WNBA’s Wild West Aiming to Retain League Dominance


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 Western Conference team projects this year.

Teams in order of last season’s standings.

Las Vegas Aces

Last Season: 18-4, lost in Finals

Key Additions: Liz Cambage (opt out), Dearica Hamby (injury), Chelsea Gray (free agency)

Key Losses: Angel McCoughtry (injury), Kayla McBride (free agency)

Las Vegas ended last year on a bitter note, but the Aces are loaded up and bringing their core back with A’ja Wilson, Jackie Young and Dearica Hamby all returning to the squad. Reinforcements are on the way, as they anticipate the return of Liz Cambage, who opted out last season, and Kelsey Plum, who is back from injury.

Over the offseason, Vegas also added Chelsea Gray who left the Sparks during free agency. These players should provide a nice boost to the team. Sadly, veteran forward Angel McCoughtry tore her right ACL and meniscus in an exhibition game. Her absence will be a huge blow, as she was one of the Aces’ best shooters remaining from last year. Las Vegas also lost another piece in Kayla McBride, who left to prove that she’s more than just a 3-and-D role player.

In the meantime, the Aces will have to look for spacing from Jackie Young, Kelsey Plum and Riquna Williams from the three-point line. A’ja Wilson showcased her extended range in the pre-season. If Bill Laimbeer lets her stretch the floor a bit, it only raises this team’s ceiling, and improves her chances at back-to-back MVPs. — Akhil Hollingsworth

Seattle Storm

Last Season: 18-4, won Finals

Key Additions: Candice Dupree (free agency), Katie Lou Samuelson (traded)

Key Losses: Alysha Clark (free agency), Natasha Howard (traded)

The Seattle Storm finished their 2020 season with their second championship in the past three years and their fourth title in franchise history. After missing the 2019 season due to an Achilles tear, Breanna Stewart bounced back and played like she didn’t miss a beat. During this past season, she was named 1st Team All-WNBA and Finals MVP. Jewell Loyd put up career highs in both field goal and 3-point percentages as well.

Although Sue Bird missed games with a bone bruise in the regular season, she played every game in the postseason. As 2021 approaches, the Storm bring back their core of Bird, Stewart, Loyd and Jordin Canada, but they also lost two vital pieces during the offseason. 3-and-D veteran Alysha Clark left in free agency and 2019 DPOY Natasha Howard was traded to the New York Liberty.

Seattle will look to cover their losses with veteran Candice Dupree and some depth in Katie Lou Samuelson, Mikiah Herbert-Harrington, and Kennedy Burke. Samuelson can add much-needed floor spacing from deep, while Herbert-Harrington can help defensively.

The Storm may have taken a step back this summer, but you can still expect them to be a top 3-4 team in the conference as long as Breanna Stewart plays at an MVP Level. — Akhil Hollingsworth

Los Angeles Sparks

Last Season: 15-7, lost in second round

Key Additions: Erica Wheeler (free agency), Amanda Zahui B.(free agency)

Key Losses: Chelsea Gray (free agency), Candace Parker (free agency)

Perhaps no team had the gut punch like the Sparks did this offseason.

After a disappointing finish in the Wubble, long-time franchise centerpiece Candace Parker signed with her hometown Sky. Starting point guard Chelsea Gray and bench scorer Riquna Williams both signed with the Aces. Rumors of Nneka Ogwumike‘s departure swirled. News recently broke that Seimone Augustus would be joining the team in a coaching role.

It looked like the end of an era in LA.

Newly promoted GM Derek Fisher had other plans, however. While it is impossible to replace talents such as Gray and Parker, the Sparks filled their roster with quality players that can help them remain competitive in the upcoming season. Guard Erica Wheeler should continue to improve as she takes on a bigger role. Amanda Zahui B.will play a big role at the center position and provide spacing. The bench unit will look very different, and there will be plenty of opportunities for new players to thrive. The team will regain Chiney Ogwumike and Kristi Toliver after they sat out last season, and bring back spark plugs Brittney Sykes and Te’a Cooper.

