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 (2:05 PM)
Good afternoon everyone. Not too long after our chat last week, Phoenix dealt Kara Braxton to New York for a couple of tickets to a Mets game ...er, for Sidney Spencer. Lots of opinions are out there on that, of course. I guess KB wore out her welcome in Phoenix -after about a year - and the Merc thought it was addition by subtraction. Well, let's get started.
Matt (Sandusky, OH)
How important of a factor was it for the Mercury's general manager to trade Kara Braxton to an Eastern Conference team so that they would not have to play against her as often as if she had been sent to a Western Conference opponent?
Mechelle Voepel (2:10 PM)
I guess that may have been a consideration. Of course, we know the thing about Braxton is that she is not necessarily someone you can count on to come back and "burn" you. Like everything else with Kara, she might ... or she might not. I remember talking to Georgia's Andy Landers about when he finally suspended her "for good" and he said he just reached a point where he couldn't extend her any more chances. So while I can totally see the viewpoint of those who'd say, "She averaged around 10 points and 5 rebounds and is 6-foot-6 ... the Merc should *not* have dealt her for what they got," I can also understand that Phoenix/Corey Gaines may have just had enough.
Will Nancy Lieberman be returning to her coaching post in the NBA's D-League? How would you characterize her performance there so far?
Mechelle Voepel (2:14 PM)
Texas finished 24-26 and made the D-League playoffs. I honestly don't watch that league ... I just don't have time and too many other things take precedence. So I don't know I could give any informed opinion on how she did other than apparently not too bad. But she is moving into the front office for the team because she wants to be home more as it is her son's senior year in high school. We'll see if she goes back to coaching at some point after T.J. graduates, or if she feels more comfortable/excels in management. Talking to her last week, she said she really enjoyed coaching the team but wanted more time to be with T.J. now.
Bigger disappointment this season...Chicago or LA?
Mechelle Voepel (2:19 PM)
I can see both ways, but I'll say Los Angeles. Yes, the Sparks have been without Candace Parker for most of the season, but Seattle has been without Lauren Jackson for a lot of it, too, and is still holding onto a playoff spot. I thought Chicago still had some question marks coming into this season, so I expected less of the Sky than I did the Sparks. Chicago is still more in the playoff race in the East right now than LA is in the West. Admittedly, things can change abruptly in a short time in the WNBA, but I'll still go with LA as most disappointing of the two for now.
With the last two games' numbers, has Ticha FINALLY proven to the Sparks she should be, and always should have been, their starting PG, getting 30 minutes per game?
Mechelle Voepel (2:21 PM)
Wanted to follow up with this because I think it shows the dilemma the Sparks have faced, and I have some empathy for them on this. Ticha Penicheiro is going to be 37 in September, so you can understand where maybe LA wanted this to be the true "transition" year where she handed off the torch to a younger point guard who would become a real team leader. But it doesn't seem to have happened - at least not with consistency - the way LA would have hoped. Maybe Ticha will play until she's 47. Maybe it will take that long to find the best replacement for her. I'm kidding, but only a little. :)
Hey Mechelle! i was wondering despite minnesota's good record have they really been as good as advertised. I mean 3 of their games against seatlle were without LJ two games, and most likely 3 games against LA without Candace two games vs atl beofore their resurgence and both buzzer-beater wins against SA the stars were without Danielle Adams. Do you feel that dampens the lynx success thus far?
Mechelle Voepel (2:27 PM)
I say no, because taking advantage of other teams' issues or injuries is actually part of the success story of any team. And it's hard to measure/weigh how much the other team's problems are affecting everything. Seattle was really, really good last year, and I will not take anything away from them. But did it help that CP3 was out for the Sparks most of the year and that the Lynx had their injury issues, too? Probably so. In the end, I'm not sure it matters that much ... the Lynx have struggled a lot in their history, but this year more often than not they have found ways to win games. Seattle's Sue Bird, wise "owl" that she is, always says the bottom line is this: Can you find a way to win, even on those days you are not at your best and have to scrape and claw to do it? And if you can, you might win a championship. I think the Lynx are showing a lot of that ability this season.
could Phoenix's win against Minn be a turning point, giving that they (shocker) won with their defense?
Mechelle Voepel (2:31 PM)
But, of course, I have to bring in this point of view, too, because we know Phoenix is still the more "experienced" team when it comes to the WNBA stretch run and postseason. That said, the WNBA's ebbs and flows are fascinating because sometimes they are very predictable and other times anything but. The Merc lost that tough game at home to the Sun on Sunday after Phoenix had made the big "momentum" play to force overtime. But rather than be in the dumps after that, the Merc came back and knocked off the Lynx on Tuesday. There are some uber-competitive women in this league, aren't there? It's good stuff. :)
Judith (Home of our dysfunctional government)
Very sad but not surprising news yesterday that Alana Beard won't be back this season. Do you think we'll ever see her play again? And overall, can it get any worse for Mystics fans?
