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The "True Road Game" or "When a Site Isn't Neutral". [21 Dec 2009|06:37pm]

jonfmorse
Full disclosure; I wouldn't be making this post, nor would I even have begun considering the issue, had it not been a result of considering my own team's situation. Having said that, my position would be the same even if I had come across this while reading about the hated Jayhawks.

Nine days ago, Kansas State played a "neutral court" game against UNLV. In Las Vegas. The game wasn't played at the Thomas and Mack Center due to a scheduling conflict (how's that happen, anyway), but rather at the Orleans Arena. Virtually every game story either flatly referred to the game as a neutral court, or noted that it was (paraphrasing) "technically a neutral court but come on gimme a break".

A week later, Kansas State again played a "neutral court" game against Alabama. In Mobile. You know, Mobile. Alabama. Again, consistently referred to as a neutral site; this time, there have been no "gimme a break" caveats.

I think it's high time we re-assess what we consider to be a neutral site (regardless of sport), because this is ridiculous. As far as I'm concerned, anyway, K-State just won two true road games, going far away from home to play in decidedly hostile territory.

1) If you're playing out of region, and you're playing in your oppponent's home state, it should be considered a road game for you, unless perhaps the site in question is the home of your opponent's hated in-state rival. Now, I'm not asserting the converse to be true. I don't feel that for Alabama, Mobile was necessarily a home game. Indeed, had Alabama's opponent been Southern Mississippi, you could argue that it was almost a road game for the Tide. If they'd played this game in Auburn, or perhaps even Birmingham, maybe the crowd has a heavy bias against the Tide. (I'm pretty sure there's not a great deal of anti-Bama sentiment in Mobile, despite USA's presence.) But when your opponent is in-state and a couple of hours from home while you've had to travel a thousand miles to get there... let's face it, we know what colors the crowd will be wearing, and they won't be yours.

Hell, I'd go so far as to say a KSU-Alabama game in Atlanta might be a true road game for KSU, but I can easily accept a counter-argument there. After all, at some point if you keep stretching the bounds of a team's regional footprint, you get to the point where you're claiming that a Duke-Hawai'i game at Madison Square Garden is a true road game for Hawai'i, and that's equally silly.

2) Even if you are a regional rival, if you're playing in your opponent's home town it's a road game. The only possible exception to this is if you're in the Philadelphia area or something similar, where game at the Palestra between Villanova and Temple is unquestionably a neutral site game. But if your school owns the city in question, let's not be mendacious. Your students and local fans don't even have to make travel plans to get to the game. It's across freakin' town. In this instance, not only is it a true road game for one team, it's a home game for you. To even pretend that UNLV playing a game in Las Vegas constitutes a neutral site matchup is beyond ridiculous.

Maybe -- maybe -- I'll accept that playing in town but in your most hated rival's facility is not a home game. Maybe you can convince me that if USC is playing in the Rose Bowl, it's not a home game. Maybe.

None of this would matter beyond semantics, of course, except for one small difficulty: computer rankings and pollsters and the NCAA tournament selection committee all factor in whether games are "home", "away", or "neutral". When March rolls around, K-State is going to have a couple of decent wins on "neutral courts" which should be tabulated as "road wins". They're almost certainly not the only team that'll be facing this sort of thing. It's time to take this stuff into account.
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Golf: The Difference Between Now and Then [12 Apr 2008|05:24pm]

jonfmorse
Here's the guys in the top 10 of the Masters' leaderboard as I compose this (and round three's almost done, so it's not like we're looking at first-round flukinage here).

Brant Snedeker (2007 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year):
PGA tour wins: 1
best major finish: T18 (2007 PGA)

Paul Casey
PGA tour wins: 0
best major finish: T6 (2004 Masters)

Trevor Immelman (2006 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year)
PGA tour wins: 1 (although admittedly it was the 2007 Western Open, the "fifth major")
best major finish: 5 (2005 Masters)

Steve Flesh
PGA tour wins: 4
best major finish: T7 (2004 US Open)

Robert Karlsson
PGA tour wins: 0
best major finish: T5 (1992 British)

Arron Oberholser
PGA tour wins: 1
best major finish: T4 (2007 PGA)

Oh, and Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, and Retief Goosen, who presumably everyone with even passing knowledge of golf at least recognizes.

Who are these guys? Going back to Tiger's first Masters win, you find folks in the top ten like Tom Kite, Tom Watson, Fred Couples, Bernhard Langer, Justin Leonard, Davis Love III, and Jeff Sluman. Tiger didn't fend off a bunch of nobodies 11 years ago. 11 years before that? Jack's last Masters' win? Kite, Watson, Greg Norman, Seve Ballesteros, Nick Price, Jay Haas, Payne Stewart, Bob Tway. Back another 11 years -- Jack's last win before 86, oddly enough -- Johnny Miller, Tom Weiskopf, Hale Irwin, Billy Casper, Hubert Green, J. C. Snead, Lee Trevino... and Kite and Watson AGAIN.

Anyway, my point here is, again: who the hell are these guys on the leaderboard? Aren't golf's majors supposed to be clashes of titans, with the greatest golfers in the game facing off in mortal combat?

Then it hit me. Really, the only real heavyweights left to challenge Tiger are Phil, and... umm... well, Vijay's still around on the money list, but he isn't a force anymore. Justin Leonard and Stewart Cink are around, but they sure aren't Lee Trevino and Tom Kite to Tiger and Phil's Nicklaus/Watson show.

I dunno. I'm not saying Tiger's not the greatest golfer ever; I do think he is, and he's still got a good fifteen years to add to the resume. But I think we need to take into account the lackluster level of competition he's been facing of late. At least as a talking point, anyway.
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The Last Day. [30 Sep 2007|06:47pm]

jonfmorse
Updating as important things happen.

16:30:
Top of the 9th, 2 out: The Royals' season grinds to a close, and with only 4 outs left in the season Alex Gordon takes a hard grounder off the face and may be seriously hurt. SIGH.

Mets lose. Phillies are winning, Ubaldo Jiminez took a no-hitter into the sixth for the Rockies (although the Rockies haven't scored either)... Mets are fucked.

Padres losing big in Milwaukee, so if the Phillies collapse and/or the Rockies win, we have extra baseball.

16:35:
Phillies win, and win the NL East; the Mets officially stay home. Schadenfruede wins!

