Chat with Mechelle Voepel
Welcome to SportsNation! On Thursday, women's basketball writer Mechelle Voepel will stop by to chat about the 2011 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 (2:06 PM)
Good afternoon, everybody. Yes, I'm starting the weekly chats again after taking a break for a few weeks from torturing you with my 5-10 minute long answers. :) Will try to be a bit quicker, but you know that thing about leopards changing their spots and all. OK, let's get started.
Alicia (Los Angeles)
Is it just me or is the WNBA's survey of GMs so stupid? What do GMs see in New York that make them think the Liberty is the second best choice to win the title? How does Maya Moore get voted as the second best shooter and Courtney Vandersloot is the second best point guard ... when neither has played a game in the league?
Mechelle Voepel (2:12 PM)
Well, I tend to get in trouble when I call things "stupid," which doesn't always stop me, of course. I guess "stupid" seems somewhat harsh, here, but ... I agree, some of their choices were weird to me. I did all my picks - you guys know how much I relish doing those - before the GM thing came out, so I was, um, pretty surprised some of them have a *much* higher opinion of the Liberty's chances than I do. Since I didn't pick NY to even make the playoffs. As for the rookie accolades ... that doesn't make too much sense, either. But, hey, some folks will look at my picks and may not have the kindest words for them, either. Although we all seem to agree the Storm is the favorite. Like that takes much insight.
Will the Shock make a major impact this season or will it be a slight improvement. I will be the optimist and say I feel they could maybe slip into a playoff spot if they all come together. But the west is so deep it is going to be hard. What did you think of trading Robinson the leading scorer from the Shock and cutting Juanita Ward who was a Bulgarian league superstar and improved her game?
Mechelle Voepel (2:17 PM)
I'm more of the mindset that we'll see "slight improvement" but not a playoff spot. The West should be really tough, especially if the various team stars stay healthy. Of course, I am going against history and expect that this time, finally, the Lynx are good enough to make the playoffs again. I think Seattle and Phoenix - again, if they stay healthy - are locks, and I'm pretty high, actually, on LA with Candace Parker back. As for the Robinson deal, I don't really get it; seems like they just gave her away. I am not sure how much Sheryl Swoopes or Marion Jones are going to really do on court for this team. Be nice to see the "oldsters" play well, but ... I mean, realistically, I think this team is still undertalented compared to its opponents.
As a BC fan, I've been keeping my eyes on the WNBA transactions to see if Carolyn Swords made the Sky (yay!) and Stefanie Murphy made the Sun (boo!). It struck me that many rookies' dreams are over before they even begin. How often do these young women play in overseas for a year or two and successfully make a WNBA roster?
Mechelle Voepel (2:20 PM)
Seattle coach Brian Agler was talking about this topic a couple of days ago when I spoke with him. Like most coaches, he'd really love to have at least a 12-player roster, for the purpose of keeping that young player who is "almost" there but just becomes a casualty of the roster cuts. He feels that it's becoming more commonplace for kids to not "give up" after not making a WNBA roster and instead go overseas to hone their games and come back after possibly a couple of years to play in the WNBA. This is in part because I think it's become easier to live overseas, the network of people you can count on over there is bigger, and players are more likely to understand that the WNBA may not happen for them right away - if at all - but there is still a chance to be a pro basketball player. Agler seems to think that European leagues are actually developing players a little better, too.
kevin (macon ga)
Are you surprised that the Sky waived Shameka Christon?
Mechelle Voepel (2:24 PM)
OK, I was shocked. I think she's a terrific player, and there was no indication from Pokey Chatman in the league's recent conference call that the Sky were going to do this. Not that I expect she's going to reveal all team business or anything on one of those calls, but ... I just didn't even sense that might happen. Maybe somehow Christon still ends up with the Sky again after she's healthy in two months? Or maybe she was actually ready to move on from Chicago? I think she's a valuable player, and once healthy, some team is going to be fortunate to have her. Addendum: Kevin theorized maybe Christon is hurt worse than we think. Maybe that is a part of this, too.
Hi Mechelle,Any news on why Janel McCarville is not playing in the W this year? Also what is your opinion on why several top American players are choosing not to play in the WNBA, such as Nolan and Ford? Is it the low salaries and want of rest for the "real" basketball season?
Mechelle Voepel (2:31 PM)
I think that J-Mac may be in that group of players whose overseas contracts make it more difficult for them to play in the WNBA. As for what I think of this ... it's a little complicated, so I'll try to be brief (for me). On one hand, you say people have to do what's best for them financially and health-wise. On the other, I can't say it doesn't bug me a bit when American players don't do everything possible to play in the WNBA. Now, that may not seem fair. After all, it's their livelihoods. But for those of us over 40 who remember not just no WNBA, but no "prospect" of a WNBA for a long time, it's hard to not expect all American players to have a special commitment to making this league continue to be the best it can. Especially when you see foreign players who I think have make some pretty big personal sacrifices to play here every year, or almost every year, like Lauren Jackson, Penny Taylor and Tully Bevilaqua. Ultimately, though, there are going to be players who believe they need to do what's best for them, regardless of how that may affect the greater issue of pro women's basketball in the United States.
