Chat with Mechelle Voepel
Welcome to SportsNation! On Thursday, women's basketball writer Mechelle Voepel will stop by to chat about the 2011 WNBA season.
Voepel is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage.
Send your questions now and join Voepel Thursday at 2 p.m. ET!
Mechelle Voepel (2:06 PM)
Good afternoon. Sorry about missing the chat last week. The unfortunate news about Coach Pat Summitt and travel pre-empted it. I'm sure you got along fine, though, without it. :) Glad you are back. Want to lead off congratulating Jenny Barringer Simpson, former Univ. of Colorado runner, who became just the second U.S. woman to win the 1,500 at the World Championships of track and field. The only other one to do it was one of the heroes of my youth, Mary Decker, in 1983. And, yes, I stuck by Mary even after the whole Zola Budd mess. :) No U.S. woman has won that event in the Olympics since it started being contested at the Olympics Games in 1972. Big deal for U.S. track with Simpson's victory.
Suzie (Duluth, Minnesota)
Bekky Brunson signed an extension today with the Lynx, how big of news is this?!?!
Mechelle Voepel (2:08 PM)
I think the Lynx just knew I have a feature coming up on Brunson next week on ESPN.com. :) Seriously, though, she has become a big factor for the Lynx, who are no doubt very glad she was still available with the second pick of the Monarchs' dispersal draft. Brunson really enjoys playing for the Lynx, so this seems like very good thing for both parties.
Who would be your top picks for Most Improved Player this season in the WNBA?
Mechelle Voepel (2:09 PM)
I'll say the Liberty's Kia Vaughn, the Shock's Tiffany Jackson, the Mystics' Matee Ajavon and the Fever's Jessica Davenport. If you guys have other suggestions, I'll try to post them.
kevin (macon ga)
Has there ever been an MVP race this wide open? I could make a reasonable case for almost a dozen different players.
Mechelle Voepel (2:15 PM)
Off the top of my head, I don't remember a season where there were quite this many players. I recall having a hard time choosing in previous seasons - 2008 was one - but it wasn't, as you said, because there were six (or maybe more?) players you could really make a good argument for. I think most would agree that Tina Charles, Tamika Catchings, Angel McCoughtry, Lindsay Whalen, Seimone Augustus, Sylvia Fowles, Penny Taylor and Cappie Pondexter all have a case ... and that's not including the leading scorer in the league, Diana Taurasi. It's very difficult to pick this.
Troy (Gilbert, AZ)
So, who's your MVP?
Mechelle Voepel (2:17 PM)
Our votes have to be into the WNBA by noon Central time, Monday, Sept. 12. I'm known for having mine in 20 minutes after deadline because I'm still debating. :) Right now, I'm just totally torn. I'm not even close to deciding. What do you guys think?
With Monique Currie from Washington set to make her season debut tonight vs Atlanta after an ACL surgury in January, is this a smart move?
Mechelle Voepel (2:22 PM)
Lots of questions today about this. Unfortunately, Currie has been through ACL injuries before, so she knows how her body responds to rehab and to coming back. So none of this is new territory for her. There's not much she or anyone else can do to salvage anything for the Mystics in 2011, but I would guess she is thinking ahead to her overseas season and wants to get back into the flow for that. Understandably, we all cringe whenever anybody comes back from the ACL. And the fact that there's not much to really play for in regard to this WNBA season for the Mystics makes people perhaps cringe more. But the players' basketball careers, as we know, are about more than just the WNBA. I have to trust Monique knows what's best for her own livelihood, and we all wish her well. She's dealt with a lot in regard to injuries and has had to make adjustments in her game for what she has lost when she's been hurt.
Sue (Durham, NC)
Thesis: Lindsay Whalen is the WNBA MVP. She is at the top of her game and leading her team to dominance. She is THE top PG in the league this year, leading the league in assists per game and assist/turnover ratio. More importantly, in her second year with the Lynx, this wily vet has now internalized Reeves' system and not only knows what needs to happen on the floor, but how to make it happen. She's shooting over 50%. Lindsay is scoring and rebounding just enough to draw defenders and give her teammates the space to do the major scoring and rebounding damage.
Mechelle Voepel (2:24 PM)
Sue makes the case for Lindsay. As we've chatted about before, it's difficult for a point guard to win MVP. Maybe this is the year?
Jono (Atlanta, GA)
Dear Mechelle,I realize that the Sparks still have viable playoff hopes, and I have all the respect for the Silver Stars, but don't you think it would be a crying shame if a rejuvenated Candace Parker is eliminated from the playoff hunt?
