The WNBA offseason has taken a number of unexpected turns over the last several months. All of these moves make the 2015 season very interesting as a whole. Here are some questions I have on each team now that training camp has started.
Let's start with a key question surrounding each of the Eastern Conference's teams.
Atlanta Dream: Who will ultimately be their starting point guard long-term?
If there's one weakness that the Dream have over the past couple seasons, they haven't exactly found a reliable point guard who can start and make plays for others. Shoni Schimmel has shown potential that she could be that type of player where she legitimately plays like an MVP, but she also can follow that up with some pedestrian performances. Other point guard options like Jasmine Thomas in the past have shown that they can push the tempo to their desired pace, but they aren't exactly starter-level material in my opinion. Celine Dumerc has shown a veteran presence at the position where she averaged 4.0 assists a game off the bench last season, but she's also not a long-term solution for them.
This season, the Dream drafted Samantha Logic out of Iowa, who was one of the top prospects in the class, where she provides a scoring, passing, and even rebounding presence despite her 5'9 frame. Can she be the answer and be a shot in the arm for the Dream's starting lineup long term and put their front court players like Sancho Lyttle and Erika de Souza in a good position to make buckets? I'll admit that I haven't watched her play much this past season. So I'll defer to Adrienne Thomas and her interview with Logic herself so you can read more on what she wants to do to make her impact on one of the Eastern Conference's perennial powers.
I don't think Atlanta will have that answer to this question at the start of the regular season, but hopefully the answer is clearer as the season goes on.
Chicago Sky: Who can the team receive in exchange for Sylvia Fowles?
I'm quite frankly surprised that the veteran center wants to leave the Windy City for some yet-to-be-named city. She has played a major part in the team's success over the past seven years and was a major part of their 2014 Finals run.
In any trade involving a superstar post player, it's going to be hard to get equal value in return, since even Fowles acknowledged during Team USA training camp earlier this month that it is hard for such players to be traded at all. Assuming that the Sky can't get the proper assets from whatever team Fowles wants to play for, she could sit out the year and Chicago would get nothing.
Fortunately, they are getting back Elena Delle Donne, Courtney Vandersloot, Allie Quigley, and the newly acquired Cappie Pondexter, so I think Chicago can be a top team in the East without Fowles. But at the same time, they can certainly use a player like her in order to win the Finals.
Connecticut Sun: Do they still have the pieces to make a playoff run in light of Chiney Ogwumike's injury?
If everyone was healthy, the Sun on paper has the pieces to make the playoffs for the first time since 2012. However, their star power forward, Chiney Ogwumike is sideline for at least most of this season due to knee surgery, Katie Douglas retired, and Danielle McCray was waived after tearing her right ACL while playing internationally in Israel.
Fortunately, there are some reinforcements as Camille Little is about as good of a stopgap at the power forward position until Ogwumike returns, and there are plenty of young players returning like sophomores Alyssa Thomas and Kelsey Bone, as well as third-year point guard Alex Bentley. 2014 first round pick Chelsea Gray gets to make her pro debut after missing last year, and their 2015 first round draft pick Elizabeth Williams should also make an impact right away for Connecticut.
Before Douglas' retirement announcement, I believed that Connecticut would make the playoffs comfortably, but now I'm not so sure. Yes, this team has enough pieces to make a playoff run, but if they miss the playoffs, they could get Breanna Stewart who goes to college nearby. That's going to be a recurring theme for a lot of teams this year.
For more reading, Levi Vevora, Jr. has a detailed preview, so click here to check it out.
Indiana Fever: Is 2015 the right year for them to get into rebuild mode?
The Indiana Fever made four consecutive Eastern Conference Finals appearances, including winning the WNBA Finals in 2012. However, they also went 16-18 in the two seasons since that run thanks to injuries over the past couple seasons, including their franchise star Tamika Catchings in 2014.
This season, veteran wing Shavonte Zellous and rookie center Natalie Achonwa will miss at least part of the season due to international team commitments in Croatia and Canada respectively, and that is going to put more burden on Catchings, who plans to retire after the 2015 season. And we didn't even mention that long-time assistant coach Stephanie White will now be their head coach starting this year.
In light of all these issues, and with Breanna Stewart on the line for the 2016 Draft, it may very well make sense to look toward the future now. But then again, any team with Tamika Catchings has a chance to make noise in the regular and postseason.
New York Liberty: How will the team handle the news around Isiah Thomas being hired as their new President of Basketball Operations?
I was surprised to learn that the Naismith Hall of Fame player is now part of the WNBA's General Manager ranks. He already has been a poor track record as a general manager, whether with the New York Knicks or at Florida International, where he was the head coach of the men's basketball team. Also, his involvement in a 2007 sexual harassment lawsuit during his time with the Knicks only adds to the baggage he brings to the Liberty.
Even though Thomas' hiring doesn't affect the Liberty players directly for the moment, it is clear that the players' union is concerned about him and their current players. I wonder how that affects the team play, and also the future of the franchise. ESPN's Mechelle Voepel wrote a column about all of these issues here.
Some players have addressed the issue already, including Swin Cash and Essence Carson who didn't say anything negative about him, according to Marc Berman of the New York Post.
Washington Mystics: Will roster continuity pay dividends in 2015 and the future when other teams shook their rosters up?
Unlike most WNBA teams, the Mystics have kept the bulk of their core intact. They also haven't had players get devastating injuries nor will they see players miss part of the season for international team commitments. Therefore, you could make a case that this team is poised to surprise people in the standings, given what is happening to other teams in the league and the Eastern Conference.
Most of the time, roster stability is a good thing, and perhaps the Mystics could be the WNBA's Atlanta Hawks at some point, which could happen in a crazy offseason like this. But the fact remains that they still don't have that player who can be the centerpiece of a franchise rebuild, and yes, they're still rebuilding. So even if the Mystics have a better than expected 2015 season, there will be a significant possibility that they'll have an early playoff exit in this season's playoffs and/or a significant regression to the mean in 2016.
I don't really know what to expect from the Mystics when it comes to wins and losses. However, I will maintain my position that the Mystics' future -- and any potential opportunity to get a franchise player in the draft for you know who -- is more important than simply going for wins this summer.
Tomorrow, we'll have questions that each Western Conference team faces when the WNBA season starts.