The WNBA's 19th season is poised to be one of the most unpredictable, yet exciting ones to date.
With key players on nearly every roster resting, retired or injured the league can easily play off the old inaugural season slogan of "We've Got Next" for this season's slogan "Who's Got Next."
A quick glance gives us 10 key veterans out for the 2015 season:
Janel McCarville, MIN (rest)
Diana Taurasi (rest) PHX
Penny Taylor, PHX (free agent)
Becky Hammon, SAN (retirement)
Candace Parker, LAS (rest)
Sylvia Fowles, CHI (trade demand)
Katie Douglas, CON (retirement)
Chiney Ogwumike, CON (injury)
Allison Hightower, CON (injury)
Kelsey Griffin, CON (injury)
..with even still a few others questionable for at least the first month or so of the season.
Thankfully, there is the rise and development of the last two draft classes and an influx of potentially good 2015 draft and free agency talent that will bolster many teams.
Let's look at each of the conferences in my predicted order of finish.
2nd place; beat Seattle 2-0 in conference semifinals; lost to Phoenix 2-1 in conference finals.
PTG Lindsay Whalen (14.1 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 5.6 apg)
G Seimone Augustus (16.1 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 2.4 apg)
G/F Maya Moore (23.9 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 3.4 apg)
F Rebekkah Brunson (7.2 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 1.5 apg)
F Damiris Dantas (6.0 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 1.2 apg).
Reshanda Gray (draft, No. 16).
With the talent, experience and coaching the Lynx were clearly the favorite entering the 2014 season. Their 25-9 record and march through the regular season was only bested by Phoenix's record setting 29-5 WNBA Championship season. If not for the emergence of the Mercury we quite possibly would have seen Minnesota's third title in the last four seasons.
For 2015, Minnesota has been the team least impacted by the change and injury bug with only McCarville missing from their 2014 regulars. Also, Anna Cruz, whom MIN received in trade from New York, won't arrive until late June or early July.
A major question mark for the lynx is the health of Monica Wright's calf. An early training camp injury and rehab have Wright severely hampered right now.
How she recovers, how long it takes her to recover will impact the wear and tear and productivity of the rest of Minnesota backcourt and potentially how they will finish down the stretch as Whalen, Augustus and Moore have more veteran mileage on their legs.
Tenacious undrafted rookie Jennifer O'Neill can really help in that if she is able to provide significant, productive minutes for the Lynx and allow Coach Reeve to rest her veterans even more.
All things considered with MVP Moore, Whalen and Augustus, Minnesota is my pick to play for the WNBA Championship from the West in 2015.
PTG Skylar Diggins (20.1 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 5.0 apg)
G/PTG Odyssey Sims (16.7 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 4.2 apg)
G Riquna Williams (6.9 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 1.2 apg)
F/C Amanda Zahui B. (draft, No. 2)
C Courtney Paris (9.2 ppg, 10.2 rpg, 1.1 apg).
C/F Zahui B. (draft, No. 2)
F Plenette Pierson (free agent)
F Karima Christmas (free agent).
G Roneeka Hodges (free agent)
F Jennifer Lacy (free agent)
*F Glory Johnson-Griner (14.7 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 1.4 spg)
Suspended the first seven games of 2015 season. Also, expecting child so she will miss season.
The team that made the largest improvement in the WNBA in 2014 were the Shock even though they finished 6th in the powerful Western Conference.
The dynamic scoring point guard duo of Diggins and Sims was sensational and will only be better in 2015. Clearly, this is the year Tulsa breaks through into the playoffs and could do significant playoff damage if the moment doesn't overwhelm them and (like everyone else) they stay healthy.
Tulsa clearly showed this on opening night beating 2014 WNBA Championship series participant and Eastern Conference Champion Chicago in the team's first home opener win since moving to Tulsa.
Diggins improvement from a very unexciting and lackluster rookie campaign was Shocking, pun intended, but not surprising. Skylar has long been praised for her work ethic in the off-season.
I witnessed this first hand while she traveled working for ESPN. She arranged time early one morning, while covering the Men's team at the University of Kentucky, for a brutal individual workout. Her dedication has certainly paid off.
If Sims and Williams continue to improve the backcourt has three explosive, yet small, scorers in the starting lineup.
