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September 27, 2:00 PM ET
Chat with Mechelle Voepel

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:03 PM)

Welcome to today's edition of WNBA anger management, aka this week's chat. The playoffs start today, but that *isn't* actually the main topic of the questions I'm seeing so far, which won't surprise you. So let's dive on into the high emotions over yesterday's draft lottery.

Levi (Oklahoma)

I am happy the Shock got the #3 pick...and yes I am going to say this it might start World War III with the Phoenix fans but I feel this is unethical. If Phoenix actually tried to win games I would say ok you deserve it but I feel it is just unethical all the way around. The other three teams tried at least and did not make any excuses or cover ups for their players not to play. I think Laurel Richie not investigating is wrong as well. I understand the lottery is a crap shoot but to even be in after an orginization does a tank is wrong period. On the flip side, I do welcome Skylar Diggins to Tulsa if that is the pick we go with. I am not upset with it let me clarify that we did not get #1....there were more deserving teams who should have got it and three of those did not get it. And three of those teams did it as Pat Summitt says, "The right way."

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:05 PM)

Well, Levi, you have some company on that point of view. It's been a topic all season, but most especially in the second half of the season. Did Phoenix do *everything* it could to win games this season? Clearly not, and the Mercury admitted as much by shutting down Diana Taurasi to rest. But ... they say that it wasn't an orchestrated plan to lose for the lottery. Their fans are in their corner, for sure. Other fans ... not so much.

kevin (macon ga)

Was there any lottery result that would have been worse for the league than the one we got?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:10 PM)

Probably not. There's no getting around it: People wanted to see something good happen for the Mystics, no matter how irritating that franchise has been with the self-harm it's inflicted over the years. And Tulsa clearly played hard to the end of this season, and is still trying to just get a foothold as a competitive franchise. Meanwhile, the Mercury have two championships and a lot of opposing fans are mad at them for how they handled this season. I tell you, when I saw the Mystics at No. 4, I felt my stomach lurch. I've been as critical of them as anybody, and I think they have to take full responsibility for their own demise of the last two seasons. Still, for their fans' sake, the 2013 draft was a ray of light that immediately got extinguished.

Blake (Washington, D.C.)

Conspiracy theories aside, don't you think it would have been better for the league if the No. 1 pick to have gone somewhere other than Phoenix? With Los Angeles getting the No. 1 pick in this past draft, and now this, it really seems like the rich are getting richer. This league is so competitive and the jobs are so few that there are hardly any game-changing players, but Griner is certainly one of them. I think it's a shame she won't be helping to resurrect a franchise.

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:15 PM)

Simple answer: Yes, I think it would have been great for the league for Griner to have gone to Tulsa, in particular. But the lottery is set up as being about mathematical chances, so as long as that system is in place, you have potential outcomes like what we had. Of course, if the draft were based solely on record, Tulsa still would have had the No. 3 pick. That part wouldn't have changed.

Chris (Dinkytown, MN)

After a disastrous draft lottery for the WNBA and it's continued struggle to improve in all markets, do you think it's time to rework the Lottery system? Perhaps going to a multiple year record system? Or an increasing odds system for perennial lottery teams? While in a more established league, one with teams that have historical success to draw upon, numerous years of bottom dwelling is survivable, I'm not so sure in the WNBA. Seems unfortunate that bad luck should doom a team, no matter how bad the management.

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:19 PM)

Certainly, there's going to be more talk than ever now about whether the lottery works well enough for the WNBA's purposes. When I talked to Laurel Richie last week, she did not seem inclined to think about changing the set-up of the lottery. And we have to remember, of course, that Washington bears responsibility for how it handled this season. When it became clear this team was going nowhere, the Mystics didn't fire Trudi Lacey to try to shake things up. They played out the string with loss after loss, and you could say they were banking on the lottery to save them some face in the eyes of their fans. And that was a gamble they lost.

Judith (Joyless Mudville)

Should a team's chances in the draft lottery continue to be based only on the past season? Doesn't the current situation allow a really excellent team that has simply had a bunch of injuries (real or imagined) or other disabilities (e.g. pregnancy) during one single season gain an unwarranted advantage over teams that are genuinely bad, and have been bad for more than one season? And doesn't a league this small need a little bit more parity?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:26 PM)

I totally understand where people are coming from on this. But a lot of bad decisions over a long course of time are a big part of why the Mystics ended up in this mess. And on the other side, the fact that Phoenix has two championships allowed them to know that if they had a lousy record this year, their fans were going to stick with them. Whatever you believe of Phoenix - that they plotted this out from the start or that they drifted toward it or some combination - the bottom line is they have done a lot to please their fan base over the years and knew they could count on their fans to weather this season's lack of victories. All that said, does the league need to worry about Tulsa never really getting off the ground and/or the Mystics fans finally just washing their hands of the league? Maybe so, but that gets into how hands-on and manipulative you want the league braintrust to be in trying to orchestrate parity, if you will. It's a slippery slope to some degree.

