Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Catching Up With the W

It's been over a week since the NBA's All-Star Weekend concluded in New Orleans, but I've been remiss in not blogging about the WNBA influence on the weekend. For the most part, I was busy covering Sonics rookies Kevin Durant and Jeff Green in the Big Easy, as well as blogging about All-Star Saturday Night and the All-Star Game itself (you can see all these entries here). However, there were also some WNBA sightings besides new Storm forward Swin Cash appearing in a Detroit uniform for the last time in the Haier Shooting Stars competition.

Storm forward Shyra Ely was in New Orleans as part of her now-concluded internship with T-Mobile. Ely has signed with Polish squad AZS Jelenia Gora, but her team had the weekend off, allowing Ely to show up for the All-Star events she had helped plan for T-Mobile.

I ran into Ely at a T-Mobile event at NBA Jam Session that featured Green. She played a hand in putting togther T-Mobile's booth at Jam Session but was primarily responsible for helping put together T-Mobile's hospitality suite at the Intercontinental Hotel. In addition to her T-Mobile duties, Ely squeezed in some WNBA appearances, including the league's luncheon on Saturday.

WNBA President Donna Orender was in New Orleans as well. After our interview the previous Friday, I'd shared with Orender that I was going to be at All-Star Weekend, and she took time out from escorting Los Angeles forward Sidney Spencer around the New Orleans Arena to say hello on Friday night. She was probably just happy this time I didn't have a recorder in tow for a Q&A.


Anything that happened in New Orleans was just a prelude to the real WNBA action - the opening of the free-agent and trade markets on Feb. 19. The Storm made big news that day, trading for Cash, and was not alone. All-Star guard Katie Douglas came home to Indiana in a blockbuster deal that sent forward Tamika Whitmore and a first-round pick to Connecticut, while the Minnesota Lynx signed Anna DeForge as an unrestricted free agent.

The Sun has some interesting decisions ahead in replacing Douglas. Connecticut lost another starter, Margo Dydek, to pregnancy. 2006 first-round pick Sandrine Gruda could fill in for Dydek in the lineup, giving Sun Head Coach Mike Thibault the option of putting a really big starting five on the floor - Gruda, Whitmore, Asjha Jones, Nykesha Sales and newly re-signed Lindsay Whalen. At the same time, while Sales was cored by Connecticut, Thibault doesn't sound certain he'll have his other star wing for next season either.

Indiana makes out better in the trade, getting another outstanding defender to go with Tully Bevilaqua and Tamika Catchings. Catchings and Douglas were both All-Defensive First Teamers a year ago, while Bevilaqua was on the Second Team. Add in shot-blocking center Tammy Sutton-Brown and the Fever will remain a challenge for opposing offenses in 2008. Indiana still needs to fill out its starting lineup. Unless the Fever plans to play Douglas at forward and move Tan White into the opening five, there's a spot alongside Catchings at forward. And White is better suited off the bench anyways. How Indiana fills that spot without a first-round pick is worth watching.

DeForge will bring some leadership to a young Lynx team, and Minnesota's moves to sign DeForge and sign Washington's Nakia Sanford to an offer sheet the Mystics quickly matched shows the Lynx are serious about competing this year. Minnesota is set in the backcourt with the addition of DeForge, with Seimone Augustus presumably moving to small forward and will add to the frontcourt with the No. 3 overall pick, but the Lynx need more help up front.

Some veteran free agents have moved around since the opening of free agency, with Mwadi Mabika and Marie Ferdinand-Harris leaving the only WNBA teams they've ever known. Mabika went from L.A. to Houston and was in some sense replaced on the Sparks by Ferdinand-Harris. Mabika and re-signed Tamecka Dixon both have experience with Karleen Thompson from their days in L.A. together, but seem curious choices for a team that should be in rebuilding mode after a 13-21 season. The Sparks are hoping Ferdinand-Harris will bounce back in her second season after giving birth, but she has shot worse than 37% from the field three of her last four seasons, so that seems like a risky gamble to me.

The coring of players and signings to date have thinned the ranks of unrestricted free agents - just 18 remain listed as avilable on WNBA.com's Player Movement Central, a group that includes some players who might not play in 2008, including Dydek. That said, there remain some interesting names available, including WNBA legends Yolanda Griffith, Ticha Penicheiro, Katie Smith and Sheryl Swoopes.

