Atlanta Dream point guard Lindsey Harding is an unrestricted free agent who could possibly make a move to another WNBA team. (Photo by Scott Cunningham)
Atlanta Dream point guard Lindsey Harding is an unrestricted free agent who could possibly make a move to another WNBA team. (Photo by Scott Cunningham)

The wheels are still turning in the WNBA

January 21, 2013 - 10:35pm

As the college season grinds into conference play, WNBA general managers, coaches and fans think about upgrading their rosters – and thus are contemplating the draft, free agents and possible trades.

The draft, as has been exhaustively discussed, starts with Brittney Griner (luckily she’s from Texas so the summer heat in Phoenix won’t be that hard to adjust to), moves on to Elena Delle Donne (as long as the Lyme disease is under control, she’s Chicago-bound) and pretty much finishes with Skylar Diggins (some star power lands in Tulsa).

There is more, though, and there will be surprise emergences over the next few years. But from this perspective, the Washington Mystics will probably have to settle for Maryland’s Tianna Hawkins (who sadly does a lot of the things Crystal Langhorne already does), and after that, it’s just guesswork.

Can Tayler Hill do more than shoot? Despite her 20.6 ppg, Ohio State has been one of the most disappointing teams in the country, and the 5-10 guard has more turnovers than assists. Her game might translate well into the WNBA, but then again a smallish two guard who doesn’t handle and has defensive questions might never break into a starting lineup.

And speaking of small, Angel Goodrich (Kansas) is a pure point guard, but is generously listed at 5-4 and shoots just 36.5% from the field. Markel Walker (UCLA) has the size (6-2), but does she have the quickness? Toni Young (Oklahoma State) and Chelsea Poppens (Iowa State) have a shot, and Kelly Faris (UConn) can defend at a very high level.

Still, aside from the top three teams in the draft, it doesn’t look like anyone else is going to get well when the picks are announced.

So how about free agents? Restricted free agents really don’t count, as most teams don’t have salary cap issues and can afford to match any offer – and if they don’t want to match, then it’s not very likely the player in question is going to make much difference in 2013.

The unrestricted free agents can make their own call, however, and L.A. fans are salivating over the prospect of aspiring actress Lindsey Harding deciding to pursue her dreams closer to Hollywood than Atlanta. And the Sparks need a quality point guard to make the varied talents on the roster – Candace Parker, Kristi Toliver, Alana Beard – mesh efficiently.

Some feel Harding has already bought her plane tickets, if only to remove herself from the daily drama that is Angel McCoughtry’s life, but then again, Parker and Toliver are not known as low-maintenance either.

Another point guard who could be on the move is Temeka Johnson, who is the second-best small perimeter player in the league (behind the ageless Becky Hammon), but Johnson seems to wear out her welcome quickly. She’s already been in L.A., but, for example, she could wind up in Atlanta if Harding leaves. She could help most other teams as well, as point guards are always in short supply, but she’s not a risk-free acquisition.

Ivory Latta, another small guard, might be the best gamble of all, though, as she’s 28 heading into her seventh season and coming off a very solid offensive year. But she doesn’t really defend, and needs to be paired with just the right backcourt partner to get a team very far in postseason.

Another veteran with a good track record is soon-to-be 31-year-old Jia Perkens, who’s coming off a relatively poor shooting year, but her best summer of ballhandling. Perkins gets plenty of minutes in San Antonio, but she could be a starter, and more involved in the offense, somewhere else.

There are a host of other veterans, some of who have said they’re going to retire, and some who probably should, but the sell-by date has expired on almost all of them. Maybe a team could get another year out of Ticha Penicheiro, DeMya Walker, Tammy Sutton-Brown, Nakia Sanford or Tully Bevilaqua, but the odds are against it.

DeLisha Milton-Jones, Katie Smith, Taj McWilliams-Franklin and Kara Braxton are more likely to have something left, but certainly can’t be counted on for 34 games, much less consistent production.

Oh, and ignore the name “Tamika Catchings” on the list. The odds of her playing for anyone but Indiana are about the same as Leilani Mitchell dunking on Tina Charles.

Of course, there could be a couple trades, but predicting how those will play out is almost impossible. There are simply too many unknown variables (Player A hates Coach B, or loves Coach C, or can’t stand Player D, or has a romantic interest in City E), plus the return of Bill Laimbeer, whose trades in his time with the Detroit Shock were as legendary as they were unexpected.

In the end, though, the only certain impact addition will be Griner (barring injury). Otherwise, there are question marks everywhere (Diggins is shooting just 40 percent and only a 1.6 A/TO, for example) and thus plenty of room for speculation – which of course is a big part of the fun.

So enjoy the maneuvering, and the discussion, but just don’t get too excited. It will be at least July before we really know who made the right move, and who didn’t.