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 (2:03 PM)
Good afternoon, and let's hope we can make it through the rest of this week without any more bad news on injuries in the WNBA.
How does all the injuries (Parker, Jackson, January) impact the conference races? Is this a chance for others to catch Indiana in the East, and for the Silver Stars and Minnesota to run away from everyone in the West?
Mechelle Voepel (2:08 PM)
It's definitely a kind of gut-check time for the Storm, Sparks and Fever. But all three teams do have experienced veteran players who are used to carrying heavy loads. LA, of course, knows too well what it's like to play without Candace Parker, since they didn't have her most of last year. Seattle knows what it's like without LJ, too, as the Storm has dealt with past injuries that have kept her out. The Fever will have to rely on, as Lin Dunn said, a possible point guard by committee situation. Of course, you hate to say it, but we don't know who else might get hit by the injury bug in the coming month. And sometimes teams do surprisingly well when they are compensating for a lost star. We'll just have to see how it plays out.
kevin (macon ga)
The WNBA needs more roster flexibility to deal with all these injuries. With the salary cap in place, is it really that much more of an expense to have an additional player or two?
Mechelle Voepel (2:11 PM)
I absolutely agree, and it really needs to be a priority of the new president, in my opinion, to understand this. I think the key word here is "flexibility" ... teams don't have enough of it to deal with key injury situations. And there are going to be seasons - this appears to be one of them - when a lot of marquee players are hurt.
The Tulsa Shock waved Jacinta Monroe for not contributing, yet Marion Jones is still on their roster ... what?
Mechelle Voepel (2:14 PM)
Yeah ... that about says it all: What? I really don't like to seem as if I'm picking on the Shock or Marion Jones, but this is a roster situation that just doesn't make any competitive sense at all.
The Silver Stars are 7-1. People keep saying "I'm not sold, look at who they played." That they lack talent, size etc. Well, you can only who is on your schedule and they keep racking up wins. Is this a case of people underestimating the talent of their players or a case of chemistry and coaching trumping teams with more talent? Having watched all their games, this team looks stacked, is there another team in the league going 11 deep in their rotation on a nightly basis?
Mechelle Voepel (2:21 PM)
You ask any player or coach in the league, and I think they would all say that chemistry is a funny thing. There are times a team thinks it has it, but it doesn't. Then there are teams that don't necessarily seem "close," but their on-court chemistry is great. In the case of SASS, I'd say you've got a nice mix of veteran leadership (Hammon, Riley, Young, Bevilaqua), a player who seems to be very happy after a trade (Jia Perkins), and nice rookie contributions (Adams, Robinson, Phillips). I also think that Dan Hughes, while he very willingly stepped away from coaching and actually seemed reluctant to go back, may be really relishing having returned. So far, so good. I underestimated the SASS greatly in the preseason, but I'm impressed with how they actually look on the court.
kevin (macon ga)
President Richie said the coming NBA lockout won't affect the WNBA. Should we believe her?
Mechelle Voepel (2:23 PM)
I asked NBA commissioner David Stern that question back in December when Donna Orender stepped down, and he insisted that the NBA lockout would have no effect on business operations in the WNBA. So I'm sure President Richie is repeating that same sentiment, communicated by her boss. I guess we'll find out if they're not being entirely straightforward about it if it comes to that.
I am really wondering if the Shock will keep Nolan the whole year...if the Mystics hire someone new all the time surely the owners can take this team in a new direction (although I don't mean use the Mystics as a managment guide) ...there is a sense of frustration with the majority of fans. We need a structured offense and also we need point guard depth. Replacing our open spot with centers isn't going to work. Who do you suggest for the open spot?
Mechelle Voepel (2:30 PM)
I still think that someone like Sharnee Zoll would be worth a look for the Shock ... a young point guard who needs a chance to play in the WNBA. I think the Shock fans want to see roster moves that just make more sense in terms of trying to improve a young franchise substantively from its first season in Tulsa to its second. And instead, they probably feel they are watching wheels spin, albeit with some more young talent this year. I don't get it. If you're going to struggle - and admittedly, it would be hard for Tulsa not to struggle in the West this season almost no matter what - at least do so with players that your fans can feel like will grow and help solidify the franchise's future.
