Chat with Mechelle Voepel
Welcome to SportsNation! On Thursday, women's basketball writer Mechelle Voepel will stop by to chat some hoops.
Voepel has covered women's college and pro basketball for ESPN.com since 1996. Read her blog at www.mechellevoepelblog.com.
Send your questions now and join Voepel Thursday at 2 p.m. ET!
Mechelle Voepel (2:03 PM)
Good afternoon! Another interesting past week in the WNBA as we've hit September and the stretch run. Let's get started.
Sofia (Durham, NC)
SASS has lost 3 straight. LA's lost 3 straight, too. Which team's fans should be more concerned? I say LA's fans should be more concerned because I think SASS has looked 'better' in their losses. But I may be over-impressed by that great OT game against the Lynx. What do you think?
Mechelle Voepel (2:09 PM)
I tend to agree with you that the Sparks fans might be more concerned now. Not specifically because LA has lost three in a row, but because Candace Parker hasn't seemed a dominating force since she returned from the Olympic break. Some games, her numbers have been "OK," but not others. Furthermore, she doesn't look as engaged as she needs to for the rest of the Sparks to build off of her. It seems like the Sparks' defense is not sharp, and the offense is tilting a little too much to the perimeter, especially for a team with the weapons inside that the Sparks have. Maybe LA will finish the last two games of this road swing stronger and then play well as they finish the regular season at home. But there are reasons now for Sparks fans to be a little worried, I think.
kevin (macon ga)
What's wrong with Lauren Jackson?
Mechelle Voepel (2:12 PM)
I think she put her whole heart and soul for the summer of 2012 into the Australian Olympic team. And it's probably been harder than she expected to shift gears, both emotionally and physically, back to the WNBA and the Storm. The thing is, she still has time to play herself into this season. And by the playoffs, the switch may have been flipped better for her.
Matt (Chicago (previously Ann Arbor))
What do the Fever have to do to get a consistent offense? They haven't had one since the franchise started.
Mechelle Voepel (2:16 PM)
That might be just a bit harsh toward the Fever. :) Overall, they've played very well since the Olympic break. Admittedly, when things break down/don't go well for Indy, it's generally an offensive problem. But they're still playoff-bound and remain one of the more consistently reliable defensive teams. Do they have enough offense to end up in the WNBA Finals again? Not sure ... especially not if the Dream overcomes their drama - which they did at least for last night. Atlanta could still end up going to another Finals.
Judith (Capital City)
How sorry do you feel for Crystal Langhorne?
Mechelle Voepel (2:20 PM)
I feel bad for her, the rest of the team and the fans. It's hard to feel sorry for Mystics management because of everything they did to create this train wreck. As for the team itself, I'm reminded of something Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale once said about teams "becoming" whatever their record is. Meaning, they really stop believing in what talent or potential they do have, and think of themselves only based on the hard number. There are some teams that struggle through seasons - college or pro - but they somehow are able to take each new day as at least a chance to play better. It's really hard to do, though. Because when you see that 5-22 next to your team's name, that can define how you think of yourself/the team. You stop believing that each day is a new day. or that you really do have some talent. I'm not sure if all the Mystics feel this way, but based on their play, I'd think they probably do.
What's your take on attendance this year? Are teams reporting actual numbers and inflating in the past? Or is it really just down?
Mechelle Voepel (2:25 PM)
There's probably always a little bit of inflation that goes on. Maybe I should spend more time thinking about this than I do, but ... I feel like almost every entertainment industry has been hit hard by the recession. Add to that, the WNBA always will need to be concerned about building new bridges to fans they haven't reached before. And at the same time, continue shoring up the base they already have but can't take for granted. Does it concern me? Sure, I'd like to see better attendance. But ultimately, of course, that's up to the individual teams and the league itself to improve.
Chris Fiegler (Latham,NY)
Who do you think will be the 2012 WNBA Champions?
Mechelle Voepel (2:26 PM)
Right now, it would seem somewhat foolish to pick against the Lynx. So I won't. :) Minnesota.
It appears to many of us that the Mercury organization is not trying to win games, tanking for the lottery, as it is known. What are your thoughts about this possibility/ And, if that is true, what should the WNBA do about it?