Mechelle Voepel (2:37 PM)
Like most folks, I have been worried about Alana Beard for a while now because this ankle injury has seemingly defied healing for a long, long time. With a player who has made such great use of her "wheels" in her career, this is very discouraging. That said, there is no reason for her to try to come back to this disaster of a team anyway this season. Yes, the Mystics are no longer sitting on three wins _ hooray for four wins! _ and have had some "gutsy" losses, but ... a disaster it remains. As for things getting worse ... I shudder to even joke about "trading Crystal Langhorne" for fear you will put a curse on me for even mentioning such a thing. And if you're also following the Nationals ... maybe you should consider another hobby besides sports fandom? :)
Who is your MVP? I say Tina Charles, but I can't go against people arguing for somebody from the Lynx. I still think players from the Lynx will split votes with each other and get left out.
Mechelle Voepel (2:40 PM)
This is going to be very tough, I think. Who is the MVP for the Lynx? I bet we could start an all-night debate just on that. So you're probably right about Minnesota splitting votes in regard to which of them could be the league MVP. Tina Charles has been a double-double machine. But ... while Tamika Catchings' scoring numbers are down a bit, if Indiana wins the East, I wonder if this is the year that voters say, "It's finally Catch's turn for MVP." Whether we *should* vote like that or not is another issue. I'm not deciding until the last minute, like always. :)
With Ticha sitting on the bench, who did LA expect would "take over?" Lacy's the most pure PG and Quinn and Toliver seem to be both playing a combo guard slot.
Mechelle Voepel (2:46 PM)
One of the above, some way, somehow. :) That's probably why it hasn't worked as well as the Sparks had hoped. It's like hoping a problem will do as much to fix itself as you do to fix it. Sometimes you get lucky. Often, you don't ... you still have to fix it. But I would also reiterate what we chatted about last week ... there aren't that many really skilled young point guards in the league who have the whole package: court vision, scoring ability, leadership and good-enough defense.
kevin (macon ga)
Candace Parker appears to be close to returning. Is it too late for the Sparks to make a run this season?
Mechelle Voepel (2:49 PM)
I have a running debate with myself on this. Should she come back if she really feels she's physically ready and see if the Sparks can make a late push into the playoffs? Or should she rest and prepare for what could be a very taxing 2012, considering the Olympics? Candace may be concerned at her overall small amount of playing time in the WNBA this season and last and may feel it's necessary to get as much of it as she can if she's healthy enough. So I'm still debating. Can LA really catch and nudge out either San Antonio, Phoenix or Seattle even with CP3 playing for the Sparks? I kind of doubt it at this point.
Jennifer (Boston, MA)
I won't disguise my question with asking you about all the rookies from the second round of the draft - I'll cut to the chase. What's your take on Carolyn Swords in Chicago? Has she shown she has what it takes to succeed in the league?
Mechelle Voepel (2:54 PM)
When I talked to Sylvia Fowles a little earlier this summer, she had a lot of praise for Carolyn in terms of how hard she was making Fowles work in practice. At least that's a start, I think, toward Carolyn maybe coming into her own as a WNBA player. Obviously, she's not getting much playing time now, but she's 6-6, strong, smart and has time to develop here and overseas.
Do you think Tulsa is looking at all better since the coaching change? Will they win another game?
Mechelle Voepel (2:59 PM)
I saw the Shock get pummeled by the Fever last Friday down in Tulsa, and that wasn't a game that provided much solace to Shock fans looking for something good. Liz Cambage sat the bench a lot and Tulsa looked very baffled at times by Indy's defense. And the Shock gave up some drives to the basket that I thought were going to make Teresa Edwards' head explode. But ... Tulsa played better the next night against San Antonio, and then lost by five at LA on Tuesday. Although we've already chronicled the Sparks' problems. I think most of us have been targeting LA's visit to Tulsa on Aug. 21 as the most likely next win for the Shock ... if there is going to be one.
Judith (Wash, DC)
Trudi Lacey keeps blaming the Mystics' losses on "inexperience and youth." But she's cut two of the four rookies and doesn't play one of the remaining two. She has 11-year vets in Walker and K. Miller, and experienced players in Lang, Coleman, Anosike, Ajavon, and Gardin. How long are fans expected to listen to these excuses?
Mechelle Voepel (3:03 PM)
The fact that some fans like you have stuck with them this long is amazing to me, actually. :) Trudi Lacey has coached all over the place in her career and had about the same results most of the time. Not to be cruel or a smart-aleck or pessimistic, but there's no evidence to suggest she is a coach who's going to have consistent success at this level all of a sudden.
Did you see "The Mighty Macs" movie? If so, what did you think? I saw it in February at the Tucker Center Film Festival and really enjoyed it.