We've already had an active WNBA off-season with trades of the magnitude rarely seen in the league, but don't think for a moment we're anywhere close to done. That includes the Storm, which still has only seven players under contract if you include core players Sue Bird and Janell Burse.

Overseas Update 2/26

Katie Gearlds a Greek League All-Star:

On Feb. 26, Katie Gearlds played in the Greek League All-Star game. Gearlds played on the Foreigners team that beat the Greek team 72-53. She finished the game with eight points.

Gearlds team, Athinaikos played on Feb. 24 and beat Siemens 80-70. She was the leading scorer for Athinaikos with 19 points. She also had four rebounds and two assists in 40 minutes. With the win, Athinaikos record improves to 13-6, including 9-1 at home. They are currently in fourth place in the Greek League. up next for Athinaikos is a matchup against Mask Cosmopel on Mar. 2. Mask Cosmopel is currently ninth in the standings with a 9-10 record.

Lauren Jackson and Sue Bird's team, Spartak, of the Russian SuperLeague, crusehd Dynamo-Energiya (Novosibirsk) 104-72 on Feb. 22. Jackson shot 50 percent from the floor and finished the game with 19 points. She also had three rebounds in her 18 minutes of play. Bird finished with 11 points, includjng 3-3 from behind the arc. She also had five assists and one rebound in 26 minutes. The win leaves Spartak with a record of 15-1; still one game behind CSKA (Moscow) who is now at 16-0. Mar. 3, is Spartak's next game, as they will be taking on Shelen-ETK (Krasnoyark), who is in last place of the Russian SuperLeague, with a record of 1-15.

In the first game of the Quarter-Final Playoffs in the EuroLeague, Lauren Jackson and Sue Bird's team, Spartak, beat Dynamo on Feb. 26 with a score of 96-67. Dynamo is playing without FIBA Europe Women's Player of the Year Anete Jekabsone-Zogota, who is out with a shoulder inury. Jackson was Spartak's leading scorer, with 29 points, including 4-4 on her three-point attempts. Jackson also had six rebounds, two assists, one steal and one blocked shot in 21 minutes. Bird had eight points, three rebounds, two assists and one steal in 24 minutes. As as a team, Spartak hit 10-22 (45.5%) of their three-point shots. The two teams will play again on Feb. 29.

On Feb. 24, Doneeka Lewis's team, Fiera di Roma Pomezia faced off against Phard Napoli, Astou Ndiaye-Diatta's team in the LegA Basket Femminile League. Ndiaye-Diatta came and Phard Naploli came away with the victory over he Storm teammate 78-53. Ndiaye-Diatta had six points and four rebounds in 17 minutes. Lewis had four points, four rebounds and one assist in 25 minutes. Up Next for Phard Napoli and Lews is a matchup on Mar. 3 against Germano Zama Faenza. Fiera di Roma Pomezia will also be playing on Mar. 3, with their opponent being Gescom Viterbo.

Janell Burse's team, USK Praha, of the Czech Basketball League played Feb. 23 and beat Hradec Kralove 99-67. In 20 minutes, Burse had nine points and six rebounds. USK Praha plays again Mar. 8 against Gambrinus.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Overseas Update 2/19

Lauren Jackson and Sue Bird's next game is Feb. 22 in a Russian SuperLeague matchup of their team, Spartak (Moscow) against Dynamo-Energiya (Novosibirsk). Spartak will look to keep pace with CSKA (Moscow), who remains first in the league. Dynamo-Energiya (Novosibirsk) is in sixth place in the Russian SuperLeague with a record of 9-7.

Doneeka Lewis and her team, Fiera di Roma Pomezia of the LegA Basket Femminile played Feb. 13 against Carispe La Spezia. Fiera di Roma Pomezia won 62-57. Lewis had 13 points, six rebounds and two assists in 28 minutes.

Fiera di Roma Pomezia played again on Feb. 17 against Germano Zama Faenza and won 67-55. Lewis was the leading scorer for Fiera di Roma, with 19 points. She also had five rebounds and two assists in 34 minutes.

Up next for Lewis and Fiera di Roma Pomezia is a matchup against Phard Napoli, Astou Ndiaye-Diatta's team in the LegA Basket Femminile League on Feb. 24. Should be a great matchup with both of the Storm player's reuniting on the same court overseas.