WNBA all the way (USA)
If you were CP or LJ would you even think about return to play this season or just rest your body for the future?
Mechelle Voepel (2:34 PM)
I think it's hard for an athlete to think that way, especially these two in particular. They are very serious competitors, and both want to try to win a WNBA championship this year. For Parker, being out so much last season makes her all the more eager to be a contributing factor this season. The other thing is, they are both used to playing "hurt" a lot, so their pain tolerance at times, I think, has trumped what might be in the long-term best interest of both.
Why are some WNBA games airing only on espn3.com?
Mechelle Voepel (2:36 PM)
ESPN offers a lot of video content on the Web (espn3) in all sports. I think it just provides more options for people to see more events.
kevin (macon ga)
Jeff Jacobs had an interesting article about Candace Parker. He suggested she might reach a point where we think of her as similar to oft-injured Fred Lynn rather than similar to dominant Wilt Chamberlain (two other players who won ROY and MVP the same season in their sport). Is it possible she's headed towards being a case of potential lost to injuries?
Mechelle Voepel (2:41 PM)
One of things to remember, of course, is part of the time Candace Parker was out in the WNBA wasn't because of an injury, but because she was on maternity leave ... which obviously is not a factor in men's sports. It seems like there's been a lot of speculation about Parker that strikes me as a bit too alarmist - she's still only 25 (birthday was in April). And while there is understandable concern about the time she's missed and what it portends for her future, I'm not sticking her with the Fred Lynn tag by any means yet.
WNBA all the way (USA)
With the Olymipics coming up next year...do you see LJ risking more injuries by return at to the WNBA this season?
Mechelle Voepel (2:45 PM)
I think if there's any way Lauren Jackson feels she can play and contribute at the end of this season (after recuperating from her hip surgery), she will do it. I don't see her saying, "Well, I want to be ready for the Olympics next year, so I'll just sit now," if she really thinks she can help the Storm in the playoffs. It's just not how she's wired. Everything she's said and done in her career indicates a great loyalty to the Storm and reverence for WNBA titles. Obviously, she feels that way toward her national team, too, but I don't think she will sit unless she really can't play at all for Seattle in the postseason.
Genny (Western MA)
What do you think of the early All-Star returns? I love Maya's play, but the best Western forward?
Mechelle Voepel (2:50 PM)
I know that the All-Star voting tends to be a very big topic among fans. I just think there will always be controversies and arguments over such voting in any sport that has an All-Star Game. It's largely a popularity contest that doesn't always produced the absolute best selections all the time. That happens in baseball, for example, pretty much every year. I can get myself very worked up over a lot of different topics, but this just doesn't happen to be one that has that affect on me. :)
Quinn (New York)
Now that Lauren Jackson is out for the season and Candace Parker is out for at least 6 weeks, will this make the WNBA change its promotion practices? Instead of highlighting individual players, the league will promote teams, for instances when a Parker and Jackson aren't able to play.
Mechelle Voepel (2:53 PM)
Do a lot of fans really feel there is too much emphasis placed on individual players in the WNBA's promotions? I think it's that way in promoting most sports, isn't it? Stars tend to be what people gravitate towards. Sure, it's a big bummer when the stars are not able to play ... but I don't know that's an indictment on the overall practice of trying to lure fans based on star power.
Why are there so many restrictions on streaming content in our market place? It seems like something that's behind the times. International fans can't watch ESPN3.com, and even some US fans can't because their ISP hasn't "bought in".Clearly Netflix and Hulu have similar issues, where content providers only allow streaming over the internet, and not to other mobile devices, or not allowing streaming of certain content at all.In a League still trying to grow its base, how much sense does it make to restrict the viewing options of fans? Personally, I do fine with ESPN3, but I recognize its limitations. Similarly the WNBA restricts local radio stations from streaming games live. Doesn't this seem counter-productive? (Sorry about the ramble, I don't even know if you can get a coherent question out of that).
