WNBA: Election Day Also Maya Moore Day
By Mel Greenberg
For most of the nation, Tuesday's focus will be on the mid-term elections particular concerning what will be the new political makeup in Congress in the House of Representatives and Senate in the nation's capital.
But in the world of the WNBA, which is holding its league meetings this week in New York, the drama will end among three teams -- The Tulsa Shock, Minnesota Lynx, and Chicago Sky -- as to who will win the ping-pong balls execution of the draft lottery to determine who gains the rights to the No. 1 pick for the next selections in April.
Even in this setting, the University of Connecticut will effect coverage because of the likely prospects of Huskies talented senior Maya Moore becoming the choice of whatever team is the winner.
Moore has already proven her worth in WNBA-style action because of her recent participation on the USA squad which captured the FIBA World Championship gold medal under Moore's collegiate coach Geno Auriemma in Czechoslovakia.
The Tulsa Shock, though not an expansion team per se because of its former identity in Detroit, has the best percentages and will be trying to convert a terrible year with a decimated roster into a prized catch for next summer.
In WNBA history, the Washington Mystics converted misery into the choice of former Tennessee star Chamique Holdsclaw, who has gone on to the Los Angeles Sparks and Atlanta Dream and now is in San Antonio with the Silver Stars. Seattle has gotten two titles under the back-to-back No. 1 picks of Australian Lauren Jackson (2001) and former UConn star Sue Bird (2002), while Atlanta's woeful debut in 2008 resulted in landing former Louisville star Angel McCoughtry. That catch translated into the playoffs in 2009 and a return and run to the WNBA Finals this past season.
Minnesota, off its own near-miss of the playoffs out of the West, has the second best odds, followed by Chicago, which finished last in the East.
The Lynz have a second pick in the process, whose order is to be determined, because of the draft day trade in April that aaw Minnesota pick former Nebraska star Kelsey Griffin and then deal her to the Connecticut Sun for Casino-land's No. 1 pick for 2011.
Few expected the Sun to miss the playoffs but when that occurred, the value of the pick gained a major incrase. Because of Moore's geographical proximity to Uncasville, expect the hackles to be raised by the Connecticut media if Minnesota wins the prize with the Sun's pick instead of its own.
This situation comes off a controversy the previous year. The New York Liberty dealt away its No. 1 pick in a three-way swap involving former Tennessee player Sidney Spencer coming East from the Los Angeles Sparks who then dealt the pick to Minnesota.
New York was considered a playoff contender going into 2009 but landed in last place thus increasing the value of what had been dealt away.
Minnesota then traded that pick to the Sun, which then selected former UConn star Tina Charles as the overall No. 1 pick who became rookie of the year. The Linx also dealt former Huskies all-American Renee Montgomery and in return got home girl Lindsay Whalen, who had been a perennial WNBA All-Star.
Some consolation was afford the Liberty later with the acquisition of former Rutgers star Cappie Pondexter from the WNBA-then-defending champion Phoenix Mercury. They also acquired free-agent signee Taj McWilliams-Franklin and a quality seond-rund pick in UConn's Kalana Greene who all helped lead New York into the 2010 Eastern Conference finals.
In Chicago perhaps former LSU coach Pokey Chatman might enjoy the beginners luck that shined on Hall of Famer and former UCLA star Anne Meyers, who several years ago traded in a broadcasting career to become the general manager of the Mercury in Phoenix,
The Mercury won the lottery and landed the No. 1 pick, choosing former Duke star Lindsey Harding. She was then dealt to Minnesota for former Iowa star Tangela Smith.
Harding has since been acquired by Washington.
Smith joined Mercury All-Stars Pondexter and former UConn sensation Diana Taurasi, along with Australian Penny Taylor, and Phoenix won its first WNBA title in 2007 and won again in 2009.
Chatman was named coach and general manager of Chicago on Friday, reuniting her with former LSU star Sylvia Fowles.
Moore, teamed with Fowles, would be a marketing bonanza for the Sky in a big metropolitan setting that has yet to catch fire, no Chicago pun intended, with the community.
The person who could be smiling the most, however, even with just getting picks No. 2 and then 3 or 4, is Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve, the former La Salle star out of South Jersey near Philadelphia who was also the general manager and asssistant coach with the former Detroit squad that won three WNBA titles.
Right behind Moore looms likely solid gold catch Liz Cambage, the 6-foot-8 post star at age 19 out of Australia. A Moore-Cambage combination would make the Lynx an instant threat to Seattle's rise this summer to the top of the WNBA.
"You'd really like to get Moore, but knowing there will be another opportunity to land someone like Cambage if we don't gives you a good feeling," Reeve said.
Two other collegiate players who could go high in the next draft both play for Xavier, which is fifth in the Associated Press preseason poll. The Musketeers feature senior post stars 6-5 forward Amber Harris and 6-6 center Ta'Shia Phillips.
Meanwhile, some looming empty seats at the league meetings have been filled with the return of former Sacramento Monarchs coach-general manager John Whisenant, who recently was hired to fill the same duo job titles with New York.
The Monarchs went out of business last winter and the WNBA was unable to quickly land a qualified suitor for the former franchise to place it in the Bay Area in Northern California.
It will be the first meetings since the league began play in 1997 that won't be attended by the legendary Carol Blazejowski, who was ousted last month in New York at the end of her contract.
Anne Donovan, another Hall of Famer, had announced her intentions prior to the season to coach collegiate ball at Seton Hall, but stayed to guide the Liberty to the Eastern finals.
The Washington Mystics' general manager slot is also vacant following the surprise ouster of Angela Taylor, who helped turn the franchise around to its best-ever performance in her two seasons in the nation's capital.
The club simply announced her contract was up and both sides moved on though Taylor, who had held executive positions in Minnesota and with the league office since the WNBA's founding noted on her twitter account last month she has never been about money.
Though Washington assistant coach Marianne Stanley could make a good general managerial candidate -- Reeve did the same duo-thing in Detroit -- she recently said it's more efficient for two people to hold coaching and managerial positions.
Stanley desires to continue her Hall of Fame coaching career. She left Thursday for another stint in Russia where she will be an assistant on a team containing Pondexter, Harding, Washington's Crystal Langhorne and Los Angeles' Candace Parker.
She will make a quick return to Philadelphia on Nov. 11 to be inducted into the city's sports hall of fame.
"I'm getting on a plane that morning and need a Plan B in case some delay occurs," Stanley joked over dinner last week in Raleigh, N.C., where she resides.
The San Antonio Silver Stars have yet to name a coach but general manager Dan Hughes recently said he needed to get past the league meetings first, knowing the nature over the years how policies change.
For example, it is not likely that roster size will increase from its present limit of 11 but near the close of the season commissioner Donna Orender didn't entirely discount the prospects of an expansion.
There's also the recent reduction that allowed teams only one assistant coach to travel and be on the bench, though most teams seemed to find ways to retain staffs in altered capacity in terms of at least home games and practice.
Also looming is the backdrop of the current labor negotiations in the NBA where commissioner David Stern recently alluded to the prospect that some small market teams with financial problems could go out of business.
In recent seasons in the WNBA, without regard to market size, there was the Detroit move to Tulsa, and the extinctions of Sacramento, the Charlotte Sting, and the glorified four-time champion Houston Comets.
Also expected is the placement of the schedule, which this past season began earlier to accomodate players on national teams whose homelands competed in the FIBA World Championship in Czechoslovakia.