Print and Go Back ESPN: SportsNation

August 24, 1:00 PM ET
Chat with Mechelle Voepel

Mechelle Voepel
  (1:02 PM)

Hey, good afternoon. Welcome to the pre-playoffs chat. Let's get started.

Jess (Ga)

How can san antonio have so much veterian leadership and talent and have one of the worst records in the W? Coaching?

Mechelle Voepel
  (1:07 PM)

The Silver Stars do have veteran leadership, but I'm not really overwhelmed by their talent. And, as is the case whenever a team struggles, there are questions about coaching. I think there really will have to be some serious evaluation in the offseason about SASS's future roadmap, even if they did get into the playoffs because the West was such a mess.

Mary (WV)

What in the sacred name of Dr. James Naismith does the Minnesota Lynx have to do to become a winning team?

Mechelle Voepel
  (1:12 PM)

I don't know ... maybe winning five more draft lotteries ought to do the trick, huh? Seriously, this was a very disappointing summer. In some ways, the Lynx's issues in recent seasons do point out the difficulties of projecting how players will do as pros ... Augustus wasn't a bad choice, obviously, but she has had a lot of health issues. And she's not the only one. Still .. at some point you have to say, "Enough about the various injuries, we just didn't get it done." That said, the Lynx should have a very good draft in 2011, which leads to the question of whether they will rely on more young incoming talent or make some trades and try to get a few more veterans.

Natalie (NC)

I know you dealt a bit with the Minnesota/Nicky Anosike situation in last week's chat, but I'm wondering if you could revisit it. Since your last chat, Anosike has gone on the record about her suspension (and her torn meniscus) in an interview with Vols reporter Maria Cornelius. While the article didn't offer much in the way of specifics, it left me more convinced that the Lynx suspended Anosike to subvert the league's roster rules. I'm mystified that the league doesn't seem bothered by this at all. Will what happened in Minnesota be a precedent? Could the Sparks have "suspended" Betty Lennox and Candace Parker to expand their roster? Could the Mystics have "suspended" Alana Beard? If the WNBA doesn't step in and say something, aren't they giving other teams the green light to do this?

Mechelle Voepel
  (1:17 PM)

For the last several days, I have been working on trying to get more information on the record about the Lynx and this situation. It's not that the league wasn't paying any attention; they did talk to the Lynx. The Lynx really do not want to get into any public spat with Anosike, because in general they like her as a player and see her as part of their future. But ... they left themselves open to all this speculation - and there has been a ton of it - by not giving a clearer picture of their side of the story. I think they will, and it will point out the difficulties of the business side of pro sports sometimes, from both a franchise's and player's perspective. I am going to write more about it, I promise. It's been a process.

kevin (macon ga)

Who do you like for the All Rookie team? I've got Charles, Wright, Prince, Griffin, and Greene, but I could see a case for Lacy, Appel, Vesela, or even Jones in the last spot.

Mechelle Voepel
  (1:19 PM)

I'm sure you know this, but we in the media don't vote on the all-rookie team. We vote on 1st and 2nd all-WNBA teams, MVP, most improved, sixth player, defensive player, rookie, coach and Kim Perrot award. But if I were voting on a five-player rookie team, I would vote for the first five you named.

Matt (Ann Arbor, MI)

I am shocked to see the Mystics at the top of the East - preseason I pegged them as the worst team in the conference. Given how well they have done this season without her, what are the chances they entertain trade offers for Alana Beard in the offseason? If they do, is there a deal out there that would be worth it?

Mechelle Voepel
  (1:24 PM)

Alana Beard obviously is a very good player, and she's spent her career with Washington. I don't know how eager the Mystics would be to part with her. They may feel that she'll integrate well with the progress the rest of the team has made. But ... I see them needing at least one more post player soon, and maybe that is something they'd consider. Angela Taylor has shown a lot of good sense so far as a GM, so I imagine she keeps all options on the table that could help the franchise.

Helen (New York City)

There seems to be some writer backlash against the backlash against USA Basketball for not including Langhorne. Your thoughts?

Mechelle Voepel
  (1:33 PM)

Honestly, I haven't read anything like that, but if I were to take a wild guess, I'd say it's coming out of ... Connecticut? I generally don't ever like to get into any kind of battles with other media. And there are often viable opinions on both sides of issues. But if someone thinks they can really justify a camp with two dozen players that *doesn't* include a 23-year-old rising star who is one the WNBA's best rebounders and who has a good history with USA Basketball, I couldn't disagree more. Whether Crystal Langhorne was either accidentally or deliberately left out, it was a mistake. Be nice if someone at USA Basketball would just own it.

Riva (ATL)

What happened to our Dream at the end of the season? A strong start has sputtered into limping into the playoffs. The last few games the players didn't even seem into the game. How important do you think getting erika de Souza involved early is to this team? In my opinion, I think it's crucial, but I have a bias since she's my favorite player, lol.

Mechelle Voepel
  (1:37 PM)

I am sort of perplexed by this, too. The Dream has seemed to be almost sleepwalking at times, which is strange at this point in the season. I think Erika is essential to helping the Dream set the tone early. Because in almost every matchup they have, they have the chance to really establish themselves as the stronger team on the interior. That's going to be crucial if they hope to beat Washington.

