Lin Dunn masterfully coached the Indiana Fever past the heavily favored Minnesota Lynx to their first WNBA Championship (Photo by Lee Michaelson)
Lin Dunn masterfully coached the Indiana Fever past the heavily favored Minnesota Lynx to their first WNBA Championship (Photo by Lee Michaelson)

Reflections on the 2012 WNBA season

November 2, 2012 - 1:01pm

• Everybody wants to hug Tamika Catchings because she finally won a WNBA title, but how about Lin Dunn? She endured two horrible seasons in Seattle – and drafted Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson as a result – and then got fired. She’s worked her way around the league and up the ladder, but unlike Catchings, hasn’t been inundated in awards and fan appreciation.

So yes, congrats Tamika – but a big shout out to Lin Dunn as well.

• Yet another reason I think the MVP voting should wait until after the playoffs are over: Though Seimone Augustus is a wonderful player, any thoughts that she should have been MVP were blown away by her disappearing act in the last two games of the Finals.

Don’t know who on the Fever staff first came up with the idea of Briann January guarding Augustus, but that was brilliance. January continued to carry the primary defensive assignment on Augustus in Game Four, but the Fever also mixed it up a bit, shifting assignments all the time, and Augustus simply couldn’t adjust.

Does that mean she’s terrible? Or she should bear the blame for the Minnesota disappointment? Of course not. Augustus averaged 16.6 points per game in the regular season, raised that to 20 points per game against Seattle, and continued to put up 18.5 points per outing against the Los Angeles Sparks in the Western Conference Finals. She even performed well enough in the first two games of the WNBA Finals to average 16 points per game, despite two distinctly sub-par outings in Games Three and Four of the Finals. But those two games, in which she produced just six and eight points, respectively, were exceedingly costly, especially the final game on Sunday in which Augustus achieved her eight points on abysmal, three-for-21 (14.3 percent) field-goal shooting. In terms of 2012, in terms of this postseason, Augustus was not only not the MVP, she shouldn’t even be in the discussion.

• It was nice to see the packed house in both arenas for the Finals, and it's gratifying to see men's sports teams, including not only "brother" NBA squads, but also local football and baseball franchises, stepping up to support women's basketball in their cities. But WNBA Finals attendance spikes are a lot like the sellouts for the NCAA Final Four – and in fact, the parallel goes deeper than that.

The health of the league, like the health of NCAA women’s basketball, isn’t measured by the Big Event. Rather, what really matters is the night-in, night-out cavalcade of games, and just how many people are willing to lay down cold hard cash to watch them.

At both levels of the sport, the championships do fine, but the run-up is a different story. The first four rounds of the NCAA Tournament and the first two rounds of the WNBA playoffs are nothing special attendance-wise, but they need to be. In fact, when the early playoff rounds in both draw big crowds on a regular basis, then there will be no need to worry about the future of the sport.

But as of now, the economy has taken a toll on all sports and is damaging women’s basketball at the collegiate and professional level. It shouldn't take much to turn things around, but don’t look at attendance at the championships to determine how things are going – fan interest in a regular-season game between two .500 teams is a much better measure.

• And speaking of the 2012 WNBA season, there just wasn’t a lot of spark, especially when it became very clear early that three teams were locked into the Brittney Griner sweepstakes, and at least one of them apparently decided that losing in the short run was better than playing to win every night.

That franchise, of course, was Phoenix, which shut down a relatively healthy Diana Taurasi, and didn’t blink when Candice Dupree and Charde Houston had surgery midway through the year. Both came back at season’s end, but cynics would claim that was more about proving their worth to Euroleague employers than helping the Mercury win more games.

Chicago and Washington also had “injured” stars down the stretch, leading to plenty of losses, but it all blew up in D.C. when the Mystics, who finished a league-worst 5-29 in 2012 and an almost equally bad 6-28 in 2011, wound up with the fourth overall pick via the 2012 Draft Lottery.

Only Tulsa went all out all the time, and as a "reward" for that effort, the Shock got the third overall choice, missing out again on a superstar, and will have to settle for Skylar Diggins (unless Pokey Chatman has a brain lock and lets Elena Delle Donne slide to No. 3.)

On the flip side, the only real battle for a playoff berth was between New York and Chicago, and as mentioned, the Sky were without Sylvia Fowles for most of the final games, and so it was less a battle than a surrender. Fortunately, there was enough action and suspense in the playoffs themselves to redeem an otherwise desultory season, but the league might want to consider whether its current system cheats the fans by encouraging tanking.

• Thankfully, the Olympics won’t be an issue until 2016, but right now, the question is whether the Washington Mystics will be around to worry about them. Sheila Johnson has proven to be an impressively incompetent owner, combining the ability to destroy a franchise, annoy the media and alienate one of the league's largest and most loyal fan bases all at the same time. Talk about multi-tasking …

It has only been two years since the Mystics finished atop the Eastern Conference but the last two seasons have been dismal at best, as Washington has gone from bad to worse in 2011 and 2012, finishing this season behind even the Tulsa Shock. With attendance dwindling along with the team's on-court performance, and no Brittney Griner at the end of the last-place rainbow, this team looks to be bad for some time to come. Which raises the question: How long will Johnson be willing to hold on?

Presumably, WNBA president Laurel Richie could armwrestle new Warriors’ leader Joe Lacob (who once owned the San Jose Lasers of the ABL) into putting the Mystics in Oakland, as he has said he’d like a team if one became available.

That wouldn’t be a bad outcome in the long run, but for a league that needs to be perceived as stable and solid financially, it’s not a short-term positive.

• Finally, congratulations to the Minnesota Lynx, who compiled the best record in the league, regular and postseason, and who will be the early favorite to win it all in 2013.

It’s easy to get caught up in the frustration and disappointment of the Finals’ collapse, but let’s not forget just how good this team really was – and, with its young and talented roster and capable coaching, will continue to be for some time to come.