16:50:
Royals lose, Royals lose. Finish 69-93, and will have either the #2 or #3 pick in next year's draft, depending on what the Pirates do. Goodbye, Mike Sweeney; we'll miss you. Goodbye, Emil Brown; we won't miss you.

Brewers batting in the seventh, still leading the Padres 9-4; Rockies have now scored, and lead Arizona 1-0 going into the seventh. Chaos afoot!

17:10:
Brewers now up 10-4; Arizona scored to tie the Rockies 1-1. We're gonna go to the wire here.

17:35:
Padres tried to make it interesting in the 9th, but Milwaukee won 11-6 (in, interestingly, the final game of umpire Bruce Froemming's long career). Rockies with first and third, nobody out in the bottom of the eighth, still tied at 1.

17:50:
With the bases loaded, Garret Atkins singles to give the Rocks a 2-1 lead!

17:51:
Brad Hawpe follows with a 2-run double! 4-1 Rockies, and we're getting closer to game number 163!

17:55:
Oh, but the D'backs aren't finished yet. 2nd and 3rd, nobody out, top of the ninth...

18:02:
With one run already in, and down to the last strike, Alberto Callaspo singled to bring the Snakes to within 4-3...

18:03:
Stephen Drew squirts one between the mound and third base... Manny Corpas grabs it and flings it to first... Drew is OUT! Rockies win!

Tomorrow, the Padres travel to Denver for a one-game playoff to see who faces Philadelphia in the first round of the playoffs. Man. What an afternoon.
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Hindenburg. [28 Sep 2007|11:23pm]

jonfmorse
The Cubs clinched the NL Central tonight.
The Red Sox clinched the AL East tonight, having already clinched a playoff spot.
The Diamondbacks clinched a playoff spot tonight.
And the Padres guaranteed that they will be playing at least one more game after Sunday.

The Rockies are on life support, but they can't complain too badly; their end-of-season charge was a great story, and I was pulling for them, but asking them to win 14 in a row was probably a bit much.

The Mets, on the other hand... are basically one game away from being fucked, and my schadenfreude levels are skyrocketing.

On the other end of the standings, the Royals -- who just a couple of weeks ago were starting to make people in Minneapolis nervous -- have nosedived their way into a battle for the #2 draft pick. And to be totally honest, I'm glad they completely fell apart the last couple of weeks rather than trundling along playing .400 ball; losing 89 games and eating the 9th draft pick would have been hard to swallow, whereas losing 93, 94 and drafting #2 is a lot easier to take.
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Presented Without Comment. [07 Aug 2007|04:41pm]

jonfmorse
Will Carroll, over at BP, posted an article gleaned from an interview he did with Mark Silva. Silva makes custom athletic braces, like the elbow brace Barry Bonds wears. In fact, he makes the elbow brace Bonds wears, and has done so for the last fifteen years.

"Silva states that because of the custom nature of the work, he's been asked to make casts of Bonds each year. In the first couple of years, he went through the entire process, but due to his workload, he started checking Bonds with precision calipers each subsequent year. "If I made the same brace every year for 12 or more years," Silva said, "it was because there was no size change in Barry's arms."

You read that correctly--the man who not only builds Bonds' brace, but who has taken precision measurements of his arm since 1992, has not seen any increase in the size of Bonds' arm. Point blank, Silva said "there's been no significant change in the size of his arms."


The article is premium content, paid subscription required, but I'll post the link anyway.

Edit: It helps when you, you know, paste the link. Barry Bonds' Brace
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Poor Preparation. [06 Aug 2007|02:40am]

jonfmorse
First, congratulations to Tom Glavine. We probably won't see anyone else do that for at least another 15 years, 'cause it doesn't look like anyone's currently on track to get there.

I'm used to Joe Morgan being an idiot. I mean, I'm so used to it that when he does it, I don't normally take note. However, tonight he dragged Jon Miller into it, and I'm extremely irked at them for being so damned ignorant. This time, it's not about some arcane philosophical thing. It's not about Morgan's propensity for thinking the world revolves around the way he thinks the game works.

No, it's about a simple little fact, and one which struck me immediately as a total WTF moment.

Early in the game, Luis Castillo caught a pop fly that was a little wobbly due to the winds at Wrigley. Morgan made some comment about him not being used to Wrigley, having come over from the Twins, and I let it go. A few innings later, Castillo did it again... and both Morgan and Miller completely blew it. They started talking about how Castillo, having spent his whole career over in the American League with the Twins, had never played in Wrigley before.

Hello? Earth? Florida Marlins? 1997 World Series? 2003 World Series? 2003 NCLS, the Bartman game in Chicago?

Look, I know it's a minor factual foulup, but I'm sorry. If you don't even know the only guy who started for both of Florida's World Series champion teams, what possible business do you have being the number-one announcing team for ESPN? What business at all?
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While Bonds Has Your Attention... [05 Aug 2007|12:16am]

jonfmorse
...you probably missed something going on right under your nose. Scott Hairston homered -- in Petco Park, no less -- on three consecutive at bats.

His first shot was a two-run blow in the bottom of the eighth last night to tie the game at three. Two innings later, he ended the game with a tenth-inning walk-off job, and then he led off the top of the first tonight by putting one in the left-field seats.

Speaking of the Padres, and the Dodgers, and anyone else in the NL West, I realized something this week. I was trying to mentally picture the Padres' lineup before last night's game, and man was I off. For a while, I was feeling a little down about this... you know, wondering if I'd lost touch with things. But then I realized the problem.

Having watched about 60 Royals games this year, I have the American League pretty well set in my mind this summer. Moreso with the AL Central, of course, but I've seen enough of the AL East and AL West to have a feel for them. Being on DC's back porch, I have a decent feel for the NL East, and with the Astros as my second-favorite team, I have a handle on the NL Central.

I'm not sure I saw a 2007 NL West game before last week, and having made that connection, I don't feel so bad now.
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It Ain't Steroids. [04 Aug 2007|11:17pm]

jonfmorse
In 1960 -- well past integration, mostly -- there were sixteen major league teams. That means Hank Aaron was able to hit 40 home runs a year off, theoretically, the 64 best pitchers on the planet.

By 1993, those 64 pitchers would have accounted for 45% of the starting pitchers in the major leagues; due to expansion and the adoption of the five-man rotation, major league hitters were now facing, theoretically, the 140 best pitchers on the planet. In 1998, that number went up to 150.

