For further reading, here are the snippets from last July and also yesterday's stuff on Eastern Conference final grades:
Again, grades for teams are listed in alphabetical order, not on regular season or post season finishes.
1. Los Angeles Sparks (24-10, 2nd in the Western Conference)
Final Grade: B+
Positives: We got to see Candace Parker get her 2nd MVP award. The Sparks also at least for the regular season didn't miss a beat from last year, and were at one point tied for 1st in the West with the Minnesota Lynx. And they also had a winning record against them for the regular season, 3-2.
Negatives: In the playoffs, besides the fact that they lost in the first round to the Phoenix Mercury, we saw Kristi Toliver really have some off nights shooting in that three game series. Even before the playoffs our resident Sparks fan believes that Parker may just not have the mental toughness to lead this team to a Finals, despite her talent and even questioned whether Head Coach Carol Ross and GM Penny Toler should be terminated. I don't think that Ross at least should be on notice for her job status just yet, but I do question whether Parker has the "it" factor to win a ring in this league.
What LA should address in the 2013-2014 offseason: Well truthtella may have a whole list of things, but to me, I think the low post positions and one of the starting guard positions are set with Lindsey Harding coming to town. Though she's hit her stride in LA, maybe Kristi Toliver should be on the open market and if she's traded, maybe a better and taller guard could come in return. It's not like Alana Beard and Marissa Coleman are long term answers there as perennial starters, at least to me.
2. Minnesota Lynx (26-8, 1st in the West; 2013 WNBA Champions)
Final Grade: A
Positives: Overall, this team didn't miss a beat from 2012, even though the regular season record was worse (by one game). Even with Taj McWilliams-Franklin retiring (and going to New York where she was an assistant), Janel McCarville has filled her shoes admirably. Most of all, complementarity (is that really a word Nate?) was what got this team not to skip a beat at all. If there is a franchise player on this team, I don't think I can name a single player or Coach Reeve. It's complementarity! Time to name the mascot that!
Negatives: Not much to quibble about with this team, so I can nitpick. First the Lynx did get swept by the Mystics (not counting a preseason match between them), both on the road because they went through the motions, and at home when the Mystics just outplayed them. While this is the number one highlight for the Mystics' 2013 season, it's also the number one blemish for the Lynx's.
Then, Nate likes rookie guard Lindsey Moore and wished she played more. See here and here. Also we've seen in the game threads that some of our Lynx fans did take issue with Coach Reeve not playing her rookies more, who include Sugar Rodgers and Rachel Jarry. I agree that it would have been nice to see them all play more, but this team is at the top of the team rebuilding cycle, and it needs to win NOW while it can. This Lynx dynasty isn't lasting forever so strike it while it's hot.
I can't believe I wrote about more negatives than positives, albeit nit-picky ones on the Lynx!
What Minny should address in the 2013-2014 offseason: Maya Moore is getting a max sophomore deal next season. But keeping Monica Wright is also a very high priority. She could probably start on most other teams in this league, and I wouldn't be surprised if she does want to play elsewhere to get such an opportunity. But for the Lynx, she is a major part of their success. Otherwise, this team's acquisitions need to be geared toward bringing home the 2014 WNBA championship to Minneapolis.
3. Phoenix Mercury (19-15, 3rd in the West; Western Conference Finalists)
Final Grade: B-
Positives: When healthy, Brittney Griner has shown that she is a game changer on defense and averaged three blocks per game, and altered even more shots than that. I never questioned it because it's her most natural role, but Diana Taurasi finally got to be the primary point guard for the team for the first time in awhile and she did it very well. Lastly, interim head coach Russ Pennell helped get this team to play more consistently after a mediocre start which resulted in then-Head Coach's Corey Gaines' termination.
Negatives: I believe that getting swept by the Minnesota Lynx in the regular and post season, seven games to zippy was a significant downer to this team's bounceback year from a 7-27 campaign, mostly due to injuries. Second, it was not particularly pleasing to see Samantha Prahalis start the year at guard, fall down in the rotation pretty quickly after a few games, and then cut from the squad after she legitimately earned an All-Rookie team selection last season. Maybe she was a scapegoat by Corey Gaines in an ill-advised last ditch effort to save his job?
What PHX should address in the 2013-2014 offseason: With Penny Taylor's career closer to the end than the beginning (she only played 10 games in 2013 for the regular season, two in the playoffs), the Mercury should look for some additional guards or swingmen who could play alongside Taurasi. Some people have stated that the team needs a starting "pure point guard" to put Taurasi off the ball, but I believe that Taurasi needs a guard who can both handle the ball and pass it, as well as make shots from her passes, more or less a two-point guard system or a two combo-guard system, whatever you want to call it. In the frontcourt, I don't see Griner ever being a physical banging type of player and she wasn't that type in college. I'm not saying she's "soft" but the physical banger isn't her type of game, at least not for now. The Mercury should also look to acquire a starting low post player whose strength is playing in that type of environment.