I feel like Barry here, but seriously, is anyone going to watch a Li vs. Schiavone French Open final?
Mechelle Voepel (2:35 PM)
Well .... all of China will, for sure. :) And it should rate well in France, of course. Here in the United States ... obviously, not so much. I've got a confession: I used to be glued to tennis, to the point that if my house were burning down during a Grand Slam final, I'd probably have just croaked while hoping the fire department put it out before I lost the picture. But, I have lost my passion for watching it the same way. I think the personalities seem less compelling? I will watch the final, still, but I have not been glued to Roland Garros, that's for sure. Of course, I didn't used to have the WNBA to take up my interest in the months of May and June, so that's a factor, too, no doubt. I've become a WNBA addict instead of a tennis addict.
Carol Anne (Seattle)
When will ODU name Wendy Larry's successor?
Mechelle Voepel (2:39 PM)
Another confession: I haven't been closely following that coaching search the last week or so, being consumed with WNBA previews. But I do want to say this: I hope for ODU's sake, that the AD really has a plan of someone he thinks is better for the long-term growth of the program, as opposed to just hiring someone else because he and Wendy Larry seemed to be having a power play of sorts. I don't really agree with the way this was handled. Larry had a pretty remarkable track record for a long time. While I get the desire for "new blood," I also think it can be a mistake, a kind of chase for fools' gold, if you will. Unless you really are sure you have a person/plan who is better than what you already have, you are probably not going to improve the program.
kevin (macon ga)
How much does having a savvy veteran like Dominique Canty on board help a rookie point guard like Courtney Vanderlsoot?
Mechelle Voepel (2:43 PM)
I hope I pick the right questions to answer from you, Kevin, instead of the funny ones that I may unfortunately take too seriously. :) It so happens that Pokey Chatman used that very word - savvy - to describe Canty, who I think of as like one of those character actors who's in a million movies but not a starring role. Pokey thinks Sloot has what it takes, but there's not a kid point guard in the world who is ready to just step into the WNBA and be a success without growing pains. Canty is good at taking pressure off her teammates and just doing little things. I think that will help CV as she tries to hit the ground running with the Sky.
Would Geno Auriemma take 4 post players in Fowles, Parker, Griner and Charles? I would defintely love to see that...it could be the most dominating inside mix of posts the U.S. and the World has ever seen.
Mechelle Voepel (2:46 PM)
Yes, I could see that. Because it's one of the things I don't know could possibly be countered by any other country. Of course, as we know, Geno doesn't "pick" the the national team, it's done by the committee, with him being able to make his recommendations. Adding Griner to that group of three players that I think would be locks for the 2012 Olympics indeed could really be a lot of fun to watch. Griner did well in the training camp in Vegas a few weeks ago, and I would expect she'll have a very good 2011-12 college season, too.
For the 2 preseason games the Fever has had, they have lost both and Jeanette Pohlen who was their #9 pick doesn't seem to be doing to well. She has only made two three pointers in two games. Why do you think this is? Is it just going to take her awhile to adjust to the intensity of the WNBA?
Mechelle Voepel (2:50 PM)
I don't put a lot of stock into preseason games' results, because coaches often just use them as glorified scrimmages or ways to figure out if someone on the margin can earn herself a roster spot. Every rookie has to adjust to the speed and physicality of the WNBA, and Pohlen is no exception. I think it's less about intensity - Jeanette is pretty darn intense, herself, frankly - and more the fact that everyone is quick or strong or both. It's a huge step up from college, and that's not just a platitude. The thing is, she has some very good personalities around her from which to learn. But eventually, it's sink or swim time for all the rookies.
Do you see the Phoenix Mercury having success this year? do they have a shot at the title?
Mechelle Voepel (2:54 PM)
Some folks are probably going to say, "Why be high on the Mercury this year when they are not going to be that much different, personnel-wise, than last year?" And I would say that it kind of will fit in with the Merc's past peaks and valleys to have a really good season after a mediocre one. Plus ... I think part of why Phoenix was so-so last year was that Seattle was so good; the Storm just had their number, and it affected the Merc. I think it did, anyway. It's pretty tough to lose seven times to the same team, to get close to beating them but not come through. Also, of course, you have the situation with Diana Taurasi resting after the drug-testing error that cost her a chunk of her European season. To a degree, she can look at it as an ill wind that blew some good; she may be fresher all this WNBA season, and she's certainly hungry to compete again. Coach Corey Gaines also said he feels his post game will be more physical and tougher inside on the low block this season, so we'll see if that's the case or not.
