. This is a team that believes it is title-worthy and now needs to prove it on the floor, albeit without Chiney Ogwumike who was traded to LA (more on that later).

Dallas Wings

What’s New. Oh, so much. There’s a new head coach in Brian Agler. There may be no Liz Cambage on the floor (reported trade demand) or Skylar Diggins-Smith (pregnancy). Therefore, this is a team that could be in the middle of a major makeover. And former Notre Dame star Arike Ogunbowale will be a huge part of that after being chosen with the No. 5 pick. Megan Gustafson, who won a handful of national player of the year awards, is also joining the Wings for camp.

What’s Not. Glory Johnson, Allisha Gray, and Kaela Davis are all back to ground this team, and Azura’ Stevens, who is poised for a breakout sophomore season, will be the go-to player inside.

What’s the Goal. After barely eeking out a Playoff spot last year, the Wings will need to see how all of this change will impact their ability to quickly create the culture and identity they need to be in the mix in 2019. Agler has won titles with two different teams (Seattle, 2010) and Los Angeles (2016), so it should be fun watching him try.

Indiana Fever

What’s New. With the No. 3 pick in the draft, the Fever shored up their post and their rebounding deficiencies by taking Teaira McCowan. Pokey Chatman’s team will also be moving forward this season without second-year guard Victoria Vivians, who sustained an ACL injury while playing overseas and will be out for the season.

What’s Not. Candice Dupree is the anchoring presence for this young team, but she will have a more experienced group around her with guard Tiffany Mitchell, second-year guard Kelsey Mitchell and Shenise Johnson, back this season after last year’s knee injury.

What’s the Goal. This is a team that is still rebuilding. Making a major improvement will be a step in the right direction, even if a Playoff spot isn’t yet in the cards.

Las Vegas Aces

What’s New. Another No. 1 draft pick for Bill Laimbeer’s team. This time it’s guard Jackie Young who will be added to a talented, hungry group in Las Vegas.

What’s Not. A’ja Wilson, the 2018 Rookie of the Year, will be looking to build on her extraordinary debut season, backed ably by three strong guards in Kayla McBride, Kelsey Plum and Moriah Jefferson, who will start this year in good health.

What’s the Goal. Barely missing the postseason in their first year in Vegas, Laimbeer and his team are looking to punch their ticket in 2019.

Los Angeles Sparks

What’s New. Let’s start with new head coach Derek Fisher, in his first season as a WNBA head coach, and then the weekend trade that brought Chiney Ogwumike to Los Angeles to play alongside her big sister, Nneka. Add in Kalani Brown, who is coming off an NCAA Championship at Baylor, and last week’s trade that brought in guard Alexis Jones, things are looking exciting in LA.

What’s Not. Candace Parker, the anchor of this team along with Alana Beard, one of the league’s best defensive players as well as rising point guard Chelsea Gray, who has started 88 straight games for the Sparks. (NOTE: Gray is a RFA who is currently unsigned)

What’s the Goal. The Sparks, who had been to the WNBA Finals in 2016 and 2017, weren’t accustomed to being in the first-round game, but had to beat the Lynx in a one-game showdown a year ago before being eliminated in the second round. L.A. wants to take its shot at a 4th title to match Houston and Minnesota on the all-time list.

Minnesota Lynx

What’s New. This Lynx team will look much different than the one that finished 2018. No Lindsay Whalen (retirement). No Maya Moore (sitting out season). Odyssey Sims will be in a Minnesota uniform this season after two years in LA, and top draft pick Napheesa Collier will be expected to make an early impact.

What’s Not. Seimone Augustus and Sylvia Fowles will anchor this team during a transition year and with Rebekkah Brunson’s return still uncertain, that will mean a lot to this team.

What’s the Goal. After last year’s shocking first-round elimination, Minnesota is looking to build a new legacy, and that includes a return to contender status.

New York Liberty

What’s New. New owners. And the No 2 pick in the draft in Asia Durr. The Liberty are looking to start a whole new era under second-year head coach Katie Smith.

What’s Not. This team is built around All-Star center Tina Charles and that doesn’t change. Signing Charles before camp creates some suspense. Charles is joined by returners Kiah Stokes, Kia Nurse, Brittany Boyd and Bria Hartley.

What’s the Goal. Back to the playoffs for a team that finished out of the Playoffs for the first time in four years in 2018.

Phoenix Mercury

What’s New. News about Diana Taurasi’s back surgery last week was a gut-punch before the season began. But the Mercury will move forward with new talents Alanna Smith and Brianna Turner to shore up things in the paint. The addition of Essence Carson brings experience to the backcourt.

What’s Not. Veterans DeWanna Bonner, Brittney Griner and Briann January were so close to reaching the Finals again last fall that they could taste it. They will hold down the fort until Taurasi gets back.

What’s the Goal. There is optimism that Taurasi could be back in time for the second half of the season and a long postseason run. Because it’s title or bust for the Mercury.

Seattle Storm

What’s New. The reality that the season will move forward without 2018 MVP Breanna Stewart, who will be out healing from her Achilles tendon injury is settling in. And then the double-whammy of the news that coach Dan Hughes will undergo cancer treatment as the season begins. The Storm will open camp with six rookies on the roster as well.

What’s Not. The backcourt will hold things down. The legendary Sue Bird and Jewell Loyd will be counted on to keep this team on track. Jordin Canada is also back after an impressive rookie season and Crystal Langhorne will be anchoring the post.

What’s the Goal. Defending a title is going to be immeasurably more difficult without Stewie. The Storm will have to figure out if there’s another path to a repeat.

Washington Mystics

What’s New. Kiara Leslie was one of the surprise picks of the first round for the Mystics, but Mike Thilbault believes Leslie is a physical wing who will help his team defensively.

What’s Not. Elena Delle Donne is healthy again. Kristi Toliver returns from her NBA experience with the Wizards, Emma Messeeman is back after missing last season in preparation for the FIBA World Cup and Ariel Atkins will have a chance to build on her impressive debut season.

What’s the Goal. Back to the Finals for the Mystics, who want to finish the job and win a title.

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.