Mechelle Voepel (2:32 PM)
I know this continues to be an issue. Let me ask this: How do you *prove* this beyond a shadow of a doubt? Do you think this is really a detailed, articulated strategy ordered by the Mercury brass and carried out by Corey Gaines and the players themselves? Or is it more likely that once a team with a lot of injuries goes on a skid and knows the postseason is very likely out of reach, they lose motivation without it being a scripted, planned conspiracy? I'm asking because I really don't claim to know exactly WHAT is going on inside the heads of the Mercury players/organization. I've seen teams give up on seasons before, without it necessarily being a "plan." If the 2013 draft didn't have the potential gems it does, would people see this as tanking for that specific purpose, or would they say the Mercury has just thrown in the towel because they don't believe they can make anything of this season? As I've said before, this debate - are teams at the bottom really trying, or are they tanking for draft potential - goes on in every pro sport.
Any reaccessments on the Phoenix tanking scandal?
Mechelle Voepel (2:38 PM)
I know that some folks feel VERY strongly about this. I am not shying away from slamming the Mercury - or anybody else - because I'm wary of criticizing them. I just don't know how we gauge with absolute certainty what is "tanking" and what is just being a team that is performing badly and has no motivation. And ultimately, if a team is tanking for the purpose of getting better, are that team's fans angry at that team? Or just other teams' fans?
Brett S. (Lawrence, Kansas)
What would be better for the Sky: *finally* making the playoffs in a year when they don't seem to have a legitimate shot at the championship, or missing out again and probably nabbing a new franchise player in the draft next year?
Mechelle Voepel (2:40 PM)
Make the playoffs and finally give the franchise that taste of the postseason.
The Sky's offense seems to be running a bit better now that they dont try to force the ball into Fowles on every possession. Do you think they should continue with this strategy in the future or do they need to find a better way so that Fowles can dominate like she has in the past?
Mechelle Voepel (2:42 PM)
Whatever else Sylvia Fowles has been dealing with (I don't know), she's also not 100 percent physically. If she was, then I'm all for giving her as many touches as possible. Otherwise, it seems to me that the Sky is better off not putting so much of the load on her for the rest of this season.
How do you like the way that Fred Williams is handling the McCoughtry sitation? Suspending her 2 games, having her sign a list and having her come off the bench the last 2 games.
Mechelle Voepel (2:50 PM)
Fred is trying to establish that he is going to be in charge, which is a way not just to try to get the best out of Angel, but also reassure the other Dream players that she is not above being disciplined. I hope it works. McCoughtry is a great player, but she has to integrate herself into the team. I saw an interview on NBA TV the other day about Reggie Miller, who's going into the HOF this weekend. He said by the end of his career, he really understood that more. And at that time, the Pacers had some very talented younger guys like Ron Artest and Jermaine O'Neal that Reggie thought could have gotten a title with Indy if they'd been less concerned about their individual needs and more about just playing as a team. I think when players are young, they think they have all the time in the world and a lot of chances to get a title. But the time can get away from you a lot sooner than you think. I hope for Angel's sake - and the Dream's _ this really was a good lesson and they move forward as a stronger unit. But we will have to watch to see if that is the case.
Craig (Braintree MA)
How did the light go on for Minnesota?
Mechelle Voepel (2:54 PM)
I don't think it ever went off this season, if you are referring to the small slump they had before the Olympic break. If you mean in general for the franchise, I think it helped a lot that they hired someone who really had a very good game plan of how she wanted the team to look and play, as Cheryl Reeve did. And it helped a lot that Seimone Augustus took so much personal responsibility for being a leader, even when she was frustrated with the Lynx's results. And ultimately, though Roger Griffith made a lot of mistakes, he learned from them. It took awhile, but he clearly did.
"Beyond a shadow of a doubt"? "With absolute certainty"? Those are virtually impossible standards to meet. However, in the all the years since the WNBA instituted a draft, I never have heard so many disparate parties (a/k/a fans of nearly every team except the Mercury) so convinced that any team was gaming the draft system the way Phoenix is alleged to be doing this season. Other sports, yes it happens. But the WNBA is a very small niche sport, where one team making an ethically questionable "savvy" move could reap Championships (or at least great success for years to come). I appeciate that you are held to a higher standard than the rest of us. How would "ESPN reporter accuses Mercury of Tanking" look as a headline? Not so good. But a lot of us fans are pretty disgusted right now. When you perceive that the playing field isn't quite level, that's a real turn-off. Just my 2-cents.