On Feb. 13, Ndiaye-Diatta and Phard Napoli beat Banko di Sicilia Ribera 87-70. In 16 minutes, Ndiaye-Diatta had two points and five rebounds. On Feb. 17, Phard Napoli lost to Gescom Viterbo 64-78. She led her team with 10 rebounds. She also had six points and two assists in 25 minutes.

USK Praha, Janell Burse's team of the Czech Basketball League played Gambrinus, who was a head of them in the standings. Gambinus won 91-76 and improved their flawless record to 16-0. In 40 minutes, Burse had 11 points and five rebounds. USK Praha plays again on Feb. 23 against Hradec Kralove, who has a record of 10-7. USK Praha will try to keep pace with Gambrinus who now has a two game lead in the standings.

Meet Swin Cash Tonight!

In the wake of yesterday's big trade, we hope you'll join us this evening to help welcome Swin Cash to Seattle. She and Head Coach and Director of Player Personnel Brian Agler will participate in a special Q&A session tonight at Ballard High School. It's open to anyone, so come on out.

The details:
6:30 p.m.
Ballard High School Auditorium
1418 NW 65th Street
Seattle, WA 98117
Please enter the building at the northwest corner (15th Ave. NW and NW 67th Street). Limited lot parking is available. Additional street parking is also available.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Getting to Know Swin Cash

With the Storm dealing for All-Star forward Swin Cash from the Detroit Shock Tuesday, I asked storm.wnba.com intern Jonathan Tallariti to round up some links to features that give you a snapshot of Cash the player and the person. Here's what he came up with. - KP

Cash and Sue Bird were amongst four terrific seniors for UConn that won the 2002 NCAA title. This story focuses on Cash's contribution to that team.

Here's a story from the time of the 2004 Olympics that looks back on Cash's life. This one talks about the similar paths to the WNBA taken by Cash and former Storm forward Ashley Battle.

Cash's last appearance in a Detroit uniform came over the weekend, when she participated in the Haier Shooting Stars competition as part of All-Star Saturday Night. Cash, Pistons player Chauncey Billups and Shock Head Coach Bill Laimbeer, the defending champs, fell this time around. San Antonio ended up winning.

Here's a couple of good features that look at Cash's many skills, one from the UConn alumni magazine and one from Strut magazine. This story talks about her joining ESPN to analyze the NBA during the winter.

Cash has done a great deal of work in the community. Amongst her projects:
- "Rebounds for Research," which saw her donate $5 for each rebound in the 2005 season to the Children's Tumor Foundation
- Teaming up with former UConn stars, including Bird, to raise money build a playground in Bridgeport, Conn.
- Raising money for the McKeesport Youth Projects where she was raised
- Supporting the Catherine Ferguson Academy for teenage mothers in Detroit with her mother Cynthia, who gave birth to Swin at age 17 (this is a great NBA TV video)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Durant the WNBA Fan - Part II

NBA All-Star Weekend activities are already underway in New Orleans and, as always, the WNBA will play a big role in the weekend with several players active in the community. WNBA.com is on the scene with tons of coverage. Storm free-agent forward Shyra Ely is scheduled to be in New Orleans; her internship with T-Mobile this off-season had her focusing on the company's All-Star marketing.

One of the interesting things about this weekend is the interaction between stars of the NBA and WNBA. A while back, I blogged about Sonics rookie Kevin Durant (who will be in NO for the T-Mobile Rookie Challenge & Youth Jam) attending Mystics games in his native Washington, D.C. Jayda Evans of the Seattle Times picked up on the Mystics angle and asked Durant more about the WNBA.

I happened to be in the locker room when the interview was conducted, and was stunned at what kind of a fan Durant is - especially when he corrected Evans on how many points Lauren Jackson scored against the Mystics last July.

The results made their way into the Times' "KD Up Close" section and they are more than worth a look. Scroll down to the Jan. 14 entry for what Durant likes about the game and which female player (though not yet a WNBA player) he'd like to go up against one-on-one.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Overseas Update 2/12

In the EuroLeague, Lauren Jackson's and Sue Bird's Spartak team beat TEO Vilnius on Feb. 8 83-71 to take the best-of-three series with two straight wins. The win advances them to the quarterfinal playoffs in the EuroLeague. In 22 minutes, Sue Bird had seven points, two rebounds and four assists. Lauren Jackson had 14 points, nine rebounds, one assist, one steal and one blocked shot in 21 minutes. Spartak's next opponent has not been announced, but the first game of the series will be played Feb. 26.

