WNBA’s East Eager for Rebound After Rough 2020


The WNBA’s 25th season kicks off tonight with a four-game slate. The league has seen an enormous amount of growth since last season and is heading towards potentially its biggest season yet. New jerseys, a new class of rookies, and a busy offseason have fans oozing with anticipation for this season. As things get ready to tip off, let’s take a look at how each Eastern Conference team projects this year.

Teams in order of last season’s standings.

Chicago Sky

Last Season: 12-10, lost in first round

Key Additions: Diamond DeShields (injury), Candace Parker (free agency)

Key Losses: Cheyenne Parker (free agency), Gabby Williams (trade)

Dearica Hamby broke Sky hearts everywhere with her game-winning shot in the 2018 playoffs. Misfortune continued as Diamond DeShields left the 2020 Wubble for personal reasons, and the 10-12 Sun demolished Chicago 94-81 in the first round. The Sky, previously stuck in Rosemount, repeatedly faced the spectre of departing stars in its short history. The unlucky franchise saw Elena Delle Donne and Sylvia Fowles sit and demand trades and recently suspended an unhappy Gabby Williams before trading her. One stroke of a pen, however, blotted most of that pain.

Two-time MVP Candace Parker became a beloved name in Sparks and Volunteer houses everywhere. However, it seems LA coach Derek Fisher could not find room in his heart for one of the greatest women’s players ever (and do not let the Olympic committee tell you otherwise). The Sky signed Candace in the most significant free-agent signing ever for the franchise, and Parker joins the dynamic love-duo of Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley. Under third-year coach James Wade, Sky fans may hear of another “new era.” Chicago supporters know better: in their new home, the Sky is only taking another step in a full-court sprint towards overdue glory.

— Jeffrey Newholm

Connecticut Sun

Last Season: 10-12, lost in semis

Key Additions: Jonquel Jones (opt out)

Key Losses: Alyssa Thomas (injury)

The Connecticut Sun are one of the most consistent teams in the WNBA, but will need to weather a major blow to their roster to make another push for the playoffs. Alyssa Thomas graced last season like the Terminator, playing through injuries to both shoulders. Seeing her suffer an Achilles injury overseas was heartbreaking, but the Sun are equipped to weather the storm. As Thomas goes out, the Sun are ready to embrace the return of former two-time All-Star Jonquel Jones. In the 2019 season, Jones posted a line of 14.6 points, 9.7 rebounds, 2.0 blocks and 1.3 steals per game. She is a force to be reckoned with and will be pairing with DeWanna Bonner, who was fantastic last year in her first as a member of the Sun.

The defense projects to be elite, with Beatrice Momprier and Jasmine Thomas adding two more impact players on that side of the court. Rookie DiJonai Carrington looks to be the second-round pick that could be the second ever to win Rookie of the Year, and she is not afraid to shoot her shot. With one of the best (and best dressed) coaches in the league in Curt Miller leading the way, the Sun will be a tough out even without their emotional leader.

— Corey Rausch

Washington Mystics

Last Season: 9-13, lost in first round

Key Additions: Tina Charles (opt out), Natasha Cloud (opt out), Elena Delle Donne (opt out)

Key Losses: Alysha Clark (injury), Emma Meesseman (overseas), Aerial Powers (free agency)

The Mystics’ success this season largely hinges on the health of superstar Elena Delle Donne, as she returns to play after undergoing two back surgeries this past year. To begin the 2021 season, former MVP Tina Charles should help pick up some of the slack until Delle Donne returns. Coach Mike Thibault made a point that Charles is hungry for a championship, a competitive fire he’s seen firsthand before – Thibault coached Charles during her 2012 MVP campaign.

Notably, vocal leader Natasha Cloud is returning to the team after sitting out last season to focus on social-justice initiatives. 2020 offensive leaders Myisha Hines-Allen and Ariel Atkins are also back and better than ever after leading the team in Delle Donne’s absence last year.

Things aren’t all good in Washington, though. Emma Meesseman will not return until further notice due to international commitments in Belgium. To make matters worse, Alysha Clark suffered a devastating season-ending injury while playing overseas. While the Mystics won it all back in 2019, the competition will be tougher now as most teams improved over the offseason. Can Delle Donne return to MVP form? Can Thibault bring out the best in Charles? If this team stays healthy and gels, the rest of the league should still be very scared.

