Breaking down the Sun

Tina Charles was the WNBA MVP in 2012, averaging 18.0 points and 10.5 rebounds in 33 games. AP Photo/Jessica Hill

The Sun were so close to a WNBA Finals appearance last season. Instead, the season ended with a disappointing and surprising blowout, and the only coach the Sun had ever had lost his job.

Mike Thibault, who took over in Connecticut when the Orlando franchise relocated for the 2003 season, had been to the Finals twice before. And he led Connecticut to a first-place finish in the East in 2012. But the Sun weren't able to close out the Indiana Fever in the Eastern Conference finals, losing Game 2 in Indianapolis on a buzzer-beater and then falling by 16 points in Game 3 back home in Connecticut.

The Sun management decided to go a different direction. Anne Donovan, having spent two seasons trying to salvage Seton Hall's women's hoops program, came back to the WNBA.

Donovan previously has been a WNBA head coach at Indiana, Charlotte, Seattle and New York, winning a title with the Storm in 2004. The Connecticut players seemed displeased that Thibault was fired, but they at least know his replacement is also a seasoned coach who understands how to win in the WNBA.

The Sun bring back four full-time starters, including center Tina Charles, the 2012 league MVP. Somehow, though, the perception of the organization doesn't seem as positive as it should considering the talent that is still there.

What's new?

Donovan has brought onto her staff Jennifer Gillom, the former WNBA player, head coach and assistant. And the Sun's top draft pick, at No. 11 overall, was Kelly Faris, who's fresh off a championship season with the UConn Huskies. But Faris has been dealing with a lingering foot injury.

What's missing?

Veteran forward Asjha Jones is not playing in the WNBA this season because she said she's not healthy enough. She started 19 of 20 games last season -- when she dealt with a strained Achilles tendon -- and averaged 12.2 points and 7.1 rebounds. Jones has played nine seasons for the Sun and is not easily replaced. Also out this season is reserve guard Danielle McCray, who has a torn Achilles tendon.

Biggest challenges

Charles (18.0 ppg) and guard Kara Lawson (15.1 ppg) are back as dependable scorers. So is guard Renee Montgomery, who contributed 11.6 points per game coming off the bench. But who fills in the scoring and rebounding voids left by Jones at power forward? Can the other returning starter, guard Allison Hightower, provide a little more offense? Also, what will be the mood of this team after last season's disappointing finish and the forced departure of its coach?

Playoff prospects

Because of the perceived elevation of teams such as Washington, New York and Chicago, plus the injury losses already for the Sun, there are some doubts about whether Connecticut can finish in the top four. If the Sun do, though, that will be the franchise's ninth playoff appearance in its 11th season of existence.