The newest member of the Seattle Storm, Roneeka Hodges, is playing overseas in the EuroCup League for Gran Canaria. Hodges has been having a tremendous season overseas. She is leading her team in scoring with 23.5 points per game. She is also averaging six rebounds, two and a half assists and one steal per game. She is shooting 59.7 percent from the floor.

Some of the highlights for her this season for Gran Canaria are a 35-point game against Extrugasa and an eight-rebound outing against Lavezzini Basket. She also has made five three-point field goals in two games this season. Her 23.5 points per game ranks her fifth in the EuroCup in scoring. She has been on the floor for an average of 37.9 minutes per game, which ranks her eighth-best in the EuroCup.

Katie Gearlds has joined the team Athinaikos of the Greek Women's basketball league. She made an incredible first impression on her new team with a victory on Feb. 10 against Panionios 75-66. In 40 minutes, she led her team with 26 points. She also had three assists and two steals. She hit four-of-eight shots from three-point range. Athinaikos is currently ranked fifth in the standings with an 11-6 record. They are two games behind Esperides Ravenna, which stands alone at the top of the standings. Up next for Athinkaikos is a game against Iraklis on Feb. 17.

In the Israeli DI National League, Tanisha Wright's Raanana Hertzliya squad defeated Hapoel Tel Aviv 78-73 on Feb. 11. In 38 minutes, Wright had 16 points, seven rebounds, six assists and four steals. She made seven-of-13 field goals. She is leading her team in scoring this season with 20.8 points per game and assists with 5.7 per game. She is also tied for the team lead in steals with 3.4 per game.

Among the other players in the league, Wright ranks near the top in several catagories. Her average of 20.8 points per game ranks her at fourth in the entire league and her average of 3.4 steals per game is second best in the league. She is the league leader in assists per game with her average of 5.7 per game.

Doneeka Lewis, who is playing for Fiera di Roma Pomezia in the LegA Basket Femminile league, is averaging 14.4 points and 3.3 rebounds per game. Her team played against Levoni Taranto on Feb. 10 and lost 82-42. Lewis had nine points and three rebounds. Fiera di Roma Pomezia plays again on Feb. 13 against Carispe La Spezia.

Staying in the LegA Basket Femminile league, Astou Ndiaye-Diatta, who is playing for Phard Napoli, last played on Feb. 11 against Umana Venezia and won 69-58. In 13 minutes Ndiaye-Diatta had four rebounds and one assist. Next up for Phard Napoli is a game against Banco di Sicilia Ribera on Feb. 13.

Janell Burse's team USK Praha of the Czech Basketball League beat Valosun Brno on Feb. 9. 114-63. Burse did not play in the game. With a record of 15-1, USK Praha is just one game behind Gambrinus in the standings. The two teams will face off on Feb. 16., which should make for a great game.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Orender Visit Highlights Big Day for Storm

Tip-Off BreakfastClifford Despeaux/Storm Photos

WNBA President Donna Orender's half-day in Seattle began with a chat with Senator Barack Obama at the Westin and ended with an interview with me. I'll leave it up to her to decide which of the two was the highlight.

Orender's whirlwind visit to the Emerald City (she actually got in from Houston last night, but not until after midnight) saw her take in two important Storm events: A Tip-Off Breakfast with leaders in the Seattle business community followed by the Seattle City Council hearing testimony on a resolution supporting renegotiation of the Storm's KeyArena lease.

The keynote speaker at the Tip-Off Breakfast, Orender challenged the local business community to step up and provide the support the Storm's prospective new ownership group, Force 10 Hoops, L.L.C., needs to thrive. With all four members of the ownership group in attendance, various leaders promised to do just that.

In testimony, at times highly personal, representatives spoke from businesses and non-profits including Children's Hospital, Qwest, the Seattle Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the Seattle Sports Commission, the Seattle Times, Virginia Mason Medical Center, the WIAA and the Washington State Lottery.

From the public sector, Seattle City Councilmembers Sally Clark and Jean Godden (who shared her pre-Title IX experience having to play either offense or defense but not both, never crossing halfcourt) explained the importance of keeping the Storm in KeyArena and the role models on the team's roster in Seattle. Larry Gossett from the King County Council represented the greater metropolitan area, speaking eloquently to the county's support of the Storm.

The same themes recurred: The strength of the bond between the Storm and fans, the impact made in the community by the Storm and their players and the excitement generated by the new ownership group.