What city would be a good location for a new franchise?
Mechelle Voepel (3:02 PM)
To make me happy, definitely Kansas City. :) But I'm not holding my breath on that one. Right now, I don't spend a lot of time really thinking about expansion, because we've seen the league expand before and it not work. You'd like to think the 12 existing teams can continue to solidify themselves, and then maybe we look to expansion. I look at what happened with the NHL going to Atlanta and it not working, and then going back to its "roots" in Winnipeg, a smaller place that clearly has a far more traditional hockey love. Sometimes, a place that lost a franchise figures out how much it misses it, and wants it back. And can get it back, as was the case with Winnipeg and the NHL. I don't know if we'll ever see that with the WNBA and Houston, but I wish we would. I also think smaller markets without much other pro sports competition - such as Tulsa - are better possibilities. And somehow, the WNBA needs to get the Bay Area involved, even if there *are* a lot of pro sports options there. OK, maybe I think about this more than I thought. :)
I see that Tulsa cut Betty Lennox today, but kept Sheryl Swoopes. Mixed message here, but I am glad she will be able to retire respectfully and get her due. That aside, what do you believe Nolan is keeping her for? I wouldn't guess that it is because he expects her to play much. I'm guessing here that he is keeping her for leadership more than anything else. Is it possible (anything is possible with Noaln) that he would cut her later in the season because he sees some better talent out there that would help his team, rather than having someone taking up space on the bench but is a leader?
Mechelle Voepel (3:08 PM)
Yes, definitely the Shock brass, Teresa Edwards included, thinks that Sheryl Swoopes can provide leadership. Certainly, she has the experience to do that. But let's see how happy she's going to be with how she plays and whatever role she has. It's one thing to say, "Hey, we've got this WNBA legend, she'll be our leader and role model," and another thing for that actually to work out. Sheryl has her pride after all, and if the Shock is struggling, who knows how she will deal with it. As for what Nolan Richardson might do during the course of the season ... again, there were a lot of deals last year that didn't necessarily mean the Shock got any better. Was that all about clearing out remnants of Detroit? Certainly to a large degree, but also about looking for something that the team never found. I don't know how this Swoopes "experiment" is going to work, but I hope for the franchise's sake there is some progress in this team being more competitive.
kevin (macon ga)
The Shock have only two active guards on the roster: Ivory Latta & Marion Jones. Maybe Sheryl Swoopes can fill in some of the time. How can that possibly be enough depth in the backcrourt?
Mechelle Voepel (3:09 PM)
You just said it as well as I could. I'm doubtful it is enough depth, especially when you look at the Shock's competition.
Apparently the WNBA.com Pick One game (which has been awful for years, but still the only thing around) is gone. When gamblers and addicted fantasy players have so little to do over the summer, shouldn't the WNBA make more of an effort to draw these people in? People are a lot more likely to watch the games if they've already got something invested in them.
Mechelle Voepel (3:14 PM)
I had a fantasy WNBA team in a league made up with some other nerds at my former newspaper like 12 years ago. Not long after the league started. My team was AWFUL! Not that I ever had any aspirations of being a GM for real or anything. But that would have killed them if I did. Anyway, heck, I agree. Do what you can to get people involved. When viewers have a some of their own self-interest on the line _ i.e. money _ and can say stuff like, "Hey, LJ had 25 points for my fantasy team last night," _ it's a good thing, for sure.
I am new to watching the WNBA only partially because the Cubs seem more unwatchable than usual this year. Can you explain the reason there is no injured reserve in the WNBA? Is it purely financial?
Mechelle Voepel (3:21 PM)
I'm sorry, but as a Cardinals fan I get more joy than a decent human being should about the Cubs being unwatchable. I'm a very bad person that way. I love it because I'm remorselessly evil toward the Cubs (and you should feel that way in return to the Cards) but also because maybe it WILL help the Sky. I mean, it can't hurt, right? Please keep watching the WNBA even if the Cubs turn it around (uh, next year.) As for the real point of your question, essentially all of the current player-personnel issues that to me are problematic are purely financial decisions by the league. I would like to see those change in the next five years, at least to some degree. Because we've seen some things happen that aren't very fair to players and also aren't helpful in terms of overall league development. Injuries are a part of athletics, and need to be dealt with in a better way. I would like a 12-player roster, with injured reserve, but it's not my money.
Do you think the recently cut Minn. guards K. Alexander and Angel Robinson and Jene Morris from Indy will find teams to play on? And which teams?
Mechelle Voepel (3:24 PM)
These are all players that, if they're not on a 2011 WNBA roster, should go overseas and hone their games. It's just so hard for guards to earn spots here, it really is. There are a lot of good ones and not many jobs to go around. Sometimes the growth and experience gained overseas can be the difference for a 25-year-old making a WNBA roster that she couldn't make when she was 22.