That means that when balls started leaving the park in ever-increasing numbers in the mid-90s, batters were facing 86 pitchers who wouldn't have been able to get out of Triple-A for more than a cup of coffee 30 years before. Can you wrap your head around this? A player exactly as good as Hank Aaron couldn't help but surpass him in home runs; a player not even close to as good as Aaron has a chance.

This is the thing you have to understand. The more you expand a league, the more striking the excellence of the best players will be in comparison to those who have come before. If Hank Aaron is a 100, and Joe Shlabotnik is a 95, but Aaron played in an era where 16 teams used a four-man rotation and Shlabotnik plays in an era where 30 teams use a five-man... the relative difficulty of the league is vastly different for the two players, because the average player in the later era is not nearly as close to competitive with that era's stars as the average player was in Aaron's era. If Aaron's twice the player an average player of his time is, Shlabotnik will be three times the player an average player in his era is.

Now, one could argue that the reverse is also true; Warren Spahn pitched in an era where only sixteen teams worth of major-league caliber hitters could face him. Unfortunately... that doesn't work out the same. Teams in that era only carried 8 or 9 pitchers, generally; sixteen teams with 16-17 hitters comes out to 264 hitters in the big leagues. Now? 30 teams carrying 12 pitchers almost uniformly; 390 hitters. The ratio is not in favor of the hurlers here.

And, really, the excellent pitchers? Their performance is in line with the changing ratios. In the seventies, you'd see pitchers have insane seasons we don't see now, but those are more a result of usage patterns than anything else (and it's certainly of note that the last truly insane season by a pitcher -- Steve Carlton's 27-win season -- occurred prior to free agency). However, pitchers would fluctuate from godly to mortal on a regular basis. Go look at how many bad seasons the likes of Catfish Hunter, Steve Carlton, Vida Blue, and Jim Palmer had. Now? I bet you can name a dozen pitchers who seemingly never have a bad season off the top of your head, at least until they're walking with a cane. Their "bad" seasons are "bad" in comparison with their normal performance, or are explainable by injury. Trust me, you will find about one pitcher in the 70s-80s era who was a consistently awesome as a Maddux or Glavine or Clemens or even a Schilling, and the dumbasses with ballots won't even put him in the Hall of Fame.

Lastly, the really good pitchers in Aaron's era? They were still in the damned game in the eighth inning on a regular basis. Nowadays, they'll yank a guy after six because he's thrown 101 pitches, and replace him with a pitcher who is not as effective, even with the starter tired. (There was one season where Pedro, even after 100 pitches, was still a better pitcher up to pitch 130 than anyone in the bullpen.)

In short: I cast aside the notion that performance-enhancing drugs explain the increase in offense. It's all about expansion, theories on pitching to contact (hence the disappearance of the 300-K season), and changes in pitcher usage. I'm not saying Bonds isn't juiced; I'm saying that everyone who thinks steroids make any difference at all in the greater scheme of things is simply blinding themselves to reality.
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Breaking Silence. [02 Aug 2007|04:11pm]

jonfmorse
We've been quiet far too long here at sports_journal, but that's about to change -- hopefully on a permanent basis.

I was pondering the current state of the Royals, specifically their decision to hang on to Mark Grudzielanek at the deadline (or, rather, complete lack of any desire to trade him), when a comparison crossed my mind: if, indeed, the Royals are on the right track, Grudz is Cookie Rojas. Picked up off the scrap heap to provide veteran stability to a young team, he really has become the team's best player in the present. Certainly, several of the kids on the roster will have careers which far surpass Grudzie's, but this team would be in much worse shape without him right now.

That got me thinking about other comparisons between the '07 Royals hitters and the early/mid-70s versions. Alex Gordon, obviously, is George Brett. Brett struggled mightily his first couple of seasons before turning into a perennial All-Star; Alex clearly has the tools and talent to do the same. Billy Butler probably compares most to John Mayberry, although Mayberry was already a seasoned vet when he arrived in Kansas City. Hopefully, Butler won't start fighting with Whitey Herzog and snorting coke...

Tony Pena Jr. seems like a pretty decent version of Freddie Patek at this stage, albeit several inches taller. He's got the glove, he knows how to run all the way to third base, and he's only passable with the bat. David DeJesus could be Amos Otis, if he'd just live up to his promise. Emil Brown? I dunno. I'd like to say Jim Wohlford, because he's a fungible spare part... but at the same time, he's been the team's RBI leader two years in a row, whereas Wohlford really WAS just a spare part. Unfortunately, I can't give Brown the Vada Pinson role, because that belongs to Reggie Sanders. John Buck is better than any pre-1976 Royals catcher; he's not as good as Darrell Porter yet, though. Mark Teahen also sort of pre-dates his comparison, as he looks like the counterpart to Al Cowens.

You'll note some missing comparisons here. The Royals don't yet seem to have a 21st Century version of Hal McRae (Butler could be, but he's simply too damned slow), and I don't see a Frank White lurking in the system, nor a Willie Wilson on the horizon.

As for the pitchers, it's not so easy to make the comparisons. The mid-70s Royals had one absolutely phemonenal arm in Dennis Leonard. Gil Meche has been surprisingly good, but he's no Leonard. Hell, the Royals haven't had a Dennis Leonard since... Dennis Leonard. (Except maybe Danny Jackson.) Al Fitzmorris, maybe? Grienke, if he can ever get back into the rotation, makes for a decent Paul Splittorff, but a more accurate comparison for Zack is that as a starter he's Steve Busby; as a reliever, he's... I dunno, Steve Mingori? Joakim Soria gets to be Mark Littell, although if he gives up a game-winning walk-off homer to Chris Chambliss in game 7 of a playoff series with the Yankees, I'll shoot myself. Brian Bannister's counterpart is Paul Splittorff. I have no idea what to do with Jorge de la Rosa.

Of course, maybe Meche WILL become Leonard, which moves Bannister into the Fitzmorris slot, and means someone has to step up and become league-average to be Splitt.

So if the Royals can just find a Hal McRae, a Frank White, a Willie Wilson, and pick up a Larry Gura next year, they've got a shot.
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Dear Jon: [03 Jun 2006|04:37pm]

frdelrosario
You asked me what I thought about Bryan Colangelo getting his paws on the #1 pick in the NBA draft.