The addition of veterans Plenette Pierson (free agent), Karima Christmas (free agent) and versatile and talented F/C Amanda Zahui B. in the draft adds much needed punch to the frontcourt that has been lacking the last couple of years.
Tulsa looks poised to challenge Minnesota for the West's top spot. Although, the Shock will be missing Glory Johnson-Griner for the first seven games because of her suspension for domestic violence and possibly the season as Johnson-Griner is expecting a child.
It will be very interesting to see how this situation impacts the overall season for both Phoenix and Tulsa. Currently, it dominates the news more than the games themselves.
Much like the drama surrounding all the recent situations in the NFL. Drama has always provided distractions teams don't want or need.
With a very short and quick-scheduled WNBA season, significant time off the court for key players and/or inordinately high drama always has an impact on a team's locker room and potential success.
1st place; beat Los Angeles 2-0 in conference semifinals; beat Minnesota 2-1 in conference finals; beat Chicago 3-0 in WNBA Finals.
PTG Noelle Quinn (3.8 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 1.3 apg),
G/F Monique Curry (9.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 1.5 apg)
F DeWanna Bonner (10.4 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 2.3 apg)
F Candice Dupree (14.5 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 2.4 apg)
*C Brittney Griner (15.6 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 1.6 apg).
*Suspended the first seven games of 2015 season
F Curry (free agent)
PTG Quinn (free agent)
F Shameka Christon (free agent).
Coming off an amazing regular season, which ended with the Mercury as WNBA Champions, Phoenix on paper should be poised to repeat.
But, with Taurasi sitting out the season to rest and Griner being suspended for the first seven games for a domestic violence arrest this will place a great deal of pressure on the pieces that were put in place to support those stars. Now they are in place to play a much more significant role and hold down the fort.
Phoenix will be very good and sit at the top or near the top of the West all season. They are still a very talented basketball team. Phoenix may have too much drama and not have a deep enough bench and the overall production they need to get back to the finals.
Keep an eye on Phoenix.... many uncertainties here.
SAN ANTONIO STARS
3rd place; lost to Minnesota 2-0 in conference semifinals.
PTG Danielle Robinson (12.9 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 5.3 apg)
G Jia Perkins (12.5 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 1.7 apg)
F Kayla McBride (13.0 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 1.7 apg
F Sophia Young-Malcolm (8.2 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 1.6 apg)
C Jayne Appel (4.9 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 2.1 apg)
F Dearica Hamby (draft, No. 6)
F Alex Montgomery (trade, NY Liberty).
The "AB" (After Becky) era begins in San Antonio and although Hammon is one of the All-Time greats to ever play in the W the future is still bright for the Stars.
Dan Hughes and staff have put together a very good roster and it has developed well over the last two years. Year three is generally when all that should begin to pay off for the Stars.
San Antonia will look to the emergence of McBride, when she gets healthy, and Robinson to propel the offense.
Hamby and Montgomery must have an immediate and significant impact early if San Antonio is going to move higher in the Western Conference playoff picture or challenge Minnesota or Phoenix for the top spot.
LOS ANGELES SPARKS
4th place; lost to Phoenix 2-0 in conference semifinals.
1st season in LA, 12th overall.
PTG Erin Phillips (5.8 ppg, 1.6 rpg, 2.2 apg)
G Alana Beard (8.5 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 2.5 apg)
F Nneka Ogwumike (15.8 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 1.5 apg)
F Jantel Lavender (11.9 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 1.5 apg)
C Marianna Tolo (DNP).
Phillips (free agent).
G Candice Wiggins (free agent, Shock)
G/F Parker (rest)
New head coach Brian Agler will have to do some of his finest coaching during in his first season in LA with Parker sitting out for at least the first half of the season to rest.
The Sparks will also be missing Toliver, who is playing overseas in the Eurobasket tournament, for the first month of the WNBA season.
With both Parker and Toliver not available for potentially 14+ games the Sparks could find themselves in a very deep hole by the All Star break. Veterans Temeka Johnson and Jennifer Lacy with rookie Andrea Hoover must produce for the Sparks.
In the fast, furious and short WNBA regular season, it is very difficult to make up ground in only the second half of the season. Although this is not impossible, as Chicago proved in 2014, a team can recover and get to the finals even when two big stars (Delle Donne and Fowles) miss over 20 games combined.
We will see if Beard and Phillips can veteran leadership and enough scoring until more help arrives.
