Talk WNBA playoffs with Mechelle Voepel!
A writer for the Kansas City Star, Voepel is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's coverage of women's basketball. And with Detroit and Connecticut set to meet in the East and Sacramento and Los Angeles squaring off out West, now is the perfect time to pick her brain about what happened in the first round and what may happen next.
Mechelle will be stopping by at 2 p.m. ET on Thursday, so join us then or submit your questions now!
Buzzmaster (2:00 PM)
Mechelle will be here in a few minutes. Send in those questions now!
Tizzle (Fairfield, CT)
On whom does the burden of Douglas' absence fall on most heavily? What does she need to do in order to try to make up for that loss?
Mechelle Voepel (2:04 PM)
It's sort of the nature of the Sun, as MikeThibault has designed the team, that no one has to feel she "carries" the weight by herself. That said, Douglas was so good this year that she's made herself close to indespensible, in my view. Nykesha Sales is one of the best players in this league, though, and she and Taj McWilliams Franklin have to really play well for the Sun to move on.
Tia Dalma from Tortuga
I love Ruth Riley ... but since Detroit's 2003 title run, she hasn't done a whole heck of a lot. What gives? Don't you think her performance vs. the Sun's better frontcourt could be a key for Detroit?
Mechelle Voepel (2:08 PM)
Absolutely. Coach Laimbeer talked last week about how Ruth Riley was on the trading block before this season, but he's been pleased with how she's responded. Her ability to hit those short and mid-range face-up shots was so huge to Detroit winning it all in 2003. A similar kind of performance this year from her would be a huge boost to the Shock having a shot at the title again.
It seemed early on the WNBA had its dynasty's (comets and sparks) but as of late it seems like its a crap shoot, why is this?
Mechelle Voepel (2:11 PM)
I think the talent level goes deep on virtually all the WNBA teams now. And so it's a lot tougher for any one franchise to really separate itself. It's tougher to be a "dynasty." And that's a good thing, I think.
Do you think the Shock have an advantage because of their physical style of play and the intimidation factor of the coach?
Mechelle Voepel (2:13 PM)
That's an interesting question. But I don't think Laimbeer's style or anything he says will bother Connecticut. But I think with Douglas out, the Sun is going to have a harder time defending the Shock, and that's where I think Detroit's biggest advantage is. That and Detroit can be such a dominating team on the boards.
On TV the other night, they said Lauren Jackson has said she will not go to Oklahoma City if the Seattle franchise moves. Is that fact? Also, with such a great fan base, don't you think the Storm need to stay in Seattle? And, lastly, what's the next city to get a WNBA team?
Mechelle Voepel (2:18 PM)
I've kind of not wanted to think about Seattle moving it's franchise, to be honest. It's not that I don't want to see another team in the Midwest _ that would be cool _ but Seattle is such a great WNBA market it would be horrible to see those fans lose their team. Absolutely horrible. I don't know what Lauren will do, but I sure hope we see her in Seattle for many more years to come. As for expansion, it's very hard to get a read on where might be the next city or cities to get a team. I think if the WNBA gets to 16 in the next couple of years, it should stay there for a while and really strengthen the product. As you could guess, I would be EXTREMELY happy to have a team in ... say ... how about Kansas City? :)
Thibault is the best coach in the WNBA. It was ridiculous that he just now won his first Coach of the Year honor! Which coaches' jobs do you think might be in jeopardy now that the season is winding down?
Mechelle Voepel (2:21 PM)
I think Mr. T has a few more coach-of-the-year awards in his future. Congrats to him, well-deserved. As for who's on the hot seat, you have to wonder if New York will continue with Pat Coyle. I guess that's pretty obvious. Some fans in Houston are none too happy with Van Chancellor, but I don't know that that will have a big impact on his future with the Comets. That's an interesting situation to watch, though.
pilight (macon ga)
Looking at Team USA, I'm concerned about the age of our front court. Leslie, Milton, Thompson, and Griffith are all on the dark side of 30. Do you think we need a young post?
Mechelle Voepel (2:26 PM)
I think you are right on the money. I received another question about the USA squad, in terms of who I would add. Well, they don't ask me, of coure, but ... if they did, I'd say Courtney Paris of Oklahoma. I think she will be the dominant player of her era, so long as she stays healthy. And I'd love to see her with those older players on the senior national, getting her time learning from them. The kid is a sponge and absorbs info so quickly. She's going to be a USA Basketball fixture for many years to come,.
Mickey (Seattle, WA)
What's with the love fest for Lisa Leslie this season? Sure she's had a good season, but Lauren Jackson ate her up when pitted against her in the west semi-finals. And if it weren't for timely shooting by Johnson and Page, LA would be sitting at home tonight. The MVP trophy was given to Leslie before the season even started. What about the other contenders? Douglas, Jackson, Taurasi, Ford, to name a few, deserve some credit. They are not even mentioned by media for MVP. Based on the media's method of voting - player was injured last year, then comes back and plays next season like normal - means Lauren Jackson or Katie Douglas should get MVP next season, correct? Go ahead and etch that one into the trophy, like you did for Leslie.
Mechelle Voepel (2:31 PM)
If I could have voted for both Leslie and Lauren Jackson as a tie, I would have. It was a hard, hard decision. But it's preposterous to think we "decide" this before the season starts or that anyone in the media isn't trying to do his or her best to pick the right person. When it comes down to it, you could pick Leslie, Jackson, Cheryl Ford, Taj McWilliams-Franklin, Katie Douglas ... none of those would be "wrong."
