Chat with Mechelle Voepel
Welcome to SportsNation! On Thursday, women's basketball writer Mechelle Voepel will stop by to chat some hoops.
Voepel has covered women's college and pro basketball for ESPN.com since 1996. Read her blog at www.mechellevoepelblog.com.
Send your questions now and join Voepel Thursday at 2 p.m. ET!
Mechelle Voepel (2:01 PM)
Good afternoon! Last chat of the WNBA regular season, and there is still one playoff spot on the line. Let's get started.
Lynn (Atlanta, GA)
What do you think the most exciting match up will/might be during the WNBA playoffs and why?
Mechelle Voepel (2:03 PM)
If they do end up meeting in the Western Conference finals, Minnesota vs. LA - if the Sparks play as well as they are capable of - is a pretty exciting matchup to me. Not to say for sure that's what is going to happen, but it could be a good series. Of course, the Lynx also could sweep their way through the whole postseason, too, if they play as well as they can.
Chris (Dinkytown, MN)
What is up with wnba.com? I go onto the page today to see that the supposed "MVP race" is coming down to only two players? Why is a player like Candace Parker with a plus/minus per 40 of minus 7.1 one of the poster-girls for the conversation when Maya Moore, who leads the league with a plus 17.2, is not?
Mechelle Voepel (2:07 PM)
Yeah, I just saw that, and it's interesting to me because right now, my MVP vote leans toward Maya Moore. Parker is a terrific player, but I'm not quite as sold on her consistency all through this season. Right now, I'm really trying to decide between Moore and Charles, and like I said, I've been leaning more toward MM. But I can see very legit arguments for Charles, Parker and Tamika Catchings. It's a really hard year to pick.
Lynn (Atlanta, GA)
There seems to be an ever-present threat to the WNBA's existence. What are your thoughts on what the WNBA can do to strengthen itself in order to ensure its long-term viability? How about the individual WNBA teams?
Mechelle Voepel (2:11 PM)
We hear this every year, and I understand fans' concern. But at some point, you have to say, "It's been here for 16 seasons." Might there be more movement with franchises? Perhaps. But I really don't think the WNBA is going away. I would hope that behind the scenes, there is more hard talk from the league with some of the franchises that I think have made foolish decision both with personnel and with how they treat their fans. I am not sure that happens, though. You have to listen to fans that are already there, along with trying to attract new ones. I feel like Washington and New York, in particular, are franchises that have not really respected their longtime fans. Or at least, they haven't seriously listened to them.
Tracy (Los Angeles)
Mechelle, do you see the Sparks challenging the Lynx for the Western Conference championship and do you believe the Sparks will have a chance to win all the major awards this year due to the team success they had this year.
Mechelle Voepel (2:14 PM)
It's not out of the question that the Sparks could challenge the Lynx ... although I think based on the way Minnesota has played most of this season, they are not going to lose a series to anyone. But, the Sparks at least have the personnel to potentially compete very well against Minnesota. As for the awards, Parker is in the running for MVP, and I'd guess Kristi Toliver is going to win most improved player. Do any of you on the chat have a good case to make for other candidates for MIP?
Martina (Los Angeles)
Mechelle, you bash the Washington Mystics for their ineptitude (and rightfully so), but what about the WNBA? I've seen the schedule for the first round of the playoffs on one newspaper's site, but nothing on the league's site. How does this happen?
Mechelle Voepel (2:16 PM)
WNBA.com has its issues, that's for sure. And some of them are long term. They've had a tentative playoff schedule done for a while now. Generally, though, the league doesn't want to post it on-line until it's set in stone, because sometimes there are changes based on TV decisions. Personally, I think they should put up a tentative schedule and at least give people an idea of when the games likely will be. But I don't run their site. :)
Bobbi (San Antonio)
Any chance Dan Hughes gets coach of the year? No one expected the Silver Stars to do what they've done this season, and they can finish with the second best regular season record since moving to San Antonio, despite the recent five-game slump.