Chris (Dinkytown, MN)

On the Phoenix Tankery : How much "proof" should be required before the league investigates? I find it doubtful that a smoking gun would be found before an investigation even occurred. I know when the police suspect a potential crime they don't wait for the evidence, they go find it. Should the league not do the same thing? Though I would think sitting Kizer when she was destroying Tulsa is about as close to a smoking gun as you can find.

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:33 PM)

This is a very complicated topic. It's one thing for fans to let off steam on message boards, or even for journalists to speculate on stuff like this. But how does the league go about "investigating" Phoenix? Demand extensive explanations on medical records? Look game-by-game at coaching decisions and try to deem some are suspect? Is the league office prepared to make judgments like that? Is WNBA president Laurel Richie _ who got her job because of a marketing background, not a basketball one _ a strong enough authority figure to take on such an "investigation?" Does the league potentially want to alienate not just the Mercury, but the NBA's Suns organization? And, ultimately, how do you "prove" Phoenix did something against league rules? How do you punish them? I can tell you this, the league does not even really want to think about this stuff. I wish there was some easy answer to it, but there isn't.

kevin (macon ga)

The Shock seem set at PG with Ivory Latta and Temeka Johnson. What are the chances they pass on Skylar Diggins?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:35 PM)

I would think zero if she's the one of the three "gems" still available. With Diggins' profile and her "upside" as a scoring point guard, I just don't see how you'd pass on her for anyone in the draft other than one of the other big two.

Kendra (San Francisco, CA)

Why go after the Mystics for making bad decisions? Minnesota made bad decisions to get in position for Augustus and Moore. Phoenix made bad decisions to get in position for Taurasi, Taylor and Pondexter. Not every trade or draft pick is gonna be good by a GM. Bill Laimbeer traded Swin Cash for a #4 pick. Why so tough on Washington?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:43 PM)

The biggest reason I've been tough on Washington is I think they'd finally found a pretty good answer in Plank and Taylor. If nothing else, there was a LOT of optimism among the fan base in 2010. Taylor, in particular, seemed to connect with Mystics' fans. They finished first in the East that year and even though they lost in the first round of the playoffs, the fans seemed energized about the future. Then management betrayed that optimism by chasing off the two people who had brought it. Some have asked before why Roger Griffith was "allowed" to meander along in mediocrity for so long with the Lynx, and we all know why: He's part of the family that owns the Timberwolves/Lynx, and so he got more leeway than other people probably would have. But, eventually, Minnesota cashed in its bad results to get enough talent and got a good coach. It all came together. Washington was on the right track and then derailed itself.

Laura (Baltimore)

Do you think Richie's lack of experience in the sports business world affected her handling of the Phoenix situation

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:48 PM)

Richie admittedly is in a tough position. Taking on the Mercury in any way means taking on the Suns, too. Her main focus is marketing and trying to be the voice of sunshine and optimism, just as was the case for her predecessors in the WNBA president's job. I'm not sure, despite their significant years of experience in the sports world even before they were president of the WNBA, that Val Ackerman or Donna Orender would necessarily have handled this differently.

kevin (macon ga)

Who is the best choice for the Mystics at #4?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:51 PM)

Seems like a lot of people are pointing toward Ohio State's Tayler Hill. I was thinking about this last night: If I'm a senior who is *not* in the "Holy Trinity" of Griner, Delle Donne and Diggins - and I'm paying the slightest attention to the WNBA - I might look at this as motivation. Like, "Oh, so nobody thinks there are any good seniors besides those three, huh? Ok, I'll show them." But, I'm not sure a whole lot of college kids actually think that way. That said, maybe some seniors will emerge as better than we think in 2012-13.

Ginger (NC)

In the draft chat you said several GMs/coaches were already unhappy with Phoenix. Earlier this week Richie said no team had lodged any formal complaint about Phoenix. Do you think someone will lodge a complaint now or is it too late since the lottery is over?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:53 PM)

I guess we'll see, but I doubt it. I base my comments on the unhappiness of other GMs/coaches on what some folks have been willing to say off the record to me, which is not the same as what they'd say publicly or in a formal complaint. It still comes down to how do you make the case that Phoenix did something that the league would then "punish?"

