WNBA president says league is in a ‘good place’



Last modified: Saturday, May 17, 2014

NEW YORK (AP) — WNBA President Laurel J. Richie is heading to Minnesota as part of the league’s opening weekend and help the Lynx unveil their 2013 championship banner.

Richie is ready for the games to begin after a turbulent offseason.

Richie faced the first major challenges of her presidency, including overseeing negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement and the sale of the Los Angeles Sparks to a group headed by Magic Johnson.

She said in an interview with The Associated Press that having labor stability for the next eight years may help to attract new franchises. As the league begins its 18th season nearly half the 12 WNBA teams are profitable, there’s been a league-wide increase in sponsorship deals and its TV deal with ESPN runs through 2022.

“The league is in a good place right now,” Richie said. “After what could have been a rough winter, I’m glad everything came through well and I’m really excited for the season to tipoff this weekend.”

The WNBA begins its 18th season Friday night with 10 teams taking the court, including the Sparks.

But there was a brief period of uncertainty about whether the Los Angeles franchise would be around in 2014.

Richie was told in late December by the Sparks’ owners that they would no longer be involved with the team. The league faced the possibility of losing the Los Angeles market, but then Johnson’s group stepped forward. Whether Johnson eventually becomes part of a Clippers ownership group with that NBA organization apparently about to be sold, Richie knows that Johnson will be a great ambassador for the WNBA and can help her league grow.

“Even I couldn’t have imagined that as an outcome,” she said of Johnson becoming a WNBA owner. “Magic and his team have been phenomenal. Clearly they love the game of basketball and have deep roots in L.A. That was a very happy day for the WNBA. I would be lying if I didn’t say it was also a very happy day for me personally.

“From everything he’s told me, he’s going to be a very active owner.”

While the league may have found a perfect fit with Johnson’s group, Richie said there has been interest from the Golden State Warriors in bringing a women’s team to the Bay Area. She is confident that WNBA expansion will happen, but isn’t sure when.

“There is a point and time when our league will be comprised of more than 12 teams. I can’t put a date on that yet, but I know it’s in our future,” she said. “We want to have conversations with groups like the Warriors. There were some other entities who bubbled up and expressed interest so that when the time is right you’re not starting from scratch.”

Richie considers her first CBA negotiations a success, not just because a deal was struck in February, but because neither side walked away saying that they won.

The teams gained a 12th player to the roster which created potentially 12 new jobs. The owners gained the ability to offer bonuses for players to stick around in the offseason and not have to play year round. They also have the ability to fine players more for missing WNBA activities because of overseas commitments.

“Collectively we focused on the end game, how do we make moves to strengthen the league,” Richie said. “And in order to strengthen the league we need to do things that are good for the teams and good for the players. I think this deal reflects that.”

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver agrees that the women’s game is in a good place.

“This is a very exciting time for the WNBA — the league is the strongest it’s ever been,” Silver said. “I look forward to what’s in store for this season and beyond.”



Western Conference

MINNESOTA LYNX

2013: 26-8, 1st; beat Seattle 2-0 in conference semifinals; beat Phoenix 2-0 in conference finals; beat Atlanta 3-0 in WNBA Finals.

COACH: Cheryl Reeve, 5th season.

PROJECTED STARTING FIVE: G Lindsay Whalen (14.9 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 5.8 apg), G Seimone Augustus (16.3 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 2.5 apg), F Maya Moore (18.5 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 3.0 apg), F Rebekkah Brunson (10.6 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 1.5 apg), C Janel McCarville (6.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 2.9 apg).

KEY ADDITIONS: None.

KEY LOSSES: None.

OUTLOOK: Minnesota basically didn’t make any key roster moves and has had three trips to the finals in the past three seasons — winning two championships. Despite injuries to Brunson, Monica Wright and Devereaux Peters, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Lynx in the finals again. Moore has put up MVP numbers over the past few seasons despite not winning the award.

LOS ANGELES SPARKS

2013: 24-10, 2nd place; lost to Phoenix 2-1 in conference semifinals.

COACH: Carol Ross, 2nd season.

PROJECTED STARTING FIVE: G Lindsey Harding (10.9 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 5.2 apg), G Kristi Toliver (14.1 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 3.4 apg), G Alana Beard (6.2 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 1.4 apg), F Nneka Ogwumike (14.6 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 1.3 apg), F Candace Parker (17.9 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 3.8 apg).

KEY ADDITIONS: G Candice Wiggins (free agent, Shock).

KEY LOSSES: F Marissa Coleman (free agent, Fever).

OUTLOOK: The biggest news coming out of Los Angeles this offseason was a change in ownership. With a group led by Magic Johnson now in charge, the Sparks are looking for a bright future and hope to win their first championship since 2002. The Sparks have the reigning MVP in Parker, who is one of the league’s most unique talents. They were a basket away from getting past Phoenix last season in the conference semis.

PHOENIX MERCURY

2013: 19-15, 3rd place; beat Los Angeles 2-1 in conference semifinals; lost to Minnesota 2-0 in conference finals.

COACH: Sandy Brondello, 1st season.

