Thursday, June 1, 2000
Waivers are what's up in league's first week
By Michelle Smith
Special to ESPN.com
The first week of the WNBA season has barely begun, but things are already getting very interesting around the league:
Out in Orlando
Orlando coach Carolyn Peck pulled off the surprise of the week when she waived last season's starting small forward Sheri Sam.
According to Peck, Sam reportedly "did not fit our system." Peck is looking for the Miracle to be a more up-tempo, faster-moving team, and there are rumblings that Sam came into camp out of shape.
That up-tempo style is also the reason that Orlando waived rookie Shawnetta Stewart out of Rutgers. Stewart's stock at draft time suffered because many coaches consider her to be overweight.
Sam, a former ABL all-star (San Jose Lasers) who averaged 11.4 points and 4.6 rebounds a game last season, already has been picked up by another team, and will now make her way to Miami, which added her Thursday. An expansion team could certainly use the scoring and when she is in shape, Sam is an exciting player.
Portland dealt size for scoring punch when it sent Tari Phillips to New York for Carolyn Jones-Young, who is apparently still recovering from the ACL injury she suffered in the winter of 1998 in the ABL. Meanwhile, Seattle traded draft picks to get immediate post help in Houston rookie Andrea Garner.
There's already a pattern developing. The WNBA's new relaxed trade rules are going to be the only chance the expansion teams have to get better. With talented players few and far between, the four expansion squads have only their draft picks to offer and with next year's blockbuster class waiting (Tamika Catchings, Semeka Randall, Ruth Riley, Shea Ralph, et al), it might be worth it for many teams to make a deal.
Los Angeles made news and history by waiving its first-round draft pick, Nicole Kubik of Nebraska -- which marked the first time in league history that a team waived its first-round draft pick before opening day. From the start, there was a lot of head-scratching about this pick -- the 15th selection in the first round -- because Kubik was not a highly rated guard. The Sparks said they drafted Kubik for her defensive skills, but it was Nicky McCrimmon who made the good impression. If the Sparks end up experiencing big success this season, it might just be in spite of themselves.
Also, the salary issue hasn't completely faded away. Lisa Leslie's agent, Bruce Binko, told the Los Angeles Times this week that the star center might consider taking her basketball talents elsewhere after this season if the league doesn't improve its compensation package. Leslie is making better than $1 million a year, but only $75,000 of that is base salary.
In Phoenix, the Mercury may have broken a league attendance record for its opener against New York Wednesday night, but not in a good way. Phoenix is the only team in the league never to have played for a home crowd of less than 10,000. But season ticket sales have declined and the Mercury might fall short of the six-figure mark against the Liberty.
Which team is the only one of the original eight to have no original team members on its current roster? Utah. But when you are 30-60 in the first three years, change would seem to be in order.
Coop and the Comets
Houston, meanwhile, sent a statement to the rest of the league that it will not give up its reign without a fight after a thorough 84-68 beating of New York. This team might not have a great point guard or a great center, but everybody in between just knows how to win.
Cynthia Cooper became the first player in the league to pass the 2,000-point career-scoring mark in the game. No one else is even close. Leslie topped 1,500 points in Wednesday's win.
Other notable names from the waiver wire include two-year veteran Adia Barnes (Phoenix), rookie Tauja Catchings (Miami), Old Dominion product Nyree Roberts (Washington), injured rookie Peppi Browne (Charlotte) and Brazilian star Alessandra Santos de Oliveira (New York).
Michelle Smith of the San Francisco Examiner is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.