Chat with Mechelle Voepel
Welcome to SportsNation! On Thursday, women's basketball writer Mechelle Voepel will stop by to chat about the WNBA season.
Voepel is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage.
Send your questions now and join Voepel Thursday at 2 p.m. ET!
Mechelle Voepel (2:01 PM)
I've been watching the Liberty-Mystics game ... we'll go ahead and get started and see if New York holds on.
Do you think the US National team might be a little too comfortable with their win over the WNBA All Stars? The All Stars were without Lauren Jackson, Becky Hammon and Sancho Lyttle, and Penny Taylor was deliberately held to limited minutes. If they had all been available to play the entire game, the All Stars still might not have won, but the margin of victory certainly wouldn't have been 27 points, either.
Mechelle Voepel (2:05 PM)
It is hard to imagine a team coached by Geno Auriemma ever being "allowed" to feel comfortable. :) Auriemma was pleased with aspects of this game, but not others - transition defense being one thing he wants to see significant improvement on. Especially because, as you mentioned, the absent WNBA players. He also made a point to remind the players as they headed back to their respective WNBA teams that they are always to think of themselves as representatives of Team USA. Meaning ... think twice about things like flagrant fouls, getting tossed from games. He wants the members of Team USA to carry themselves like that whether they are actually together or not.
Matt (Ann Arbor, MI)
The "compile a bunch of aging Hall-of-Famers and other formerly top tier players" has clearly been a disaster in LA. Would the Sparks be better served to start focusing more on Toliver, Riley and Wisdom-Hylton and building for the future?
Mechelle Voepel (2:08 PM)
Absolutely! The Sparks simply have to focus on the future. The "plan" for this season wasn't terrible in theory, but it has been a disaster in practice. Obviously, they've got one of the best players ever in Candace Parker when she returns. They have to build a team around her the same way they did with Lisa Leslie. Of course, if Maya Moore somehow ends up in LA ... then you're talking about building a Houston Comets-like team.
kevin (macon ga)
The top selling jerseys in the WNBA last year were Candace Parker, Diana Taurasi, and Lisa Leslie. All have corporate logos. Will the NBA and other men's leagues see the lack of impact on sales as a sign that they should consider introducing similar logos?
Mechelle Voepel (2:12 PM)
Considering how universally successful that has been in other sports, I would be surprised if it doesn't seep into the NBA. People wear advertising constantly anyway ... don't know why it would be any different. It will be interesting to see if corporate-sponsored jerseys might be a small part of what comes out of the NBA's upcoming labor standoff.
Barry (Phoenix, AZ)
Serena vs. Steffi, both players at their respective peaks. Who wins, and what is the score?
Mechelle Voepel (2:15 PM)
Considering Steffi Graf is my all-time favorite athlete, I have to call out my own objectivity, or lack thereof. But ... I think if both played their best possible match, Serena Williams would win. The astonishing power/placement of her serve (sheesh!) and the strength and depth of her groundstrokes would eventually prevail. Both can/could cover the court so amazingly well. I only wish there were some way to actually make this match happen, instead of just in my imagination. I forgot, originally, to give a score. Let's say: 6-4, 6-7 (10-8), 7-5, Serena. Steffi fights like hell for that second set and gets it. But then she just can't break Serena in the third set; she can't hit enough forehand winners because Serena moves so well and takes better advantage than most of Steffi's slice backhand.
When Maya Moore graduates from Uconn next year will she automatically become a dominant force in the WNBA or will she need some time to adjust?
Mechelle Voepel (2:17 PM)
She'll step right in as a star, the same way Diana Taurasi, Candace Parker and Tina Charles have. Maya Moore could join a WNBA team this afternoon and be ready to start.
Mechelle Voepel (2:19 PM)
By the way, the Liberty *did* hold on to beat the Mystics, so the crazy East race gets another jolt. Every game down the stretch is going to be important in the East. Whichever two teams are left out of the postseason in the East are going to be very disappointed, because they're all good.
Matt (Ann Arbor, MI)
The Fever lost yesterday after another disastrous fourth quarter, continuing a trend of losing big leads or otherwise falling apart in the second half. How can such an experienced veteran team be so bad at closing out games?