Mechelle Voepel (2:27 PM)
It's good for any league to have its best, most marquee players involved in the postseason. People do want to see the stars at this time. And Parker, whether you cheer for or against her, is a fabulous player to watch. That said, San Antonio has its own Ms. Popular, Becky Hammon, and people still want to watch her play, too. But let's hope for the good of the league that CP3 doesn't miss too many playoff opportunities in her WNBA career. Just looking at it from a neutral standpoint.
Given the current state of the Eastern Conf in the WNBA, is it possible that it will become a parody of parity?
Mechelle Voepel (2:32 PM)
This is actually a very interesting question. Because there does seem to be a line - I don't know how "fine" it is, exactly - between a league or conference being entertaining because it's very competitive and balanced, and it being an indecipherable logjam of teams with similar records. I think with a relatively small league like now with the WNBA - 12 teams - we're going to keep having these scenarios because there is a lot of talent to go around. But it does leave you with a feeling of not knowing what to expect in the postseason from the East. Which is not necessarily a bad thing.
Jono (Atlanta, GA)
Who do you regard as the top center in today's game: Big Bad Syl Fowles, Tina Charles, or Erika DeSouza? (I did not include Candace Parker since I feel her best position is power forward.)
Mechelle Voepel (2:36 PM)
I give the nod now to Big Syl, based on small advantages in different aspects of her game, including shooting percentage. But if I was a WNBA GM, I'd love to have *any* of those players. Tina Charles always talked in college about using Fowles' play as a "bar" against which to measure herself, and she's probably still thinking that now in the WNBA. I say that while considering voting for Charles as MVP, of course. That says a lot about how good both of them are.
We debate in my household - my partner says that Marynell Meadors should play Angel McCoughtry less until she learns to share the ball more and shapes up her attitude. I say that I don't care if she shares the ball or if she has a bad attitude - she is scoring points and points win games. What are your thoughts on this in the general scheme of things or specific to this situation?
Mechelle Voepel (2:44 PM)
I think it would be fun to have dinner at your house. :) I don't want your partner to get mad at me, but I agree with you on this one. Angel is Angel ... meaning she's not always an "angel." We all know she worked on her "attitude" issues a lot from her younger days at Louisville. I think this is just who she is: She's a great player who is a little in her own world, temperament-wise, and it's just something to adjust to. I think when you're in the pros, and you're teammates with someone who is that good and wins so many games for you, then you deal with it if you can't always figure out what's going on with her. This is a pro league, about winning; it's not about everybody being best friends. And I'm not trying to suggest her teammates don't like her or anything like that. I can only say as a reporter, I sometimes approach Angel and am not at all sure what kind of mood she is going to be in. She might be very funny/charming, or kind of not-so-talkative. And I can't always tell based on her facial expression which it will be. But I bet people I work with think that about me sometimes, too. Although I can't play worth crap. :)
kevin (macon ga)
Venus Williams has been diagnosed with Sjogren's syndrome, which is largely untreatable. Will we ever see her playing at a championship level again?
Mechelle Voepel (2:48 PM)
All I can say is I hope so. It's still one of the most remarkable sports stories of our generation, no matter how many times you state it. Sisters who grew up on the courts of Compton, Calif., without all the advantages that some people have, and they BOTH became two of the best-ever in a sport. It so defies the odds of probability to have two family members THAT great at anything. The Williams sisters have carried American women's tennis a long, long time. I respect what they've meant to that sport. Like most people, I just have very little familiarity with that illness. I had to look it up yesterday, had never heard of it before. I wasn't so great in any of my science classes, though.
Do you think the Silver Star management will talk to Adams about her conditioning? She's a gifted player but is a defensive liability who causes her team to play zone to protect her. There should also be concern about her lower extremities carrying around that weight for several months out of the year assuming she plays overseas. It'll be tough to sustain a successful pro career at her level of fitness. Thoughts?
Mechelle Voepel (2:54 PM)
This is a delicate issue, I'll admit. But fitness was a constant theme that Texas A
Matt (Sandusky, OH)
Sheryl Swoopes' game-winning field goal to beat the Sparks and end the Shock's losing streak was awesome! Does she have the quickest pull-up jump-shot in WNBA history?