Mechelle Voepel (2:59 PM)
OK, let's say you absolutely believe the Mercury has been planning this very specifically. Do you think the league can prove that and thus penalize them? I guess that's my point. Should the league also penalize the Mystics for their stupid personnel moves two years ago that essentially "tanked" that franchise?
Kate (New Jersey)
Do you worry about the long term viability of the Liberty? The attendance last night was absolutely pitiful (again), the team is increasingly difficult to watch (Cappie is nowhere near her former self) and it looks like they might miss out on this fortune changing lottery. All around depressing to think about. :)
Mechelle Voepel (3:06 PM)
I feel bad that the Liberty once had something - a relationship with their fans, and a kind of magic at MSG - that they let get away. Admittedly, the relocation to Newark because of construction is kind of unavoidable, but the franchise didn't do enough to make sure its fan base felt appreciated. Ultimately, I think the Liberty doesn't have the focus of upper management to any degree, and Scott O'Neil's resignation probably doesn't help that.
It's too bad you didn't treat the Angel McCoughtry situation with the "absolute certainty" criteria.
Mechelle Voepel (3:14 PM)
Shades, I know you care a lot about the WNBA. And I can tell by the tone of your questions in the chat in recent weeks that you are majorly angry at me - as are some other WNBA fans - for not ripping the Mercury more while criticizing Angel McCoughtry's behavior. No columnist is EVER going to write stuff that everybody agrees with. I write what I really believe based on conversations with a lot of people, some of whom I do keep off the record. I totally understand that not everybody sees everything the way I do, and I am NOT going to pretend I have some omniscient insight into everything that goes on in every WNBA organization. I don't. When I criticize people or organizations, I'm not trying to be a mean-spirited jerk. It's because I believe the criticism is warranted, and I hope it's actually constructive. I've covered Angel's career a long time ... going back to college. I like her and I want her to succeed for the good of herself and the sport. But I think her behavior lately is detrimental to her own image and her team. Hopefully, she's learned something. I had to learn hard lessons when I was younger and made mistakes in my business, too. I don't know anybody who hasn't. I wasn't in a spotlight, though, and she is. As for the Mercury, like I said, I have been conflicted all along about what's going on there, because I am less sure than a lot of you guys seem to be. Again, that's OK. I write my opinion, and it isn't always going to be received well by people who have different opinions.
Could Serena Williams do well in the WNBA if she wanted to?
Mechelle Voepel (3:16 PM)
That's hard to say ... she's got speed, strength, quickness and amazing hand-eye coordination, but I don't know how all those skills would translate on the basketball court. Plus, it's very different being an elite individual athlete as opposed to being a team athlete.
I have been impressed when I have heard Laurel Richie speak. But it seems like she has been less visible this season. Am I just imagining that?
Mechelle Voepel (3:18 PM)
Laurel does speak well. I don't know exactly how to judge her visibility, since the WNBA itself is not very visible. But the questions asked earlier in regard to attendance - that's got to be a top priority for her, and that's ultimately a large part of what she'll be judged upon.
kevin (macon ga)
Will the Dream stick with Fred Williams next season or will they be doing a coaching search?
Mechelle Voepel (3:19 PM)
I'd think it depends a lot on how the rest of this season goes. If the Dream play well and he and Angel have a good relationship, maybe it's the right fit with him as head coach. I think the rest of this season/postseason is a time when that will all be evaluated.
Matt (Chicago (previously Ann Arbor))
Going into the Olympics, MVP looked like a two-woman race between Charles and Parker. Since then, neither has looked like she did earlier in the season. What do you see happening with the MVP this year?
Mechelle Voepel (3:21 PM)
Right now, it's really pretty open. The topic came up in an earlier chat about how teammates Maya Moore and Seimone Augustus may be, in effect, canceling each other out for MVP. I definitely have not made any decision on MVP, and I'd bet most of the voters haven't either.
Oh, as for the first part of your question . . . yes, I acknowledge that the league is in a very difficult position with regard to possible tanking. If I were President Richie, I'd be talking to Ann Meyers a lot!
