The East is the beast this year, no doubt, as only league-leading Seattle seems capable of giving even the bottom-dwelling Liberty much of a battle.
That strength means that two pretty good teams are going to miss the playoffs. It also means that playoff dreams can be made or dashed in a matter of a game or two. That makes for an exciting final month to the regular season.
Here's a look at how all six stack up as of July 23.
As the second half of the WNBA season gets underway, it's worth a quick look back at the opening half. Seattle has established itself as the best team in the league, and perhaps one of the best WNBA teams of all time. Atlanta has been a pleasant surprise, with Angel McCoughtry becoming one of the best players in the league during her second season. Washington has withstood the loss of Alana Beard as two other Blue Devils, Lindsay Harding and Monique Currie, have taken up the slack. On the flip side the three largest markets (Los Angeles, New York and Chicago) are all mired outside the playoffs and firmly in the Maya Moore sweepstakes. Here is a look at where each team stands as of the All-Star break.
Late in the third quarter of last Tuesdays Sun-Silver Stars game, Jayne Appel experienced a symbolic moment. The linear wrap around her knee came undone, and during a dead ball situation she grabbed the wrap, tugging it free, and tossed it toward the San Antonio bench. A few minutes later, Appel was still on the floor to begin the fourth quarter, sans the wrap. One hoped it might be for good.
The All-American from Stanford whose college career ended so painfully, seemed to release the disappointment and finally embrace her promise as a professional as she discarded the wrap. Jayne Appel, welcome to the WNBA.
It wasn't exactly an "All Star Game," in the sense that term has come to be understood over the 14-year history of the WNBA. Instead, The Stars at the Sun was the WNBAs catchy theme for this event, and that was accurate enough. There were certainly plenty of stars on the court, as the current version of the US Senior Women's National Team played a group of WNBA players, selected in part by the fans and in part by coaches, and though the game could scarcely be called "close," much less "exciting," it nonetheless offered great entertainment for the national TV audience and a sold-out crowd of 9.518 at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut, as well as some educational insights into the future of the US Senior Women's National Team.
In most years, the WNBA All-Star Game, like those of many other sports leagues, has featured the best, or at least some mixture of the best and the most popular, players from the Eastern and Western conferences. And though the West has dominated the series by a 7-2 margin, few of the games have been total routs.
This game amounted to exactly that. Team USA struck the first blood, never trailed, and led by as many as 31 points before Head Coach Geno Auriemma retired his starters and settled for a 99-72 pasting of the WNBA "Also Rans."
You can't blame Brian Agler, who earned the honor of coaching the WNBA squad by dint of guiding his Seattle Storm to the best record in the league at this point in the season. Nor can you fault the WNBA All Stars, who gamely gave it their best from opening tip to closing buzzer despite being decisively overmatched at pretty much every position.
Instead, you have to look at this game for what it was -- one part tryout, one part workout for Team USA in the run up to the 2010 Women's World Championships scheduled to be held in the Czech Republic this autumn from September 23 through October 3.
Like several other teams in the WNBA, San Antonio greatly revised its roster, adding five new Silver Stars including two starters at the start of the 2010 season. The first half of the season has witnessed an inability to put a significant winning streak together with the team's only back-to-back wins on May 20 (at Tulsa) and May 22 (home versus Los Angeles).
Still a poor (five wins and nine losses) record has the Stars technically in second place in the sadly performing Western Conference through play of July3. The roster remains in flux. Reserves Crystal Kelly and Allie Quigley were waived on July 1 (the second cut this season for Kelly, albeit a brief one), then re-signed both on Independence Day.
The Minnesota Lynx -- to many, they seem like the Clippers of the NBA, an accursed franchise that fate will simply not allow to get things right. But this season, after a series of injury/surgical recoveries (to stars Candice Wiggins and Seimone Augustus), late player arrival (off-season acquisition Rebekkah Brunson) and getting used to a new coach (Cheryl Reeve) combined to get the Lynx off to a 2-9 start, something strange happened: With their starting line-up back and intact, the Lynx won three in a row. Not only did they win the games in question -- a home and away against Tulsa and a road game at New York -- but the team appeared finally to be finding an identity.
And then as if the winds of fortune wished to just say No to any Lynx run, Candice Wiggins was lost for the season to a left Achilles tendon rupture at the end of Minnesota's 75-68 victory in New York. It was no small loss. Wiggins, the team's second-leading scorer behind Augustus, had given the Lynx 13.8 points and 2.1 assists per game in the eight games in which she played this season on a highly efficient 40.5 percent from the field and 45.7 percent from long range.
Thanks largely to the woes of Los Angeles (4-11) and Tulsa (3-11), the Lynx, now 5-11, remain in playoff contention, in fourth place in the Western Conference for the time being. But fans have got to wonder whether 2010 will be deja veaux all over again -- just more of the usual Minnesota mediocrity -- for this team that has managed to make the playoffs only twice (2003 and 2004) in their prior eleven seasons.
In what appears to be the most downtrodden year in Western conference history, no team need lose hope as mid-season approaches. With Seattle the only team in the West possessing a winning record, every other franchise in the conference, including Minnesota, has got to feel it has at least a chance to salvage its season and make the playoffs. Assume, for purposes of argument, that Seattle has its playoff berth already clinched. (That may be a good bet, with Seattle currently the league's best team at 14-2, but it's not a sure one, given the Storm's history of strong early-to-mid-season performances, followed by late-season health problems that seem to perennially weigh them down despite their strong stable of talent.) That still leaves three of the West's sub-.500 franchises who must mathematically make the playoffs despite their current struggles, so why not Minnesota?