Mechelle Voepel (2:19 PM)
I think Hughes should get some consideration for this award. I certainly underestimated the Silver Stars before the start of this season. With coach of the year voting, it comes down to the philosophy of voters. Do you award coaches on their team's success regardless of talent, or do you try to discern who you think did the best job while facing the most difficulties? And sometimes, voters have different philosophies year-to-year.
kevin (macon ga)
I know it's hard to win on the WTA circuit after 30, but does Serena Williams have a shot to match Steffi Graf's 22 Grand Slam titles?
Mechelle Voepel (2:27 PM)
Serena Williams turns 31 on Sept. 26, and as you know, 31 tends to be the expiration year for tennis players in regard to winning Grand Slam titles. It's very rare to win a GS title after turning 32. Chris Evert, Steffi Graf, Margaret Court, BJK, Monica Seles didn't do that. Martina Navratilova only won one title after she turned 32; she won Wimbledon at 33 in 1990. On the men's side, it's the same thing: Connors, Borg, Lendl, McEnroe, Sampras, Edberg, Becker - all won their last GS title at age 31 or younger. Agassi won one title after he turned 32: the 2003 Aussie Open. Serena has 15 GS titles now ... can she win seven more? Statistically, it seems very improbable ... but Serena defies stats. She is still the best women's player in the world when healthy. But ... the French Open has never been a very good GS for her, so if you take that out of the mix, that makes getting seven more before she finally slows down more unlikely.
Veronica (San Antonio, tx)
The Silver Stars have won three of their last four games following a 5-game losing streak. Do you think they've turned things around heading into the playoffs?
Mechelle Voepel (2:30 PM)
The five-game losing streak did have a loss to Phoenix, but the other losses were all to playoff teams, including two losses to Minnesota. So I didn't necessarily think SASS was falling apart during that losing streak. And Tulsa (to whom SASS lost on Sept. 16) actually has been a tough matchup for San Antonio because of the Shock's speed. So all that said, SASS is going to put on a good performance in the playoffs, I think. But I'm not sure they can get past LA.
I think you could make a case for Epiphanny Prince for MIP. Her improvement from last season to this season, at least in regards to scoring average, is very similar to Toliver's. Toliver probably does have a slightly better body of work, but it's tough to overlook how well Chicago was playing to start the season with Prince and how dramatically they plummeted when she got injured. Agree/disagree?
Mechelle Voepel (2:33 PM)
Good points. It's unfortunate for ChiSky that Prince has dealt with the injuries she has.
How far do you think the CT Sun will go in the playoffs?
Mechelle Voepel (2:34 PM)
I think they'll make the WNBA Finals this year. That doesn't mean that Indy and Atlanta aren't dangerous, of course, because they really are. But I think the Sun is hungry, and in general I've like the way they've played most of the season in terms of them making a run at the Finals.
I would love to see Monica Wright in the conversation for MIP. She has struggled a little recently, but her FG% and overall play is better with only a few more minutes per game.
A strong case can be made for Kara Lawson as MIP, considering she had to beat out a 2011 WNBA All-Star and 2012 Olympic team hopeful to break into the starting line-up and not rely on a season-ending injury to a player with zero career WNBA starts. Her numbers are quite impressive, too--especially her assist-to-turnover ratio and her shooting percentages.
Based on tweets from Charde Houston, she was disappointed about not being included in the visit to the White House this week. Do former players usually get included? Obviously it would have been near impossible for Charde and Alexis to be included with a game that night, but you hate to see anyone hurt over such a nice honor.
Mechelle Voepel (2:37 PM)
I don't know the whole history of players no longer with their teams getting a White House visit. I noticed this year when the St. Louis Cardinals visited the WH after winning the World Series last year, Albert Pujols (now with Angels) was not with them. I can understand that she was disappointed, but with the WH schedule and the WNBA schedule, I'm not sure the exclusion of Houston and Hornbuckle could be avoided.
Judith (Capital City)
What are your views on Pokey Chatman as a head coach in the WNBA? The Sky haven't exactly taken the league by storm under her leadership (I do understand the injury problems), but she doesn't seem to be the subject of much criticism. Almost teflon-like.