So you have to tell me about Dayton Moore.
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Washington Mystics [15 May 2006|10:16pm]

frdelrosario
The 2005 Washington Mystics shot 510 three-pointers, an average of 15 attempts per game. In two 2006 preseason games, the Mystics have attempted 29 treys, 15 and 14, but it should not be more of the same, because Washington's off-season acquisitions were point guard Nikki Teasley, a .395 percent three-point shooter for the Sparks, and forward Crystal Robinson, the Liberty's all-time leader in three-point percentage (.383).

Add Teasley and Robinson to Laurie Koehn (.467, only four of her tries all year were for two points) and Coco Miller (.375), and coach Richie Adubato should get some ideas. However, Adubato was one of those coaches one wonders about -- 12-58, 28-54, 22-60, 2-27, yup, 2-27 -- and I don't expect such coaches to show much imagination. Fifteen three-point attempts per game in 2005, 14.5 three-point attempts per game in 2006, and so it goes.

Backcourt

The field goal percentage across the league is about 43 percent, so a three-point shooter only needs to hit about 30 percent for an equivalent result. Last year, All-Star Alana Beard shot .380 -- below average -- and .338 -- more than acceptable. She led the Mystics in scoring (14.1 ppg), and also chipped in 4 rebounds and 3 assists.

Washington's rookie of the year Temeka Johnson went to Los Angeles in exchange for Nikki Teasley. They play the same position, and about as well, but the rookie is years younger. Could it be that Washington is prepared to let Teasley loose from the three-point line? She was better than 40 percent in her first three seasons.

The Mystics have two more shooters; Miller was the league's most improved player in 2002, while Koehn was the NCAA's all-time leader in three-point shooting.

Frontcourt

Robinson can shoot treys from the small forward spot, and she's also on the Liberty's career leaders list for assists and steals (career ratio of 2.48 assists and steals to turnovers). DeLisha Milton-Jones was the Mystics' second-leading scorer from the power forward position; she'll be joined by Latasha Byears, one of the leading rebounders in league history and among the top 10 in career field goal percentage.

Centers Chastity Melvin and Nakia Sanford both shoot a good percentage underneath.

Outlook: The Mystics were fifth in field goal percentage in 2005, and that could improve (though, again, they ought to attempt several more threes). They were next-to-last in rebounding, but adding Byears ought to help there. Washington was second in the league in turnovers, and Robinson is another good caretaker for the ball. While most observers believe that New York will fall from 18 wins for losing four of their starters, it looks like Washington could be the team that picks up that slack in the east.
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Seattle Storm [15 May 2006|08:25pm]

frdelrosario
Two ESPN.com experts out of three selected the Minnesota Lynx as their WNBA team on the rise, which is a fair bet, especially if #1 draft pick Seimone Augustus goes on to win the rookie of the year award. To be really certain, though, the Lynx has to maneuver into the #1 spot next year, too, and then we could mark them down for the 2009 championship.

The expansion Seattle Storm in 2000 won six games, then improved to 10 games in 2001 after adding #1 pick Lauren Jackson, who finished second in the rookie of the year voting. In 2002, the Storm selected Sue Bird at #1, and made the playoffs for the first time, while Bird won rookie of the year and All-WNBA First Team honors. In 2003, Jackson was named MVP, and in 2004, the Storm won all the marbles.

Similarly, the 1992 Orlando Magic was 21-61, but their reward for that was #1 Shaquille O'Neal, with whom the Magic won 20 more games. They parlayed the #1 pick in 1993 into Anfernee Hardaway at #3 plus some other goodies, and climbed from 41 to 50 wins. The next year, they reached the finals.

Backcourt

If you treated Seattle swingwoman Betty Lennox's numbers as if they all came from the backcourt, then a comparison of Lennox and Bird is at least equal to Detroit's All-Star guard tandem of Deanna Nolan and Katie Smith. In 2005, Nolan and Smith combined for 28 points and 7 rebounds; Bird and Lennox for 24.5 points and 6.8 rebounds. The Storm players look better in steals plus assists against turnovers -- 2.33 (Bird) and 2.46 (Lennox) for Seattle, opposite 1.76 (Nolan) and 1.52 (Smith) for Detroit.

However, much of Lennox's production came from the frontcourt. Iziane Castro Marques started 32 games alongside Bird, and she contributed 8 points and not much else. #11 draft pick Barbara Turner has split Marques' minutes in the preseason, and produced about equally.

Frontcourt

Jackson can do everything. Seattle can bank on her scoring 18 points and pulling 8 rebounds, but she'll also chip in two blocks (career high of 8) and one steal (a career high of 5), and even shoot 34 percent of her treys and 80 percent of her free throws.

The Storm must be delighted with the way Wendy Palmer has established herself as the team's third forward, by leading the team in scoring twice and rebounds twice in the preseason. Seattle is Palmer's sixth stop -- she was an All-Star for Detroit in 2000 -- but she had her best two-point and three-point shooting percentages last year in San Antonio.

I wrote before that coach Anne Donovan is taking the idea of molding the team in the coach's image too far -- the 6-8 Hall of Fame center has six centers on her preseason roster. Starter Janell Burse puts up 10 and 6; the three leading candidates for the backup role are Suzy Batkovic (7 and 3 in 16 mins.), Tiffani Johnson (4 and 4 in 20 mins. for Houston), and Simone Edwards (7 and 4 in 21 mins. in '02).

Outlook: It seems to be all about Bird and Jackson. The Storm lost three roleplayers from their championship team, and won 20 games the next year, anyway, finishing third in field goal percentage, third in rebounding, and fifth in field goal percentage allowed. They'll meet Sacramento in the west finals, unless dark horse Houston catches lightning at playoff time.
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San Antonio Silver Stars [14 May 2006|10:25pm]

frdelrosario
The 2005 San Antonio Silver Stars were last in the west in wins, and last in the league in points differential, but they didn't shoot their field goals much worse than their opponents -- .417 to .436 -- and even shot their free throws better. The Stars lost their games because too many of their possessions were shorter than their opponents' -- the enemy grabbed three more offensive rebounds per game, made 2.5 more steals, and committed three fewer turnovers. During this preseason, the Silver Stars have improved the turnover differential (-1.7), but have given up more steals (-3.4), and conceded more offensive rebounds (-5.7).

A point is worth a point, but every other basketball statistic is game for argument. Should steals and turnovers be of equal positive and negative value, since they both end a possession for one team while starting a possession for the other? How much worthier is an offensive rebound than a defensive rebound? A defensive board stops/starts a possession, but an offensive board extends a possession, and often right under the basket.