4. San Antonio Silver Stars (12-22, 5th in the West)
Final Grade: C+
Positives: I thought that Danielle Robinson had a "coming out" party of sorts this season where she earned an All-Star berth, and an invite to the Team USA minicamp. And though she probably will never be a scorer, Jayne Appel has become a reliable rebounder for this team. Besides, Danielle Adams is providing much of the scoring in terms of the bigs on the team.
Negatives: Obviously, the team missed the playoffs and some folks probably had them in the top four because many didn't see too much of a different between this team, the Storm, and the Shock. But losing Becky Hammon was really rough on them as well as Sophia Young who got injured before the season began.
What SA should address in the 2013-2014 offseason: Another "blasphemous" comment from me, but the Stars need to seriously consider parting ways with Becky Hammon. With Danielle Robinson playing the way she has this past season, even though she doesn't have Hammon's three point shot, you have to go with long term future when a team isn't playing well. Fortunately, Dan Hughes is a coach who knows how to utilize young talent.
5. Seattle Storm (17-17, 4th in the West)
Final Grade: B-
Positives: Most people believed that this team and the Washington Mystics would be the worst teams in the league this past season. We already spoke about the Mystics yesterday, but with this team, that didn't happen thanks to good team chemistry and strong coaching by Brian Agler, where I believe that this season was his best performance as a head coach. We saw Shekinna Stricklen emerge as a core player by the season's end, and Alysha Clark also became a solid rotational piece.
And Sue Bird sits in during ESPN's halftime coverage and some commenters got, uh, Sue-mitten? Sorry, I couldn't resist.
Negatives: Coach Agler is a very good WNBA coach and the 2013 season was his best performance in that role. But he is not as good of a GM and once again his moves went toward veterans instead of younger talent, in particular during a year when the aforementioned Bird and Lauren Jackson sat the year out due to injury. Acquiring and playing younger players is not the same as tanking, and he doesn't get it.
Drafting Tianna Hawkins, who was long considered a near-lock as the 4th pick in the 2013 Draft and then not playing her regular minutes is unacceptable because we know next year that she's not starting any games anyway, barring injury to multiple players of course.
What Seattle should address in the 2013-2014 offseason: It appears that Agler and perhaps some Storm fans are banking on 2014 as a "one last chance" season to get in the championship picture. With that in mind, I think this team could use an additional reserve wing player who can make some threes. But in many ways, Bird and Jackson are both major acquisitions and if you're a Storm fan, you're praying that they don't miss a beat, or play at a level close to their collective 2010 level.
Either way, if the Storm next year doesn't win at a pace that would get them at least the #2 seed out West in the playoffs, then it's time for some people in that organization to lose their jobs.
6. Tulsa Shock (11-23, 6th in the West)
Final Grade: C
Positives: We've seen this team build through the draft and a number of players like Riquna Williams, Glory Johnson, Skylar Diggins, and Angel Goodrich to name a few have made significant contributions. In the last two years, this team has improved considerably since 2011 when Tulsa was 3-31.
Negatives: Terminating Head Coach Gary Kloppenburg, or in Swish Appeal terms (seeing the Shock "Chop the Klop") doesn't sit well with me. He's not Mike Thibault, but this team was improving even if the wins weren't getting there as quickly as we would've liked.
But at least this team does have a star who gets national attention like Skylar Diggins and that could help Tulsa be more attractive to free agents. The problem is that Diggins didn't live to the "Big Three" billing like the two players picked ahead of her and this team must see her take a step forward next year. Speaking about Diggins, pairing her with Ivory Latta could have been a big help for 2013 and enough to get this team in the playoffs. Letting go of both Latta and Temeka Johnson was a big mistake and we were thinking that it was back then even if Diggins played at a higher level.
What Tulsa should address in the 2013-2014 offseason: I am known as the guy who wants to see all the rookies play, especially with the Washington Mystics. But after this post, I hope you also see where I don't think adding rookies helps. A team like Minnesota can afford not to do it. And you can argue the same for LA and Phoenix. But teams with no real hope of winning it all in the long term, like the Shock, Storm, Mystics and Liberty among others need to build with youth first and foremost.
There could be times where a team also has too much youth or not enough veteran pieces, and this Shock team is in that mold. Most of the older players on this team just aren't players who are used to being core pieces (Top two or three options) on other teams. The Shock's number one priority to me is to acquire such a player, likely via trade. It's one thing to have veterans on a team, but if they're not players who are used to playing major roles on other teams, it may not be helpful when they go somewhere else, like when Ashley Robinson played for the Mystics in 2012 and was a starter for much of the year when she was a reserve for the Storm before then.
I don't think Tulsa lacks the younger assets to acquire a veteran on another team that is a Top Three player on that other team. But getting such a player could really help in the locker room as the remaining young core players learn from a veteran who is not only respected in the locker room, but is used to playing in a major role on other teams.
That's all I have on my plate for these teams. What grades would you give each of the teams in the Western Conference?