1st season in Seattle, 4th overall
PTG Sue Bird (10.6 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 4.0 apg)
G Jewell Loyd (rookie)
G/F Jenna O'Hea (4.8 ppg, 1.3 rpg, 1.0 apg)
F Abby Bishop (2.8 ppg, 1.3 rpg, 0.3 apg)
F/C Crystal Langhorne (12.9 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 1.0 apg).
G Jewell Loyd (draft, No. 1)
G/F Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis (draft, No. 3)
G Renee Montgomery (trade, Connecticut)
C Quanitra Hollingsworth (trade, Washington)
F/C Ramu Tokashiki (free agent).
F Camille Little (trade, Connecticut)
F Shekinna Stricklen (trade, Connecticut)
G Tanisha Wright (free agent).
The rebuild in on in full force on Seattle.
Jenny Boucek takes over the Storm but is no stranger to Seattle or to being a head coach after serving in Sacramento before the Monarch's fold.
Boucek completely overhauled the Storm roster and will have a very young squad to lead through the rigors of the ever-tough Western Conference. This will be both exciting and very challenging for everyone in Seattle. Patience will be the underlying key.
With the good fortune of the 1st and 3rd pick in the 2015 WNBA draft the Storm added Loyd and Mosqueda-Lewis and this duo will be thrown to the fire early. Loyd, her skill set, her athleticism and game are tailor made for the WNBA and she should adjust immediately and produce accordingly.
It will be interesting to see how Mosqueda-Lewis fares. There is no question of her very high talent level, her toughness and competitiveness but many have wondered aloud if she will be able to defend consistently enough in the W to stay on the floor so her superior shooting touch can help the Storm.
Montgomery comes to Seattle via a trade and should be a huge scoring and leadership impact immediately. Renee is used to coming off the bench, so this roll should be a smooth transmission for her.
The trouble will be when Seattle wants to use a three-guard lineup of small guards (Bird, Loyd, Montgomery)... who defends the small forwards? It may not be possible to keep this lineup on the floor (again noting the importance of Mosqueda-Lewis' defensive development.)
If Mosqueda-Lewis defends well it provides the Storm a nice rotation at the three perimeter spots. The three-guard lineup may be the Storm's greatest chance to put points on the board at a high level, but Jenna O'Hea and Mosqueda-Lewis are vital to the Storm success.
The Storm will take their lumps this season, but the foundation is being laid for future success in Seattle.
4th place; beat Atlanta 2-1 in conference semifinals; beat Indiana 2-1 in conference finals; lost to Phoenix 3-0 in WNBA Finals.
PTG Courtney Vandersloot (7.2 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 6.0 apg)
G Cappie Pondexter (13.2 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 3.9 apg)
F Tamera Young (6.7 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 1.2 apg)
F Elena Delle Donne (17.9 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 1.5 apg)
C Cheyenne Parker (rookie).
G Cappie Pondexter (trade, Liberty)
C Cheyenne Parker (draft, 5th)
G Epiphanny Prince (trade, Liberty).
The development and progress of this franchise during the Pokey Chatman era is unmistakable.
The Sky floundered from the franchise inception until her arrival and now Chicago is a balanced roster with young and talented and seasoned veteran and talented players with the focused mindset who are a serious title contender.
Chicago is coming off the best season in franchise history. After struggling through an injury riddled regulars season 4th place finish the Sky "Got Right" and went on to win the Eastern Conference Championship and earned it's first trip to the WNBA Finals. The Sky found just the right time to get completely healthy and surged in the playoffs.
Chicago made perhaps the best move during the off-season trading Prince to the Liberty for Pondexter. This trade was a win-win for both organizations and players, allowing both All Stars to come home.
For the Sky it matches one of the best pick & roll scorers in the game with one of the best all around pick & pop, drive, dish and roll players in the game AND put the world's best center ducking in at the rim. Unstoppable. One problem...
IF Sylvia Fowles, who asked for a trade during the offseason and is currently not with the team, was playing the Sky would be my hands down pick for their first WNB title.
The thought of having to defend Pondexter and Delle Donne in a pick & roll with Sylvia ducking in at the rim and Sloot and WNBA 6th Player of the Year Allie Quigley spotting up would give opposing coaches nightmares and be unstoppable.
Sylvia has indicated she'll sit out this season. Rookie Cheyenne Parker, you're up and she has to play big in a hurry.
