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 2:30 p.m. ET!
Mechelle Voepel (2:34 PM)
Good afternoon. Is everybody ready for the big Phoenix-Minnesota showdown tonight? And the hope is that Elena Delle Donne is back on court for the Sky. Let's get started.
kevin (macon ga)
If the Sparks continue to struggle is Penny Toler in danger of being replaced as GM?
Mechelle Voepel (2:39 PM)
I would be surprised if that happened this season, just because there's already been such an upheaval with Carol Ross being fired. But it seemed to be that by taking the coaching reins, Penny Toler was trying to save her job as GM and felt that she was the best person to do that. Toler has been in her position a very long time, of course, so she's weathered more than a few storms. But at some point, if the Sparks keep under-achieving, the buck eventually has to stop with the GM, I would think, once the coach has been canned. So I guess we'll see how LA finishes out this season, and what kind of relationship Toler has with the new Sparks management.
Jan(Kentucky) [via mobile]
The Tulsa Shock still seem to be a player or two away from the playoffs. What do they need to get there?
Mechelle Voepel (2:44 PM)
I think it would help them a lot to have a high-caliber wing player who not only could give them some reliable scoring, but could also defend at a high level. But there aren't exactly a lot of those players available. The Shock haven't had good luck with the draft lottery, but if they somehow finally get the No. 1 pick, someone like Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, provided she's healthy, would be a tremendous addition and address the needs stated.
Pokey and Chicago: is this rocky season merely about The Sky not having a full/healthy roster, or is she deserving of some credit here?
Mechelle Voepel (2:49 PM)
Credit or blame? :) I don't seen how Chatman can take much heat for this season. The Sky have been without so many key pieces for large chunks of time, and have not had the whole team they were expecting at all. I know all coaches have to deal with injuries, but I think the Sky was just dealt too many things to deal with in the short schedule of a WNBA season for anyone to expect a lot. This is the stuff I was thinking about when I picked them to finish last, and even then I didn't anticipate they've have as much go wrong as has gone wrong injury and health-wise. Now, we'll see if at the end of the season, the Sky can benefit from players being a little healthier. But this is still not going to be the team Chatman hoped to have.
The Sun are approaching their second worst season in franchise history, which was preceded by a league-worst 10-24 finish in 2013. How many more chances does Donovan deserve? Or has she had one too many?
Mechelle Voepel (2:56 PM)
Anne Donovan has has success in the league before, we all know that. But we have to go back to firing Mike Thibault. Why did the Sun do that? Because they were frustrated about not getting back to WNBA Finals, and particularly about not being able to close out Indiana in the 2012 East finals. But the thing is, we saw that Indy was essentially a team that couldn't be denied that year. So was firing Mike Thibault the right move? It seems like rather than getting the Sun closer to a championship, it got them further away. I won't say that's all Donovan's fault; I don't know if Tina Charles would have demanded a trade if Thibault had stayed. But, like we saw with the Sparks' situation, sometimes it just ends up being the coach who has to take the blame.
Ellen Illinois [via mobile]
With Tulsa being loaded with talent. Do you see any reason as to why they are struggling and not one of the top teams in the league?
Mechelle Voepel (2:59 PM)
The Shock is still a mostly young team, and if you compare their talent to Phoenix, Minnesota and Los Angeles, Tulsa is not yet in that ballpark. Imagine what the Shock would have been like if they had gotten the No. 1 pick in 2011, instead of No. 2. Imagine them with Maya Moore, instead of the mostly not-present Liz Cambage. The Shock has made some bad management decisions since moving to Tulsa, but they've also been hurt by just really bad luck.
Lesley (Houston )
Who is your pick for the eastern conference finals??
Mechelle Voepel (3:02 PM)
What the heck ... I'll say Atlanta and New York. I wish it didn't feel like the East winner was just going for the "prize" of being the one to lose in WNBA Finals, but of course that is what it feels like.
With Curt Miller out at Indiana any chance Carol Ross or gail goestenkors will go for the job?
Mechelle Voepel (3:05 PM)
I actually think the WNBA coach who might seem the most interested in that job is Brian Agler ... his daughter plays for Indiana, of course, and he has looked at other college jobs in recent years. Seattle has had a remarkable run of postseason appearances, but the franchise may be in that position of needing to rebuild. And Agler might feel like it would be a good time to stop away if the right college job was open.
Robert [via mobile]
2014 MVP: Maya Moore or Diana Taurasi?
Mechelle Voepel (3:10 PM)
There are many people asking this question on the chat. :) I remember in 1979, when Keith Hernandez and Willie Stargell shared NL MVP in baseball. It almost seems like this should be the year the WNBA has a tie for MVP. It's so hard to choose, and whichever one I vote for, I'll have regret about not voting for the other. Right now, I still lean toward Maya Moore. I will NOT make a final decision, though, until the season is over and I can go over every last piece of data.
Courtney Paris has been a genuine asset to her team this season, and is leading the league in rebounding average; there's been an upgrade in conditioning, but it seems more about confidence. Opinion?
Mechelle Voepel (3:14 PM)
Part of it, I think, is also just opportunity and realizing that she could have a chance to prove herself over the long haul of the season. There have always been things that Paris does well at the WNBA level, and things she does not do as well. I think Fred Williams has embraced playing to Courtney's strengths. And, you're right, there is a mix of a bit better conditioning and more of a "look" from CP that she belongs out there. I'm happy to see that she didn't give up on playing in the WNBA , and that takes some real fortitude and determination.
