Swish Appeal regular and resident Washington Mystics fan thewiz06 got in touch with me about an idea for a fan post analyzing what each WNBA team should do this year as free agency picks up. After reading it over and having a few exchanges, it became apparent that it was too much to fit in just one fan post. And then it just made more sense to post this as a series of front page stories for people to dig into. So without further ado, his first installment previewing the WNBA off-season, if you will.
In any professional sports league, it's not just about wins and losses, even though it is the most visible measure of a team's performance. There are other metrics that need to be viewed to see how the team is doing and where it should be in the future. These include the age of the roster, how younger players played, etc.
To me, there are three categories of strategies among all teams in a professional league.
Here are the categories:
Category 1: Go for the championship this year, make moves to acquire players to win now this year.
Category 2: Stay with current roster, make moves to improve and aim for postseason, and create havoc once the team reaches the postseason.
Category 3: Build the foundation of the team for the future. (In WNBA terms, aim for the 2013 draft) If a team was previously built for categories 1 or 2, in layman's terms, blow the team up and rebuild.
In the WNBA for this season, each of the 12 teams falls in one of these sorted categories. Some teams are understandably in murkier waters. For example a team could be young and primed for the playoffs, but not talented enough to win it all on paper despite the fact that the players think they can win it all. Second, a team may legitimately have playoff talent, but its roster is too old and its championship window has closed, which to me means that it needs to blow up, though fans of the team may not believe so.
Nevertheless, I think it's important for teams to have a clear direction for where they want to go and have laid that out as follows:
Category 1 (Win it all now!)
Atlanta Dream, Connecticut Sun, Minnesota Lynx, Phoenix Mercury
Category 2 (Aim for the postseason and make noise)
Chicago Sky, LA Sparks, NY Liberty, San Antonio Silver Stars
Category 3 (Depending on personnel, blow it up, or build for the future)
Indiana Fever, Seattle Storm, Tulsa Shock, Washington Mystics
I will start with teams in Category One, or teams that I believe can legitimately win it all this season.
Why Win Now:
A lot of people will say that the Dream should still try to win it all just because it won the Eastern Conference each of the last two years in the playoffs. That's part of it, but I'll take this a step further. First, let me start with roster age and this is something I examined with all teams.
All of the Dream's players except for Coco Miller will be 30 or younger this season and I don't anticipate major changes in the roster this year. Second, the Dream has good talent and depth at all roles from Harding/Miller/Lehning at the point guard position, Angel/Izzy at the wing, and Lyttle/DeSouza/Bales at the post.
The major change with last year's Dream team (not a pun) was the Lindsey Harding acquisition from the Mystics. Though the Dream started out cold starting out 3-7, it improved as the season went on and went 8-2 over its last ten games.
There may be some changes in personnel among the bench rotation players especially, but barring injuries to the starters, the Dream should be a top two Eastern Conference team and it should continue to contend for the championship for the foreseeable future.
Why Win Now:
Like the Dream, the Sun has a young roster with most of last year's core on the right side of 30. In fact only one starter had her 30th birthday last year (Ashja Jones) and Kara Lawson was also 30.
This year, Jessica Moore and Tan White will also be 30 but they are not cornerstone players. What makes the future bright for this team is that rotation players like Kalana Greene, Kelsey Griffin, Danielle McCray and Allison Hightower are all under 25. Sure, I get that not everyone will be on this team for the next five years because of salary cap issues, but at least some of them will remain on this team for as long as the Sun is a championship contender. And, I didn't even mention Renee Montgomery and Tina Charles yet. To me, they are the Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson of the East, and barring unforeseen circumstances, they will be the cornerstone WNBA dynamic duo for the next 10 years. And this almost didn't even happen.
The Sun's shrewd trade with Minnesota ended up with both Renee Montgomery and Tina Charles who both are the foundation of a new era for the team after the Whalen/Douglas era. In fact, that trade was a true win-win for both teams from hindsight.
Given that I feel that there is a new generation of WNBA players who will take over the league (those born in 1987 and after) real soon, the Sun has the right young foundation and supporting veteran players (like Lawson and Jones) to put them in a position to win it all this year, or at least win it for the East, and expect Connecticut to contend over the next five years at least, barring injury of course.
Why Win Now:
The easy answer is because the Lynx won it all last year.
However, again, I will examine the team based on roster age which is also important when you look at how the team did. Everyone on the team's starting roster was 30 or younger except for Taj McWilliams-Franklin who was 40 (not a typo), and the lady's game is fine wine. Like the previous two teams, there is good talent and scoring options at every position.
Let me also say some things that really impressed me about the Lynx last year. First, the starting unit played as ONE UNIT, not as five players. This unit played like this better than any other team last year. Second, I didn't think that Maya Moore and Seimone Augustus would have coexisted as well as they did. Third, I am impressed with Maya's play last season. At UConn, she was pretty much the bonafide number one option on offense for the Huskies, even when she played with Tina Charles. I thought that Maya could have very easily been that way with Minny last year. However in the grand scheme of things, she didn't try to play hero ball at all, playing within her role the entire season, recognizing the talent of the players she was with. I'm not saying the Maya won't be the Lynx's franchise player in the future, but she played to win, rather than played to get her numbers.
The only short term concerns for the Lynx are figuring out which younger guard (Wright or Wiggins) to let go/trade for some more talent in the front court. The Lynx also has the #3 pick in this year's draft from the Nicky Anosike to DC trade from the 2011 season so this pick could be a player to back up Taj or Brunson if Charde Houston leaves. I think these concerns will be taken care of one way or another and for the better of the team.
Whatever Minny does, it is a disappointment if the team doesn't return to the Finals in 2012.
Why Win Now:
The core (Dee/Dupree/Taylor/Bonner) is still in its prime and these four are good enough to get the team in the postseason and this team can literally shoot its way to a championship. However, I do think that the team needs some more young blood, especially at center with Nakia Sanford hitting her 35th birthday.
One thing I will note is that based on age, the Mercury is a year or maybe two years closer to needing to blow it up than ATL, Connecticut, and Minny. The Mercury however does have a reasonable championship window (based on roster age), the talent on the team, and it has multiple championship experience. This gives the Mercury a great chance to win it again this year.
I'm not really familiar with this roster outside of the core players and Marie Ferdinand-Harris, but this team should still be an attractive destination for free agents because they play an exciting, uptempo brand of basketball and other players can get easy looks on offense since both Diana and Penny are also good facilitators (both dish out a combined 8 assists a game).
It has been well documented that Storm guard Sue Bird is an unrestricted free agent without the franchise tag, and if she signs here in free agency, the Mercury will have three of the Top 15 if not Top 10 players in the WNBA. Also because Sue and Diana are former college teammates and great friends, you would have to think that Phoenix will push this pitch in their attempts to woo Sue (that rhymes!). A Bird/Taurasi/Taylor trio could make up one scary super-team, especially at the guard and wing positions. However at the same time, adding Sue Bird will not lengthen the core's "championship window" either, so if Phoenix gets her and fails to win a championship this year and next year, then such a move could be called a failure.