Basketball analysts disagree more widely about the value of an offensive rebound than any other statistic. In Basketball on Paper, Dean Oliver surveyed 11 different basketball statistical evaluation systems, and found that the systems valued an offensive rebound as little as .63 of a point but as much as 3.82 points. However, a 1998-2002 survey of NBA games showed that the team which made more offensive rebounds won fewer games. That relates directly to shooting accuracy -- if both teams are rebounding equally well, then the team which is getting more offensive rebounds is shooting worse. It stands to reason that the team which gets more defensive rebounds won 75 percent of the games, while the better-shooting team won 79 percent.

Oliver modified the analysis by comparing teams who were shooting about the same. In those cases, the teams making fewer turnovers won 69 percent, and team making more steals won 65 percent.

If the Silver Stars want to climb out of the western cellar, they'll have to shoot a little better, and take much better care of the ball.

Backcourt

Leading scorer and stealer Marie Ferdinand is on maternity leave, but rookie Shanna Zolman scored 14 points per game in the preseason while shooting .467 from three-point land. Zolman holds Tennessee records in three-point shooting, and the NCAA records for free throw percentage in a season (.957) and career (.916).

Point guard Shannon Johnson led the Stars in assists, and tied Ferdinand for the steals lead, and threw in 9 points for measure. Her 1.8 steals-plus-assists-to-turnovers rate was best on the team. Jae Kingi-Cross will take on the backup role --her career rate for steals/assists-to-turnovers is 1.98, and for what it's worth, in 56 preseason minutes, she's made 13 assists and 2 steals against 3 turnovers.

Frontcourt

The newcomers are very promising. Free agent forward Vickie Johnson, a two-time All-Star, brings a double-digit scoring average to San Antonio, as well as a 2.61 steals-plus-assists-to-turnover ratio in 2005, which would lead the Stars. #4 draft pick Sophia Young had a huge college career in Baylor -- the Big 12 player of the year was one of four players to record 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds, 300 assists, and 300 steals (in the company of Cheryl Miller, Chamique Holdsclaw, and Tamika Catchings). Young has led the Stars in rebounds in the preseason. Young will probably begin the season backing up LaToya Thomas, an occasionally explosive scorer who replaces Wendy Palmer (gone to Seattle).

6-foot-8 Katie Feenstra earned the starting center job by notching 9 points and 5 rebounds in 20 minutes per night; Chantelle Anderson got the other 20 minutes, and contributed just 6 and 3. However, keeping in mind that centers are not supposed to make steals and assists, Feenstra had 15 assists/steals against 62 turnovers (third on the team). Her preseason numbers are about the same -- 2 goods, 7 bads.

Outlook: The Stars finished seven games in back of sixth-place Minnesota. The Stars will be better -- Marie Ferdinand will have to come back from baby duties sooner rather than later -- and the Lynx maybe a little worse, but to close a seven-game gap seems too much to expect.
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Sacramento Monarchs [14 May 2006|08:08pm]

frdelrosario
The NHL playoffs are going on, and the hometown San Jose Sharks are tied 2-2 with the Edmonton Oilers in their conference semifinal series. Both sides have crazy fan bases -- the decibel level in each arena has reached 110 (jets taking off hit 115) -- and the home team has won each game. I have always believed that the crowd has a lot to do with a team's ability to sustain an initiative, but a friend said that was hogwash. These millionaires don't care who's in the seats, he said, they do care about the comfort of sleeping in their own beds rather than in a hotel, however.

A local sportswriter said about this Sharks-Oilers series that the crowds in the San Jose and Edmonton arenas have "the effect of adding an extra gear to the players' transmissions". That is the best metaphor I've read, and it applies well to the Sacramento Monarchs' and Kings' fans, who are commemorated in the Arco Arena rafters with Mitch Richmond.

I have visited the Oakland Arena several times over the years as a Phoenix Suns fan, and have imagined in some cases that I made more noise than the 10,000 Warriors "supporters". Visiting Arco Arena in Sacramento while wearing Phoenix purple or New York Liberty blue has been an entirely different experience. The Arco home crowds are nuts. They whip themselves into a frenzy during the pregame introductions, and they find no reason to let up -- they cheer when the Kings and Monarchs successfully inbound the ball after enemy baskets, get louder as the ball crosses the halfline, and imagine how it goes when the Monarchs score themselves.

The 2005 WNBA champions led the league with fewest points allowed, points differential, and whatever intangible that comes with insanely appreciative fans.

Backcourt

Ticha Penicheiro is the WNBA all-time leader in assists -- the whole team seems to pass well -- and led the 2005 Monarchs in steals. Kara Lawson probably inherited the starting offguard role after Chelsea Newton went to Chicago in the expansion draft; she'll space the floor for the slick Penicheiro by shooting 40 percent from the three-point arc. Hamchetou Maiga-Ba has earned a larger backup role by leading the team in scoring this preseason, while Kristin Haynie seems to be the heir to Penicheiro's job at point.

None of the Monarchs rookie guards -- Scholanda Dorrell, Chameka Scott, and Anne O'Neil -- looks like a sure bet to survive the final cut (they started Dorrell Saturday, however). Dorrell was a good three-point shooter for LSU; Scott was an outstanding rebounder for Baylor; it's O'Neil's second tryout with Sacramento -- an ankle injury ended the first for the ESPN three-point shooting contest winner.

Frontcourt

In terms of talent, Sacramento's frontcourt is second to Detroit's three All-Stars.

Leading scorer DeMya Walker shot 53 percent; she's on maternity leave, but Rebekkah Brunson, who shared the starting power forward role, has increased her scoring and rebounding in the preseason. Four-time All-Star and 1999 MVP Yolanda Griffith is one of the leading rebounders in league history -- she led the Monarchs in rebounding in 2005 and was second in scoring, and saved her best games for the championship series, where she was named MVP. Nicole Powell, who was the all-time leading rebounder at Stanford, finds far fewer rebounds coming her way in Sacramento, but she adds 10 points and a couple of assists.

Center/forward Erin Buescher shot an unearthly 70 percent in short backup minutes last season, though her preseason numbers have been more believable. Rookie Kim Smith seems to be playing the same type of small forward role as Powell -- she's shooting some, rebounding some, passing more. The agile Brittany Wilkins has an edge over Cisti Greenwalt for the third center spot behind Griffith and Buescher.