Mechelle Voepel (2:22 PM)
Actually, I talked to Tamika Catchings and Katie Douglas after the game for an ESPN.com story that should be up soon on the site. Both were pretty irritated with what happened. I got the sense that Catchings, in particular, wants less chess-playing, so to speak, by coach Lin Dunn and more just "Let us do it." Douglas said that they've been talking about the same things over and over, and it's time for it to kick in. I still think that in the crunch time of the season, the Fever's experience will get them into the playoffs. But it's not going to be easy.
Do you think the Shock can be a playoff team next year? I am serious, they are no worse than the Dream was at 4-30. The Dream got Angel, if Tulsa gets Maya what else would they need?
Mechelle Voepel (2:27 PM)
Anything is possible if you get talent. But ... for whatever legitimate criticisms people might have of Marynell Meadors, she has spent her entire career in women's basketball. That alone still doesn't guarantee that a person knows what she's/he's doing, but ... I think MM does deserve credit for the way the Dream has come together this year and last. Chamique Holdsclaw helped last season, but her departure this year hasn't hurt. Meaning that MM had a whole "team concept" in mind when she was putting this together. The big thing for me is hoping that the Shock brass, the fans and the team itself doesn't get too bogged down in how awful this season has been and continues to be ... and instead really works hard to figure out what it takes to build a successful team. I genuinely don't know if Nolan Richardson is committed to doing that, but we'll find out.
The talk about "best in the world" always centers around Lauren Jackson and Diana Taurasi, with a side order of Maya and CP3, but is there anyone better than Sylvia Fowles when she gets rolling?
Mechelle Voepel (2:30 PM)
Good point. Because as a sheer low-block force who combines power, size, strength and an expanding variety of moves with which she's definitely become more comfortable, Sylvia Fowles really is extremely difficult to stop. She doesn't have the versatility of a player like LJ - who is so good offensively and defensively in a variety of ways - but when it comes to being an old-fashioned center, Fowles is really terrific. And just what Team USA needs in the post-Lisa Leslie era.
Brett S (Lawrence, KS)
Who is your pick for MVP? The best player on one of the best teams (Jackson, McCoughtry), or someone else who is so valuable to their team they might be sunk without her (Charles, Fowles, Taurasi)?
Mechelle Voepel (2:34 PM)
That's the old debate that voters have every year, of course. :) If I had to vote right this minute, I'd give it to the best player on the current best team: Lauren Jackson. But Angel McCoughtry is also very high on my list, of course. I always wait until the last possible minute to vote, in order to take in everything that happens. And I'll do the same thing again.
Hi Mechelle, why do you think Brittney Griner turned down the chance to play with team usa?
Mechelle Voepel (2:38 PM)
Brittney had an amazing but also emotionally taxing freshman season. I think Baylor coach Kim Mulkey has been very adamant about "protecting" her as much as possible in terms of how she's brought along and the type of attention she gets. The incident with Texas Tech threw a large wrench in Baylor's plans, of course, but all things considered - with a Final Four trip - I think it actually blew over relatively quickly. Brittney may ease into playing for Team USA at some point ... or maybe it won't really be the "thing" for her. It's not for everybody. Certainly, her talents could be a big help to Team USA someday.
Geno Auriemma made it clear he would like the All Star game to keep the format of USA senior national team vs. some collection of all-stars. What do you think of that idea, and what role should the WNBA take in preparing the USA national team?
Mechelle Voepel (2:43 PM)
I haven't really decided exactly what I think about that, actually. In theory, there's definitely a positive aspect to it, but ... does the league want to be almost seen as "supporting" Team USA against its players from other countries? Could that be how it's interpreted? That seems like it could be problematic to me. And I don't know that I want to give up on East vs. West. But I am still thinking about it ... not that my opinion is going to make any difference in what they opt to do. Also, I might just be daydreaming frivolously, but I still think the idea of the All-Star Game being played in Knoxville, Tenn., in conjunction with the Women's Hoops Hall of Fame induction would be a big boost to both events. It would give more people a reason to attend the induction and make it more a real celebration of the sport for fans from everywhere.
