Tuesday, October 7, 2008


I have a small correction from Friday's Q & A with coach Mike Thibault: The league's salary cap is expected to expand for the upcoming year to $803,000. Last year's cap stood at $772,000. When I wrote the story, I didn't double-check the new CBA numbers, and is my mistake.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Breaking News: Parker edges Whalen, named league MVP

Candace Parker was named the WNBA MVP Friday in one of the closest races in the league's history, garnering 276.79 points to beat out Lindsay Whalen, who finished second with 242.08 points and Sue Bird, who took third (218.51). Parker becomes the first rookie in league history to earn MVP and the first to earn both that and the Rookie of the Year award.

A national media panel accounted for 75 percent of the vote, while fan voting made up the other 25 percent.

"It would mean a lot to me, playing in that highest level and actually winning the MVP award," Parker told the L.A. Times.

Parker has great numbers, but I don't believe she's deserving of the award. She was one of three Olympians on a team that finished well below expectations. Truthfully, I was surprised Whalen finished so high after missing three games late in the season with an ankle injury, but I consider her a better candidate than Parker, who also had the popularity vote working for her. Earlier this week, the WNBA released that Parker's jersey is the top seller in the WNBA. A few weeks ago, I said I thought Sophia Young would win this award, but she finished a distant fourth (169.62). Diana Taurasi finished fifth and Asjha Jones finished ninth.

Jones, Whalen named to All-WNBA teams

Connecticut Sun stars Lindsay Whalen and Asjha Jones were recognized for their career years Friday. The second player in league history to average at least 10 points, five rebounds and five assists, Whalen was named the All-WNBA First Team; Jones, who tied the Sun's franchise mark for scoring average, earned a nod on the Second Team. It's the first such honor for each player.

Voting for the teams was conducted by a panel of national sportswriters and broadcasters. Players were selected by position and received five points for each First Team vote and three points for each Second Team designation.

Here are the teams in full:

First Team
F Candace Parker (LAS) 221 points
C Lisa Leslie (LAS) 192
G Lindsay Whalen (CON) 178
G Diana Taurasi (PHO) 173
F Sophia Young (SA) 171

Second Team
G Sue Bird (SEA) 166
G Becky Hammon (SA) 133
F Asjha Jones (CON) 99
F Deanna Nolan (DET) 95
C Lauren Jackson (SEA) 68

I'll have more in tomorrow's paper, but as far as an initial reaction, all the spots are deserved outside of Seattle's Lauren Jackson, who was dominant when she played but appeared in only 21 games (about 40 percent of the season) and didn't warrant a spot over someone like Tina Thompson. The voters had to go by position, but if you can argue that Deanna Nolan is a forward, I'll argue Thompson could have made it here as a center.

Also Parker got the highest number of votes to the first team by a very wide margin while Young received the fewest. Is this an indication of how the MVP voting also went? We'll see. The MVP is being announced prior to tonight's finals game. The Rookie of the Year honor, which went to Parker, is being awarded at the same site 10 minutes earlier.

Holt named to All-Rookie team

Sun forward Amber Holt was named to the 2008 WNBA All-Rookie team, it was announced Friday. Holt (five votes) tied Houston's Matee Ajavon in voting and both were awarded a spot on the team. Holt, the ninth pick in April's draft, started every regular-season game for the Sun, averaging 6.5 points. The voting panel consisted of the league's 14 coaches, who were asked to select five players regardless of position and to not vote for their own players.

All-Rookie team
F Candace Parker, L.A. (13 votes)*
G Candice Wiggins, Min (13)*
C Sylvia Fowles, Chi (12)
C Nicky Anosike, Min (11)
G Matee Ajavon, Hou (5)
F Amber Holt, Con (5)

* Unanimous selections

Parker named Rookie of the Year

As expected, Candace Parker has been named the WNBA's Rookie of the Year, it was announced Friday morning. Parker garnered all 45 votes in a national media panel after averaging 18.5 points, 9.5 rebounds, 2.3 blocks and 33.6 minutes, all highs among rookies.

Q & A extra

Here's the link from Thursday's Q & A with Sun coach Mike Thibault. Here's some of what didn't get into the story ...

Bulletin: Compared to last offseason, which was extremely busy with this team, the new CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) and the U.S. national team, how do you see this offseason playing out?

Thibault: We’re still going to be, hopefully, active in the free agent market. We don’t need a wholesale makeover, but we need a couple things to be better. Some of it just may be in how our young players develop. If Sandrine (Gruda) and Amber (Holt) and Kerri (Gardin), Ketia (Swanier), can all continue to improve in the offseason, that will solve some of the issues. But I don’t think I can be comfortable in hoping for that.

Those players need to understand that there’s going to be competition for their jobs. That’s the only way we’re going to get better. And if they improve enough, they’ll still be the ones with jobs. But we didn’t the whole thing, but you have to hope you get better to give yourself a chance to do it.

Bulletin: For as good as the first-year players have played, the biggest thing for rookies who excel in their first year sometimes is that second year, when the league knows them (and their game). Is that why you’re not quick to just rely on them improving?

Thibault: I think we won’t get better if they don’t, or if somebody has to be that person. And that’s not to put pressure on them because every year I expect our veterans to get better, too. I’ve had some very pointed talks with the veterans and I have one more to do. My expectations for them are for in certain areas to get better. I’m not going to say out loud what the expectations, but when I’m done with everything before November, every player on this team will have a very clear picture from of what my expectations are if they want to be a part of this. It’s not a threat or anything. It’s just what it is.

If you’re not going forward, you’re probably in this league going backwards a little bit. Standing still is not real good.