Mechelle Voepel (3:09 PM)
Yes, I just saw it this week in Olathe, Kan., as a matter of fact. Like most movies, it has its corny spots and oversimplifications and fictionalized moments ... but overall I was really surprised at how good it was, especially the basketball sequences. They did those very well. I must admit I don't actually like most sports movies because I think sports' drama is hard to capture in a movie. What can seem so compelling when it really happens unscripted can seem very contrived on the screen. But they definitely exceeded my expectations with this movie. It's entertaining and touching. And inspiring and funny. I am going to write something about it next week for ESPN.com - not a movie review, per se, since it does not get general release until Oct. 21. But more an overall impression of thinking back on that time period and the power of people supporting each other, especially women supporting women. I would say if you like women's basketball even a little bit, you should see this movie. If you don't, see it anyway. :) And I give Carla Gugino a ton of credit - she carries this entire movie start to finish and totally made me believe she was channeling Cathy Rush. The movie would never have worked if she wasn't so good in the part.
Mechelle Voepel (3:10 PM)
That doesn't mean she is *exactly* like Cathy Rush, but just that she does a marvelous job conveying what a force of personality and positive energy Cathy had to be to achieve what she did.
Now that Teresa Edwards has joined Cynthia Cooper in the Hall of Fame, who should be the next of "this generation" of players to be inducted?
Mechelle Voepel (3:14 PM)
Lisa Leslie seems likely to be the next American women's player to go into the Naismith Hall of Fame. But as for the currently active players ... there are going to be several of them that are going to come up for induction in the next 15 years, I think. The clock starts ticking on Sheryl Swoopes' induction as soon as she actually retires. (Players have to be retired five years). Considering the Hall honors pros and amateurs, both genders, and all nationalities, it really is quite an honor to make it in.
Playing in Europe is actually more important to these women financially. Would it not make sense for Parker to come back to get her basketball legs under her before heading off to Europe for the winter?
Mechelle Voepel (3:16 PM)
I think that is a legitimate point ... and as I've said before, Candace is not one to take it "easy" on herself. She wants to challenge herself, and she always has approached things that way. She's proven her toughness, if you will, many times,
The Seattle Storm has beaten the Phoenix Mercury how many times in a row now? Nine? What is it about this matchup? The Merc is a good team, but why does the Storm always seem to have its number?
Mechelle Voepel (3:23 PM)
Seattle coach Brian Agler talks a lot about how sometimes, there are just match-ups that maybe don't necessarily seem like they *would* favor you, but they do. And in this case, Seattle has been able to defend relatively well against the Mercury last year and this year, even with LJ out. Plus, there may be something to the fact that absolutely no opponents know more about Taurasi and her instincts than do her former UConn teammates Bird and Cash, now with the Storm, of course. That doesn't necessarily mean they *stop* her, but I think they negate some of the "mojo" she often uses so effectively against other teams. Two more regular-season meetings this year, though, between these teams, so we'll see if the Merc can break the hex.
As I recall, you had some pretty strong opinions about teams shifting to different conferences last year. Just wondering what your thoughts are about today's rumor regarding A&M to SEC as soon as 2013?
Mechelle Voepel (3:27 PM)
There have been rumblings ever since the so-called "saving" last summer of the Big 12 (as 10 teams starting this school year) that the "new" league would be too "Longhornish" for A&M's satisfaction. However, I wonder what they think it's like in the SEC? As is always the case, this will come down to whether it's deemed best for football. Every other sport is along for the ride.
AirJazzy (Washington, DC)
Whats a snazzy comeback I can give when people write/comment awfully degrading comments about the WNBA? For example, "Wnba boring" or "whats the wnba".... Im sure you are familiar. I think its terrible to disrespect our women, citizens, mothers and prof. atheletes that way.
Mechelle Voepel (3:31 PM)
I don't know how "snazzy" I always am ... sometimes depends on my mood. :) But usually I tell people, if you don't like it, don't watch it or read about it. Nobody forces you to pay attention, so just ignore it. It's not exactly hard to ignore the WNBA, for heaven's sake. :) That said, though, if they were really "unaware" of it as some claim to be, they wouldn't bring it up in conversation, right? People don't disparage things they *truly* don't care about ... they don't spend any time thinking about them. Sometimes I challenge people to tell me what it is that they really are bugged about in regard to the WNBA. And most of the time, their self-awareness of being threatened in some way is, shall we say, rather lacking. :)
Mechelle Voepel (3:34 PM)
On that note, I will close out the chat. Just a reminder that the Naismith Hall of Fame induction that includes Teresa Edwards and Tara VanDerveer is tomorrow night. Congratulations to two icons of the women's game. And I'll keep reminding you as we get closer to the release date to see "The Mighty Macs" and take your friends and family, even if they are not into women's hoops. Because it's worth seeing, I promise. You'll be smiling when you leave.