Mechelle Voepel (2:57 PM)
I don't know the specific answers to all these questions, but I'd say the general answer to them has to do with trying to maximize exclusivity and profits to whatever degree they are available. At least in regard to ESPN3, I'm fairly certain that is the answer. I don't know that every decision is made with the intent of making it as easy/cheap as possible for fans to follow the WNBA in particular, even if that would appear to make the most sense for a growing league. But I do think most folks would acknowledge that WNBA Live Access seems to have taken positive steps forward this year.
WNBA all the way (USA)
How will the WNBA teams that are owned by NBA franchises continue during the lockout? Will the owners continue to fund their teams?
Mechelle Voepel (3:02 PM)
The owners' dispute is with the NBA players/union and not the WNBA players/union. So I think, theoretically, they are two very separate entities and the NBA's issues don't necessarily have to impact much about the WNBA. Now, if this were a very long-term dispute that didn't get settled, and the owners really started to get worried about their finances, then maybe it becomes an issue for the WNBA. But, like the NFL owners, the NBA owners have had a lot of time to prepare financially for what may be an extended work stoppage.
Damian (Brooklyn N.Y.)
The Liberty are 4-4. What do you expect from them in order to push themselves to have a competitive spirit for 40 minutes? Would you agree that Cappie may need some help to make sure that if they have a lead in the 4th quarter that they keep it going and no let it slip away?
Mechelle Voepel (3:07 PM)
The Liberty players as a unit are still adjusting to a new coaching style/philosophy, and individual players have stepped into bigger roles this season. I'm not sure that 4-4 is really *too* bad, all things considered. And while Cappie Pondexter is an amazing player, yes, she will need more help down the stretch. As I've mentioned in past chats, I think the ability to close out the fourth quarter is the most important thing to a WNBA team.
Is the WNBA still a little homophobic?
Mechelle Voepel (3:18 PM)
This is a big question to try to answer in a chat. :) All of society is still homophobic to varying degrees. We've made a lot of progress in my lifetime here in the United States, and I don't think that should be underestimated or not fully appreciated. But it never happens as quickly as we wish it did. I don't sense that gay WNBA players have any discomfort or fear about being open about their lives in the confines of their respective teams. I have approached some players to talk about their own experiences/lives, though, and while they may say, "Yes, I'm openly gay," they don't necessarily want to talk about it in the media. Which is certainly their right, no problem. But one player indicated to me that she thought the league/her team would "prefer" she did not really discuss her sexuality and her relationship in the media. She didn't say, "They told me not to." She just said, "I think they'd prefer I didn't." Now whether that's actually really her own choice and she's attributing it to what she thinks the league/team wants ... or whether the league/team subtly communicated that to her - I am honestly not sure. To put it most succinctly: Do I think the league is really "homophobic" ... no, that seems harsh. Do I think the league is still a little concerned about how openly gay players may impact the general perception of the league? That may be closer to the mindset. I hope that isn't splitting hairs too much. I just think "homophobic" would convey that the league/teams make it difficult for a player who is gay, and that certainly doesn't appear to be the case in my view.
You mentioned Jia Perkins seems happy after the trade. I think the same thing is true of Michelle Snow. It was a trade many people thought did not make any sense, but it seems to have worked out so far.
Mechelle Voepel (3:22 PM)
You're right. And if memory serves, on a chat several weeks ago, I was one of the people who said that I didn't really "get" this trade when it was made. Which just goes to show that sometimes we just can't always know all the dynamics that go on with teams and players. I'm glad to see it working out well for both so far - those are the best kinds of trades.
Does big Syl have enough help with the Sky to make a serious run at the title?
Mechelle Voepel (3:25 PM)
Teams usually need at least three very substantial scoring threats, both in the college game and the pro game, to have a strong chance at winning a season championship. At least right now, I don't see that with the Sky, at least not on a consistent basis. I do think Chicago as a franchise seems to be making improvements, though.
Joe Cool (USA)
Seattle starts a roadtrip without LJ, how will they do?