Mike Perry

Atlanta Dream

Last Season: 7-15, missed playoffs

Key Additions: Tiffany Hayes (opt out), Aari McDonald (draft), Cheyenne Parker (free agency), Odyssey Sims (free agency)

Key Losses: Nicki Collen (Baylor), Betnijah Laney (free agency)

While the Atlanta Dream finished the 2020 season with a 7-15 record and missed the playoffs, this young squad has plenty of fresh faces and looks to start building for the future in 2021. The organization looks almost completely different than it did a year ago, but change is often a good thing.

One of the biggest stories for the WNBA has been the ownership situation in Atlanta. Previous co-owner Kelly Loeffler sparked controversy by speaking against social-justice movements in the United States. The backlash from players was immense, and as the WNBA never backs away from championing social causes, the team was sold to an ownership group which includes former Dream star Renee Montgomery. Team culture often starts at the top, so new ownership that cares about their players, and basketball itself, should make a big difference in Atlanta.

As for the new arrivals on the court, Atlanta welcomes several new players on the roster. The biggest name is Aari McDonald, taken third overall in this year’s draft. The college phenom averaged 21.7 PTS and 5.9 AST in three years at Arizona, so she’ll look to make an immediate impact in her rookie season. The extra help includes Tiffany Hayes, who will play for the first time in two years, as well as depth from Odyssey Sims, Tianna Hawkins and Cheyenne Parker. Of course, the Dream will only go as far as their coaching will take them.

Following the sudden departure of coach Nicki Collen, the long-term leadership on the Dream bench hangs in limbo. However, one thing is for certain: there’s something special brewing in Atlanta, and it’s just a matter of time until this young team becomes a solid squad.

Keagan Smith

Indiana Fever

Last Season: 6-16, missed playoffs

Key Additions: Kysre Gondrezick (draft), Danielle Robinson (free agency)

Key Losses: Natalie Achonwa (free agency), Candice Dupree (free agency), Erica Wheeler (free agency)

This season for the Indiana Fever is going to be about setting the table for the future. No team in the WNBA has committed to the tank as much as the Fever coming into the 2021 season. With the final roster coming out and the confirmation that Julie Allemand’s contract will be suspended for the season due to overseas commitments, the overall talent pool is that much shallower.

The focus of the future at the moment is 2021 No. 4 pick Kysre Gondrezick, Teaira McCowan and Kelsey Mitchell. There is plenty of youth here that will look to improve on defense (the goal outlined by head coach Marianne Stanley). With the departure of veterans like Natalie Achonwa (Minnesota Lynx), Candice Dupree (Seattle Storm) and Erica Wheeler (Los Angeles Sparks), the burden of being a leader is likely to fall on the newly arriving Jantel Lavender and Danielle Robinson.

Between continuing to develop their already young roster and losing out on a season from Allemand, this is likely to be bumpy ride for the Fever. Gondrezick felt like a reach in the top four to many fans watching, but she has real potential as an elite shooter. Victoria Vivians has been the best player in the two preseason games thus far, so perhaps that will continue as she hopes to take a step forward in her third season.

— Corey Rausch

New York Liberty

Last Season: 2-20, missed playoffs

Key Additions: Rebecca Allen (opt out), Natasha Howard (trade), Sabrina Ionescu (injury), Betnijah Laney (free agency)

Key Losses: Kia Nurse (trade), Amanda Zahui B.(free agency)

Coming off a disappointing 2-20 finishing their 2020 campaign, the New York Liberty appear poised for a bounce-back season in 2021. The Liberty have a lot to be excited about this year, including some new additions and the return of their young star. After missing almost her entire rookie season due to a severe ankle sprain, sophomore star Sabrina Ionescu starts her comeback tour now. The 2020 No. 1 pick averaged 18.3 PTS, 4.7 REB and 4.0 AST in the three games she played before her injury. Sabrina proved that she’s capable of hanging with the best in the game, so watch for her to make a critical impact as the focal point of New York’s team.

A fully-healthy Ionescu is the best thing fans could have asked for, but the Liberty also made some splash moves over the offseason. The WNBA’s 2020 Most Improved Player, Betnijah Laney, signed with New York after averaging 17.2 PTS, 4.9 REB and 4.0 AST last year. Laney will assume a large role with her new team, and is arguably one of the best signings league-wide during this past offseason. The Liberty also traded for Natasha Howard, who put up 9.5 PPG, 7.1 RPG, and 1.7 SPG en-route to a WNBA championship with the Seattle Storm in 2020. Howard is a seven-year veteran who brings great contributions across the board and should help provide mentorship for the younger players on the squad.

With all these offseason moves, the Liberty sent a strong statement to the rest of The W – they mean business in 2021. While New York probably won’t be winning a title this year, they’re building an exciting young team that will certainly turn some heads when the WNBA season kicks off tonight.

— Keagan Smith

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