Brett S (Lawrence, KS)
Leilani Mitchell and Shalee Lehning are two point guards who get a bad rep and don't seem to be incredibly talented but still start for their respective teams. Why are they so valuable?
Mechelle Voepel (2:48 PM)
Because there's something to be said for players who know exactly what their strengths and limitations are, and really just don't make many mistakes. Mitchell is small and speedy, and she knows that a lot of NY's pressure defense has to come from her energy and commitment. And she's also aware that there are now multiple weapons for the Liberty that occupy opponents' top defenders. As she says, "I'm usually the one left open, so I have to hit shots when I get the opportunity." Shalee Lehning, of course, I saw throughout college at Kansas State and never saw anyone who ever committed more fully to whatever her coach was asking than she did. Lehning doesn't have great speed, of course, but she has tremendous court vision and smarts about the way every possession should work for her team. There's also value in players like this being highly dependable while very low-ego and low-maintenance.
Mechelle, in the hot mess that is the Western Conference right now, Minnesota is in second place. I've noticed that Lindsay Whalen is starting to play to her strengths a bit more as Seimone gets even more comfortable in the offense and as Rebekkah figures out her role on the team. Are they coming together at the right time or am I just imagining things?
Mechelle Voepel (2:52 PM)
There have been several questions today about the Lynx in this general vein - are they coming together at the right time? As you said, the West is so wide-open to anyone capable of stringing together a few victories, the Lynx definitely seem pretty sure - I think - to make the postseason if they can keep playing the way they did yesterday against the Dream (minus losing the big lead, of course.) I don't think you are imagining things, although I'm sure this is not really the season that many imagined for the West. Injuries, coaching inexperience and roster miscalculations really have made it messy - unless you're Seattle.
While it is part of Donna Orender's job to sell the positive trends and numbers of the league, does she ever lose any credibility with the media with her answers to questions?
Mechelle Voepel (2:59 PM)
Yes, it has been an on-going issue that's she had because she can actually come across as hostile, frankly, in her sunny-side-up spin on issues. Like, "I'm smiling at you, but don't think for a minute I'm going to *really* answer your question." I think Donna decided from the start that she would not give any fuel to anything remotely negative about the league. I understand that, and I feel I have a pretty good relationship with her. But I also know that her job is selling the WNBA's positives 24-7, and my job is to try to more realistically assess the league. For me, that does NOT mean being intentionally negative, as I think too many journalists are. It means presenting as close to reality as I can discern. And then let observers of the league come to their own conclusions as they add in their own experiences.
With the decline in newspapers and the number of reporters who cover women's sports, what advice would you have for someone who is interested in pursuing journalism as a career?
Mechelle Voepel (3:05 PM)
This is so hard. When I was going to college in the early-mid 1980s, I can't ever remember people being worried that someday the industry would collapse and journalism would be redefined in so many ways by technology. We didn't see it coming in the way that it did. Or at least I never heard it articulated at that time in a way that would have made me fearful. So I never thought back then I wouldn't have a job in the industry. Now, we all worry about our individual futures and that of the industry. I always say now I see journalism becoming more an avocation than vocation in many circumstances. That said, will there always be a need for people to gather information and present it well? Yes. But will it still be in just the old models? Obviously not; we've already seen those changing. I don't want to discourage anybody from entering the field, just want them to come in with their eyes wide-open that they face difficulties that didn't really exist 25 years ago when I started. But maybe the good thing is young journalists are facing them early now, not in mid-career.
Swin Cash, Sue Bird, and Lauren Jackson are in the top ten for most minutes played on average so far this season. Given that they all have a history with injury (Cash and Jackson most severely) and Seattle's current lead over both east and west, can't Agler afford to start sitting them? Seattle's bench is a little sparse but it seems like a good idea to start looking toward the playoffs.