Mechelle Voepel (3:29 PM)
Oh, what the hell, why not make more bad predictions? Lose at Connecticut, win at Washington, win (somewhat surprisingly) at Indiana. The mid-July road trip - at SA, Minn and Chicago - could be a pretty rough one for the Storm.
Alex (St. Paul)
Should Lynx fans be concerned about their two recent losses and/or the inconsistent minutes and production from the bench?
Mechelle Voepel (3:33 PM)
If I were a Lynx fan, I would find it nearly impossible not to worry at least a little, just because of the history of the franchise. That said, every team usually hits some rough patches during the season. If the Lynx lose tonight in Tulsa, then I'd say you have more legitimate cause to start fretting.
Chapman a great fit in Chicago thus far...who is the front runner for coach of the year? Hughes?
Mechelle Voepel (3:36 PM)
At 7-1, the SASS are flying high. So, sure, Dan Hughes is the front-runner if somebody has to be. I don't really think much about who will get any season award until much later in the summer. I realize, though, that a lot of people like to try to gauge those things week to week. :)
Will a point guard ever win MVP? As much I love LJ, I thought Sue Bird had a legitimate chance to win it last year but she didn't seem to be in any conversation regarding that.
Mechelle Voepel (3:39 PM)
Indeed, MVP voting is usually tough on the point guards, much like it is for certain positions in other sports to ever win MVP. I voted for Bird as league MVP in 2008 because I thought she almost single-handedly willed the Storm into the postseason that year. But I don't know when/if we'll actually see a PG win the award anytime in the near future.
Isn't it nice to have Sharapova back where she belongs, in the finals?
Mechelle Voepel (3:41 PM)
You're sure not going to hear the TV folks complaining about it. They are leaping for joy. :) In all seriousness, it's really good for women's tennis to have at least one "known" name in a Grand Slam final. She will bring in substantially more viewers, and that's the bottom line.
The Storm looked great yesterday with the Pres. Are the Dream too emotional...passion is one thing but they seem to lose their cool alot.
Mechelle Voepel (3:45 PM)
I agree it was fun to see the pictures of the Storm at the White House. I like that the President took time in his schedule for this photo op. As for the Dream ... funny thing is, that's one of the things I was kind of concerned about with Atlanta in the past two seasons - that the Dream potentially might not be able to keep their cool consistently. I don't know if that's coming into play now, but it is a potential concern any time you have a team that has players who compete with a lot of emotion.
Have you been watching the Women's World Cup? Do you have any thoughts on the seemingly continued character assassination of Hope Solo by Scurry and DiCicco before the game, or were their comments sufficiently moderate? Scurry seemed unwilling to give any complements after the game, until called on it by other commentators.
Mechelle Voepel (3:53 PM)
OK, my view on this might not be "popular," but I thought Hope Solo was right back when this controversy happened. She should *not* have been pulled in favor of Scurry; it was stupid and fanciful coaching move that fell flat. Yes, it would have been preferable from a team-unity standpoint for Solo to have not been critical of Scurry publicly ... but then the way the U.S. team reacted to Solo was like how a bunch of teen-agers in a clique might act if they decided to shun someone. I thought that was ridiculous. You call out your teammate for an immature comment by acting just as immaturely as a group toward her? It irritated me to no end. You really have to wonder if Scurry is capable of giving objective commentary on Solo for the World Cup. Although, I don't know if anyone in her position would be.
I think it's great that the US President takes some "down" time to do these more community-centered events. What would you say to pundits who consider this time as time wasted by the President?
Mechelle Voepel (3:55 PM)
I don't fault a president from either party for celebrating notable accomplishments by citizens. These celebrations don't take that long. It's not like every hour of every day, the president needs to be handling world-crisis issues. :)
Mechelle Voepel (3:58 PM)
Thanks again for all the questions. Cross your fingers that we've had all the "big" injuries we're going to have in the WNBA this summer. (I know, wishful thinking, right?) Enjoy the Fourth of July weekend. Remember, next week is the U.S. Women's Open golf tournament, and I will be there in Colorado Springs, Colo., for that. Looking forward to golf, Wimbledon final, continuing Women's World Cup soccer and the WNBA, of course. Chat with you next week.