Bulletin: What was the main theme of your exit interviews with the players?

Thibault: Most of it was positive but there were specific things for each player that I had kind of been keeping notes on throughout the season. I don’t usually give them a large thing, and I’ll tell them what I’m happy about and everything. But I usually have two or three things that I’ll say, ‘You need to get better at this, for yourself and for us.’ Like the young players, by the time you’ve played a year, people know how to play you. If you stay the same, you’re not getting better.

For some players, it’s shooting. For some players, it’s ball-handling skills. For some players, it’s their level of conditioning. It could be a number of things.

Bulletin: Where does Tamika Raymond stand? (Note: Raymond is one of the Sun's two unrestricted free agents, Svetlana Abrosimova being the other)

Thibault: She’s in a different situation. She was coming off a contract that was long term at the max dollars in this league. Her with us will be a discussion whenever we’re allowed to do contract discussions, as far as what we can do in the cap. I want her here, her teammates want her here, I think she wants to be here. It’s just going to be a negotiation. I think she understands her role here, what she brings. She has a great other job (as an assistant at Kansas), which probably helps diminish the pressure on her to view her position in this league differently. She has a really good sense of self, better than most players I’ve ever coached. She knows I want her there, as much as for the basketball as the intangibles.

Bulletin: Hearing you talk, it sounds like you want to bring this whole group back and then you bring on other people and let training camp sort it out. Is that how it kind of looks?

Thibault: Yeah, for the most part. The only other issue that could come into effect, and I don’t know if it will, we’re in a pretty good situation salary cap-wise. There’s some free agents out there in the league that we would like to be in the hunt for that could change the salary cap structure of our team. But we for sure can take on one max contract and with some tweaking, we could possible take on two. When we didn’t have Nykesha (Sales) or Margo (Dydek) come back, that freed up money for us for the future.

Bulletin: Where does Nykesha stand? She’s up on your board (of players) …

Thibault: She’s there because we own her rights.

Bulletin: How long do you own her rights for?

Thibault: (Shrugs shoulders) Forever. If she wants to play somewhere else, she has to help us organize a trade.

Bulletin: You’ve said in the past you weren't sure if she would come back here.

Thibault: I haven’t talked to her in a while, so I don’t know what she feels right now. But I know a year ago at this time, it was a real struggle for her to be herself, going through what it takes just to be healthy enough to play every day. She can make so much more money playing overseas, that from a business standpoint it makes more sense for her to put all her energy into that where she can make more money. I’m not trying to put words in her mouth, but from a business standpoint, it just makes more sense.

We’ll have a conversation at some point, but right now, I’m just trying to sort out the (players) we have. And the longer you’re out, it’s harder to come back and be in a groove.

Bulletin: You talk about a lot of things from her perspective, but what is it like from (this team’s) perspective?

Bulletin: From our perspective, we’ve invested a lot this past year in the young players who took her place. With Amber and Kerri and Svet and Barb (Turner), our team has probably moved on. Nostalgia is just what it is.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

League to announce MVP

The league will announce this year's MVP at a 5:45 p.m. new conference Friday prior to Game 2 of the WNBA finals between Detroit and San Antonio. I haven't heard definite grumblings of who'll win (Lindsay Whalen, of course, is in the running), but considering they are holding the press conference in San Antonio instead of on a conference call, I'd put money it goes to one of the San Antonio superstars, Sophia Young or Becky Hammon.

As always, I'll have an update when I know more.

A Thursday with Thibault

Greetings from Storrs actually, where I'm holed up inside Gampel Pavilion following the men's basketball team around. (Welcome to my winter beat.) But I got a chance to sit down with Sun coach Mike Thibault earlier today for an extensive chat that covered the 2008 season, what to expect out of the team in the next few months, who's coming back, who's not and a lot more on the state of the Sun.

I'm going to post parts of the transcript later tonight after sifting through loads of (digital) tape, but I figured I'd post this: I promised you a list of Sun players and where they'd be for the offseason if you're interested in following them. I actually have been e-mailed about my tardiness on this, and I apologize. Alas, here's a rough first list. Some rosters are still to be updated, and once they are, I will be able to include all teams:

(1) Svetlana Abrosimova: Russia (Ekaterinburg)
(2) Jamie Carey: None (Will coach high school basketball at Legacy High in Colorado)
(3) Kerri Gardin: Croatia
(4) Sandrine Gruda: Russia (Ekaterinburg)
(5) Amber Holt: Hungary (MKB Sopron)
(6) Asjha Jones: Russia (Ekaterinburg)
(7) Danielle Page: Bulgaria
(8) Erin Phillips: Israel (a Tel Aviv-based team)
(9) Tamika Raymond: None (Will serve as an assistant at Kansas)
(10) Ketia Swanier: None, for now (May join a traveling all-star team that does college tours, then perhaps sign overseas)
(11) Barbara Turner: Turkey
(12) Lindsay Whalen: Czech Republic (USK Prague)
(13) Tamika Whitmore: Czech Republic

(1) Evina Maltsi, who the Sun still own the rights to negotiate with: Czech Republic (USK Prague)
(2) Lauren Ervin, who the Sun drafted in April: Greece
(3) Jolene Anderson, who the Sun cut in August: France

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Anderson signs with French team

Jolene Anderson, who was cut from the Sun in late August to make room for Svetlana Abrosimova, has signed on to play in France during the winter.

Anderson had mentioned the possibility to the Duluth (Minn.) News Tribune, but it's apparently become official.

Update, Oct. 3: Some more links on Anderson in France, courtesy of a reader.