At the conclusion of the breakfast, Orender and Anne Levinson from the ownership group hustled the few blocks to Seattle City Hall and Council Chambers for a hearing on the proposed resolution supporting renegotiation of the Storm's lease. The session went long before Godden declared she had to bring the "lovefest" to an end. The Council's Finance & Budget Committee voted unanimously in support of the resolution. The full Council is scheduled to vote on it on Monday.

After lunch and brief meetings, Orender found time on the way to the airport to talk about her day with me. Listen to that interview here and find out about Orender's unscheduled meeting with Senator Obama, how Storm fans can help Force 10 Hoops, L.L.C. with the vote from the Board of Governors on the ownership change at the end of the month, and more.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

2/5 Overseas Update

Lauren Jackson is a EuroLeague All-Star-
The EuroLegaue All-Star Starters were announced on Jan. 29 and Jackson is a starter on the Rest of the World Team. The game will be played on Mar. 13, where Spartak (Moscow) plays their home games. Jackson has been tearing it up in the EuroLeague and her All-Star spot is well deserved. She is ranked in the top of several catagories in the EuroLeague:

First in points per game with 24.2.
First in Field Goals Made with 8.9 per game.
Second in three-point field goal percentage with 53.7.
Third in Free Throw percentage at 89.7.
Third in three-point field goals with 2.9 per game.
Fifth in two-point field goal percentage with 62.5.
Seventh in field goal percentage with 59.3.
Seventh two-point field goals made with 6 per game.
Eighth in blocked shots with 1.2 per game.

On Feb. 1, Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson's Russian SuperLeague team, Spartak (Moscow) improved their record to 13-1 with a win over Spartak (St. Petersburg) 101-75. Bird and Jackson both had outstanding games. Jackson finished with 32 points on 10/16 shooting. She also had a whopping 18 rebounds in just 21 minutes. Bird finished with 14 points on 6/8 shooting. She also had six assists, five rebounds and two steals in 34 minutes.

Bird and Jackson also played on Feb. 5 in the Eurolegaue for Spartak. They beat Teo Vilnius 93-67. Jackson continued her outstanding play with a game-high 34 points. She also had seven rebounds, two assists and two blocked shots in 28 minutes. Bird finished the game with four points, two rebounds and six assists in 32 minutes. The game was the first in the opening round of the Eighth-Finals in the EuroLeague. Spartak plays Teo Vilnius again on Feb. 8.

Iziane Castro Marques's Brail National team Ourinhos will be playing in the Round 13 semi-finals on Feb. 11 against de Nassau. Should be an exciting matchup, especially with Castro Marques's outstanding play.

On Jan. 30, Betty Lennox's team, Nadezhda of the EuroCup league lost to Beretta Famila 86-65 in the Eighth-Finals. Lennox had nine points and four rebounds in 19 minutes. The two teams will meet again on Feb. 7.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Expansion Draft Explained

With the Atlanta Dream Expansion Draft less than a week away, WNBA.com's story yesterday on how the draft is going to work was revealing.

As has been true in the past, each team will be able to protect six players. The key difference from when we did this two years ago with the Chicago Sky is this:

Atlanta may choose one player from each club and may do so without regard to
current contract status provided that the Dream selects no more than one
unrestricted free agent. In the event that Atlanta selects an unrestricted free
agent, they would have the right to designate that player as a "core" player –
gaining exclusive negotiating rights in exchange for an offer of a one-year,
fully guaranteed contract at the maximum salary.

The Sky was not able to select unrestricted free agents. What makes this so important for the Dream is not necessarily the ability to pick and core an unrestricted free agent - I wouldn't even be certain they will opt to do so instead of favoring younger players and more cap flexibility - but the threat of being able to pick UFAs. What that means is that teams must protect their unrestricted free agents who would have the ability to command maximum salaries on the free market to avoid the possibility of having those players selected by Atlanta.

The end result should be that the Dream and Head Coach/GM Marynell Meadors have a slightly deeper pool of players available to them.

As a reminder, here's the contract status for the Storm.

Under contract: Iziane Castro Marques, Katie Gearlds, Lauren Jackson, Tanisha Wright
Reserved (can negotiate only with Storm): Shyra Ely
Restricted free agents: Doneeka Lewis, Ashley Robinson
Unrestricted free agents: Sue Bird, Janell Burse, Betty Lennox, Astou Ndiaye-Diatta, Wendy Palmer