The WNBA readies for the new season

Living in Dallas right now means that when I hear “pro basketball” I’m supposed to immediately say, “Go Mavs!” And I do — eventually. But I have to pump myself up to get excited about sweaty men, even if they do have National Championship potential. I’d much rather think about the WNBA. For obvious reasons.

The WNBA preseason started this week and more than Sheryl Swoopes‘ hairstyle is new. The change that has received the most media attention is the hiring of Laurel Richie as WNBA President. She has quite a challenge ahead: to lead with the same drive and enthusiasm as past presidents Val Ackerman and Donna Orender while helping the league achieve financial stability with new fans and sponsors.

Richie’s most recent achievement was rebuilding the Girl Scouts brand as chief marketing officer of the organization. Choosing Richie, who has no basketball experience, means that the WNBA is ready to focus on marketing itself to a mainstream audience as its 15th season begins. The tricky part will be winning over long-time fans and season-ticket holders, who are different in each franchise, while expanding the base.

On the player side, all eyes are on Maya Moore, the four-time All-American from UConn and No. 1 draft pick by the Minnesota Lynx.

For at least four years, we’ve been hearing that Moore, who just became the first female basketball player to join Nike’s Jordan Brand, will change the women’s pro game. To be honest, I’m not sure what that means in the long run. The immediate change will be in the Lynx, of course. Moore, No. 4 pick Amber Harris and free agent acquisition Taj McWilliams-Franklin give Minnesota a depth at the post that the team has lacked. And both Candice Wiggins and Seimone Augustus are healthy. I think the Lynx is the team to watch this year.

But changes throughout the WNBA promise to make it more competitive than Seattle’s waltz to the championship last year. Some advantages are intangible, so here are my random thoughts on the rest of the league, based on what I’ve read so far. Follow the links to read more about each team.

Los Angeles

Candace Parker is back to spark veterans Tina Thompson and DeLisha Milton-Jones and although newly acquired point guard Loree Moore just announced that she’s leaving the Sparks for medical reasons, the loss hasn’t dampened the team’s spirit. The chemistry is strong and, as one commentator said, if L.A. can bring everything to the table that it did when Parker was missing, the team could win a top spot in the standings.

Phoenix

The Mercury also is out to show its true mettle this season. Diana Taurasi, after being cleared of the drug charges that sent her home from Turkey, is well rested and ready to prove exactly why she doesn’t need drugs to enhance her play. She’s not alone, of course, but when she’s on fire, everybody’s hot.

San Antonio

The Silver Stars team is an unknown quantity except for Becky Hammon and Sophia Young. I have seen Jia Perkins play in another league and know how good she can be, but whether she will excel as a Silver Star is TBD. S.A. has Chamique Holdsclaw now, but health makes her ability to contribute questionable. Jayne Appel won’t start the season, but if she returns full strength, she’ll make a big impact. For now, the team could go either way.

Seattle

Before Seattle fans storm me, I must acknowledge that the reigning champs certainly haven’t retreated into the sunset. Most of the last year’s team is returning and five-time All-Star Katie Smith joined the team via a trade to add another veteran impact player and leader. A blog post that I refuse to link to claims Seattle players are getting too long in the tooth to play hard. If Smith, Sue Bird, Swin Cash and Lauren Jackson read that, Seattle probably will not lose a single game.

Tulsa

The Shock has Swoopes for leadership this year, but even she doesn’t expect a championship run. The team just wants to win more games than it did last year. Here’s Sheryl talking about it. (Do you think that’s her real hair?)

Atlanta

In the East, which already was competitive, Atlanta remains strong. The Dream’s weakness at point guard is no more, thanks to the addition of Lindsey Harding. The team will not have Sancho Lyttle while she competes with the Spanish national team to qualify for the Olympics, but she’ll be back in time to make a difference. (On Sunday, NBA TV airs a special game between the Atlanta Dream and the Great Britain women’s national team, starting at Noon ET.)

Indiana

I would love to say that the Fever has a shot this year, but I don’t see it. Tamika Catchings still is a wonder woman, but she can’t do it alone. Indiana needed a rookie fireball — and didn’t get one. It has a lot of bigs this year, though. Will height be enough to support Catch?

New York

The Liberty doesn’t seem cohesive to me. I have no statistical basis for that opinion — it’s just gut instinct. But I would never rule out a team with Cappie Pondexter (as long as she stays off of Twitter).

Connecticut

Tina Charles, Tina Charles, Tina Charles. She was last season’s Rookie of the Year and will get better and better. UConn cohort Renee Montgomery will be alongside of her this year — good news for both. Add Kalana Greene and Asjha Jones you have a group of Huskies at the center of the team. We all know what a group of Huskies can do.

Chicago

With Pokey Chatman as coach, the Sky is headed for a whole new ballgame. Chatman is a winner. Player-wise, Sylvia Fowles now has Michelle Snow at eye-level, giving the Sky a definite height advantage. And don’t forget that Gonzaga phenom Courtney Vandersloot is now part of the Sky. If she adapts quickly to the pros, all bets are off.

Washington

I dunno. The Mystics lost Harding and Smith, but Alana Beard is back. Monique Curry tore her ACL and is out for the season. Crystal Langhorne is healthy Nicky Anosike is a Mystic now. So, some good players are on the roster. What’s my problem then? I just don’t have any feelings about the Mystics. No feelings, no belief — like any good lesbian.

The WNBA regular season starts June 3.

I’m sure your opinions differ wildly from mine, so have at it. Who’s your pick to win the WNBA championship this year? Why do you think your team will take the title? What players are you watching this year?

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