NWBL connection: Greenwalt led the San Jose Spiders in scoring and rebounding, and blocked as many shots as the rest of the Spiders combined. She's also the career leader in blocks at Texas Tech. It seems weird that a defender who blocks so many shots has been told that she'll have to get meaner to make it at the WNBA level.

Outlook: If it isn't broken, don't fix it. The Monarchs and the Seattle Storm are the best teams in the west, and neither made any big moves in the offseason. Strictly for the purposes of good narrative, a repeat of last season's Connecticut-Sacramento final isn't a bad bet.
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Phoenix Mercury [14 May 2006|05:55pm]

frdelrosario
While Charlotte's and Washington's WNBA and NBA teams are similar in win-loss records -- Charlotte in last place, Washington hovering around .500 -- Phoenix's franchises play in the same style.

The 2005 Phoenix Suns were one of the most efficient offensive teams in NBA history, following the breakneck lead of MVP Steve Nash, and the 2006 Suns led the league in pace again. The 2006 Mercury are coached by Paul Westhead, whose speedy system launched Loyola Marymount into the NCAA final eight in 1990 and an NBA championship with the Los Angeles Lakers in 1980.

The difference between the Suns and the Mercury is that Suns coach Mike D'Antoni saw that he had a bunch of greyhounds in Nash, Shawn Marion, and Amare Stoudemire, and built a system around them. Westhead, on the other hand, insists on cramming whichever pegs he has into his run-and-gun holes, which means that if his pegs are Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, he could win a title, but the Denver Nuggets pegs in '91 and '92 were Reggie Williams and Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, and their record was 44-120.

Backcourt

The Mercury gave up 96 points to the Connecticut Sun in a preseason loss on Saturday night, but Westhead can't begin to make his case until Phoenix star Diana Taurasi, trade acquisition Kelly Miller, and Australian national Penny Taylor suit up. Taurasi was the Mercury leader, or near the lead, in every offensive category, and has said she's looking forward to the running game. Miller is likely to compile the best shooting percentages by any Mercury guard from three-point, two-point, and free-throw range.

#2 draft pick Cappie Poindexter might've earned a starting role right away with a different team; free agent Tamicha Jackson seems to have hot and cold shooting streaks that last all season.

Frontcourt

This is where the square pegs-in-round holes problem will kill the Mercury. No matter which guards are releasing on the fast break -- Diana Taurasi, Diana Prince, whomever -- the forwards have to grab the rebound and make an outlet pass. In Phoenix's loss to Connecticut, Mercury centers Sandora Irvin and Mandisa Stevenson collected one defensive rebound in 41 minutes (last season's starter Kamila Vodichkova is still playing in Europe). The Sun pulled 12 offensive rebounds against the Mercury's 15 defensive rebounds; Sun point guard Erin Phillips, all 5-foot-7 of her, gathered four offensive rebounds. Worse, Irvin and Stevenson both have career shooting percentages of 32 percent.

Taylor was the team's second-leading scorer in 2005, but the rest of the frontcourt is cloudy. The Mercury is trying to convert big guard Bridget Pettis to a forward position, while rookie Ann Strother -- Taurasi's teammate on an undefeated UConn champion -- already has the swingwoman label. Another rookie, Jennifer Lacy, made an impression against Connecticut by shooting 4-of-6 and leading the team in rebounds as the fifth player off the bench.

Outlook: The Sun-Mercury boxscore is just one preseason boxscore, and the Mercury was missing three of its best players, but it does seem rather telling. The Sun committed 35 turnovers, which a running team should feast upon, but the Mercury shot just 37 percent. Taylor is not a rebounding forward, so the Mercury's trouble gathering enough defensive boards to trigger the fast break might linger all season. A poll at wnba.com said that Phoenix would be the most improved team, but I'm thinking that Phoenix is going to lose more 96-85 games than they win.
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New York Liberty [13 May 2006|11:05pm]

frdelrosario
The New York Knicks' 2005-06 payroll was $124,000,000, and the team won 23 games, for an average cost per victory of $5.4 million. Just for kicks, imagine that the 2005 New York Liberty paid each of its 15 players last season's maximum of $89,000 -- even Jennifer Smith, whose only contribution in two games was one missed field goal -- making its payroll $1,335,000. The Liberty won 18 games, or $74,166 per win in this extreme and imaginary case.

If every player in the WNBA made the maximum -- $91,000, and I read that Lauren Jackson is the only one to fetch that much -- the league payroll would be $15.3 million, while dung-for-brains Knickerbocker Stephon Marbury is due to receive $18.3 million next year.

There are just three women in head coaching positions in the WNBA, but at least New York gets that one right, having enabled assistant Pat Coyle to take over when Richie Adubato left for Washington.

Backcourt

The Liberty enters the 2006 season after losing four of its starters, two to free agency and two more, it appears, to retirement. The reason I was digging into WNBA payroll information was to find their rules regarding salary cap and luxury taxes. If James Dolan, who owns the Liberty and Knicks, is willing to shell out so much in luxury tax for the last-place Knicks, why wouldn't he try to keep the Liberty free agents? Two-time All-Star swingwoman Vickie Johnson is in San Antonio, and Crystal Robinson, the Liberty's all-time leader in three-point percentage, is in Washington.

The Liberty's only returning starter is guard Becky Hammon, the team leader in scoring, assists, steals, and minutes. The 5-foot-6 Hammon was third on the Liberty in defensive rebounds. Shameka Christon, a spot starter in 2005, will probably get the regular starting role at two guard; she was second on the team in steals last year.

#12 draft pick Sherrill Baker might grow into a great defensive guard (Kiesha Brown is another defensive specialist), and in the Liberty's final preseason game, she scored 12 points in 13 minutes. Fourth-year shooter Erin Thorn seems to be designated as the team's three-point specialist for the ends of quarters.

Frontcourt

Small forward Ashley Battle played just eight minutes in her rookie year with Seattle, but she's won the starting job in New York, scoring and rebounding like the team leaders, with a defensive reputation as the 2003 conference defender of the year at Connecticut. Cathrine Kraayeveld will emerge as one of the league's top rebounders, and she shoots free throws incredibly well for a power player, but I think she's 0 for her last 11 field goal tries.