Barry (Phoenix, AZ)
Admit it, Mechelle...Kerri Walsh has surpassed Kristin Folkl as your favorite female volleyball player. :)
Mechelle Voepel (3:27 PM)
Sorry, nobody is higher on the totem than Folkl, Barry. You know how loyal I am to my St. Louis peeps. :) Actually, I am super-psyched for this coming college volleyball season, especially to see how Nebraska does in the new Big Ten.
Barry (Phoenix, AZ)
How do you see Joanne Boyle's first year at Virginia?
Mechelle Voepel (3:30 PM)
I do think it was a good hire - for U.Va. as a program and for Coach Boyle personally. This program could become the best in the ACC again, it really could. I think she's going to bring the right energy to that school, and it's going to give it back to her. And I sincerely hope that Debbie Ryan, who didn't really want to stop coaching the program, will find a way to make peace with it and be involved with its continued growth.
How surprising is it that all three Duke graduating seniors have now made WNBA rosters?
Mechelle Voepel (3:36 PM)
I have a feeling Barry (who has a Duke law degree) would have a funnier, more sarcastic answer to that than I probably should allow myself, as I shouldn't go overboard on what would be perceived as digs (um, because they are digs) at the Duke coaching staff. But ... I'll say this: They are all good players, and their best may be in front of them in terms of development. And yes, that will make some Duke coaching loyalists mad, and I'll say try not to lose to UConn by 35 next year. Sorry, I am being way too much a smart-aleck. Barry, you would have phrased it better, right? Oh maybe not.
What did you think of the WNBA's efforts to take the league to Europe at the weekend? Good idea? Terrible idea? Oddly pointless exercise?
Mechelle Voepel (3:39 PM)
They always say your first instinct is the right answer, although I'm so indecisive at times that I never fully believed that. However, I tend to think "oddly pointless exercise" may be a bit harsh ... but really was close to my first instinct when I heard the WNBA/Dream was doing this. I guess, though, there is some value to exposing the league in the country the Olympics will next be played in. But, in general, I don't know that it had a lot of impact. I hope the players enjoyed the trip; they are good ambassadors.
kevin (macon ga)
Will Chasity Melvin get another shot somewhere? Seems like she could make a difference for someone.
Mechelle Voepel (3:42 PM)
I kind of think that if Taj McWilliams-Franklin can still find a spot, maybe Melvin can. Just because it's not so easy to take the grind of the season as a post player and still have some effectiveness. But, again, we get into the fact that there are just a limited number of jobs, which can squeeze out older players who maybe have something left to contribute and younger ones who don't get the chance to develop and prove they can contribute. But, hey, the league is starting its 15th season, so I am very glad for that, even if there are aspects of the WNBA I wish were different.
Chris Fiegler (Latham,NY)
Who do you think will be the Best Team in the WNBA in 2011?
Mechelle Voepel (3:44 PM)
I'm really going to stick my neck out and pick the Storm. Seriously, how can you not make them the preseason favorite? The starting five plus Le'coe Willingham back, and adding Katie Smith. Could be the league's first repeat champs since the Sparks in 2001-02. But if Seattle gets tripped up, it won't be because they are taking anything for granted. They're not. They know the target is on their backs.
kevin (macon ga)
Will we ever see another player (or person) like Margo Dydek?
Mechelle Voepel (3:53 PM)
It was difficult to write about Margo recently for ESPN.com. I felt such a sense of tragedy about her death, and yet that's exactly the *opposite* of how we should remember her. So I didn't want the column to be too sad ... yet I couldn't seem to help it. I think the fans of hers that I've heard from have admirably put her gifts as a human being in perspective. I don't think unless you are a person of an extreme in stature - either short or tall - you can quite imagine what it must be like to deal with people staring at you wherever you go. And for a woman, extreme height likely has some extra burdens. Yet Margo dealt with it so gracefully, with humor and an appreciation for what her physical stature meant in a positive way. She was far on the margins in terms of her body, obviously, but she had a normalcy to her life because she worked hard to be normal. That can't be easy ... and I'd bet she dealt with some pain she never showed anybody. Will we see her like again - a 7-2 woman with skills to play professionally? Perhaps. Will we see that kind of kindness/grace/poise from a woman who faces the kinds of challenges that Margo undoubtedly did? I don't know. But I hope the league might find a way to honor her with an award named after her, as was the case with Kim Perrot. I hope she's never forgotten.
Mechelle Voepel (3:55 PM)
Thanks for all the questions, as always. Season opens tomorrow, and I hope everybody is ready for tipoff. Storm vs. Mercury will be nationally televised game on ABC at 3 Eastern time Saturday. Chat with you next week!