Now, the Sky needs Delle Donne, who last season suffered from Lyme's disease and a sore back, to stay healthy.
In 2014 she missed 17 games because of Lyme Disease and the aforementioned sore back. The Sky were 5-12 without Delle Donne in the lineup.
If that happens again AND there is no return of Sylvia... then even the East champs making playoffs are somewhat in question. If EDD stays healthy, Sylvia returns, Cappie is the games best pick & roll player again.... then the Sky is the limit for Chicago!
1st place; lost to Chicago 2-1 in conference semifinals.
PTG Shoni Schimmel (8.3 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 3.6 apg)
G/F Tiffany Hayes (12.9 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 2.5 apg)
G/F Angel McCoughtry (18.5 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 3.6 apg)
F Sancho Lyttle (12.9 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 2.4 apg)
C Erika de Souza (13.8 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 1.2 apg)
G Roneeka Hodges (free agent)
G Samantha Logic (draft, No. 10)
G Jasmine Thomas (trade, Sun)
Atlanta was the best of the East boasting the best overall record in the Eastern Conference during the regular season in 2014.
Chicago came together and got fully healthy at just the right time in the opening round to knock the Dream out. The Dream's collapse was curious.
The Dream weren't in much need over additions entering the offseason. Their young and talented nucleus returns in 2015 with more experience in hopes to make another deep playoff run and chance to bring a WNBA Championship to the ATL.
MVP candidate Angel McCoughtry will once again carry the fortunes of how far the Dream go on her shoulders. But not solely how you think.
McCoughtry's talent is the best in the league on both ends of the floor. Perhaps the best in the world.. remember her breakout for USA Basketball? It is her leadership and the atmosphere and drama created around her that will allow the Dream to sink or swim.
The Dream must find a way for the drama to end, for each teammate to embrace each other and their roles, to inspire them to rally around the Dream as a whole... as Catchings does in Indiana, Sue Bird does in Seattle or Lisa Leslie did during her time in LA.
That is the major obstacle that separates Atlanta from a potential championship season. Total Buy In. Michael Cooper certainly knows how to create that atmosphere from being part of Showtime to the championships won with the Sparks, he'll get it figured out.
3rd place; lost to Indiana 2-0 in conference semifinals.
PTG Bria Hartley (9.7 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 3.1 apg)
G/PTG Ivory Latta (12.8 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 3.3 apg)
F Tierra Ruffin-Pratt (4.5 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 1.3 apg),
F Emma Messeman (10.1 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 2.5 apg)
C Stephanie Dolson (6.0 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 1.1 bpg).
G Natasha Cloud (draft, No. 15)
G Armintie Herrington (free agent)
F Ally Mallot (draft, No. 8)
F Monique Currie (free agent).
Coach Mike Thibault has completed rebuilding the Mystics roster in the mold he used to lead the Connecticut Sun to two Eastern Conference Championships and two WNBA Finals appearances. He now also has the experience of nearly his entire roster making the playoffs in each of his first two seasons. That should bode very well for his Mystics in year three.
The record-setting shooting of Latta carried WAS at times last year, but there were times when she shot the Mystics out of games. In 2015 there is a balance and depth of shooters on the roster that could make this year's Mystic squad very surprising and difficult to defend.
The emergence of Cloud and Mallot during the preseason is a significant benefit to the overall depth of the rotation. WAS will need that more and more as the season progresses. To allow shooters to have time and space to shoot, Dolson will need to emerge as a bigger more consistent presence in the paint as she did in the first two games.
The season opening win at Connecticut with 18 points and 12 rebounds and following it up with a tremendous defensive effort vs. Tina Charles and the New York Liberty.
Don't be surprised if you see Washington challenge for the East's top spot this season.
NEW YORK LIBERTY
PTG Tanisha Wright (8.0 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 3.6 apg)
G Ephiphanny Prince (15.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 3.8 apg)
G/F Essence Carson (3.3 ppg, 1.7 rpg, 0.9 apg), F Tina Charles (17.4 ppg, 9.4 rpg, 2.2 apg)
C Kiah Stokes (rookie),
G Epiphany Prince (trade, Sky)
PTG Tanisha Wright (free agent)
C Kia Stokes (draft, No. 11)
G Brittany Boyd (draft, No. 9)
F Rebecca Allen (free agent).