Barbara Farris was a backup forward in Detroit for six years, but she is pressed into New York's starting center job. Maybe she can rebound some; in 2001, when she averaged 18 minutes, she pulled 3.5 boards. 6-foot-5 Kelly Schumacher blocked a bushel of shots in limited minutes for Indiana; she's ahead of rookie Christelle N'Garsanet for the backup job.

NWBL connections: While Colorado's inside star Ruth Riley was out with a broken thumb, Becky Hammon put the Chill on her 5-foot-6 back, leading the league in scoring average by a 6.7-point margin and assists average by a margin of 2.7. She was third in the league in steals, fifth in free throw percentage, and I would wager she led the NWBL in efficiency during the last two minutes. She was named most valuable player in the league.

Kraayeveld was first in the league in rebounding, second in scoring and free throw percentage, and earned the NWBL's rookie of the year award.

Kraayeveld intrigues me. When her college coach at Oregon resigned in the midst of a mutiny by the players, Kraayeveld wouldn't comment to the press. She cares enough about details like her name being misspelled on a trophy. And like I wrote before, she hustles for long rebounds as much as she positions herself for short ones.

Outlook: If the Liberty were my team, I'd try some three-guard lineups: Hammon at 5-6, Baker at 5-8, and Brown at 5-10, institute some system of traps, and hope Shumacher changed enough shots if the presses broke. A conventional approach with Farris/Schumacher, Kraayeveld, Battle, Christon and Hammon would reach to make .500.

Of course, I am hoping for more, since my favorite player leads this team.
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Minnesota Lynx [13 May 2006|08:14pm]

frdelrosario
If you compare the WNBA standings to the NBA standings, you see that some cities have similarly-performing teams. Charlotte has two last-place teams. The Washington Wizards were two games over .500, the Washington Mystics were two games under. Go back to 2001, and Los Angeles won the NBA and WNBA titles while both teams had the best center in the game.

Minnesota's 2006 Timberwolves and 2005 Lynx had nearly identical 41 percent winning percentages. The Lynx are in a rebuilding mode after dealing the league's most feared shooter away from their 2004 playoff team. The Wolves face the same kind of near future when they deal Kevin Garnett, or lose him.

Backcourt

The story goes that when the Lynx braintrust went to scout Seimone Augustus, the two-time college player of the year, the only note Lynx coach Suzie McConnell-Serio made on her report was "no. 1 pick". In her first preseason game, Augustus dropped 30 points.

The Lynx has four rookie guards in camp -- they might wind up with a two-rookie backcourt with #7 pick Shona Thorburn at point, unless they are determined at any cost to give the job to Chandi Jones, because Jones is the only piece remaining from the Smith trade.

Australian national Kristi Harrower is the Lynx's six-year veteran guard. She seemed to have the best year of her career in 2005 while starting every game, but her shooting percentages were at their worst . She and Tynesha Lewis look to be the backups, even though the only good thing about Lewis is that she can play four positions.

Frontcourt

Center-forward Nicole Ohlde was second to Smith in scoring in 2005, and led the Lynx in rebounding. Center Vanessa Hayden blocks lots of shots. Svetlana Abrosimova has been a steady and unspectacular (10 pts., 4.7 rebs., 2.2 ast.) small forward in her five years with the Lynx.

Power forward Tamika Williams has a pedigree that includes two NCAA championships with Connecticut, and her WNBA résumé includes a record .688 shooting percentage in 2003. Unfortunately, her knee injury on the first day of camp means that Minnesota will have to wait to team her with Augustus.

NWBL connection: Frontliner Adrian Williams has averaged 6 points and 4 rebounds in five WNBA seasons, but she was in street clothes on the Colorado Chill bench. I thought she was an assistant coach.

Outlook:

Eleven players on their roster have two years of experience or fewer. Perhaps McConnell-Serio, the 2003 coach of the year, can build a group led by Augustus and Thorburn into a contender in a couple of years. This year, they'll have trouble early while the rookies are learning and while Williams is out. Another year of 14 wins, maybe fewer, is ahead.
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Los Angeles Sparks [13 May 2006|06:06pm]

frdelrosario
When the Utah Jazz thought to reach an NBA championship by starting with its inside/outside combination of John Stockton and Karl Malone, and filling in the roles around them, first they had to define the roles. The Jazz thought, hm, we need some huge body to fill up space and get some rebounds -- there they tried two-time defensive player of the year Mark Eaton, and worthless Felton Spencer -- and we also need some shooter to space the floor and provide a genuine third threat -- there it was Darrell Griffith and Jeff Malone. When the Jazz finally found the perfect guy for the shooter spot -- Jeff Hornacek -- they reached the finals two times even though it was Greg Ostertag in the big role.

The Los Angeles Sparks has the same type of puzzle. The Sparks have the best center ever, Lisa Leslie, and one of the best forwards, Chamique Holdsclaw, both of whom combine great power and agility. However, the rest of the Sparks preseason roster is made up of 19 people I've never heard of. So what kind of players would Los Angeles like to put behind Leslie and Holdsclaw? My first priority would be "players who don't turn the ball over".

Backcourt

Los Angeles' swap of point guard Nikki Teasley for 2005 rookie of the year Temeka Johnson looks like a theft to make one scratch one's head. They play the same position, while Johnson plays it better and is five years younger.

Turnovers-to-steals or turnovers-to-assists or turnovers-to-both is, some would say, a useless statistic because the numbers themselves are unrelated, and it favors players who don't handle the ball long enough to turn it over (for instance, a shooting guard named Dan Langhi -- he's a radio color man now -- once led the NBA in turnovers-to-whatever ratio because as soon as he caught the ball he shot it). In this case, though, I'm going to use it partly to assess the Sparks roster.

The Sparks have eight guards on their roster, with a combined 10 years of WNBA experience. Most experienced is Tamara Moore, with four years under her belt, but her .78 steals-plus-assists-to-turnover rate is worst among the non-rookies. Third-year players Edniesha Curry and Doneeka Hodges both made 1.9 ratios, roughly, and sophomore Brandi McCain notched 1.53 -- for comparison, Johnson's ratio is 2.5.

Perhaps those four guards are of the shooting variety? None shot 40 percent, while the Sparks took a shooter, Lisa Willis, with the fifth pick in the draft.