Lets take a look at the Lynx by position and see how they compare to last year and how they could attempt to adjust to the loss of their former Stanford star.
One month into the WNBA season the most valuable players are the usual suspects. Diana Taurasi is the leading scorer at 21.4 points per game. Three other active players are averaging over 20 points, Angel McCoughtry (20.8), Lauren Jackson (20.4) and Cappie Pondexter (20.3), as well as Candace Parker (20.6), whose season was cut short early last week after multiple dislocations to her left shoulder.
But in addition to this elite group, there are some players who have taken a big step forward this season. This week we will take a look at the WNBA's most improved players in 2010 and how they have shaped the early season.
As if their 3-7 start to the season weren't enough, the Los Angeles Sparks got more bad news today when it was announced that star Candace Parker will miss the remainder of the 2010 WNBA season to undergo reparative surgery on her left shoulder.
Full Court Press was the first media outlet in the U.S. to report this spring that Parker, then still in Europe for her winter season with Russia's UMMC Ekaterinburg, was considering sitting out this season to undergo surgery on the shoulder, to which she has suffered multiple dislocations. Parker, who refers to herself as "Gumby-like" in light of her loose jointedness, has suffered chronic problems with the joint since her collegiate playing days. She initially injured the shoulder during the University of Tennessee's Elite Eight win over Texas A&M in the 2008 NCAA Tournament, but went on to lead the Lady Vols to the National Championship (their second in a row) that year. She took no time to rehab the injury, but instead went straight to the pros as the No. 1 pick in the WNBA draft that year. Despite playing with a brace, had a sensational rookie season, that ended in her being named the league's 2008 Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player, the first player in WNBA history to achieve the dual honor. That September, Parker iced the cake with a gold medal at the Beijing Olympics.
This year, Parker ultimately decided to put the surgery on hold and reevaluate the issue after the 2010 WNBA season and the FIBA Women's World Championships, scheduled to be held in the Czech Republic this October.
But Parker reinjured the shoulder last week, dislocating it twice in a period of just three days. She was forced to leave the Sparks' Friday, June 11, game at the Seattle Storm late in the first quarter, but went to the locker room where, with the help of trainers, she managed to pop her arm back into place. She returned to the floor in the second period and played for a total of 31 minutes, but had one of her most disappointing outings of the season -- being held to just 13 points and seven boards -- as the Sparks went down to a 60-82 loss at the hands of the best team in the league.
Three days later, on June 14, back in L.A., the Sparks eked out an 88-84 win (just their third of the season) over Minnesota (currently the worst team in the league), but they had to do most of it without Parker. The All-Star got off to a strong start, with 12 points and six rebounds already to her credit, before she collided with Seimone Augustus after Parker missed a jumper near the six-minute mark of the second quarter. Parker fell to the floor, clutching her left ankle and writhing in pain next to the L.A. bench as her team played on, four against five, without her.
Parker walked it off on the sidelines and returned to the court after the official timeout. She was moving well enough, though she appeared to be favoring the shoulder and was largely unproductive, save for an assist to Tina Thompson, over the next three minutes. That's when Parker reached for what would be her final rebound of the evening and the season, securing it with her right hand, then immediately grabbed her left shoulder and took herself out of the game. (There was no apparent contact on the play.)
This time there would be no return to action for Parker, who was evaluated in the locker room by team physicians and trainers, then taken to the hospital for further testing. After several tests, including an MRI, it became evident that surgery was the best course of action, according to a team spokeswoman.
The surgery will be scheduled "in the next few weeks" and rehab is expected to take from three-to-six months, the spokeswoman added, making Parker's participation in the Women's World Championships doubtful. Parker's loss will be a major loss to the Sparks, as well as to the U.S. Senior Women's National Team.
Much of the talk in college sports these days involves the restructuring of three of the six major conferences. While this is being driven by football (read that, "money"), the impact it would have on womens basketball will be enormous.
Thursdays announcements that Colorado will move to the Pac-10 and Nebraska will join the Big Ten (which has, in fact if not in name, been the "Big Eleven" since Penn State joined the league in 1990) appear to be only the beginning of what promises to be a major revamping of the landscape of college sports. If reports from many sources are to be believed, Texas, Texas Tech, Texas A&M, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State may join Colorado in jumping ship for the Pac 10, with formal invitations expected to go out over this weekend. And though Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delaney was coy about further plans for that conference's expansion, reports continue to circulate that the Big XII's Missouri and even the Big East's Rutgers may join Nebraska in heading for the Big Ten.
There are other rumors, of course, such as Texas A&M's flirtation with the SEC. If the Aggies do head south, the Pac-10 may extend its next invitation to Kansas, with an eye to expanding its league to a 16-institution, two-division conference. Baylor was once mentioned among the possible defectors to the Pac-10, but its President and Athletic Director spent the day touting the benefits of a revamped 10-team Big XII. Still, they're hedging their bets, arguing publicly that the Texas schools of the Big XII should be a "package deal," staying or leaving the league as a group.