Mechelle Voepel (2:42 PM)
I can see that point of view. I do think that coaches get some leeway - or don't get it, as the case may be - based both on their body of work and the overall "perception" of their abilities. Pokey's time at LSU (regardless of how it ended) and her success in Russia have made people more inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt. And other coaches may not get that. But some of the evaluation has got to come down to whether the Sky really feels like they got any closer to being a contending team this season or not. Yes, they've had injuries, but almost everybody deals with those. They are in the conference that is perceived as not the strongest of the two. The Sky is not "out" of the playoffs as of this writing, so it's still possible. But ... yes, it's fair to take a hard look at what Chatman has done there.
I just wanted to give a shout out to the Women's Sports Central podcast you do with Brenda. I really enjoy the discussions and being able to hear about some other sports I don't follow as closely as basketball.
Mechelle Voepel (2:44 PM)
I appreciate that you listen to it. Brenda VanLengen and I have a format where we generally just discuss women's sports overall, so I hope we don't bore the audience too much. :) We want it to be sort of like if you were just hanging out with us, this is the stuff we'd talk about. Because that's pretty much exactly what we do whether we're on the air or not. :) Sports nerds.
Is it unusual for a team to be done with their season a few days early like the Sparks are? I would assume teams would finish on Saturday or Sunday.
Mechelle Voepel (2:48 PM)
I guess this has caused some consternation among other teams' fans who see the Sparks getting a rest advantage by not playing over the weekend. But I don't know that it's any conspiracy in favor of the Sparks. :) Usually, the WNBA schedules have oddities because of the availability of the various' teams facilities. Incidentally, ESPN2's regular-season finale game on Sunday is between Phoenix and Seattle, and I'm sure the league/network though that would be a good matchup and not the essentially meaningless game that it is.
Sofia (Durham, NC)
I think you can make a good case for Alison Hightower for MIP, too.
Your reaction to Notre Dame leaving the Big East? It's the end of a great rivalry with UConn. Do you think they will schedule non-conference games immediately?
Mechelle Voepel (2:53 PM)
It's really too bad for the Big East, and I wish the ACC hadn't become the enormous conference it has. I think it takes away from both leagues' previously defined personalities. But ... since it's all decided on a level that has nothing to do with women's hoops, we just have to accept it. I certainly hope UConn and ND get a non-conference series going once the move takes place.
One player who isn't a strong candidate for MIP is Alana Beard, and it's a little aggravating that the Sparks' broadcasting team doesn't seem to understand why. That said, I love the way she's come back from injury and look forward to seeing her offensive game expand next season.
Mechelle Voepel (2:55 PM)
Yes, I was going to say that if there was a comeback POY award, we'd know who would win that in a landslide. Her offense has come back even in the second half of this season compared to the first half. And if she can stay healthy for next season, it should be improved even more in comparison to her "old self."
With Ticha announcing her retirement yesterday, any favorite memories of watching her play?
Mechelle Voepel (3:00 PM)
I was living in Newport News, Va., when Ticha came to Old Dominion in Norfolk, so I got to see her play a lot in person while she was still in college. She was truly like an artist on court. She saw things that nobody else did. And she was also funny, personable and a real team leader. She transferred all of those qualities very successfully to the WNBA. I guess my favorite moment was seeing her win a WNBA title with Sacramento in 2005. But _ and I am doing a blog on this for ESPN.com later today _ I have this one defining image of her going in for a layup at the start of the 1997 ODU-Stanford NCAA semifinal. It was athletic, fearless, and graceful ... and it set the tone for one of the most passionately played games I've still ever seen - by both sides - in women's hoops.
Jonathan (New York)
Not to look too far ahead, but with Taj in her 40's, how do you see the Lynx adapting to a WNBA with Cambage (hopefully) and Griner?
Mechelle Voepel (3:02 PM)
I like the youthful development of the Lynx's interior game. So whenever Taj does finally ride off into the sunset, I think the Lynx are going to be able to deal with whatever other teams throw at them inside.
Keith H (Seattle)
With Sue & Lauren out recently with injuries, I'm thinking we're at the "appreciate them while they're still here" phase. For the Storm fans, savor this as long as you can.
Mechelle Voepel (3:03 PM)
A little melancholy ... but it's always good to appreciate great players while you have the opportunity. And they are two sure-fire Hall of Famers. Ultimately, everybody loses the battle with Time. :)
Lynn (Atlanta, GA)
Kristi Toliver has been getting a lot of great press lately and her play certainly warrants the attention. But, I am still sometimes bothered by what seems to be a small step over the line between confidence and arrogance. In many ways, she seems just like Angel McCoughtry. I think that people are a bit more forgiving of Kristi than they are of Angel. Do you agree and, if so, why do you think that is?