PROJECTED STARTING FIVE: G Diana Taurasi (20.3 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 6.2 apg), G Penny Taylor (8.4 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 1.7 apg), F Candice Dupree (15.2 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 1.9 apg), F DeWanna Bonner (14.5 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 2.4 apg), C Brittney Griner (12.6 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 1.0 apg).

KEY ADDITIONS: G Erin Phillips (trade, Fever), F Mistie Bass (free agent, Sun).

KEY LOSSES: F Lynetta Kizer (trade, Fever).

OUTLOOK: One of the most talented starting lineups in the league led by Taurasi when everyone is healthy. Griner and Taylor missed time last year because of injuries. The 6-foot-8 Griner is primed to make a big jump in her second season. The Mercury added depth with Phillips and Bass and will try and find a way to advance out of the Western Conference.

SEATTLE STORM

2013: 17-17, 4th place; lost to Minnesota 2-0 in conference semifinals.

COACH: Brian Agler, 6th season.

PROJECTED STARTING FIVE: G Sue Bird (DNP-Injury), G Tanisha Wright (11.9 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 4.1 apg), F Shekinna Stricklen (10.0 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 0.8 apg), F Crystal Langhorne (12.0 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 1.1 apg), F Camille Little (10.9 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 1.4 apg).

KEY ADDITIONS: F Crystal Langhorne (trade, Mystics), G Jenna O’Hea (trade, Sparks).

KEY LOSSES: F Tina Thompson (retirement).

OUTLOOK: Seattle surprised many people by making the playoffs last season despite Bird and Lauren Jackson missing the season. Bird’s back but Jackson’s still out for the year because of an injury and training for the world championship. Agler gets the most out of his talent and making it back to the playoffs again wouldn’t be a surprise.

SAN ANTONIO STARS

2013: 12-22, 5th place.

COACH: Dan Hughes, 8th season.

PROJECTED STARTING FIVE: G Becky Hammon (2 ppg, 1 rpg, 1 apg), G Danielle Robinson (11.2 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 6.7 apg), G Kayla McBride (Rookie), F Sophia Young-Malcolm (DNP-Injury), F C Danielle Adams (14.4 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 1.2 apg)

KEY ADDITIONS: G McBride (draft, No. 3).

KEY LOSSES: None.

OUTLOOK: The Stars season was derailed early on when both Hammon and Young-Malcolm were lost to injuries for the year. With both players back, as well as the addition of McBride, the Stars are poised to make a run to the playoffs. San Antonio also made news in the offseason changing its nickname to just Stars.

TULSA SHOCK

2013: 11-23, 6th place.

COACH: Fred Williams, 1st season.

PROJECTED STARTING FIVE: G Skylar Diggins (8.5 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 3.8 apg), G Odyssey Sims (DNP-Rookie), G Riquna Williams (15.6 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 1.8 apg), F Glory Johnson (15.0 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 1.1 apg), C Courtney Paris (3.8 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 0.5 apg).

KEY ADDITIONS: G Sims (draft, No. 2), G Jordan Hooper (draft, No. 13).

KEY LOSSES: G Candice Wiggins (free agent, Sparks).

OUTLOOK: Tulsa may have one of the most talented young backcourts in the league with Diggins and Sims. Diggins has dominated the preseason and is poised for a breakout second year. With the improved backcourt and Williams’s scoring ability — she had a league-record 51-point game last season — and the Shock will be able to put points on the board. The one area which Tulsa is lacking is up front and with Liz Cambage out for the season training with Australia for the world championship, the Shock will need everyone to contribute on the boards.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

CHICAGO SKY

2013: 24-10, 1st place; lost to Indiana 2-0 in conference semifinals.

COACH: Pokey Chatman, 4th season.

PROJECTED STARTING FIVE: G Epiphanny Prince (15.0 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 3.0 apg), G Courtney Vandersloot (8.8 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 5.6 apg), F Elena Delle Donne (18.1 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 1.8 apg), F Jessica Breland (5.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 0.6 apg), C Sylvia Fowles (16.3 ppg, 11.5 rpg, 0.4 apg).

KEY ADDITIONS: F Breland (free agent, Fever), F Sasha Goodlett (free agent, Fever).

KEY LOSSES: F Swin Cash (trade, Dream).

OUTLOOK: Chicago is coming off the most successful season in franchise history with a regular season conference title and a first trip to the playoffs. Delle Donne has added 12 lbs of muscle and looks primed to build on last season’s impressive rookie campaign. The only thing that stands in the way of a run at the Eastern Conference title is the health of Fowles, who is out for the early part of the season with a torn labrum. The Sky signed Breland and Goodlett in the offseason to help some of the loss of Fowles.

ATLANTA DREAM

2013: 17-17, 2nd place; beat Washington 2-1 in conference semifinals; beat Atlanta 2-0 in conference finals; lost to Minnesota 3-0 in WNBA finals.

COACH: Michael Cooper, 1st season.

