It’s been over a week since the NBA’s All-Star Weekend concluded in New Orleans, but I’ve been remiss in not blogging about the WNBA influence on the weekend. For the most part, I was busy covering Sonics rookies Kevin Durant and Jeff Green in the Big Easy, as well as blogging about All-Star Saturday Night and the All-Star Game itself (you can see all these entries here). However, there were also some WNBA sightings besides new Storm forward Swin Cash appearing in a Detroit uniform for the last time in the Haier Shooting Stars competition.
Storm forward Shyra Ely was in New Orleans as part of her now-concluded internship with T-Mobile. Ely has signed with Polish squad AZS Jelenia Gora, but her team had the weekend off, allowing Ely to show up for the All-Star events she had helped plan for T-Mobile.
I ran into Ely at a T-Mobile event at NBA Jam Session that featured Green. She played a hand in putting togther T-Mobile’s booth at Jam Session but was primarily responsible for helping put together T-Mobile’s hospitality suite at the Intercontinental Hotel. In addition to her T-Mobile duties, Ely squeezed in some WNBA appearances, including the league’s luncheon on Saturday.
WNBA President Donna Orender was in New Orleans as well. After our interview the previous Friday, I’d shared with Orender that I was going to be at All-Star Weekend, and she took time out from escorting Los Angeles forward Sidney Spencer around the New Orleans Arena to say hello on Friday night. She was probably just happy this time I didn’t have a recorder in tow for a Q&A.
Anything that happened in New Orleans was just a prelude to the real WNBA action – the opening of the free-agent and trade markets on Feb. 19. The Storm made big news that day, trading for Cash, and was not alone. All-Star guard Katie Douglas came home to Indiana in a blockbuster deal that sent forward Tamika Whitmore and a first-round pick to Connecticut, while the Minnesota Lynx signed Anna DeForge as an unrestricted free agent.
The Sun has some interesting decisions ahead in replacing Douglas. Connecticut lost another starter, Margo Dydek, to pregnancy. 2006 first-round pick Sandrine Gruda could fill in for Dydek in the lineup, giving Sun Head Coach Mike Thibault the option of putting a really big starting five on the floor – Gruda, Whitmore, Asjha Jones, Nykesha Sales and newly re-signed Lindsay Whalen. At the same time, while Sales was cored by Connecticut, Thibault doesn’t sound certain he’ll have his other star wing for next season either.
Indiana makes out better in the trade, getting another outstanding defender to go with Tully Bevilaqua and Tamika Catchings. Catchings and Douglas were both All-Defensive First Teamers a year ago, while Bevilaqua was on the Second Team. Add in shot-blocking center Tammy Sutton-Brown and the Fever will remain a challenge for opposing offenses in 2008. Indiana still needs to fill out its starting lineup. Unless the Fever plans to play Douglas at forward and move Tan White into the opening five, there’s a spot alongside Catchings at forward. And White is better suited off the bench anyways. How Indiana fills that spot without a first-round pick is worth watching.
DeForge will bring some leadership to a young Lynx team, and Minnesota’s moves to sign DeForge and sign Washington’s Nakia Sanford to an offer sheet the Mystics quickly matched shows the Lynx are serious about competing this year. Minnesota is set in the backcourt with the addition of DeForge, with Seimone Augustus presumably moving to small forward and will add to the frontcourt with the No. 3 overall pick, but the Lynx need more help up front.
Some veteran free agents have moved around since the opening of free agency, with Mwadi Mabika and Marie Ferdinand-Harris leaving the only WNBA teams they’ve ever known. Mabika went from L.A. to Houston and was in some sense replaced on the Sparks by Ferdinand-Harris. Mabika and re-signed Tamecka Dixon both have experience with Karleen Thompson from their days in L.A. together, but seem curious choices for a team that should be in rebuilding mode after a 13-21 season. The Sparks are hoping Ferdinand-Harris will bounce back in her second season after giving birth, but she has shot worse than 37% from the field three of her last four seasons, so that seems like a risky gamble to me.
The coring of players and signings to date have thinned the ranks of unrestricted free agents – just 18 remain listed as avilable on WNBA.com’s Player Movement Central, a group that includes some players who might not play in 2008, including Dydek. That said, there remain some interesting names available, including WNBA legends Yolanda Griffith, Ticha Penicheiro, Katie Smith and Sheryl Swoopes.
We’ve already had an active WNBA off-season with trades of the magnitude rarely seen in the league, but don’t think for a moment we’re anywhere close to done. That includes the Storm, which still has only seven players under contract if you include core players Sue Bird and Janell Burse.