Mechelle Voepel (3:08 PM)
You know, I have to say that crossed my mind in the triple-OT game last night with Phoenix. Bird played 50 minutes-plus. Did the Storm really need to push its starters that hard to win that game? Or is this the way the players would prefer to do it? As I mentioned earlier, Indy's Tamika Catching told me she really does NOT want to sit a great deal because she thinks getting cold on the bench and then coming back in actually could be more damaging to her than just logging lots of minutes. Agler is very experienced in the league and I think he's wise enough to give veteran players such as LJ, Swin Cash and Bird a lot of say-so in how they want to deal with this playing-time issue for the rest of the regular season.
kevin (macon ga)
You OK with Lindsey Vonn winning the ESPY for best female athlete?
Mechelle Voepel (3:16 PM)
Maybe I shouldn't say this, but I don't ever put any thought into who gets an ESPY. The show has grown tremendously, the athletes seem to enjoy hobnobbing with entertainment celebs in LA, and viewers like it. Good programming for the day after the baseball All-Star Game. But to me, athletes are all about winning things that they control. They *win* them by defeating others. While I'm sure they are very happy to get an ESPY, it's probably like any other voted-upon trophy to most competitors. It's great, they appreciate it ... but the trophy or medal for actually winning a championship is on a shelf so much higher. All that said, I didn't have a problem with Lindsey Vonn winning it. She's the best American women's alpine skier ever. Though nobody is cooler than Picabo Street. :)
With Tina Charles having such an incredible year, are we overlooking the fact that other than Tina, this may be one of the least impact-filled rookie groups in league history?
Mechelle Voepel (3:19 PM)
Well, I don't think too many people really expected it to be a great rookie class. It was Tina Charles and everybody else on draft day. So I honestly doubt anyone is really too surprised that it's still pretty much like that at the midway point in the season. But it will be interesting to see if any of the 2010 rookies outside of Charles might make significant improvements next season.
With the way that Allison Hightower and Kalana Greene have been playing of late, was drafting Alison Lacey really the right move for Seattle? It's been three years since they've been able to draft someone and enter that player into the rotation at some point.
Mechelle Voepel (3:23 PM)
I have to say it seemed like a good move to me at the time, because I thought Lacey had the potential to really learn well behind Sue Bird. But I'm not sure the effectiveness of someone who's Sue Bird's understudy is something we can judge after a few months. You don't get on stage enough. :) That said, I would have been very tempted to take Kalana Greene if I'd had a first-round pick because she had been such a winner, of course, at UConn. And Huskies players have a tremendous track record of success in the WNBA.
Mechelle, any idea what effect the likely-looking NBA lockout would have on the WNBA? Half the teams in this league are still tied directly to NBA teams, and if they're 'locking out' their male players would that have any impact on what they do with their female ones?
Mechelle Voepel (3:27 PM)
Something I'm sure we're all wondering about. I don't know that the two should necessarily have a lot do with one another, since the WNBA's CBA is in place. Since the league is the hybrid of NBA and independent owners, perhaps it makes the NBA-only labor issues have less impact on the WNBA. Ultimately, of course, the money issues being discussed in the NBA are in a different galaxy than what goes on in the WNBA.
Mary (Minneapolis, MN )
What do you see as a fair amount of time to evaluate a trade? There are some who question the Lindsay Whalen trade now because of the fantastic season that Tina Charles is having. I feel like it is too soon to say who won, because the season is not over and both teams had significant roster changes. I am a big fan of Tina Charles and it would be great to have her on the Lynx as well, but it feels like people forget that you usually have to give up something in a trade.
Mechelle Voepel (3:32 PM)
Minnesota knew it was dealing away a immediately pro-ready center who's one of the best to ever wear a UConn uniform. That is a lot to give up. But the belief that Lindsay Whalen could mean that much to the Lynx franchise was a gamble they decided to take. Let's put it this way: It takes no time to evaluate this trade from the Connecticut Sun's angle: It was hugely successful. But ... there are such things as trades that benefit both sides in different ways, and this still could be one of them. The Lynx could (should) make the playoffs this season, and that is very important to the franchise. So I wouldn't evaluate it from the Lynx perspective for a while. No matter what, it could never be considered a "horrible" trade the way the infamous Katie Smith-to-Detroit deal is.
Mechelle Voepel (3:33 PM)
Wow, again, far more good questions than I was able to get to. Thanks for putting so much thought into these, as they really make me think. Look forward to chatting again next week!