Mechelle Voepel (3:15 PM)
Interesting, complex question. Fans have a perspective on players, reporters have their perspective, coaches have theirs, and then fellow players have their own perspective. What we all see makes up the composite of who each player "is" ... and yet, even that doesn't completely define that person. Ultimately, the *least* important viewpoint is that of reporters - what the paying customers, their teammates and their coaches think of someone is most important. But we reporters have a "forum" of sorts. Anyway, I really don't fault athletes for "arrogance" unless they treat their fans or their teammates poorly because of it. I know Toliver has always gotten criticism from some folks who perceive her to be too much into herself, and not a good-enough teammate. I don't know if that's fair, or if she's made significant strides forward. She seems to have done that. By the same token, Angel has gotten some of that criticism, too. But ... I also think when Angel has her emotions in the right place, she can be a good teammate. And here is the strictly reporter viewpoint - for what it's worth - I've talked to both of them for many years, going back to college. Toliver is always the same to speak to, at least for me. Angel isn't ... she can be wonderfully charming, funny and insightful ... or moody and somewhat unresponsive. Not just to me, but to other reporters, too. Now, I don't know if that carries over to how she deals with her teammates every day ... I'm not there every day, nor do I see them interact when outsiders aren't around. Angel says she is still learning to deal with her intense desire to win and how that impacts her personality. Some will say Angel is just being her genuine self, and I can understand that. Anyway, make of that what you will. I would like nothing more than to see both women - whom I think are quite talented - be as successful as possible. But they both probably have had some inner battles on how best to be a teammate.
Can you give us any behind the scenes details on the lottery scheduled for 6pm next Wednesday during SportsCenter? When in the hour long program is it actually scheduled to happen? Will it be like the NBA, where most of what happens is behind closed doors? Any nuggets you can share would be great.
Mechelle Voepel (3:24 PM)
At this point, I don't know all the specific details. :) I will have a story on the draft lottery for Tuesday on ESPN.com, so I'll share whatever TV side lets me know then. Also in the story, we will tackle the issues around the draft lottery. I spoke at length this morning to the Mercury's Amber Cox and Corey Gaines, who vehemently deny any "plot" to toss away this season for lottery gain. And I'll be talking to Laurel Richie, too, and the other lottery teams. I realize that a lot of people are absolutely rigid in their views of the Mercury and the other teams in the lottery. I can present the teams' viewpoints, the league president's viewpoint, and my viewpoint. You can make up your own minds, and some already have. That's totally OK.
Judith (Capital City)
Sheila Johnson is on the phone for you, asking your advice about what she should do now.... And you say:
Mechelle Voepel (3:31 PM)
Hi Sheila, how much time do you have? :) Seriously, to me this is about changing an entire organization's mindset, and not just about certain decisions. I don't know how you get back the trust and goodwill of fans who feel they have been let down and had their intelligence insulted one too many times. But that's where it would have to start: Really listening to the fans' anger and disappointment and trying to not be defensive. The organization has a chance to get a really good player in next year's draft, and it already has some really good players. If the organization is certain that Trudi Lacey is on the right track, regardless of her record in D.C., then they need to be very specific about what that right track is. Otherwise, they have to put egos aside and figure out the next coaching/GM move to make. It's not impossible to recover from their self-induced implosion of the last two years in particular, but it's going to take a lot of work.
What are your All-WNBA picks?
Mechelle Voepel (3:35 PM)
First team: Maya Moore, Angel McCoughtry, Tina Charles, Tamika Catchings, Candace Parker. Second team: DeWanna Bonner, Sophia Young, Sylvia Fowles, Seimone Augustus, Cappie Pondexter. I know some folks will say I'm kind of "cheating" on positions in some places, but I think this works. And, yes, it's very hard to leave off some of the other players who are quite deserving.
Mechelle Voepel (3:36 PM)
Thanks for all the questions. Looking forward to the draft lottery and the playoffs next week. I may change the chat day to Tuesday, but will let you know via Twitter.
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