Changes in line-ups and on the sidelines this season could shake up what have come to be the perennial playoff standings in the WNBA come season's end.
The WNBA started its fourteenth season last weekend. Changes abound including one less franchise (the Sacramento Monarchs) and one moved franchise (the Shock, who left Detroit for Tulsa). With the folding of the Monarchs, only three of the league's original eight teams remain in their original cities -- New York, Los Angeles and Phoenix. Two thirds of the teams in the West changed coaches, with only Corey Gaines at Phoenix and Brian Agler at Seattle remaining at the helms of their respective franchises. All six East coaches return, although Anne Donovan has already announced she will be leaving the Liberty at the end of the season to coach Seton Hall. Trades, retirements and free agency shook up most of the starting lineups.
Some new faces made a big first impression as the WNBA kicked off its 14th season on Saturday, May 15, with a day full of action. Some of the pivotal players were rookies, making their season debuts in the league as a whole. Others were veterans, transplanted in off-season trades and proving their worth to a new set of "home" fans. Either way, they made a statement: This year the league will be more competitive than ever.
Whenever Americas highest court experiences a vacancy, as is the case this spring, youll hear talk about an activist bench. In womens professional basketball a fragile profession with accordingly brittle bodies the need for a deep and active bench is considerable.
If a panel of judges had to evaluate the Seattle Storms off-season, theres little question that a unanimous verdict would be rendered: Coach and director of player personnel Brian Agler upgraded his teams corps of reserves.
Chamique Holdsclaw: The first shining star of the women's game could have been something special, could have been the one who led the league to glory but in the end, it was just asking too much.
Holdsclaw, sadly, just wasn't stable enough or healthy enough to bear the burdens thrust upon her, and her latest trade request (from Atlanta, this time) is just the latest in a long line of strange swerves and odd turns in her once-so-bright career. Remember, she was on the cover of SLAM magazine; remember, she won national titles at Christ the King and Tennessee; remember, she could play the game as well as any woman alive in the late '90s.
Its a problem most coaches would like to have: Jennifer Gillom has too much talent on her hands.
That was obvious on in the L.A. Sparks' training camp this week, when a routine scrimmage didnt look too far off from an actual game. Players were driving to the bucket, knocking down shots, playing strong defense and getting up and down the court quickly. And two key players Candace Parker and Delisha Milton-Jones werent even back yet from their European teams.
Theres not much to choose between the top four teams in the West, which means injuries will play a key role in how the summer goes. In fact, Minnesota has already dropped a spot or two due to health issues for Seimone Augustus and Candice Wiggins and the durability of aging stars on almost every other roster is an ongoing concern.
Another concern will be the new coaches in the West, starting with Jen Gillom in L.A.
Candace Parker already has more accolades in her basketball career than most athletes have in a lifetime -- a state high school championship, two NCAA titles, WNBA MVP, WNBA Rookie of the Year, an Olympic gold medal.
Now add to that a successful first season overseas playing for the UMMC Ekaterinburg, where last week she helped guide the team to winning both the Russia Cup and the Russian Superleague title, upsetting Euroleague champions Spartak Moscow in the latter with a 43-point explosion in game one and a 25-point, 14-rebound double-double in the final.
But in light of that long list, it's easy to forget that Parker has also successfully rehabilitated from three conditions - each of which have ended the careers of other basketball players. First, there was an ACL tear in high school. Then, while a senior at the University of Tennessee, she played her way through the Final Four with a shoulder twice-dislocated during the Lady Vols' Elite Eight win over Texas A&M.
Last year it was a pregnancy, six weeks after which Parker returned to the court, and a month after that, to her previous game form.
So how does Parker manage to excel despite injuries that would have sidelined many other athletes?
With the 2010 WNBA Draft now behind us, it might be instructive to take one more look at the 2009 WNBA draft class. Are there lessons to be learned, errors to avoid repeating?
Going into the 2009 draft, there appeared to be less star power on the board than there had been in the 2008 draft class headlined by Candace Parker, Sylvia Fowles and Candice Wiggins. With a year in the pros now under their belts, the Class of 2009 is likely to be remembered as a solid group, perhaps one with several future All Stars, but one lacking a player on the level of a Parker.
In this article, we'll ask you to suspend reality and join us in a fantasy replay of the 2009 WNBA Draft. In this scenario, we'll assume that the data now known to us after watching these "prospects" make their way through a year of WNBA play had been available to us back in April 2009 on Draft Day! Only players actually drafted in 2009 (as opposed to newcomers who entered the league that year through other means -- such as Anete Jekabsone-Zogota]) and who finished the season playing more than a cameo bench role are included in this discussion. Where should these rookies have been drafted, in contrast to where they actually landed?