Blake Whitney (Washington, DC)

It seems to me that the three strongest MVP candidates this year are Lauren Jackson, Tamika Catchings and Cappie Pondexter. If you had to pick the fourth-place MVP this year, who would it be? Rounding out a first-team all WNBA team seems tough this year with a lot of strong candidates.

Mechelle Voepel
  (1:40 PM)

Diana Taurasi and Crystal Langhorne would round out my top five MVP candidates. My first team all-WNBA picks - to have a "team" that I think is balanced by position, although there are three guards, was Jackson, Catchings, Pondexter, Taurasi and Bird. A lot of talent performed well throughout the league this year.


Isn't it great to have the Liberty in the mix now (with a real shot at going far into the playoffs)?

Mechelle Voepel
  (1:44 PM)

I think it is great for the league. This is the biggest market in the United States, one of the biggest in the world, the media capital. There is so much for people to do and follow there, it would be easy for the Liberty to be completely lost, really. But when the team plays as well as it has, then it kind of forces the media there to take notice. And as for NY fans, they are harsh judges ... but when they know you're good, they'll support you. They want winners, and they have a good team now.

MJ (Georgia)

Mechelle, how likely is it that Indiana advances past the first round of the playoffs?

Mechelle Voepel
  (1:49 PM)

This is the series I'd guess most people are torn about in terms of predicting. Most are expecting Seattle and Phoenix to prevail and meet in the West finals. I'd say based on their momentum coming in, many expect Washington to beat Atlanta ... although it wouldn't be a huge upset if the Dream won. But Indy and NY is just more difficult. Yes, NY comes in the hotter team and beat Indy in both their August matchups. There are also some questions about Katie Douglas' health ... I don't think she's even near 100 percent. However, the Fever do have the experience of making the Finals last year, they have a commitment to defense and they have Tamika Catchings. If I had to pick, I'd say NY will get this series, but I am not going to be surprised if it goes the other way.

Graham (Bristol, CT)

Better second-round pick: Shalee Lehning or Nicky Anosike?

Mechelle Voepel
  (1:56 PM)

Not to wriggle out of the answer, but I think it's a matter of what the teams they're on need most. Lehning was exactly what the Dream needed - she is a team-first beacon of positive energy who sees the court incredibly well and can distribute to the various scorers around her. They have a solid interior. Minnesota needed stronger defense inside and muscle, and Anosike provides that. Of course, Anosike, the 6-3 center from national-champion Tennesee, was a much more obvious pick for any team. Lehning, the 5-9 PG from Kansas State, was someone that a coach/GM really had to watch to understand her value. And I think even after watching her as much as I did and believing she was very good, I underestimated her ability to make the transition to the pros. Of course, that's one of the many reasons I'm not a GM. :)

Nerd (Seattle)

Who's your favorite Muppet?

Mechelle Voepel
  (1:57 PM)

Random question, but I like it. Miss Piggy. I have a soft spot for divas who are hilariously self-absorbed. :)

Jess (Breese, IL)

I have seen a few people not select Diana Taurasi for 1st team, do you agree or disagree with this? I personally think it is crazy for her not to be on 1st team. She is the kind of player you build a franchise around which is what Phoenix is doing. Just seems crazy that people dont think of her as 1st team material!

Mechelle Voepel
  (1:59 PM)

Not entirely sure why people wouldn't have Taurasi on the first team, unless it was some kind of statement about Phoenix having a disappointing record. But I can't say it even crossed my mind to not vote for her on the first team.

kevin (macon ga)

The Storm are looking to become the first WNBA champion with no players who played when the ABL was in operation. What significance would you attach to that landmark?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:01 PM)

Not much, really. It just reflects the ABL's relatively brief existence and the passage of time. I guess one way you could look at it is that the ABL did really manage to bring on a lot of very good players in its short lifespan, and that they made a really stong transition to the WNBA. Not that that was too surprising.

kevin (macon ga)

Where would Maya Moore fit best; Chicago, Minnesota, or Tulsa?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:08 PM)

I can't imagine a place where she wouldn't fit ... she's such a classy person as well as one of the greatest players we've seen in women's college hoops. She was born and grew up to age 11, I believe, in Jefferson City, Mo., before going to Georgia, so I think readjusting to the Midwest would not be a problem for her. I understand the East Coasters who love her so much might be aghast at her ending up in Tulsa, but from that franchise's point of view, it would be like striking gold. And she would be a very, very big fish in a little pond that doesn't have many fish in Tulsa. That could be a good thing for the WNBA. Of course, Minny or Chicago wouldn't be "bad" either. Both franchises really need to make the postseason next year to get a lift, and MM would obviously be a great help to that.

David (Dishin)

It's been refreshing to have to think about the year end awards selections isn't? You can make great arguments for MVP, Coach, most improved, 6th player and defensive going to two or three different people this season!