I read your most recent column about maybe changing your mind and picking Detroit and Sacramento. Didn't realize you were THAT high on Holdsclaw's contributions in LA. Doesn't the Sparks' win over Seattle say something about whether they need 'Mique on the court?!
Mechelle Voepel (2:34 PM)
I think the Sparks survived without Holdsclaw against Seattle, but right now Sacramento is going to pose a tougher matchup because the Monarchs appear to be in better shape health-wise than Seattle was. I think Holdsclaw is so productive when she's healthy that the Sparks may not be able to beat Sacramento without her. But ... I could be wrong.
Bill Laimbeer says he's not counting Katie Douglas out of playing in the East finals. We all know KT is tough and all, and it is the playoffs, but still ... your thoughts?
Mechelle Voepel (2:37 PM)
She looked to be in so much pain at Sunday's game ... so I guess it seems doubtful to me. But, there are those athletes who you know if they possibly can be on the floor, in spite of a lot of pain, they will be. We saw that from Lindsay Whalen last year, and Katie Douglas is the same kind of athlete.
Will Charlotte EVER have a team that competes for the playoffs? They seem to always be at the bottom of the league.
Mechelle Voepel (2:42 PM)
Well, the Sting was in the WNBA Finals in 2001 ... but that was five years ago, wasn't it? It's kind of bittersweet to see the ACC women at their highest point ever right now, with a national champion and two other 2006 Final Four participants, and not have a lot of success in the WNBA in Charlotte. Let's hope that changes.
pilight (macon ga)
Only three months to the start of college ball. Who do you have #1, Tennessee or Maryland?
Mechelle Voepel (2:43 PM)
Considering I picked against Maryland pretty much every step of the way during the NCAA Tournament, I'm not making that mistake again. :) Provided everyone is healthy when we submit our preseason polls, I'll have the defending national champions No. 1.
Stewart (Alexandria, VA)
Despite the obvious growth and popularity of the league, it still has its cynics and doubters out there (Bill Simmons The Sports Guy being a BIG one). How does the league gain more acceptance? I'm a straight guy and I think the WNBA great and exciting. Thanks for taking my question.
Mechelle Voepel (2:49 PM)
I've also gotten a few questions about the future of the WNBA, so I'll try to answer that here, too. I don't know what makes people so openly hateful and vindictive toward a sport or a league just because they don't happen to be interested in it. My feeling is if someone doesn't like the WNBA or women's basketball or whatever, they are free to completely ignore it. Fine by me. I ignore what I'm not interested in and don't spend time or energy spewing venom at it. I think the league can't gain acceptance from people like that and should even worry about it. Focus on making a better product that appeals to sports fans who are open to enjoying the game. That's going to take consistent efforts to make travel better and a true good-faith effort by the league in collective bargaining when the next deal is struck (which is coming up).
Why did the WNBA not stay with Oxygen? we saw more games on Oxygen than we do on ESPN. It is a shame that we can't watch the women's basketball games on tv, but we can show re-runs of poker and darts. What's with that?
Mechelle Voepel (2:52 PM)
Donna Orender spent many years with the PGA Tour working on the television end of things. She knows that part of the industry very well. But I think that's one of the challenges she faces in coming year - getting better TV coverage and making sure the "right" games are on television. I know fans get frustrated when a late-season big game isn't on TV. Improvements have to be made here to both satisfy the fans already committed to the WNBA and bring in new ones.
Ryan F. (Tiburon, CA)
Hi Mechelle! Which do you think was more impressive? Whitmore's 41-point game or Diana's 47? Also, why don't you run a blog on WNBA.com?
Mechelle Voepel (2:56 PM)
They were both pretty darn awesome. Whitmore's did come in the playoffs and DT's was in three OTs ... so I guess scoring "performance of the year" might go to Whitmore. But I have a feeling DT will break her own scoring record. There's probably a 60-point game in that kid in the future.
Cynthia - Morro Bay, CA
Hi Mechelle, Who do you think will win the series between Sacramento & LA? Also, which home court in the WNBA do you think draws the loudest crowds?
Mechelle Voepel (2:59 PM)
I picked Sacramento, for whatever that is worth. The loudest arena I've ever been in for a WNBA game was Seattle for the 2004 finals. It was great!
Darren (Los Angeles, CA)
Mechelle, great job as always this season on your coverage. The LA Times had the coaching matchup in the LA-Sacramento series as "even"...considering that John has won a championship already, do you agree with that?
Mechelle Voepel (3:03 PM)
I guess what I'd say with that is that both John Whisenant and Joe Bryant really seem to understand what motivates their players and how best to manage them. Of course, Whisenant has been in this league longer, but Bryant has coached around the world a lot.
pilight (macon ga)
Do you think Marsha Sharp will be in the mix for a WNBA coaching job?
Mechelle Voepel (3:06 PM)
Ah, now that's a great question. Sure would make sense to me that someone with that much success in the women's game would be of interest to a WNBA franchise. And I think she'll have the urge to coach again. But she's a lifelong Texan and the situation would need to be right for her.
Mechelle Voepel (3:08 PM)
Well, I wish I could answer more questions but I unfortnately have a dentist appointment. Believe me, I'd rather stay here. :) Thanks and hope you all enjoy the rest of the WNBA playoffs.