- Mechelle Voepel, espnW.com
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The Western Conference has tended to grab a lot of the headlines in the WNBA and currently boasts the defending champion -- and still formidable -- Minnesota Lynx. But at Monday's WNBA draft, most of the intrigue came in the Eastern Conference.
That involved both veterans and draftees finding new homes. None bigger than Connecticut's Tina Charles -- the 2012 MVP -- who is going to New York, her hometown. This was a move the Sun said Charles forced, and it added to the youth movement at Connecticut.
Did the Sun want to trade Charles? Of course not; she's a 25-year-old superstar who averages a double-double, was the top pick of the 2010 draft and already has an Olympic gold medal.
But the Sun said Charles left them no choice, as she was prepared to sit out rather than play this season with Connecticut. She wasn't happy with the franchise firing coach Mike Thibault after the 2012 season, and she didn't sync well with coach Anne Donovan last year. With other teams knowing Charles wanted out, the Sun actually did very well to get what they did for her.
Connecticut receives second-year post player Kelsey Bone, who was selected in the first round last year by New York, and Monday's No. 4 pick, Maryland forward Alyssa Thomas. Plus, the Sun get New York's No. 1 pick in 2015, although that draft projects as weak overall.
"I think it's unfortunate if the trade was forced," Indiana coach Lin Dunn said of Charles' departure from Connecticut. "I don't think it's healthy for the league, but Connecticut probably did the best they could do if that's what happened. They came out of it with people who want to be there, and they are moving (in) a new direction."
As for the Fever, they are the only still-existing East franchise that has won a WNBA title (2012), and they got exactly what they wanted out of the first round with post players Natasha Howard and Natalie Achonwa.
So how did the league's teams do in general with this draft? Like last year, there weren't any obvious D's or F's, which indicates that teams are doing a better job of identifying players who at least might be able to help them. With so few jobs available in a 12-team league, any picks from the second and third rounds that actually pan out are really a bonus.
Some teams in this draft -- especially Los Angeles and Phoenix -- didn't really "need" anything, plus didn't have picks high enough to guarantee they'd get a surefire contributor. For them, anything they end up getting from Monday's selections would be gravy.
So, here's a quick-look analysis of how the 12 teams did on draft day.
The Sun fans have to be as happy as any fans can be when they've lost an MVP-caliber player who's just entering her prime. Which is to say, they weren't left with nothing. They got No. 1 pick Chiney Ogwumike, who will bring all the enthusiasm and good feelings Charles seemed to not have toward the franchise. Ogwumike is more than just a big-time contributor on the court; she's also a personality you can build a franchise around. She was a fan favorite before she even left the Mohegan Sun casino Monday. The Sun also got three-time ACC player of the year Thomas via the Charles trade, plus another post player in Kentucky's DeNesha Stallworth. She was the first pick of the third round but just might be a steal. Also, Connecticut used the No. 11 pick in the first round to draft for the future, taking Duke point guard Chelsea Gray, who is recovering from a knee injury and should be ready for 2015. This is a young Sun bunch, but they won't lack for enthusiasm and earnestness. That's something.
Florida State forward Howard has upside by the bushels, and she'll apprentice with a great teacher in Tamika Catchings. Dunn hopes Howard can progress to where she'll be a player who at least resembles the likes of Catchings, Minnesota's Rebekkah Brunson and Atlanta's Sancho Lyttle.
"We felt like she was not only what we needed, but also the best player available at [the fifth spot]," Dunn said of Howard. "With her athleticism and length, she's a big that can run the floor just about better than anybody in the draft."
And with the No. 9 pick, the Fever were very happy they could get Achonwa of nearby Notre Dame. She just suffered an ACL injury in the NCAA tournament and won't be able to play until 2015, but the Fever can afford to wait for her.
"The key thing for us is to get some post help," Dunn said. "We've looked at the 2015 draft, and it's not very good. Achonwa, if she were in that draft, would go top three or so."
Thibault changed the vibe when he came to the Mystics last season, getting the team back in the playoffs. But he made a draft-day trade to change the face of the franchise Monday. He dealt forward Crystal Langhorne to Seattle and got a younger Maryland grad, Tianna Hawkins, along with Monday's No. 7 pick, UConn guard Bria Hartley. Is it a gamble to part with Langhorne, who blossomed after her rookie year to be a dependable scorer and rebounder? Yes, but Thibault believes in the promise of second-year pro Hawkins, plus he now has a UConn senior duo coming off back-to-back NCAA titles. Hartley and No. 6 overall pick Stefanie Dolson were joined in the draft class by third-round picks Carley Mijovic, a Australian teen of Croatian heritage, and NC State forward Kody Burke, who has size and a 3-point touch.
We might be overestimating the Shock, but ... they seem to have done pretty well. With the No. 2 draft pick, they got Wade Trophy winner Odyssey Sims of Baylor, who will immediately help their backcourt. Sims brings her playmaking and scoring skills, but she also is a top-notch defender and has an overall toughness and winning mentality. In the second round, the Shock had some options with the first selection (No. 13 overall) and went with Nebraska forward Jordan Hooper, a good pick-and-roll scorer and perimeter shooter. And the Shock's third-round selection, LSU post player Theresa Plaisance, has size and a good face-up game. She at least has the potential to contribute at the pro level. First-year Shock coach -- and longtime WNBA presence -- Fred Williams might bring all three rookies aboard for 2014.
