For your reference, here are midseason grades from this past July.
Now, some grades. Please note that the list is in alphabetical order, not based on team placement in the regular and/or postseason.
1. Atlanta Dream (17-17, 2nd in the East for the Regular Season; WNBA Eastern Conference Champions)
Final Grade: C+
Positives: The Dream has consistently found a way to win the East three of the last four years led by their star swingman, Angel McCoughtry and was able to win four straight games in the playoffs to get back to the Finals. The team's hot 10-1 start to the season also showed this team at its best. McCoughtry has become a better all around player in my opinion, and rookie Alex Bentley has been one of the top rookie guards in the season.
Negatives: The Dream's 7-16 finish to the regular season was really bad indeed. Part of that was because Sancho Lyttle only played six games in the first half of the season, but as pilight noted in the comments earlier this season, Coach Williams in particular wasn't able to adjust after that 10-1 start. Also, the Dream is the worst three point shooting team in the league. The new near-NBA length three already exacerbated an existing problem in the 2012 season and if anything, the line will be at NBA length sooner than we think.
While this grade seems low given that ATL did make the Finals and this team was definitely capable of getting there, the bad finish to the regular season was something I couldn't ignore and that lowered the final grade considerably.
What ATL should address in the 2013-2014 offseason: The Dream needs to acquire some sharpshooters to the team and must address this area in order to realistically remain in the hunt for a fourth Eastern Conference title in five years.
2. Chicago Sky (24-10, 1st in the East)
Final Grade: B+
Positives: The Sky made its first playoff appearance in franchise history. There also now is a clear young foundation in place with Elena Delle Donne, Sylvia Fowles, Epiphanny Prince, and Courtney Vandersloot. This group may be the best core in the East for the next several years as well if you're bullish on this team.
Negatives: Despite being the top team in the East by a considerable margin for the regular season, the Sky still lost in the 1st round of the playoffs to a 16-18 Indiana Fever squad. Sure, the Fever won it all last year, etc., but I believe that the talent Chicago had overall should have been able to beat the Fever in a three game series.
What CHI should address 2013-2014 offseason: I believe that the Sky needs to look for a new starting forward perhaps to be an upgrade from Swin Cash. While I personally don't think that the Sky has to change the backcourt of Vandersloot/Prince in order to stay competitive, some here disagree with that.
3. Connecticut Sun (10-24, 6th in the East)
Final Grade: F
Positives: Allison Hightower stepped up when Kara Lawson and Renee Montgomery were out due to injury and/or personal reasons for much of the season.
Negatives: Even with the injuries, the Sun shouldn't have been last in the East. And it's debatable as to whether the players were really tuning into Anne Donovan's message, at least from the perspective of fans. 2012 MVP Tina Charles still averaged a double double with points and rebounds, but shot just 40% for the year, a career low.
What CT should address in the 2013-2014 offseason: Many folks have talked about the prospect of Tina Charles playing elsewhere in 2014, and we've done the same. Much of the reason comes from the fact that she played much better with former head coach Mike Thibault, and also because she is a restricted free agent. While the Sun is going to re-sign her even if she does play elsewhere, it would be much more comforting to the fans if the Sun can get a public commitment from her that she intends to be part of the Casino Crew for a long time to come.
4. Indiana Fever (16-18, 4th in the East, Eastern Conference Finalists)
Final Grade: C+
Positives: The Fever started out 1-7 to begin the year, but ultimately went 15-11 the rest of the way. The Fever saw Shavonte Zellous step up her game big time and earn her first All-Star appearance. Then in the playoffs they were also able to advance to the Conference Finals.
Negatives: The 1-7 start was a major negative. This team could have been a 20 win squad if it went 5-3 to start the year, and then 15-11 the rest of the way. While losing Katie Douglas for pretty much the whole year was bad enough, losing Erin Phillips for much of the first half of the season was another blow.
What Indy should address in the 2013-2014 offseason: I don't think that owner Herb Simon and GM Kelly Krauskopf will do it, but the Fever needs to strongly consider blowing up the foundation of the team. At least given the long term trajectory of this team and my belief on team rebuilding cycles, Indy should part ways with Katie Douglas who missed nearly the entire season assuming she doesn't retire. The team played without her for nearly the entire season as is. And this is blasphemous, but the Fever shouldn't blindly consider Tamika Catchings as untradeable.
After all, the Boston Celtics did trade away a very long time franchise player in Paul Pierce. Like Catchings, he won a league title and a Finals MVP and played for one team his entire career until this season.
5. New York Liberty (11-23, 5th in the East)
Final Grade: C-
Positives: We saw Kelsey Bone play at a high level this season where she made the All-Rookie team. Also, we got to see Katie Smith finish her career with the head coach who helped her win two titles. Most importantly, the 11-23 finish helped get the team get off the Treadmill of Mediocrity, or at least get the treadmill to malfunction for a little bit.
Negatives: I didn't like seeing that Bill Laimbeer acquired a number of his former Shock players. Maybe he did it just to instill the culture he wants, but I didn't think that that could have been the best use of his roster spots.
What NY should address the 2013-2014 offseason: With the Libs in the lottery, they should try to find another additional piece, preferably a guard to complement Kelsey Bone and franchise guard Cappie Pondexter. IF they get the number one pick, of course, they must pick Chiney Ogwumike but I do think that there could be a Liberty resurgence in the near future if things play out right with the team's younger players.
6. Washington Mystics (17-17, 3rd in the East)
Final Grade: B+
Positives: New GM/HC Mike Thibault has helped change expectations around the players where they now expect to have a chance to win any game (not the same as a "win now" season). Also the acquisition of Ivory Latta accelerated that type of atmosphere. Then, the Mystics rookie quartet has all contributed to the team's success, and hopefully for the future as well.
Negatives: While the Mystics arguably have the best coaching staff in the league, they arguably have the least amount of talent in the league, and in my opinion, they do. USA Basketball had its 2014 FIBA World Championship/2016 Olympic team mini camp which featured over 30 players, and though some of those spots were given to college players, among professional players, every team had at least one invitee except this one. Then the Mystics kept their foundation intact from the 2012 season when many, if not most thought had to be broken up.
And even though DC made the playoffs, most questions surrounding the team's future at the midseason point remain today to some degree, except coaching of course. Thankfully, Tayler Hill's drafting doesn't appear to be a mistake thanks to her great September.
What DC should address in the 2013-2014 offseason: Avoid making moves or non-moves that will virtually guarantee putting them on the "Treadmill of Mediocrity." Though I hate to admit it and I won't elaborate, the Mystics already are starting to walk on it. Both truthtella and ttdomi have made good cases that the Mystics are already on that track, and if the 2012 and 2013 foundation of Crystal Langhorne, Monique Currie, and Matee Ajavon remains intact for 2014, you definitely can't disagree with them, and I don't.
But that doesn't mean that the Mystics have to tank the 2014 season before it starts. The Mystics must do what they can to acquire younger foundational pieces, protect the younger players like Tayler Hill, Emma Meesseman, and veteran Ivory Latta if at all possible, and not be afraid to deal their remaining veteran core players. This offseason for DC will be crucial indeed because it could either set them up as a legitimate contender, or it could just put them on the dreaded treadmill for the foreseeable future.
So here are some talking points on how each team did relative to their expectations. But now it's your turn to give your takes. Do you think any teams in the East deserved a final grade in the A range? Would you have been more generous or harsh in your grades of the Eastern Conference teams? Sound off in the comments below.
Western Conference final grades will come out tomorrow or Thursday.