Mechelle Voepel (2:59 PM)
If she doesn't, I'm not sure who is measurably better. Cynthia Cooper was pretty amazing too, and Diana Taurasi stands out to me also in that regard. There are times that DT makes taking a 30-footer look like it's as easy and quick as sneezing. And while people sadly may not remember it, that quick release was one of the marvels of Jackie Stiles, too. I'm sure there are many others who deserve mention, too. But when people say, who is the BEST women's basketball player you've ever watched, taking *everything* into account (including longevity of career)... I probably do go with Swoopes, who at her peak could do absolutely everything at top level. And at 40, she's still good.
Some of the positives of Summitt's revelation - not meaning to sound callous, but will more average sports fans follow the Lady Vols this year? Will the media scrutiny and fan interest in the program be a good thing for the women's game? It seems like Summitt is leaving her ultimate mark on the game: garnering mainstream acceptance for the sport and making it more popular. Do you agree?
Mechelle Voepel (3:05 PM)
It's just hard for me - and I'm sure everyone else - to think of it in those terms. Like most other people who follow the sport, I was devastated to hear the news last week. All I can really think about is hoping for the best for Pat Summitt health-wise. That said, I do think that it's a big deal - and very courageous - for her to be public about what she's dealing with, and helping to de-stigmatize something that has destroyed so many lives. Basketball coaches have been inspired by the likes of Jim Valvano and Kay Yow - who both suffered a tremendous amount of physical pain - to raise funds for cancer research. I am hopeful that, as you said, the positive out of something so frightening to deal with as what Coach Summitt is facing is that more money is raised for research.
In regards to Duke women's basketball, what do you make of the departures of Sam Williams to Louisville and the very sudden, possibly contentious departure of Trisha Stafford-Odom to North Carolina? Are things not all shiny and happy in Durham in the McCallie regime?
Mechelle Voepel (3:15 PM)
Things have never been shiny and happy at Duke since the coaching change in 2007. That's just the plain fact, and I don't know any Duke followers who would honestly disagree. It was a very tough situation to go into for McCallie. It would have been tough for anyone. But I don't think McCallie actually acknowledged to herself how tough it would be. And I know it seems to a lot of fans like I have picked on McCallie incessantly and treated Goestenkors like she walks on water. Obviously, both have struggled in certain areas since they made their respective moves. I want to be fair, because there are fans at Texas who are unhappy, too. McCallie's personality and that of Goestenkors are VERY different, and the people who got along well with one are not necessarily going to get along with the other. Not to mention their coaching styles and systems are so different. This is one of those coaching-change situations that even four years down the road still feels like an wound that won't fully heal. McCallie has now hired a former player, Joy Cheek, as an assistant coach. Maybe that will help. But she's very young and inexperienced. She'll have to hit the ground running.
The Shock won two games, back to back, and in a couple of other games, they put up a good fight before losing by about 6 or 8 points. What have the Shock been doing so well lately that finally makes it look like they've got their mojo workin'?
Mechelle Voepel (3:24 PM)
The interesting thing is, there were a fair amount of games where the Shock was competitive through about three quarters, but couldn't sustain it. I think coach Teresa Edwards has committed to a group of more-veteran players (or VERY-veteran, as is the case with Swoopes) who are experienced with grinding out that last quarter. I wrote about the Shock earlier this week, and had some thoughts about the "gray area" there. Tulsa needed those wins, but they also need their promising rookies to keep up some confidence and continue developing for the future. It's a challenge to do both. If the Shock brass decides after the season that Edwards is the one to lead this franchise, then they should listen to her vision on personnel and what she thinks she really needs to be a contender in the near future. Maybe one of the rookies is a better fit elsewhere and can bring something in a trade that helps Tulsa more in the immediate future? I don't know that; I'm just suggesting considering it. Those are the things that the Shock management and Edwards need to talk about, because she deserves a chance to at least say, "This is what I think would work if I was in charge from start to finish in a season."
What's up with A&M wanting out of the Big 12. And why all the defections anyway. I'm trying to make any sense out of this.
Mechelle Voepel (3:32 PM)
It's all about football, money, egos. As they say, everything is "bigger" in Texas. Including all of the above. Texas AM was upset by The Longhorn Network and the recruiting advantage it felt that will give Texas. So TAMU sees itself being "respected" more, I guess, in the SEC ... provided the SEC takes in the Aggies. Which I'm assuming they will ... otherwise, TAMU has just walked the plank. Anyway, it's a particular shame for what such a move does to other sports in the Big 12, but most especially women's basketball. The Big 12 has led the nation in attendance in women's hoops for a decade, and rivalries like that of Texas AM with the Texas schools and Oklahoma since Gary Blair arrived in College Station have really boosted the conference and excitement about the sport. The last thing women's basketball fans in the Big 12 want to see is national-champion TAMU leaving. Not to mention that TAMU's move could set off a domino effect that causes more realignment that may make no geographical sense and destroys longtime league rivalries.