G Cappie Pondexter (trade, Sky)
G Anna Cruz (trade, Minnesota)
G Alex Montgomery (trade, San Antonio).
It doesn't get any stranger than in New York. Ah New York.... After another playoff-less and disappointing season New York let head coach Bill Liambeer go, electing not to exercise a team option for the third year on his contract... then, after several months New York brought back Laimbeer as their new head coach. I quickly looked on the New York website to see if Billy Martin and George Steinbrenner were now with the Liberty as well.
New York has continued to retool the roster around Tina Charles to try to recreate the success enjoyed under Richie Adubato a decade ago.
Unfortunately for fans in New York, it doesn't look like this will be the year.
The Libs added Wright and Prince to solidify the backcourt. That combo, with Charles provides an explosive offensive punch and talented, veteran experience. A big question is, can Essence Carson regain her pre-injury form that has eluded her since her knee injury. If so, this is a strong starting lineup.
New York also added talented draft picks Stokes and Boyd who will need to contribute right away and provide quality depth for New York to stay competitive and in the playoff picture.
The Liberty should be able to avoid the distraction created with Isaiah Thomas's part ownership and president role with the organization. It's New York, distractions are the norm in the Big Apple, but their lack of overall depth could prohibit them from seriously challenging for a playoff spot in the East.
2nd place; beat Washington 2-0 in conference semifinals; lost to Chicago 2-1 in conference finals.
PTG Briann January (10.3 ppg, 1.6 rpg, 3.7 apg)
G Shavonte Zellous (11.0 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 2.1 apg)
F Marissa Coleman (8.9 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 1.1 apg)
F Tamika Catchings (16.1 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 1.9 apg)
F/C Erlana Larkins (9.7 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 2.5 apg).
F. Karima Christmas (free agent).
So you want to be a WNBA head coach?... Welcome! First time head coach Stephanie White takes over for Hall of Famer Lin Dunn at just the wrong time.
The new head coach has a talented but aging nucleus led by MVP candidate Catchings, Zellous and January, but still many questions.
The addition of Coleman will slide Catching back to the PF position where she creates tremendous matchup problems for opponents. This should benefit the Fever as long as the pounding in the paint defensively doesn't injure her 13 year pro.
White has to be hoping Catchings can take the wear and tear at PF, create offensive nightmares for opposing coaches and lead the Fever to a deep playoff run as she has done before.
With Indiana looking to run a more up-tempo offense this could be challenging for White's more veteran players. As long they make the playoffs and are healthy, Catchings and the Fever are very dangerous. There are few players in the game with the toughness and leadership ability to guide a team through a playoff series like Catchings.
The Fever's signature defensive attitude and relentless defensive presence must continue if the streak of 10 seasons in a row of playoff basketball is to not suddenly come to an end in Indiana.
PTG Alex Bentley (12.2 ppg, 1.7 rpg, 3.7 apg)
G Jazmine Thomas (4.8 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 1.6 apg)
F Alyssa Thomas (10.0 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 1.5 apg)
F Camille Little (12.9 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 1.6 apg)
F/C Kelsey Bone (9.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 1.4 apg).
F/C Elizabeth Williams (draft, No. 4)
F Little (trade, Storm)
F Shekinna Stricklen (trade, Storm)
The Sun have worked hard to create a young, talented and deep roster over the last two years, but have already been devastated more than any team in the league by injuries... BEFORE a regular season game was ever played.
Ogwumike, last season's rookie of the year, is out for the season after having microfracture surgery on her knee. Hightower has appeared in 35 of 68 games over the past two years with knee injuries. She starts the season on the suspended list after knee surgery in March.
Connecticut was also forced to cut Griffin after she underwent season-ending surgery on her left hip.
This doesn't bode well for a team that has struggled mightily, after the controversial firing of highly successful former Sun head coach Mike Thibault.
Head coach Anne Donovan emerged with her team in year three with a talented roster with the right mix of veterans and youthful talent to right the ship, but significant injuries may make 2015 a very long year for Connecticut.
The Gold, Platinum lining is the Sun could potentially be looking at adding UConn's supremely talented Breanna Stewart in the 2016 draft... As she will be the first overall pick in 2016.
This certainly would make a tough 2015 season easier to swallow and might be one of the most exciting things for Connecticut fans and ownership to have happen in franchise history.