JR (Santa Barbara)
Is jayne Appel being used correctly by San Antonio? She rebounds and blocks shots but very few FGAs.
Mechelle Voepel (3:19 PM)
One thing about the brevity of a WNBA season is that it's hard to start with a "plan" and then try to redefine your team in midstream. I think it's pretty clear Dan Hughes looked at what he had, and what he drafted, and committed to this being a very guard-oriented team in 2014. To get more offense out of Appel would require a little different mindset from the guards, and I'm not convinced they are confident that it would pay off with the personnel they have right now. So, you're right, she becomes a defensive/rebounding presence. But in that, she can be very valuable to that team.
Who do you think the front runners are for the NCAAW Final Four next year in Tampa Bay?
Mechelle Voepel (3:25 PM)
UConn, South Carolina, Baylor and ... I have no idea. :) Even with UConn's and Baylor's losses to graduation, I feel like they will be strong enough to make FF runs. South Carolina has everyone back, and they won't be playing as underdogs anymore. How will North Carolina respond to losing Diamond DeShields? The Tar Heels definitely will want to prove they can move on just fine without her. How will Louisville do without Shoni? How will Notre Dame do without McBride and Achonwa? What can we expect from Tennessee? One team that I think should not be overlooked is Texas AM ... they bring back their stars, and while they may not be able to top South Carolina in the SEC, they could be good enough to make another WFF trip.
Gail Goestenkors/HOF: some are saying there's not to warrant her induction there? What would you say are her highest achievements?
Mechelle Voepel (3:33 PM)
I had the viewpoint of living in ACC country when Goestenkors took over at Duke in 1992. At that time, Duke women's basketball was not even competitive in the ACC, let alone a national power. In fact, the idea that Duke could be a national power among the women seemed very far-fetched. They didn't charge attendance to get into games, they shared a locker room with the field hockey team. This is when the Duke men's team was literally the most high-profile, glamorous team in all of college sports, in my opinion. So I know, first-hand, all the challenges GG faced turning Duke women into the program they became. She did that. She instituted all the elements of a successful program at Duke. She helped change the pecking order in ACC women's basketball, and also the national recruiting scene because Duke became a recruiting power on the women's side. So, yes, I think she merits getting into the women's hoops hall of fame based on those accomplishments. Regardless of not winning an NCAA title.
kevin (macon ga)
Gail Goestenkors' recent selection to the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame has not been mentioned at all on the websites for Duke or Texas. Does that strike you as odd?
Mechelle Voepel (3:40 PM)
Not necessarily. The past accomplishments by someone else are not something that the current coaching regime at Duke wants to really celebrate. Goestenkors is still beloved and missed by a portion of the Duke fan base, and that's always been tough for Joanne P. McCallie and her staff to deal with. And let's also be frank about this: Goestenkors did not have a Hall-of-Fame impact at Texas, or anything close to it. That ended up being a very expensive decision by Texas that just didn't work out. I would think someday Duke as an institution will be really proud of what GG did to permanently change that program for the better, though.
Just curious. Why does the WNBA play a best of three in the playoffs and a best of five in the Finals? The NBA plays best of seven. That's a better way to determine a real champion!
Mechelle Voepel (3:45 PM)
It would be fun to see best-of-five in the conference finals and best-of-seven in the finals. But the WNBA is still in growth mode, and so it would be a matter of making a longer playoff format work in a lot of different areas: financially, with television, and the fact that most of the players aleady don't have much time off between their overseas season and the WNBA. So making the playoffs longer would be difficult logistically. I'm not saying it will never happen, though, but it will require more overall growth.
Becky Hammon calls it a career. First thoughts when you think of Becky.
Mechelle Voepel (3:52 PM)
Tough as nails. :) She did things on her own terms, and she never let anyone else's doubts discourage her. And yet, she always had that smile, and was not disagreeable or grouchy. Some people can have a chip on their shoulder and just be a pill to be around. I think Becky just accepted that she would be underestimated, and knew she'd end up silencing her doubters. So she didn't get mad about it or let it affect her temperament. I really respect that. I also like how she went to a new franchise when she was 30 years old, and had the best years of her career while immersing herself in that community. She's impacted a lot of lives in San Antonio, specifically, and I look forward to how she'll continue doing that in her post-playing career.
kevin (macon ga)
If Kurt Budke was alive, would he be going to the WBHOF?
Mechelle Voepel (3:58 PM)
Not right now, but he may very well have had an unquestioned WBHOF career were it not for the tragic accident that cut his life and career short. He was on track for that, in my opinion. He was going to be consistently pretty successful at Oklahoma State; it was a destination job for him, and he'd paid his dues the way a lot of younger coaches now don't anymore. Yes, there is an undeniable emotional component to him going into the Hall, as I think they are "rewarding" the things he would have done had he lived. I do believe he would have had a very long career and earned a spot in the Hall simply on merit alone. Tragedy prevented that.
Do you think Phoenix will beat the Sparks regualar season winning record this year? Then go on to take the title this year?
Mechelle Voepel (4:01 PM)
Well ... let's finish with this one. I'll go with the Mercury's streak ending tonight at Minnesota, with the Lynx back at full strength. As for the finals ... I'm not predicting that yet. :) Chat with you next week!