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CBA holds the key to many WNBA offseason questions

When it comes to the WNBA, the old adage can be amended. No news isn't good news. Nor is it bad news.

Instead, no news is simply … no news.

But before looking forward -- or trying to -- let's recap. The season ended Sunday after a WNBA Finals that was entertaining even when the games weren't close. That's because the two that weren't -- Games 2 and 5 -- were Phoenix wins, which meant we got to watch the Mercury offense at its best.

Yes, defense can be great and all that, but come on … the ball going through the net is the most fun. And Phoenix makes that happen a lot.

The Mercury's style of play, their media/fan-friendly stars and their hustle made Phoenix a champion that contributes a great deal to the overall forward momentum of the league.

It was another step, following Houston's early dynasty, Los Angeles' love 'em or hate 'em persona, Detroit's worst-to-first run, Seattle's raucous crowds (still the loudest WNBA arena I've been in), Sacramento's "it's their turn" title and Detroit's back-on-top championship run.

The Mercury's victory meant another title for one of the purest extroverts you'll ever find, Diana Taurasi. It's fascinating to watch the amount of energy Taurasi gives out to other people -- her teammates, fans and the media -- while never running low on it. She seems to have an inexhaustible supply.

Having a player such as Taurasi on the stage provided by the WNBA Finals does a lot for the league. She's a player who has complete cred, if you will -- respect even from those who don't follow the sport.

It also helped that the talent level on both teams was what made this series go the distance. The Shock and the Mercury kept pushing each other to play better.

In fact, the WNBA players who competed in the entirety of the postseason (not just the Finals) made an excellent case for the quality of their product, which is good for them going into the negotiations for the new collective bargaining agreement that the league and players' union must strike.

The previous CBA negotiations went down to the wire, with an agreement being reached in late April 2003. The wait for that deal -- the terms were four years, with a league option for a fifth -- had a lot of us who follow the sport worried.

Having seen how labor disputes have damaged other U.S.-based pro sports leagues with much longer histories than the WNBA, women's hoops fans do not want to see another April deal. They want this taken care of well before that.

Will it be? Well, that's where we get to the "no news" part. In news conferences, small-group gatherings and one-on-one interviews in the past year with WNBA president Donna Orender, we journalists have learned very little about how the CBA negotiations stand.

Orender doesn't just play close to the vest -- she plays with the cards hidden in the vest. And that's true of any aspect of the WNBA's business: the CBA, possible expansion, the details of the television contract with ESPN, the need for improved officiating, how much actual concern the WNBA has about the impact of foreign leagues on WNBA salaries/benefits, etc.

Orender does not volunteer one word of information that she does not want public. She doesn't slip up in talking to reporters. She doesn't throw us any bones. It might leave us frustrated -- there is always a certain amount of eye-rolling as we trudge back to our laptops after her news conferences -- but by the same token, her job isn't to make us feel well-informed.

Rather, it's to put a positive spin on everything about her business, to be a constant saleswoman for the league.

Orender's familiar message is about the continually increasing high quality of play in the WNBA. Yet in labor negotiations, of course, she won't be out to be the players' best friend. She will be trying to do whatever she thinks is of greatest benefit for the long-term health and growth of the WNBA.

Meanwhile, expect the players' association to be negotiating not just for acceptable salary increases but also for issues like better travel/accommodations for teams.

"Some of the little changes people are looking for have already been put on the table," Taurasi said. "Just making everyday life a little bit easier. Things like sharing cars; you have grown women sharing rooms on the road. How many businesses are like that?

"I know things take time. The NBA didn't get to its level of success right away. There's still a lot of work to be done."

A fair amount has changed since the last deal was struck in the spring of 2003. Then the league had just lost two teams after the previous season -- Miami and Portland, and had two others relocate. Utah, one of the WNBA's eight original franchises, went to San Antonio. Meanwhile, Connecticut took over the Orlando roster -- and was the first team in the league without an affiliation to an NBA team.

Subsequently, two more franchises -- Cleveland and Charlotte -- disbanded, while another franchise not affiliated to an NBA team -- Chicago -- joined the league. And now there are non-NBA owners in Washington, Houston and Los Angeles, although those teams do play in NBA arenas.

Certainly, the 13-team WNBA would like an even number of teams: 14 soon, and 16 (staying there for a while) in the not-too-distant future.

Several cities have been mentioned as expansion candidates. But if there's anything cemented anywhere, that concrete will have to be dry or darn close to it before there will be anything resembling confirmation from the league.

Thus, much is up in the air going into the fall and winter months. Top American players will stay in somewhat of a spotlight here, at least among followers of the sport, as they play in the FIBA Americas Championship in Chile on Sept. 26-30 (they'll try to secure a berth in the 2008 Olympics) and then in a college tour Oct. 31-Nov. 15.

The Beijing Games next year could impact foreign players' participation in the 2008 season, particularly the high-profile Australians, if they are called up to spend next summer with their national team.

Not long after the Mercury won the title on Sept. 16, Phoenix's Penny Taylor acknowledged that she was not looking forward to facing that decision. She said this year's championship would just make it that much more complicated. Taylor wants to help the Mercury defend, obviously, but she also wants to help Australia add an Olympic gold to the World Championship gold it got last September.

Taylor and 2007 regular-season MVP Lauren Jackson are two of the WNBA's top commodities, and they are in their primes. A 2008 season without either or both would be unpleasant for the league.

If the CBA is signed, sealed and delivered in a timely fashion -- I really don't want to think about it any other way at the moment -- there are still numerous questions.

How much player movement will there be, considering the number of free agents expected to be available? Will there be expansion and the subsequent expansion draft? What is the Storm's future in Seattle? Is there any concerted effort to make changes to enhance the quality of officiating, or will that remain status quo?

Ultimately, though, so much revolves around the CBA that it's hard to even speculate on much else.

"One thing that makes it tough is that [players] go overseas, and it makes it harder to stay involved and up-to-date with what's going on [with negotiations]," Taurasi said. "But there have got to be some changes made.

"It's been 11 years, and they always talk about progression. I know it's a slow process, but we have to come to the point where the players are going to benefit a little more from all the hard work the veteran players have put in."

Mechelle Voepel of The Kansas City Star is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. She can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com.