PROJECTED STARTING FIVE: G Tiffany Hayes (11.3 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 1.7 apg), G Jasmine Thomas (8.5 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 3.1 apg), G Shoni Schimmel (DNP), F Angel McCoughtry (21.5 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 4.4 apg), F Erika de Souza (12.9 ppg, 9.9 rpg, 1.3 apg),

KEY ADDITIONS: G Schimmel (draft, No. 8), F Swin Cash (trade, Sky), G Celine Dumerc (free agent)

KEY LOSSES: G Alex Bentley (trade, Sun), F Courtney Clements (trade, Sky).

OUTLOOK: Atlanta has made the WNBA Finals three times in their six years as a franchise, yet still hasn’t won a game in the championship round. McCoughtry is one of the top offensive players in the game and the addition of Cash and Schimmel should help the offense. The other key for the Dream this season is how quickly they will be able to adapt to new coach Cooper.

WASHINGTON MYSTICS

2013: 17-17, 3rd place; lost to Atlanta 2-1 in conference semifinals.

COACH: Mike Thibault, 2nd season.

PROJECTED STARTING FIVE: G Ivory Latta (13.9 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 4.4 apg), G Kara Lawson (10.0 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 2.5 apg), F Monique Currie (10.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 1.5 apg), F Kia Vaughn (6.9 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 0.6 apg), C Stefanie Dolson (DNP-Rookie).

KEY ADDITIONS: G Lawson (trade, Sun), G Bria Hartley (trade, Storm), C Dolson (draft, No. 6).

KEY LOSSES: F Crystal Langhorne (trade, Storm), G Matee Ajavon (trade, Dream).

OUTLOOK: Thibault has almost completely overhauled the roster from when he took over and nearly half of the team is made up of rookies and sophomores, including the UConn duo of Dolson and Hartley. The Mystics surprised many by making the playoffs last season and almost upended the Dream in the opening round. Now with some playoff experience under their belt, this young squad could be dangerous.

INDIANA FEVER

2013: 16-18, 4th place; beat Chicago 2-0 in conference semifinals; lost to Atlanta 2-0 in conference finals.

COACH: Lin Dunn, 7th season.

PROJECTED STARTING FIVE: G Briann January (9.8 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 3.7 apg), G Shavonte Zellous (14.7 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 1.7 apg), F Tamika Catchings (17.7 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 2.4 apg), F Karima Christmas (8.6 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 1.1 apg), F Erlana Larkins (7.9 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 1.9 apg).

KEY ADDITIONS: F Natasha Howard (draft, No. 5), F Marissa Coleman (free agent, Sparks).

KEY LOSSES: G Katie Douglas (free agent, Sun), F Jessica Breland (free agent, Sky), F Sasha Goodlett (free agent, Sky).

OUTLOOK: Indiana won its first WNBA championship two seasons ago and the Fever are poised to try and win another led by Catchings. Coach Dunn announced that she will retire after this season and the team would love nothing more than to send her out on top. Catchings has a solid group around her led by Zellous, January, Larkins and Coleman.

NEW YORK LIBERTY

2013: 11-23, 5th place.

COACH: Bill Laimbeer, 2nd season.

PROJECTED STARTING FIVE: G Cappie Pondexter (16.9 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 4.0 apg), G Essence Carson (14.3 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 1.8 apg), F Plenette Pierson (11.6 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 2.5 apg), F Kara Braxton (8.7 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 1.2 apg), C Tina Charles (18.0 ppg, 10.1 rpg, 1.4 apg)

KEY ADDITIONS: C Charles (trade, Sun).

KEY LOSSES: F Kelsey Bone (trade, Sun), G Katie Smith (retirement).

OUTLOOK: New York made a blockbuster trade right before the draft acquiring former MVP Charles giving the Liberty another marquee player to go alongside Pondexter. The Liberty also will see the return of Carson, who was sidelined for most of last season after tearing the ACL in her left knee. Another huge boost for the Liberty will be a return to Madison Square Garden after the franchise spent the last three seasons in New Jersey as the arena was undergoing a $1 billion renovation.

CONNECTICUT SUN

2013: 10-24, 6th place.

COACH: Anne Donovan, 2nd season.

PROJECTED STARTING FIVE: G Katie Douglas (15.0 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 1.5 apg), G Alex Bentley (8.3 ppg, 1.4 rpg, 2.8 apg), F Chiney Ogwumike (DNP-Rookie), F Alyssa Thomas (DNP-Rookie), F Kelsey Bone (6.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 0.7 apg).

KEY ADDITIONS: F Ogwumike (draft, No. 1), F Thomas (trade, Liberty), F Bone (trade, Liberty), G Douglas (free agent, Fever), G Bentley (trade, Dream).

KEY LOSSES: G Kara Lawson (trade, Mystics), C Tina Charles (trade, Liberty), F Mistie Bass (free agent, Mercury)

OUTLOOK: After a sixth-place finish last season, the Sun completely remade their roster, starting with the trades of Lawson and Charles. Donovan has a young team now led by Ogwumike and Thomas and she hopes the two college All-Americans can develop quickly at the pro level. The addition of Douglas should help ease the transition if she is totally recovered from last season’s back injury.


 

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