The defending WNBA champions didn't really need anything in this draft but got a good grade for possibly getting something out of it anyway. Duke's Tricia Liston is a big guard who improved her stock as a senior and can shoot. West Virginia's Asya Bussie could give the Lynx some depth inside, Vanderbilt's Christina Foggie is another dependable shooter and Louisville's Asia Taylor is a reliable defensive player. While it seems unlikely they'll all make the roster, at least the Lynx gave themselves some rookies who could liven up training camp for a team that could repeat as champion.
New coach Michael Cooper won two WNBA titles while with Los Angeles. Can he help the Dream, who have knocked on the door with appearances in the WNBA Finals, finish the job? Cooper has a good nucleus in place in Atlanta, and this draft class might not have to make a huge impact this season. Shoni Schimmel was the No. 8 pick and joins fellow Louisville graduate Angel McCoughtry with the Dream. McCoughtry was the No. 1 pick in 2009 and was an immediate star; it will be hard for Schimmel to match that kind of success. Still, she brings exciting passing skills and an ability to stretch the defense when she's hitting 3-pointers. The Dream took South Florida's Inga Orekhova, a good shooter, in the second round at No. 18 and USC forward Cassie Harberts two picks later. Cooper used to coach Harberts at USC, so he understands her potential.
San Antonio: B
The Stars threw the first wrench into many mock drafts by opting for Notre Dame guard Kayla McBride with the No. 3 pick, rather than a post player. But Dan Hughes, going on the correct assumption that Becky Hammon really can't play forever, figured McBride was an eventual replacement he couldn't pass up. And he's right; her scoring and defense should be assets right away for San Antonio, and her game seems built to last. With its second-round pick, San Antonio looked to the future by taking Spain's Astou Ndour, a tall, thin post with promise who won't compete in the WNBA this season but could be a contributor down the road. Third-round pick Bri Kulas of Missouri is a big presence on the wing who is a good shooter and could possibly get a roster spot.
The Sky made the playoffs for the first time last season, helped by rookie of the year Elena Delle Donne. There was nobody drafted by Chicago this season as exciting as Delle Donne was last year as the No. 2 pick. However, Chicago probably got the best player it could at the No. 10 spot with NC State post Markeisha Gatling. She is a late bloomer who is big and strong and can learn behind Olympic center Sylvia Fowles. The Sky also got Cal's Gennifer Brandon with the No. 22 pick. She has ability but also had some personal issues staying on the court with Cal. The Sky's third-round pick, Southern Miss point guard Jamierra Faulkner, was a big scorer who had 291 assists this past season. Whether the Sky truly helped themselves by adding consistent scoring, though, remains to be seen.
At first it looked like the Storm were adding another guard from UConn, but Hartley won't be teaming up with Sue Bird. Instead, Seattle sent No. 7 pick Hartley to Washington in the trade that brought Langhorne to the Storm. Especially with Lauren Jackson out again this season, Seattle had to get help in the post, and this trade provides that. As for the draftees who remained with the Storm, they also are big post players, but it likely will be challenging for them to get a roster spot. The best chance is Utah's Michelle Plouffe, taken with the No. 19 pick. She was very productive in the paint for the Utes and is a good 3-point shooter. As for third-round selection Mikaela Ruef of Stanford, the forward seemed pretty shocked to even be drafted, although she did have her best season as a senior.
New York: C
Once the trade was made to add the very-much-needed Charles to the Liberty, whatever else happened on draft day for Bill Laimbeer's team was not terribly important. So the Liberty get an A-plus for that deal. As for the two drafted players who will have a chance to make the Liberty roster, Laimbeer at least got guards with potential in his system. Georgia Tech's Tyaunna Marshall (No. 14 pick overall) is her program's all-time scoring leader, and she has the size and speed to play defense for Laimbeer. Tennessee's Meighan Simmons, who went in the third round at No. 26, is a high-volume shooter who probably feels she has a lot to prove and will be motivated by that.
After picking No. 1 last year, the Mercury's draft day was pretty much a snoozer this year. The pieces are already in place for Phoenix to challenge to win the West, and the Mercury don't have to add anything from the rookie class to do that. Still, might any of the draftees have a chance to make the roster for new coach Sandy Brondello? Oklahoma State point guard Tiffany Bias, taken at No. 17, might give the Mercury some depth as a playmaker. No. 21 pick Maggie Lucas of Penn State is a scorer, and Stephanie Talbot (No. 33) is a teenager who one can assume fellow Aussie Brondello knows well. Phoenix also is inviting in non-drafted senior/free agent Hallie Christofferson, an Iowa State forward.
Los Angeles: C
The Sparks' grade is more about the fact that, as with Phoenix, this draft just wasn't crucial at all for the 2014 season. And Los Angeles had just two late picks. With No. 23 in the second round, the Sparks took BYU center Jennifer Hamson, which could pay off long term ... or not. Hamson had a breakout basketball season as a senior, but she'll go back this fall to play volleyball for the Cougars. That might end up being the sport she commits to long term with the hope of making the Olympic team and playing professionally. With the next-to-last pick of the draft, at 35th overall, L.A. went with Louisville's Antonita Slaughter, a big guard known for her 3-point shooting. But it will be tough for her to grab a roster spot.