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 3 p.m. ET!
Mechelle Voepel (3:04 PM)
Good afternoon. You know I was just looking at the LA Sparks' schedule. Between now and Aug. 3, they have two games at home. I realize there are all kinds of odd scheduling issues with the WNBA, including facility availability, but ... jeez. Good news for the Sparks, though, is that the last month-plus of the season is loaded with home games. OK ... well, just watched the Shock fall to the Liberty, and with that, let's get started.
What is the problem with Seattle's offense? They actually seemed to play better with LJ out. Did you get a sense that LJ's injury is serious?
Mechelle Voepel (3:07 PM)
Had a chance to see the Storm in person on Tuesday, and all the players said that they had been out-of-character defensively early in this season, and that really had affected the offense. Even with LJ out, though, things started to click - starting with defense - in the second quarter against the Shock. And the third quarter was great. So the Storm players think they may have turned a corner ... even though they are worried about Lauren Jackson. Jayda Evans of the Seattle Times reported LJ is undergoing more tests today ... when LJ talked with Jayda and I on Tuesday night after the game, she was worried and in some obvious pain. Coach Brian Agler seemed worried, too, so you hope for the best. The good news for the Storm is that they showed their depth without her.
Other than Tulsa, who do you have missing the playoffs in the West?
Mechelle Voepel (3:10 PM)
My preseason picks, which are looking more and more worthless, had San Antonio as the odd team out, along with Tulsa, which was the easy selection, of course. But the SASS have had the strong start ... although Phoenix looks more back on track, especially how well the Merc played in winning at San Antonio Tuesday even though Diana Taurasi had a low-scoring night. So ... I mentioned the schedule weirdness - not that we haven't seen these extended road trips for the Sparks before - for LA, and maybe we'll see how that impacts them. I think they have 11 of the next 13 games on the road. But, as mentioned, they finish the regular season being at home more. Minnesota has looked really strong so far, and I think LA has looked pretty good, too. Seattle ...we'll see LJ's status. Can SASS keep it up? Is Phoenix really on the rise? Do you notice how I'm not really answering your question? :) I can't at this point. Too many variables for who joins Tulsa on the outs.
Hello Mechelle! i became a HUGE wnba fan when Candice wiggins of the Lynx was drafted,do you see a new/expansion team coming to Northern CA(bay area)?
Mechelle Voepel (3:13 PM)
There's been talk about expanding into the Bay Area seemingly forever ... well, since the league began. I really have a hard time seeing any expansion in the immediate future with our overall lousy economy. Sorry to be a pessimist, but the WNBA has to be very sure of success of a another franchise before expanding.
Kris (Kansas City)
Danielle Adams has easily put her name in the race for Rookie of the Year, yet there's a feeling that the WNBA has preordained that the award will go to Maya Moore. Is it going to be a deal like in 2008 when Candace Parker was named WNBA MVP ... even though one could've argued that she wasn't even the MVP of her own team that season? What do you think?
Mechelle Voepel (3:18 PM)
If the league has its awards pre-ordained, they are not telling those of us in the media who vote. :) Because nobody ever has tried to influence my vote in the slightest in the all the years I've covered the league. I didn't vote for Candace Parker in 2008 as MVP, but she was my second choice (I voted for Sue Bird that year.) I had no quarrel with CP3 getting it. I totally understand people advocating for their favorite players, though. Danielle Adams has had a terrific start to the season, but it seems premature to me to be already worrying that she won't get rookie of the year because of a conspiracy. Maybe wait to formulate the conspiracy theories a little later in the season? :) And let's see how all the rookies do when they're really worn out about the middle of August.
Matt (Ann Arbor, Mich.)
Settle the arguments - has Candace Parker played enough to be on the 15 Legends list?
Mechelle Voepel (3:23 PM)
Well, I know once I give my opinion, that will surely settle all the arguments, right? :) Uh-huh. If I have to make out a top-15 list, which it appears I will based on all the questions, then I leave CP3 off this list ... knowing full-well she will be on the top 20 list that the WNBA will do five years from now when celebrating its 20th season. I think Parker is fabulous ... seriously, I am very, very impressed with her. But I think I'll give a nod to more of the oldies on this list.
So who are you voting for as your top 15 WNBA players of all time? And do you think it is a little disrespectful that Rebecca Lobo wasn't on the list?