Sofia (Durham, NC)

For something completely different than WNBA lottery questions...Do you know what Bill Laimbeer's interest in returning to the WNBA might be?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:55 PM)

I have not talked to him recently, so that is something we'll have to find out. It didn't seem when he left that he would be inclined to return, but maybe time and experiences have changed that. Would he have *any* interest in Washington? That's a major project to undertake.

Barry (Phoenix, AZ)

Phoenix lost Penny Taylor before the season began. Dupree missed 21 games with injuries. Charde Houston had surgery. Playing devil's advocate, even if there was a decision to "tank" that was made, what exact rule did it violate? In the NFL, Indianapolis had a very public "Suck for Luck" mantra among its fans. Isn't that the nature of professional sports...if you cannot make the playoffs, you try to get the best position in the lottery?

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:02 PM)

Yes, that's the other side of this. Phoenix fans will point out that Taylor isn't faking a torn ACL, that every medical procedure that the team said happened did, in fact, happen. They will also say that an organization's main responsibility is pleasing its fans, and that Phoenix's fans were OK with this season being kind of "lost" in terms of results because it could have a good payoff for the future. Phoenix fans are behind their organization 100 percent, best I can tell. Other fans will say the Mercury's decisions might be in *their* best interest, but aren't necessarily in the best interest of some general concept of "fair play." Those folks also tend to think of the WNBA as a much more tenuous entity than say, an institution like the NFL, which can survive anything, as the ref lockout shows. :) All through this debate, I have looked at and understand the merits of both sides of this. But I know some people have very polarized views of what, to others, is a murky, complicated issue.

Rich (Evanston)

With all this tall of tanking, Mystics, etc., The fact that the Sky got the 2d pick seems to have swept under the rug. Who do you see them taking?

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:06 PM)

I lean toward the Sky going with Diggins. If Prince and Fowles are healthy for 2013, they have two terrific scorers. A maestro running the show who also has scoring potential seems to me the best option. I say this having a lot of respect for and excitement about Elena Della Donne potential as a pro. And I don't want to discount the improvements that Courtney Vandersloot has made for the Sky. But generally speaking, finding *the* right point guard for your franchise is one of the most important things for any basketball team, men's or women's. Pokey Chatman won't go "wrong" with either EDD or Diggins, but it would seem to me that Diggins is the best fit for what's already in place in Chicago and the potential of the Sky finally making the playoffs.

Sean Troy (Arizona)

As a Phoenix fan, I find it absolutely ridiculous how much abuse Phoenix (and its players) have gotten since the results were revealed, especially Charde Houston. I understand why people are upset. It does seem like the Mercury tanked, but I don't think they did. Cue he's-a-homer-his-opinion-doesn't-count insults. The injuries were legitimate. Taylor torn her ACL and we saw the other players (Dupree, Houston, Sanford, Prahalis) get hurt on court. We saw a gimped Taurasi, even in the Olympics. People even went as far as to say that Phoenix was lying when they said Taurasi was sitting out the games after the Olympics because of her wisdom teeth. It's become a witch hunt at this point. I just believe people want someone to blame and Diana Taurasi is always going to be the easiest target, and Phoenix by extension. Is this fair to Phoenix?

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:11 PM)

Diana Taurasi has had a "polarizing" effect on fans since college (and probably in high school, too.) It's just the way it is, and I think there's little doubt that part of the animosity toward Phoenix has to do with the fact that DT gets on some people's nerves. For that matter, Corey Gaines rubs some folks the wrong way, too. I'm not trying to tick off Phoenix fans ... you guys know this, and it probably makes you all the more protective of your team. I can see a bright side in this: People don't get this upset over stuff they don't care about. If Phoenix becomes the "villain" team for the next few years, then Mercury fans can enjoy the fact that your team riles up other fans so much. Try to look at it that way. That's how Yankees fans think. :)

Judith (Still joyless in Mudville)

The Mystics' owners were banking (literally) on one of the top three picks. (Who wouldn't, with a 94% chance.) Now, they have no GM, no Head Coach, and no incoming big college star to excite the fans (or help draw a great coach and free agents). Attendance had already plummeted this season, and we don't need to revisit the destruction of goodwill over the past two years. Can the Mystics' survive as a business? What will it take?