I know many people would never choose a player on a losing team whose team doesn't make the playoffs an MVP of the league. I am wondering how it would look if Tina Charles won MVP but Sylvia Fowles being named to the First team over Charles because of the position. Do you think it is possible?
Mechelle Voepel (3:37 PM)
You and a few of the other question-posters are thinking exactly alike on this. Could this happen for the reasons you suggested? Actually, I think it could. I'm not saying it will, but if enough people put Fowles first team on their ballot at center, but don't vote her MVP because of the Sky's record ... Slightly out-of-left-field reference - at the ACC tournament in 1993, Virginia's Dena Evans was MVP, but was second-team all-tournament. The ballots for all-tournament were counted up before regulation ended in the final. Then the game went into triple-OT, with her being the star in the win over Maryland. So they finalized MVP *after* the OTs. Just one of those funny happenstance things about "awards" that I'll never forget.
Many people have stated that Taj shouldn't been playing as many minutes as she does now. But they Lynx have been trying to clinch home court throughout the playoffs. Do you see this as a problem?
Mechelle Voepel (3:39 PM)
Taj McWilliams-Franklin is a great communicator with the coaching staff. I think if she was needing more rest, she would let them know that, and they would work with her. Homecourt advantage is pretty big deal for a franchise that has so little playoff history. So I can see the value of doing this. She is very experienced, obviously, at taking care of herself and being ready for the big moments.
kevin (macon ga)
What Lynn says jibes with what I hear from talking to other Dream fans in the stands. The strange part is that almost nobody in Atlanta wants Angel to win MVP this year, regardless of whether they want MM to cut her minutes or not. The opinion is virtually unanimous that such an award would go to her head and we'd get much more of the ball hogging, bad shot taking, out of position after going for the steal, warm up skipping, staying out of the team huddle, bad attitude Angel that frustrates everybody. Do you think it would be better in the long run if she didn't win MVP this season?
Mechelle Voepel (3:45 PM)
You know ... I'm not sure winning or not winning an award is going to change much with Angel's disposition or habits. :) Maybe those things will change more to people's satisfaction as she gets a little older and "mellows" ... or whatever it is people do as they age. I don't want sound like I'm discounting the frustration that fans may feel about this, because you watch closely all the time and probably are not off-base on your observations. At the same time ... like I said, it's ultimately about winning games, and she's a major factor in that. An veteran NBA writer told me something last week about how one journeyman player described a moody superstar that he played with. The journeyman said, "I sometimes hate having him for a teammate ... until the last few minutes of a tight game, and then I LOVE having him for a teammate." Again, not saying that anyone with the Dream feels exactly this way about Angel ... but she probably brings out some emotions like that at times. :)
Why does Penny Taylor never seem to get credit for what she does, when clearly she has been the Merc's MVP this season. Is it just because Diana is on the team?
Mechelle Voepel (3:50 PM)
I think Penny does get credit, and most people really do value her. But she is playing alongside someone who is not only a great player but has such a force of personality and has been front-and-center of women's basketball in the United States now for a decade going back to her UConn days. That's just how it happens sometimes on all teams in all sports. As I've said before, the great thing is that Penny Taylor truly could not care less about individual awards. I'm not saying that as a cliche ... anybody who talks to her would say that. Plus, she and DT get along so well, and they are each other's biggest supporter. So it all works out for the good of the Mercury. Taylor is about winning WNBA titles. If she never has a season MVP award on her shelf, she won't give it a second thought.
It has been a good week for Lynx fans and the team. Seimone is named player of the week; Maya gets rookie of the month; Lindsay gets player of the month (3rd different player from the team this season) and Rebekkah is signed to a contract extension. All that and two wins. I know a lot can happen in the playoffs, but this season sure has been fun so far.
Mechelle Voepel (3:55 PM)
If you ask Augustus or Whalen - or most athletes in any team sport - what they most desire, it is almost never going to be MVP. They'll say, "I want a championship." And even better is a championship with people they like. It's not necessary for that to be the case, but it's pretty sweet icing on the cake. The Lynx know they are a long way from a title, and they are not going to look ahead. But the Twin Cities and the state as a whole seem to be noticing the Lynx more. And the diehards who've spent so many frustrating summer nights in the Target Center deserve every bit of this. Enjoy.
Mechelle Voepel (3:56 PM)
Thanks for all the questions! Have a great Labor Day, and chat with you next week.