Category archive: WNBA

UNCASVILLE, Conn. -- A few thoughts on the awards handed out to Connecticut Sun players Tina Charles (MVP), Renee Montgomery (Sixth Woman) and Kara Lawson (Kim Perrot) before Thursday's game, a ceremony clearly highlighted by Montgomery and WNBA president Laurel Richie losing their shared grip on the award while posing for photographs and watching in shock as it crashed to the floor, thankfully none the worse for wear. (Insert your own simultaneous possession joke here.)

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Tina Charles
Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty ImagesTina Charles became the first Connecticut Sun player to win regular-season MVP honors.

The Sun won a playoff game for the first time since 2008 in beating the New York Liberty on Thursday night, but they also picked up a franchise first when Charles was named WNBA MVP, the second win in a row for an Eastern Conference player after more than a decade of dominance by the West. The third-year center who led the league in rebounding during the regular season said all the right things in accepting the award, thanking her mother, who was in attendance at the ceremony, and her teammates.

But the most interesting part was her praise for Sun coach Mike Thibault, if only because it's all too easy to forget that there is more than one great women's basketball coach in the state of Connecticut. There are a hundred ways in which Thibault doesn't get the credit he deserves, but expanding on the work Geno Auriemma did with Charles ranks high among them.

"Ever since I got drafted to the Connecticut Sun, he's just definitely gave me the confidence to go out there and play my best and definitely helped me in that area," Charles said of Thibault. "I think he makes it comfortable for everybody here to go out and just explore their game. He allows us to make mistakes and then to correct it. He's a great coach. He communicates with us, he's there for us, he does his best to discipline us. And he tells us what he wants from us individually. I think that that's one of the main things you can have with a coach is communication."

That Montgomery isn't entirely built for patience was clear when she hopped out of the director's chair in which she sat after the first sentence of Richie's introduction, only to have to admit her false start, sit back down and wait out the rest of the president's words. She is not a natural sixth woman, content to bide her time until called upon, but she made the most of the role this season.

"I just wanted to pretty much do whatever role was given to me," Montgomery said. "At the end of the day, this is your job. So if your boss tells you to do something, you should do it. I wasn't going to help my team or myself just sitting around sulking about not starting. Now that we're in this position -- and we still haven't won a playoff game, so at the end of the day that's the ultimate goal -- but as long as this is helping the team, I'm fine with it."

More to come tomorrow on Lawson, who won the sportsmanship award for the second time after a season in which the veteran clearly deserved some sort of major accolade.

BRISTOL, Conn. -- Best player on the board or best player for a system?

It's a question of draft philosophy that Corey Gaines and the Phoenix Mercury will enjoy mulling over for the next six-plus months.

In a draft class headlined by three entirely distinct talents in Brittney Griner, Elena Delle Donne and Skylar Diggins, the team with perhaps the most distinctive style in the WNBA beat the odds Wednesday and landed the No. 1 pick in the draft.

Do the Mercury take a scorer like Delle Donne to push their tempo to something rarely seen beyond the Bonneville Salt Flats? Do they take a floor general like Diggins to conduct an orchestra that already includes the likes of Diana Taurasi and DeWanna Bonner? Or do they take the consensus best player on the board in Griner, even if some will wonder how a dominant post fits in a fast-breaking style?

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Diana Taurasi
Barry Gossage/Getty ImagesDiana Taurasi's reaction to Phoenix winning the No. 1 pick? "Wow, wow, wow," she texted coach Corey Gaines.

"It's something that will be interesting," Gaines said. "We're going to take our time and look at everything. The greatest thing is now we have a long time to do that; we don't need to rush anything. We're not a traditional-style team at all. We don't do things the way other teams do it. It's because I've learned from [Paul] Westhead. … He does things that makes the team win. I'm sure I'll be making some phone calls and talk to all the coaches I've ever been under in the league and in college.

"It's not going to be a rushed thing. It's going to be something thought out, and something I think hopefully, will bring some big things to Phoenix."

Needless to say, the coach wasn't giving away many state secrets in the minutes after the Mercury defied the odds to land the No. 1 pick. So we're left to debate amongst ourselves the merits of three special players.

You'll hear a lot of scouting reports between now and April, but why not start with one from the man who will coach one of them?

First on Diggins.

"Point guard, hard-nosed, can score, take it to the basket, plays defense, definitely able to impact the game, very intelligent basketball IQ," Gaines said. "You've seen her in some of the games last year tough it out, push her team through something, which is important."

On Delle Donne.

"Pure unadulterated scorer," Gaines said. "I mean, she can score. I saw an interview with her today on NBA TV and she stated, 'I love to shoot the ball.' She loves to score. That's a gift. A lot of players don't have that gift. People don't understand, but someone who gets up 30 shots, it's hard to do. It's not something that everyone can do. If you go to your [YMCA] and try to get up 30 shots, it's not easy. It's a gift."

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Elena Delle Donne
Evan Habeeb/US PresswireElena Delle Donne might be a better fit for Phoenix's up-tempo style of play, but it's hard to see the Mercury passing on Brittney Griner.

And last but never least, on Griner.

"Someone who can definitely change the game defensively and probably change it offensively, too," Gaines said. "The way our team is set up, we have scorers who can hit outside and who can slash and who play the game well -- who won championships, who won gold medals, who won European championships. And DeWanna, who is now added into the mix, has become a superstar herself. We can go really large with, if we [pick] Brittney. And Brittney can rebound, and that's something that's important for us.

"We're a fast-breaking team. There's two things you need: You need rebounding and you need stops. Defensively, she'll get us stops, offensively she'll get us rebounds to go get that break going. And the top teams in the league that play defense -- half court, if I give you a play, you can stop that play. Fast break, you can't. That's why fast breaking is so dangerous. There's nothing you can do. You can't say, 'Run back fast.' That's not going to cut it."

If you choose to read between the lines, it's interesting that Gaines spoke about Diggins and Delle Donne in general terms. He spoke about Griner in terms of how she would specifically fit with the Mercury. Although for what it's worth, if we're delving deep into the intangibles file, he also sounded and looked genuinely captivated by Delle Donne's scoring prowess, like someone talking about the way Coltrane played the saxophone.

A pure hunch is that there will be days between now and April that Delle Donne sits atop the team's draft board. You couldn't design a more perfect player for the system than a 6-foot-5 all-court scorer, who, by the way, is also a terrific rebounder and shot-blocker by any scale that doesn't include Griner.

But in the end, there is no way the Mercury pass on Griner. For good reason. Gaines is a disciple of Westhead, and however things ended in Los Angeles, the latter won an NBA championship with the Lakers in 1980 by pairing Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on a team that finished second in the league in points per game. Post players and fast breaks aren't mutually exclusive. And Griner is hardly sedentary; her agility and athleticism at her height are what make her a paradigm-shifting player.

One thing is certain, whether the Mercury take the best player, the best player for the system or someone they think fits both descriptions.

"Those three, you're going to get something," Gaines said.

A text message he received from Taurasi shortly after the results were revealed got to the same point.

"Wow, wow, wow."