Mechelle Voepel (3:22 PM)
kevin (macon ga)
If the Merc are not tanking, is Corey Gaines likely to be replaced as head coach after this awful season?
Mechelle Voepel (3:25 PM)
Are all the injuries his fault? Does one awful season mean it's worth it to look elsewhere for a coach?
The difference is that those stupid moves by Mystics brass were not motivated by any desire to obtain a competitive advantage through manipulation of the draft system. SJ believed that coaching is a crapshoot and, I am of the opinion that her ego prevents her from acknowledging her mistake. Thus, the Mystics are well into their second year of Trudi. IMO, there's no question that Trudi is trying. IMO, there's no question that the Mystics players are trying to win every game. That's a HUGE difference between what is happening in Phoenix and what is happening in Washington. Are Phoenix fans calling for Corey's head the way Mystics fans are posting in dozens, game after game, on Facebook? Are Phoenix fans refusing to renew because of the horrible performance of their team this season? Not to my knowledge. There are many differences between this 2 team situations. One is vying for Griner the old fashioned way...by sucking. The other is using a different tactic.
Mechelle Voepel (3:32 PM)
OK, let's look at this. Basically, what a lot of fans - not Mercury fans - seem to be saying is, "They are rigging the system to get a great draft pick and that is unethical." Again, then, it is up to the league to investigate to see if the league feels its policies and procedures are being violated in some way. And that is a pretty serious charge that takes evidence. You could say that the Mystics went cheap on salaries for two people who helped bring that franchise its best regular-season finish in the East, and thus weren't "trying" as hard as the organization should to please their fans. I live here in KC, and there is a lot of talk that the Chiefs are not "trying" as hard as they should because they have a lot of cap space left and haven't used it to fill holes. So if the Mercury apparently are NOT irritating their own paying fans, but are irritating other fans ... which is worse? Again, I can see where you guys are coming from, but at the same time, can you prove - can the league prove - that the Mercury is violating league policy or doing something the league finds as a punishable offense?
kevin (macon ga)
re: Gaines It isn't just one bad season. This will be his 3rd losing season of the five he's been head coach. 2009 looks at least as flukey as 2012 does. And really, even if it was just one bad year, coaches get fired for that all the time.
Mechelle Voepel (3:34 PM)
Indeed. Sometimes they even get fired after having back-to-back appearances in the WNBA Finals. :)
Quick salute to the All-American Red Heads, Katrina McClain & Lidia Alexeeva as they get inducted into Naismith this weekend?
Mechelle Voepel (3:37 PM)
Who is this going to tick off, right? What a minute ... Alexeeva did lead the Soviet Union. :) Seriously, it's nice to see all these women get the recognition they will in the HOF. I got the chance to see McClain play in college and professionally, and she is such a talent. And such a great teammate.
Sofia (Durham, NC)
As a longtime WNBA fan, I don't buy into the Mercury tank conspiracy theories. They've had a ton of injuries and better teams have given up before. But please, enough of conspiracy theories. Let's talk about Tulsa and their improvements this season, please. What are your thoughts on their recent wins?
Mechelle Voepel (3:38 PM)
OK, so Tulsa ... they play hard, they have pretty good chemistry, but they're not extraordinarily talented. They need a boost in that department, and maybe they'll get it in the draft.
Sofia (Durham, NC)
Another non-Phoenix related question: Dunn seems generally liked and the Indiana team is good--not good enough to win it all but good. Is Indiana trapped in that good but not good enough space? Are there moves they can make to take the next step?
Mechelle Voepel (3:44 PM)
I sometimes do think that about the Fever - that they may have peaked at going five games with the Mercury in the 2009 Finals. There are always moves to be made to get better, but it's part of the cycle of having success - this is eight years in a row in the playoffs for Indy - that does mean you don't end up in the lottery.
Judith (Cap City)
And sometimes coaches get fired after taking their team to first place in their Conference for the first time ever and winning 20 games (plus two more) for the first time in franchise history....
When does college basketball season start? It's so much simpler it seems!
Mechelle Voepel (3:48 PM)
Well ... not necessarily. :) But maybe we've all debated enough for the moment. Sorry to those whose questions didn't get answered. Enjoy the weekend, and in all seriousness, huge congrats to the Naismith HOF class of 2012. I hope they all relish the honor they are receiving.