By David Siegel
Sure, the Olympics have been fun to watch. However, if you are like me, you cannot wait for the resumption of the WNBA season!
It has been a strange season for sure, with injuries and national team commitments keeping many outstanding players from being a part of their WNBA teams thus far. What will the return of the Olympic players bring for the second part of the season? Will the teams that have succeeded in part due to having their full roster continue to thrive? Will the teams that have struggled without their stars come back strong and contend?
One question that is hanging over the head of the Phoenix Mercury is will superstar guard Diana Taurasi return at all this season. The Mercury have been decimated by injuries with Penny Taylor missing the entire season, Candice Dupree missing nine games and counting, and Taurasi missing all but two games. Remove them, and you take away over 50 points per game from the team, based on their 2011 statistics. Now, Chardé Houston’s thirteen points per game have joined them on the bench.
There have been rumors that Taurasi, despite her performance at the Olympics, is still not at one hundred percent, and that she will need more rest upon returning to the United States. The other allegation, of course, is that she is capable of playing, and the Mercury are “tanking” the season, in an effort to add one of the highly anticipated college seniors to their roster next season: Brittney Griner, Elena Delle Donne or Skylar Diggins.
One thing is certain; the 4-15 Mercury, with the second worst record in the league right now, are far from the team Corey Gaines thought he would be coaching this season.
On this week’s Dishin & Swishin podcast the Mercury head coach discusses dealing with the issues that have faced the team this season. We discussed the tanking allegations, the loss of talent to injuries, the rise of DeWanna Bonner, rookie Samantha Prahalis and the possibilities regarding Taurasi.
Across the nation, in New York (or New Jersey, if you prefer), the Liberty similarly find themselves outside of the playoff picture with a 6-12 record, but the immediate future is much more upbeat.
Injuries also impacted the team, with Plenette Pierson missing half the team’s games, and Kia Vaughn missing a few as well. Pierson’s loss was crucial to the team, as she not only brings scoring and rebounding, she brings a toughness and swagger that impacts the entire court presence of the Liberty.
Other than superstar Cappie Pondexter, there also has been inconsistency in performance, as young players like Leilani Mitchell and Essence Carson continue to increase their playing time and rotations are adjusted accordingly.
Monique Ambers has been an assistant coach for Liberty head coach John Whisenant for many years, going back to the championship Sacramento Monarchs days. If anyone knows the defensive intensity and discipline required to thrive in the “white line” defense, it is Ambers.
Ambers and I discussed the inconsistent, and disappointing, first half from the Liberty including the adjustments being made, the shifting of roles, and the expectations of what players need to do. The Liberty has had all of the team available for the Olympic break, and after a week of beneficial mental and physical relief, the team has been working on coming together and adjustments. They need to hit the ground running, as a brutal schedule starts with a home-and-home with the first place Connecticut Sun, followed by a road game with Chicago (who the Liberty are chasing for the final playoff spot) and then the West Coast swing.
So this week’s podcast is a tale of two cities on the outside looking in. One is more optimistic right now than the other. One has a lot more question marks.
Enjoy the podcast, I hope you enjoy the rest of the Olympic Games and get ready for the return of WNBA basketball!
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