Mechelle Voepel (3:30 PM)
I honestly don't think Rebecca Lobo would expect to be on that list ... she would probably make a couple of good jokes, in fact, about it. Probably the player who most deserves to be on the top-30 list and isn't is Lobo's former Lib teammate, Vickie Johnson. She should be on the top 30 nominees. So ... I like these types of things the WNBA does because they get people stirred up and everyone likes to give their opinion. Which is cool. But I am not all wound up about top 15 in 15 seasons, as that is somewhat an "off" anniversary to celebrate. But considering women's pro sports history ... why not? Here goes: Cooper, Swoopes, Leslie, Thompson, L. Jackson, Taurasi, Catchings, Griffith, Nolan, K. Smith, Bird, Pondexter, Cash, Hammon, Milton-Jones. ... Really struggled with leaving off Douglas and Taylor, in particular. I'm sure this settled absolutely no arguments, but may have started a few more.
Matt (Ann Arbor, Mich.)
New York and LA played a great "15th Anniversary" game Tuesday. What's you favorite memory of that first game?
Mechelle Voepel (3:36 PM)
I have two, actually. For the day of the game, I wrote a story for the Kansas City Star in which the headline was 'We Got Next League Starts Today.' And a couple of days after that, I got a letter in the mail - remember when people use to write those? - from a retired English teacher in Kansas City admonishing us for saying "we got" instead of "we have." She wrote me a nice little lecture about that, which I thought was cute, actually. She included a clip of the story, in which she crossed out "got" with a grease pencil and wrote "have" above it, just in case I could possibly have missed her point. The other thing was, I was at the grocery store that Saturday, June 21, 1997, and got in a long line and was worried I would miss tipoff. I raced home, and as I turned into my driveway, I started to put the car in park before I'd even come to a stop! I had never done that before in my life - nor since. Made me realize how excited I really was. Didn't hurt the car, fortunately, and did get the groceries put away in time for tipoff. You may now be sorry you asked. :)
aussie wnba fan (australia)
Hi Mechelle,from what i have seen on live access and television - Jenna O'hea coming off the bench has been a great pick up for the sparks.The recent game v Liberty was very entertaining - was on TV here.
Mechelle Voepel (3:38 PM)
She's been a strong player so far both offensively and defensively. Looks like a good pickup for the Sparks. And you know, the Aussies are really popular over here among WNBA fans. Americans women's hoops followers appreciated the Aussies' personalities and the personal sacrifices they have to make to play so far from home.
Tina Thompson has played all 15 years of the WNBA...how does she do it?
Mechelle Voepel (3:42 PM)
She has stayed in great shape, she's a smart player who understands how to take care of herself and pace herself ... and she's just a hell of a competitor. Iron will. I think a bit of genetic luck has to be at work here, too, which is the case for any athlete in any sport who can stay at the top and remain relatively healthy for so long. But then it's having the discipline and desire to make the most of the gifts you have talent-wise and health-wise. TT has done that to an admirable degree.
With so many players improving this year, who are your contenders for most improved? Right now I would pick Toliver. She has always been a terrific offensive player, but the strides she has made on the defensive end this year as well as her decision making is the best I've ever seen out of her.
Mechelle Voepel (3:47 PM)
Early on, it would seen that the Libs' Kia Vaughn and LA's Kristi Toliver, as you mentioned, are both MIP candidates. You state Toliver's case well, and any gains she's made defensively will really help the Sparks. The Liberty really needed Vaughn - who's got a world of talent - to come up big this season. She looked really good today against Tulsa, with 24 points (12 of 14 shooting!) and 12 rebounds. There are some other players who are emerging as candidates, too, but those two have stood out to me so far.
The Liberty - we're unable to close out games in the 4th quarter. Do you think they may need to make some adjustments to become a better execution team to progress themselves to try becoming a threat in the Eastern Conference?
Mechelle Voepel (3:50 PM)
The Libs did OK with that today ... albeit against a Tulsa team that tends to have even more problems in the fourth quarter than anybody. This is a generalization, but I think that whole issue - closing out games - is what separates the great teams from good ones, and good ones from mediocre ones. Even Tulsa can play for stretches with other teams, which it has shown, but not the full 40. And they make critical mistakes especially at crunch time at the end. It's something the Liberty and every other team really has to focus on, because it can be the difference in making the playoffs or not.
