Swish Appeal regular and resident Washington Mystics fan thewiz06 takes a look at "Category 2 teams: teams built for the postseason, but not the WNBA title just yet". See Part 1 of his series of guest posts for a look at all the categories and where teams fit.
The following are what I call "Category 2" teams.
I believe that these teams are talented enough to aim for the playoffs in 2012, but probably aren't championship caliber yet. Then again, I don't think that most people thought the Minnesota Lynx would win the WNBA championship last year with flying colors, so perhaps you can expect one of these teams to be called a championship contender if its chemistry is really good this year and one of the Category 1 teams has chemistry or injury issues.
Why Postseason in 2012
Two reasons: First, the roster has the talent, and last year, the Sky showed that it was capable of making
the playoffs, though it eventually ended the year with five straight losses. Second, the franchise will start to be viewed as a pariah if it doesn't. I know that this reason isn't really basketball related, but it is disappointing to see that Chicago has not made a single playoff run since its founding in 2006.
The Sky earned the 2nd pick in the 2012 draft, but traded it to the Storm for Swin Cash and Le'Coe Willingham. Cash especially should help shore up the frontcourt and fill in a need at SF assuming she can forget about her off performances in the 2nd half of last season. The backcourt looks intriguing with Prince and Vandersloot. This year, the Sky will make the playoffs if Fowles continues her MVP caliber of play that we saw last year.
I don't see the Sky winning it all in 2012 mainly because there will still be some growing pains with Vandersloot as she gets used to running a WNBA offense while still getting her fair share of open shots. I also don't know if they can keep both Kraayeveld and Michelle Snow who are both unrestricted free agents (UFA's). There is a slight chance Fowles leaves the Sky, but I doubt it when clear moves have been made to get the team into the postseason now.
If the Sky misses the playoffs, there is a 75% chance that it will get the rights to Griner/Delle Donne/ Diggins which could mean a Minnesota like turnaround for 2013. However, if I'm a Sky fan, this year HAS to be the year that it makes the playoffs, and it would be very disappointing to miss it again.
Los Angeles Sparks
Why Postseason in 2012
Last year, this team presumably had the talent to get into the playoffs in the really deep Western Conference but was shut out. This year, along with young stars like Candace Parker, Kristi Toliver, and Jantel Lavender, the team could add Nnemkadi Ogwumike (assuming there are no surprises) with the #1 pick, who should solidify the foundation of the "young core." I assume that some of the "old core" (Ticha/Tina/DeLisha) will stay and this should be good enough to get the team into the post season.
My concern with this team being a serious championship contender is that the Sparks need to acquire more youth, especially on the perimeter where players like Ticha Penicheiro and Delisha Milton-Jones are 35 and up now. The old core of this team is only getting older and further away from their glory years, though to be fair, I believe that both Ticha and Tina signed with the Sparks after their previous teams folded. Still, I don't care how healthy they can be, but age is a detriment when multiple players are together past their early 30's and never made the Finals consistently.
While I could very easily say that this team needs to blow it up, that is premature, because there is the young core, which is the foundation of the Sparks for the 2010's. I think that there will be enough talent on this roster to make the playoffs, so long as Parker stays healthy for a whole season. I also doubt that the team can just send all three of the old core players out of town for palatable trade options, so some of them will stay and mentor the young core, and this is a good thing. Even with the young core, the team may be a bit too deep in the front court, unless they want to slide Candace to the wing, assuming they draft Ogwumike. Fortunately for the Sparks, Candace can play every position competently and will be a scary matchup wherever she is, provided that she is healthy.
New York Liberty
Why Postseason in 2012
The Libs have a top five player that they traded for in Cappie Pondexter and she alone could carry them to the post season. There is good talent from the perimeter (Cappie/Carson/Powell) and the interior (Pierson/Vaughn). The entire roster last year was 30 or younger, and this year, assuming they make no changes, only two players are 30 (both core players) are older with Plenette Pierson and Nicole Powell hitting this milestone.
Though Liberty fans could make an argument that the team is a championship contender, the post presence is not at the level of the two Eastern Conference category one teams (ATL and CT). Also we have to know that the team suffered a big blow with Janel McCarville not playing for them last year, though it is remotely possible she could be back here, right?
The Liberty could very easily be a super-team if Sue leaves the Storm to play here. It's not a coincidence if this happens because she is from the NYC area. Even then, the Libs could still use some extra depth at the low post. My gut tells me this team is one player away from being in category one, but who knows what happens this summer if they can get a top low post player and if Sue leaves Seattle to come back home?
San Antonio Silver Stars
Why Postseason in 2012
The Stars have some young talent - especially Danielle Adams, but also Danielle Robinson - who play with some current WNBA stars like Becky Hammon and Sophia Young.
Even taking out the old point guards (Becky will be 34, if Tully's back, she'll hit the 4-0), the talents of the team as constructed still isn't up there with Minny and Phoenix and this pretty much goes all around. However, Dan Hughes is a great coach and pulled a rabbit out of the hat when he drafted Danielle Adams, who was the clear rookie of the year for much of last season until she was sidelined for a few games with a foot injury.
Unless there are some breakout seasons or considerable improvements by the younger Stars like Appel, Robinson, and even Adams (everyone can improve at a young age), the Stars will not get past the first round this season, though I think the young players do have upside over the next several years. Even if they all improve, I think that Minny and Phoenix are just more talented than the Stars right now so I'm not keeping my hopes up on seeing them in the Finals this year.