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:10 PM)

You're absolutely right. The one award I gave basically no thought to was Rookie of the Year. Tina Charles was so far ahead in that race, she couldn't see her "competitors". But there were viable candidates that had to be debated for everything else. I could see someone's ballot looking completely different from mine _ except for rookie - and understanding all their choices.

Rich (London)

"My first team all-WNBA picks - to have a "team" that I think is balanced by position, although there are three guards, was Jackson, Catchings, Pondexter, Taurasi and Bird."Considering the WNBA ballot rules about picking players at the position in which they are a starter - and considering Taurasi's been playing two-guard all year this season - doesn't that essentially break the rules?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:15 PM)

I guess. I don't care. They can throw out my ballot, if they want. :) The use of a three-guard lineup is not unusual in the basketball world, so it make up a "legitimate" team. I would argue that Taurasi, especially, defies being put in any box in terms of position.

Mike (Indy)

Who do you like to come out of the East. Obviously i am worried a little about my Fever, b/c of their last 3 games, but I still think Tamika won't allow them to LOSE. She is the class of the WNBA!

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:17 PM)

Tamika certainly is a well-loved player in Indy and many other places, too. The issue won't be her play, but will she get enough help. There was another question submitted about who has more help: Catch or Cappie? I'd say at least in recent weeks, it's been Cappie ... but she's also had times of having to do a lot by herself. It's going to be the supporting casts that essentially are the deciding factor in this series, I think.

JJ (FLORIDA) [via mobile]

Do you think Diana Taurasi was ever serious about taking a break or was she just making a point?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:21 PM)

I think she was making a point, and I credit her with giving answers to questions that reflect real issues that are going on in her mind. She doesn't just give canned, safe, bland answers. All the players do talk about and worry about balancing their commitment to the WNBA with what they do overseas. I always thought deep down, the competitor in Taurasi would never be able to take off a WNBA season ... she loves the sport and competing at the highest level too much. But I can understand the dilemma that players face. In the end, I think most of them know the importance of making decisions that are good for the longterm health of the WNBA. It takes some selfless thinking, though, and that's not something all pro athletes are asked to do.

kevin (macon ga)

ESPN is really showing their biases this week. When Diana Taurasi offhandedly mentions taking some time off, every talking head in Bristol went in on how bleak the future looked for the W. Now she's signed a contract extension, and nobody says boo. Why is the Worldwide Leader so locked into the negative when it comes to the WNBA?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:33 PM)

I am trying to answer this question, but so far it hasn't let me post. It's funny to me that it's about ESPN and it won't let me post. ;)

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:39 PM)

OK, we'll try again: the news of Diana Taurasi's contract broke Monday in Phoenix. Do you think I received an e-mail, a text message, a phone call, a smoke signal _ ANYTHING _ from anyone in Phoenix or with the WNBA that this was happening? No, I didn't. Yes, I know it was on Twitter ... along with 8 zillion other things. As a writer, sometimes you do STOP looking at the Internet for a little while to actually write. And when did phone calls just become too difficult for people to make? Especially when you want to get out some good news in regard to the team you represent? In the midst of previewing the playoffs, I haven't had time to do another piece on Taurasi just yet. I will. The wire story is atop the news feed on the women's basketball page. Yes, I think the Associated Press story earlier this summer about Taurasi was overplayed by Then I did a piece saying what I thought was a more nuanced look at what her situation really was.

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:45 PM)

As for the talking heads, I don't think you mean anyone who actually covers the WNBA games for ESPN ... they are not negative. They are very enthusiastic and energetic, in my view.

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:46 PM)

As for people who take cliched potshots at women's basketball, that is certainly not unique to ESPN. That's a media-wide issue that needs to be addressed by people with editorial power.

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:48 PM)

They need to send out a firm message that overt sexism will not be tolerated any more than any other prejudice. By that, I don't mean they can't criticize the WNBA. They can blast it to hell and back if it's legitimate criticism. But making any possible "joke" about the league simply because it's women's basketball is not legitimate. Sorry that answer took so incredibly long to post.

kevin (macon ga)

re: Taurasi, I wasn't referring to you or ESPN TV; Around the Horn, PTI, First Take, Jim Rome, they couldn't wait to take shots at the WNBA when Taurasi mentioned taking time off. Now she's signed, and they say...nothing.

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:54 PM)

And this is what women's sports very often has to deal with. There are people who take every possible opportunity to crap on it, and then ignore it entirely otherwise. But maybe it's up to Phoenix to call ALL of these people and say, "Hey, did you see this?" If I were working for the Mercury, you can sure as hell bet I would.

Melissa (Ridgefield, NJ)

Is it a bit of a letdown when NY Liberty fans are happy? I bet we are a lot funnier when we're cranky.

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:55 PM)

No, I have had plenty of fun at the expense of cranky Liberty fans. I want them to be happy for a change. :)

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:57 PM)

OK, I am sorry since it took me 15 minutes to post an answer to one question I didn't get to more. The coward in me once again looks to dodge predictions, but I *won't* succumb to it. East: New York in 3, Washington in 2. West: Seattle in 2, Phoenix in 3. Please forgive me, Mystics fans. Will try to do another chat this week, perhaps at normal Thursday time. Thanks for all the questions!