Barry (Phoenix, AZ)
Did you see Debbie Reynolds is auctioning off over 3,500 items of film memorabilia? Talk about someone preserving such an amazing chunk of cultural history.
Mechelle Voepel (3:52 PM)
I can always count on you, Barry. I can't believe anybody could have that much junk, er, memorabilia. And I say this as someone who has a lot of junk. But, yes, I would imagine there is some really good stuff in there she's selling ... especially anything from "Singin' in the Rain," one of the most awesome movies ever. :)
Helen ( Still in Ethiopia)
Which part of Washington's struggles can be laid at the feet of injuries and which part does Sheila own because of her off-season decisions?
Mechelle Voepel (3:58 PM)
There is some real bad luck going on for the Mystics in terms of injuries, but then you have to ask if coach/GM Trudi Lacey did the best job of putting together this roster with a possible worst-case scenario mindset. Because I think you do have to think like that when you have one player out for sure (Monique Currie) and one with a severe injury that's still not healed (Alana Beard). The Mystics decided to blow up things after finishing first in the Eastern Conference last year for the first time ever. Obviously, I've gone off on that a few times since the end of last season. I'm sorry for the players, especially with the injuries some of them are dealing with. But the organization appears to be reaping what it sowed. You hope they can turn it around, for the players' sakes.
Nancy (New York)
Do you think the Liberty has the personnel to execute Coach Whisenant's white line defense once they are more experienced with it or is there a fundamental problem with the plan?
Mechelle Voepel (4:01 PM)
I think they can, actually. I like the basic athletic makeup of the Liberty the more I see of the team. I was concerned about post play because they would be relying on some players, like Kia Vaughn, who weren't known for consistency. NY obviously still has a lot to work through to be a playoff-caliber team, but I actually feel more optimistic about them than I did in the preseason. Who knows how I'll feel in a week or two. The WNBA is like that. :)
Is the ownership in Tulsa patient enough to take another losing season?
Mechelle Voepel (4:07 PM)
We're going to find out, because they're going to have one. I talked with Sheryl Swoopes yesterday, and she really does think the organization has staying power, despite its growing pains. Now, maybe that's just optimism because this is where she is right now. Or maybe she's seeing legitimate signs of hope even though the team is struggling. She definitely wants to be involved with the Shock in some capacity, even once she's done playing. Or so she says now. But my worry all along with Tulsa has been that they wouldn't be able to capitalize on the chance to get a spotlight in a city where there isn't all that much, sports-wise, going on during the summer. I'm concerned that people just get turned off by the struggles, and it doesn't get a chance to grow.
LJ's injury new or old?
Mechelle Voepel (4:09 PM)
Lauren Jackson did say after the Tulsa game that she recently got a cortisone shot in her left hip before Tuesday's injury. That would indicate this problem may be a complication from something that was already going on there. But until there's some definitive word from the Storm, it's still just speculation.
Since you were in Tulsa you must have had a chance to talk to the Shock players. Do you think there is a positive mindset there? Pedersen and Cambage in particular are used to a great deal of success so how are they approaching playing on a team expected to lose?
Mechelle Voepel (4:14 PM)
I have to say, so far they really are trying to hold it together and stay positive. I don't want my natural cynicism to be the only picture I present to you of the Shock, in other words. :) Because that's not entirely fair. They're trying. They do seem to like each other. Liz Cambage seemed a little sad/frustrated after Storm game, but she is only 19 and this has to be hard for her. Kayla Pedersen just seemed very stoic and determined, as always. Ivory Latta is trying hard to be a leader. Tiffany Jackson is working hard on court. Swoopes acknowledges feeling maternal toward all of them. Oh, and I talked to Teresa Edwards, too ... she wants to convey to the young 'uns that feeling she had as a player about being so confident and ready to go out and kick tail. The Shock spent a LOT of time Wednesday watching film and talking things over. I still think they are being hamstrung by not quite the right personnel moves, among other things. So ... that's a snapshot of what I saw.
Rachel (New York)
Do you think the WNBA will ever go back to 13-player rosters anytime soon? There are too many good players I feel that didn't make rosters but would have if not for the 11-player limit.
Mechelle Voepel (4:17 PM)
It's all about finances. One of the biggest concerns with not having a roster of 12 or 13 is teams' inability to keep a developing "project" type player, someone who might really blossom for a franchise if they had the room to keep her. But ... it's a money issue.
