Last season fans saw the Minnesota Lynx win their second WNBA championship in three years.
For the Western Conference, this made a sixth championship in seven years, with the Lynx winning three of them (they've made four appearances in that time).
This season, however, the Lynx may not be the best team in the West. With plenty of star power coming back and an influx of talented rookies, the Western Conference could possibly be a wide open pool. Let's dip into that pool and take a look at all six teams.
Looking at their roster as currently constructed, and you could make a case that the Minnesota Lynx are set to make another trip to the WNBA Finals.
Minnesota has one of the best, if not the best, players in the league in Maya Moore. They will have a full season with Finals MVP Sylvia Fowles, who they picked up in a midseason deal with the Chicago Sky. The Lynx are also returning a good chunk of their roster, including a key bench piece in forward-center Janel McCarville, who missed the 2015 season with lingering back problems.
The Lynx will get a chance to prove that last year's championship wasn't a fluke, with four of their first five games being played against teams who made the playoffs, including a Finals rematch with the Indiana Fever on May 27. Before they get to the Fever, though, the Lynx will have to get through their main rival...
Yes, the Phoenix Mercury will most likely be the only team who can derail Minnesota's chances of repeating as the Queens of the Western Conference. Why, you ask?
Let's look at the roster. You have Brittney Griner, who missed the first four games of the 2015 season, and STILL led the lead in blocks by a large margin (105, the next closest being Kiah Stokes of the New York Liberty with 67). You've got DeWanna Bonner, Penny Taylor, and an influx of promising rookies in guard Courtney Harrison, center Isabelle Harrison and forward Jillian Alleyne (out for the year with a torn ACL).
However, all eyes on their new court and uniforms will be focused on their central piece: Diana Taurasi. After sitting out the entire 2015 season, Taurasi has come back to put the Mercury in position to make it to the Finals again. The last season she played (2014), she averaged 21.9 points per game in the postseason, leading the Phoenix Mercury to their second WNBA championship, as well as her second Finals MVP award.
With a new uniform, new home, and a recognizable new rookie face, the Dallas Wings (formerly Tulsa Shock) are ready to show that their third place standing was no accident.
First, let's take a look at the fifth overall pick in the 2016 draft, forward Aerial Powers. Fresh from Michigan State, she averaged a near double-double for her career (18.6 points, 9.8 rebounds) and was the first three-time All-Big Ten First Team honoree in MSU history. Powers should make an excellent addition to a Wings squad that has a lot of depth at the forward position.
Speaking of depth, the Wings also have two returning players who will play a huge role in whether the Wings can make some noise in the West: guard Skylar Diggins and forward Glory Johnson. Diggins, who was leading the team in scoring when she went down with an ACL tear on June 28 (the Shock had an 8-1 record at the time), will be counted on to be the leader of the team while providing plenty of scoring opportunities.
Johnson, a two-time All-Star, will be coming back after missing the entire 2015 season due to giving birth to twins. After a turbulent 2015 offseason, Johnson is looking to come back and prove that she is still the role player she has proven capable of being.
LOS ANGELES SPARKS
For the Sparks, they will be looking to get back into the postseason, albeit with a much better record than last year's 14-20 (the only team to make the postseason with a sub-.500 record).
The upside: Candace Parker, the team's leader, will be on the court for the full season after missing the first half of last year. Even after she came back, she still managed to finish in the top five in four different categories (although due to rules, she was not eligible for consideration). They also bring in a good veteran core of Essence Carson (who came from New York during the offseason), Jantel Lavender and Nneka Ogwumike.
The downside: this season's team will feature three rookies, which could make for a bit of a learning curve. The highlight of the rookie crop is guard Whitney Knight, the first-ever selection from Florida Gulf Coast University. During her career at FGCU, Knight averaged 12.0 points per game, was Atlantic Sun Conference Player of the Year, and set the conference and school blocks record.
Seattle might be coming into this season with the best chance to make an upset run in the West.
Not only do they bring back 2015 Rookie of the Year guard Jewell Loyd, forward Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and longtime veteran guard Sue Bird, the Storm also welcome one of the most (if not the most) decorated players in NCAA women's basketball history in Breanna Stewart. Even before stepping foot onto KeyArena, Stewart comes into her first season with beyond high expectations.
Stewart, who played with Mosqueda-Lewis at Connecticut, is the only player (male or female) to be named Final Four MVP four times, and is also one of only three players (along with fellow San Antonio Stars rookie Moriah Jefferson and Connecticut Sun's Morgan Tuck) to win the NCAA championship in all four seasons of their college career.
Stewart is not only being looked at to change the fortunes of Seattle, but to possibly be the league's new face, which means all eyes will be on her and the Storm this season.
SAN ANTONIO STARS
Though the Stars finished with the league's worst record in 2015 (8-26), things are looking up for this San Antonio team.
For starters, the Stars will be back on their home floor at the AT&T Center after having to play at the Freeman Coliseum last season due to renovations. Second, the Stars will be bringing back their top two scorers in guards Kayla McBride and Danielle Robinson(who will miss the year with an Achilles injury), and still have plenty of veteran leadership (Jayne Appel-Marinelli, Monique Currie).
The main attraction, however, will be the addition of rookie guard Moriah Jefferson from Connecticut. Fresh off four straight championships, Jefferson was also given the 2015 Nancy Liebermann award as the nation's top point guard. While she will be counted on to be a distributor, her defense is what will be the most valuable. She finished her college career second in not just assists, but steals as well.
Be on the lookout for our Eastern Conference preview.