New additions Bria Holmes, Nia Coffey, Jasmine Walker and Arella Guirantes will also be in the mix for minutes. The Sparks will likely experience a few bumps in the road as they look to establish chemistry, but they may also be the toughest team in the league to project.

One thing is for certain: they will be an entertaining team to watch. — Richmond Bailey Caldwell

Minnesota Lynx

Last Season: 14-8, lost in semis

Key Additions: Natalie Achonwa (free agency), Kayla McBride (free agency), Aerial Powers (free agency)

Key Losses: Rennia Davis (injury)

The Lynx are poised for a terrific season after adding Kayla McBride and Aerial Powers via free agency this offseason. One big storyline to watch will be reigning Rookies of the Year Napheesa Collier and Crystal Dangerfield, who will try and take their games to the next level after looking quite impressive last season.

The big question for the Lynx this year will be Sylvia Fowles and whether she can stay healthy, as she is coming off a heavily sidelined season. Since she is the focal point for this team on both sides of the ball, the team is depending on her to return healthier and better than ever. While the Lynx have a great squad surrounding Fowles, the Lynx are one of the best teams in the league when she’s on the floor. Minnesota has been a dynasty in the W for quite some time.

Will Fowles be able to stay on the court? Will the offseason additions of McBride and Powers take this team to the championship? Can Collier and Dangerfield step up? Only time will tell, but the rest of the league will be shaking in their boots if this team is healthy come playoff time. — Mike Perry

Phoenix Mercury

Last Season: 13-9, lost in second round

Key Additions: Brittney Griner (opt out), Kia Nurse (trade)

Key Losses: Shatori Walker-Kimbrough

There may not be another team in the league more excited about the 2021 season than the Phoenix Mercury.

Surely, the Merc are more than happy to put the 2020 season behind them. And who better to battle against on the first night than the team that bounced you in last year’s playoffs? Over 240 days since their last meeting, the Mercury will travel north to play their conference rival Minnesota Lynx. This time, however, Phoenix will have 6x All Star Brittney Griner, who skipped the WNBA’s Wubble in Bradenton, FL for personal reasons.

Phoenix will also bear their newest weapon in Kia Nurse, who they acquired from New York via trade. Nurse, who led the Liberty with 12.2 points per game, will form a lethal backcourt combination with Diana Taurasi and Skylar Diggins-Smith. When healthy, Phoenix has one of the most dangerous offenses in the league. Mercury legend Diana Taurasi, who is entering her 17th season with the team, feels confident that her team can achieve something special this summer. Veteran coach Sandy Brondello, now in her 8th season with Phoenix, aims to bring a championship back to the valley for the first time since 2014. — Mike Konicek

Dallas Wings

Last Season: 8-14, missed playoffs

Key Additions: Charlie Collier (draft), Dana Evans (draft)

Key Losses: Astou Ndour-Fall (waived), Katie Lou Samuelson (trade)

When Skylar Diggins-Smith tore her ACL in 2015, it marked the official end of the WNBA’s ill-fated venture in Tulsa. The newfound Wings have not soared anywhere since, but with a young and improving core, Dallas may not look up at foes for long. Diggins-Smith’s and Liz Cambage’s demanded trades grounded Dallas in 2019 and 2020, and the Wings narrowly missed the 2020 Wubble playoffs.

Final Four hero Arike Ogunbowale led the W in scoring last season. Dallas added gold-standard prospect Charli Collier with the No. 1 pick of the 2021 draft and rolled the dice with Awak Kuier, a Finnish talent who became their second selection. Dana Evans may make 11 franchises think again, as the Louisville Cardinal enters the WNBA with a not-so-ladylike hostile attitude (shout out Liz Cambage). Dallas gambled by firing WNBA champion Brian Agler and signing Aces assistant and former basketball pro Vickie Johnson. Unfortunately, Johnson must shepherd her developing talent through an uncertain work environment.

Winning can cure any ailment, however, and if Arike can flap her wings a bit more rapidly, she can turn Dallas from a too-long wounded animal into the goddess of Texas basketball. — Jeffrey Newholm

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