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:16 PM)

Let's look at this, too: I realize Sheila Johnson was really, really disappointed yesterday. But if you saw my colleague Graham Hays' story, she basically said, when asked to marshal some optimism after the lottery, "I don't have any." OK, you're the head of the organization ... don't you have to be prepared for the worst possible outcome of this lottery, and at least be able to project a front that you can figure out how to overcome that disappointment? Isn't that a big key to being a leader? Leadership isn't coming from ownership with this organization. They have to get it from whomever they hire as coach/GM.

Shades (Minneapolis)

I would be surprised and somewhat disappointed if you actually favored Laimbeer coming back into the league. He disrespects women, or maybe it's just people in general. I don't believe he represents the values of this league. Of course, the Phoenix organization doesn't represent the values of this league either and they seem to be thriving.

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:24 PM)

I would say, "What are the 'values' of this league? The WNBA puts a premium on getting positive publicity for players being role models, interacting with fans, engaging in community service. Certainly there are players with every franchise who excel more at these things than others, but the Shock under Laimbeer and the Mercury during their entire existence have had some great role-model players. I know some people really dislike Laimbeer, and I can understand the reasons why. I think he was unprofessional and cruel in some of the things he said to and about Swin Cash, in particular, and I didn't like how he tried to make ESPN analyst Doris Burke into some kind of villain with his antagonizing statements about her a few years back. But ... he brought three titles to the Detroit Shock, I've heard some players (like Katie Smith) give him a lot of credit for making them better, and winning is a "value" in pro sports, too. Some fans/teams would not want anything to do with BL, but others would be very happy to have him.

Terp Fan (College Park)

Can you put a number on the amount of people Kristi Toliver has quieted with her play this season?

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:29 PM)

She has had a great season, and I actually think some of her "doubters" are happy for her. And for what it's worth, after posting my thoughts about All-WNBA first and second teams last week, I re-considered all my choices and voted a bit differently when I finally had to turn in my ballot. I know my first team is still technically "illegal" if you strictly vote teams in an absolute GGCFF format. OK, so I cheated with the first team. But I couldn't see not putting these players on the first team, though, so I went with it: Moore, Catchings, Charles, Parker, Augustus. Second team: Bonner, Young, Fowles, Pondexter, Toliver. I didn't want it to seem like I was "punishing" McCoughtry unduly for how many games she missed (for various reasons) when I first listed my teams last week. But after more thought, I did take her out of consideration.

Tracy (Los Angeles)

Mechelle, what player besides CP3 will be the main reason the sparks can(will) win the WNBA Championship this year and if your were PHX would you take Brittany with the top pick or take an UNSTOPABLE Della Donne or Skylar. Man I would not want to be the GM for the Mercury right now.

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:31 PM)

*One* other player? Hmmm ... well, maybe Beard is the one who might put the Sparks over the top in the playoffs. Her offense has consistently improved, I think, this season and she's awfully hungry for a championship. Plus, she really still is an outstanding defender, despite her ankle woes. As for the Mercury, I have to say this isn't a tough choice: Griner. :)

Melissa (Brick City)

Could the Liberty beat Connecticut with replacement refs?

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:32 PM)

Nice ... a bit of levity. :) Probably not. I just don't see the Sun letting this series get away.

Blake (Washington, D.C.)

Assuming Pokey Chatman gets either Diggins or Delle Donne in Chicago next season, there REALLY can't be any excuse to not make the playoffs, can there be?

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:34 PM)

In talking to Pokey last week, she really didn't make any excuses for the Sky not making the postseason this year. She said, "It's my job, and it didn't happen." But you're right, with EDD or Diggins added and everybody else at least relatively healthy, you'd think the breakthrough has to happen in 2013.

Fran (Chicago)

Well with Chicago getting the 2nd pick,we already know the top 4 teams in the East next year? How can the league get fans if the regular season is pointless?

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:38 PM)

Seasons still have to play out. Injuries are always an X factor in any league. And how you finish in the standings - whether you get home-court advantage in the postseason - is still really important. I guess I don't see next year as "set" already.

Mila (Cola)

Catchings will be a free agent next year. Any chance she moves some place else, now that essentially "power teams" are being formed? She would complete an amazingly good starting five in LA, or give a big boast to Connecticut at small forward...

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:41 PM)

Tamika has a lot invested in the Indianapolis community. And while I know a championship is really important to her, I'm not sure if she would take the opportunity to jump ship thinking she had a better chance to win elsewhere. Right now, of course, she's still optimistic about winning it all in Indy this year.

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:43 PM)

OK, well hope you all enjoy the start of the playoffs tonight. I know there are not answers to some of the things that have happened that will be satisfying for everybody. Ultimately, though, I think that's part of being a follower of any league. Chat with you next week.