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Eastern Conference: Blossoming young talent -- and a legend's last ride

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The WNBA's Eastern Conference was top heavy a year ago, as three teams really separated themselves as contenders. The three-seed Indiana Fever advanced to the WNBA Finals and pushed the eventual champion Minnesota Lynx to a decisive fifth game. The young teams, who found themselves at the bottom of the standings in the conference a year ago, are hoping to flip the script and challenge the top-tier teams in 2016.

Gary Dineen NBAE

As the WNBA begins its 20th season, the Eastern Conference has only won four of the league's 19 Championships. The Detroit Shock won three titles for the conference, back in 2003, 2006 and 2008, and the Indiana Fever added a fourth in 2012.

The Eastern Conference is as ready as ever, to once again, be the last team standing and hoist the championship trophy in October. A new playoff format that will be debuted this season may make that more possible, but the teams atop the East are definitely capable of holding their own come playoff time.

The New York Liberty won the Eastern Conference regular-season title in 2015 with a league-best 23-11 record, only to fall in the conference finals to the Indiana Fever in three games. The Liberty have a new associate head coach in Katie Smith, and acquired two-time All-Star Shoni Schimmel from the Atlanta Dream in the offseason.

While the Liberty are poised to be in the mix atop the standings again this season, led by Tina Charles and Epiphany Prince, they will have some competition in their own conference. The Chicago Sky are looking to bounce back after losing in the first round of playoffs last season despite finishing second in the East with a 21-13 record.

The Sky have built their team around the reigning scoring champ and league MVP Elena Della Donne, as well as guard Cappie Pondexter. That tandem will look to avenge their first round loss to the Indiana Fever, who finished third in the East in 2015.

The Fever are trying to make a repeat appearance in the WNBA Finals in what will be Tamika Catchings' 15th and final season. Catchings is the league's active leader in points, rebounds, steals and free throws, so it is easy to see how life after Catchings will be very different for the franchise. Before that time comes, Indiana hopes to send one of the best ever to play the game out on the right note.

The last of the East's playoff teams from last season was the Washington Mystics, who managed to push the top-seed Liberty to a third game in the first round. The Mystics are a young team who bring back two all-stars from a season ago: Emma Meesseman and Stefanie Dolson. Atlanta also adds Kahleah Copper from Rutgers University, whom the team selected seventh overall in this April's draft.

The first of the two teams in the conference who failed to make the playoffs in 2015 are also looking to turn the youth they have into a playoff berth in 2016. The Atlanta Dream finished fifth in the East last season, and are hoping the electric Angel McCoughtry can continue to play at an extremely high level. The Dream traded the fourth overall pick in the 2016 Draft to the Connecticut Sun for Elizabeth Williams.

With that pick, the Connecticut Sun, who finished last in the conference a year ago, selected Rachel Banham from Minnesota. The Sun brought in an infusion of young talent on draft night alone, selecting Morgan Tuck third overall with their own pick, as well as trading for the sixth overall selection, Jonquel Jones.

Connecticut was one of the busiest teams this offseason, hiring Curt Miller to be their new head coach. The Sun also add a Rookie of the Year talent to their team, as Chiney Ogwumike will retake the floor after missing the entire 2015 season with a knee injury. Ogwumike, along with last year's Most Improved Player Kelsey Bone, are looking to help get a young Connecticut team back to the playoffs for the first time since 2012.