What do you think of the officiating thus far this season? Better, same or worse?
Mechelle Voepel (4:20 PM)
It's funny ... that's what I tend to be asked about the most on e-mail: Is the officiating worse? I really don't want to sound condescending with the answer, but it always seems to me that you dislike officiating more when you have a vested interested in who wins the games. But then sometimes I wonder if I'm too blase about it because I don't watch with a rooting interest, you know? Like, should I be *more* fired up about officiating? I guess my answer is it's about the same.
Marissa Coleman has had a starting position handed to her this season, yet still hasn't stepped up to the plate consistently. We know she has the physical talents. What do you think is going on? She's never really left home. Might she be better off elsewhere?
Mechelle Voepel (4:24 PM)
Jayda Evans and I were talking about Marissa the other night. Jayda live-blogs during games, and I yack a lot, so I apologize if Seattle fans were seeing a drop-off in her frequency in blogging. That was probably my fault. Anyway, we were speculating about all of that, and I don't know the answers. Marissa is very talented; we all know that. She got off to a great start as a rookie in the WNBA, then got hurt and maybe has not quite found her rhythm or comfort zone since, even though it's been a while and she's had opportunities. Then again ... it is the Mystics, and she would not be the first player to not get her bearings with that franchise.
Matt (Ann Arbor, Mich.)
Is it fair to lay all of the blame on the Mystics org when part of it stems from two starters demanding to be traded to specific teams in the off-season? And more broadly, how big of a problem are those sorts of demands going to get for this league?
Mechelle Voepel (4:30 PM)
I wanted to post this right after the last question, because it probably seems like all I do is blast the Mystics. But it's hard not to, I must say. Tip-toeing around some personal-life stuff involving players that I'd guess most WNBA fans were at least semi-aware of, I'd acknowledge the Mystics were dealing with some trade demands that put them in a tough position. But this was after mishandling everything involving Angela Taylor and Julie Plank. So, whether it's always fair or not, the organization has developed such a rep for being a poorly-run circus, they don't tend to get the benefit of the doubt about how they handle anything.
kevin (macon ga)
Do you think it's proper to include players on the Anniversary Team nominatio list who turned their back on the WNBA to play exclusively overseas while still in their prime, like Deanna Nolan and Nykesha Sales? How much will it hurt their chances of selection?
Mechelle Voepel (4:32 PM)
Fair question, and I would guess that will factor in on the voting decisions by fans and media. Considering Nolan won three titles, she is still on my list.
Indiana really needs Katie Douglas. What's the prognosis for her? And how about Alana Beard of the Mystics?
Mechelle Voepel (4:39 PM)
The Fever was able to win without Douglas on Tuesday ... but of course it was against the Mystics. David Woods of the Indianapolis Star has been reporting that Douglas' lower-back contusion is a "day-to-day" injury situation, so hopefully she can be back soon. She has had a very good start to the season. As for Alana Beard ... it's hard to be too optimistic at this point because of the seriousness of the injury and how long it's taking to heal. But it's a wait-and-see deal, too
Jonathan (New York)
What enables the Euro leagues to pay women pro bball players more than they make in the WNBA?
Mechelle Voepel (4:43 PM)
Part of it is the American players tend to be paid a good deal more than their non-American teammates, for the reason of their skill and athleticism. And there is a ego thing going on with owners overseas, a personal-desire to be on top. And there is a connection to various state/national sources of some revenue for teams.
Judith (Capital of the Free World)
Since you are maknig playoff predictions --- who misses out in the East?
Mechelle Voepel (4:48 PM)
Sorry, accidentally got cut off from chat for a minute there. I'll say right now it will be D.C. and Chicago. Ask next week ... and it will still be D.C. but maybe somebody else. You know how I love to predict. :) Surprised I got no Connecticut Sun questions this week, especially with them on top the East. Maybe Sun fans are just blissfully enjoying the season so far. Not sure why I answered this question more concisely than I did when chickening out earlier on picking which West team besides Tulsa won't make the postseason.
What kind of dog do you have?
Mechelle Voepel (4:50 PM)
The best kind: a shelter puppy. She's 50 pounds of cuteness who right now is telling me she wants me to end this chat and take her for a walk. So I will obey orders. Thanks for all the questions, chat with you next week!