Frontcourt

Lisa Leslie has made a lot of firsts. First to 3,000 points; first to win MVP awards in regular season, finals, and All-Star game in the same year; first to dunk in an WNBA game... plus the mundane all-time leading scorer and rebounder, two-time most valuable player, four times selected to the all-league team. She's so bloody great that a mention of her high school game where she scored 101 points in the first half seems more fitting than extraordinary.

I thought Chamique Holdsclaw would reach such heights, but Holdsclaw has "merely" made the all-league team twice and the All-Star game three times. Holdsclaw's steals-plus-assists-to-turnover rate is a two-tenths better than Leslie's, and I mention that jokingly -- it's not a statistic aimed at frontcourt players, at the very least.

Muriel Page, who spent eight years in Washington, looks like the frontrunner for the "other forward" spot. Weirdly, her rebounding average has decreased every year, but her turnovers have declined, too. She's made fewer than one turnover per game in the past two seasons, and that, I think, is what Los Angeles needs -- players who'll take care of the ball while it finds its way to Leslie or Holdsclaw.

Swingwoman Mwadi Mabika lost 16 games to injury in 2005; she's contributed 11 points, 4 rebounds, and a couple of assists every night; her best year was the Sparks' second championship year in 2002.

Outlook: It's probably all a question of chemistry on this team. Two great frontcourt players -- the highest-scoring duo in the league -- plus the rookie of the year handling the ball could be a wildly successful arrangement. Is it wrong to wonder if a woman might have some reservation about playing for a coach whose son is a rapist? Could there possibly be some nagging thought like, "you couldn't teach your boy any better than that, but you want me to dive on the floor in practice?". If the key players stay healthy, and the players and coach mesh well, Los Angeles is right there with Seattle and Sacramento at the end.
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Indiana Fever [12 May 2006|09:26pm]

frdelrosario
Indiana Fever coach Brian Winters is somehow cursed. In three seasons with Vancouver and Golden State in the NBA, he compiled a record of 36-148. He resurfaced in Indiana -- full credit for forgoing a name change or plastic surgery -- where his predecessors were Anne Donovan and Nell Fortner, present and future Hall of Famers. Winter's Fever were 15-19 in 2004, but they rebounded to 21-13 in 2005, and won their first playoff series in franchise history.

That must've been too much good fortune for Winters, because the number of returning players from last year's conference finalist team is... three. Is another season of sub-.200 ball in store for Brian Winters?

Backcourt

Most of the backcourt minutes will go to All-Defensive Teamer Tully Bevilaqua and shooter Anna DeForge, the MVP of the Polish national league, but neither is a playmaker -- super forward Tamika Catchings has led the team in points, rebounds, assists, and steals every year.

A poll of WNBA managers pegs Fever sophomore Tan White as a breakout candidate -- she was among rookie leaders in scoring, assists, steals, and three-point percentage. #9 draft pick LaTangela Atkinson had five fouls and four turnovers in 22 minutes in Indiana's first preseason game -- then she did a rookie disappearing act; in game two, she had zero fouls and zero turnovers (better!), but zero rebounds, zero steals, and one assist.

Frontcourt

One of the worst assessments I've made must've been when I figured that Chamique Holdsclaw would be among the greatest, while her Tennessee teammate Tamika Catchings would probably be OK. Holdsclaw has been very good, but Catchings is one of the best all-around players in the game. The Fever must be disappointed that their roster fell to shreds after 2005, but two of them are All-Defense, and Catchings was defensive player of the year.

Tamika Whitmore and Charlotte Smith-Taylor can complement the scoring from the forward position; Whitmore can also move to center, where Ebony Hoffman doesn't score but can rebound.

Outlook: As long as Bevilaqua and Catchings are around, the Fever will still frustrate their opponents defensively. In two preseason games, Indiana has held its opponents -- except for Lisa Leslie -- to 41 percent shooting. 17 wins is in easy reach; if DeForge shoots as well as Kelly Miller did, and if Hoffman picks up the rebounding where Natalie Williams left off, the Fever could win 20 games again.
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Houston Comets [12 May 2006|07:07pm]

frdelrosario
I've helped direct a few girls-only chess tournaments, and those have been some of the least stressful weekends I can remember. When there is a dispute between two kid chessplayers, they're supposed to summon a director, but they rarely remember to do this. Boys will argue and throw punches and chairs; girls just come to some agreement.

My friend Doug, who used to administer the ABL San Jose Lasers mailing list (he's the father of a boy and a girl), told me, "boys are interested in favorable resolution; girls are interested in a fair one."

Boys and girls seem to handle the end of the game differently, too. Boys need 10 summonses for dinner before coming inside, and they never change. When a professional athlete reaches the end of the line, how easy it for him to admit it to himself? Brett Favre, surely you've seen those films of Willie Mays.

On the other hand, take Houston Comet Dawn Staley, one of the greatest players ever. She knows it's time to stop playing, but will there be second thoughts about retirement during press conferences, and three different farewell tours? Probably not. Will she be as great in her other job, head basketball coach at Temple University, where she's already won the conference coach of the year award twice, and one of her players was a top 10 draft pick?

Backcourt

Houston seems to be the city where great players gather for one last push, even though Charles Barkley, Clyde Drexler, and Scottie Pippen looked truly weird in Rockets uniforms. Dawn Staley spent her first seven seasons in Charlotte, while Tamecka Dixon played her nine in Los Angeles. They bring to Houston 490 games played, 1970 assists, and 580 steals. Another seven-year veteran, Dominique Canty, fills out a three-guard rotation (she seems to do a very little bit of everything), but it's impossible to tell which of their two kids -- rookie Anastasia Kostaki and sophomore Roneeka Hodges -- will be around next year, or even at the end of training camp.

Frontcourt

Detroit starts five All-Stars, but it's going to be a few years until these Shock reach the level of Houston's old nucleus of forwards Sheryl Swoopes and Tina Thompson plus guard Cynthia Cooper, which led the Comets to championships in the WNBA's first four seasons.

Swoopes might be the best defender in league history, while her scoring and assist averages in her ninth season were equal to or better than her career averages. Thompson might be slowing down -- an injury limited her to 15 games in 2005, with scoring and rebound averages down from 2004 by about half. Rookies Liz Shimek, a prolific scorer, and Tiffany Stansbury, a big rebounder, seem to have ensured their apprentice roles on the roster. Shoud Houston keep a forward with experience between "legend" and "rookie", second-year swingwoman Roneeka Hodges is ahead of fifth-year power player Kayte Christensen.

Rebounder and shotblocker Michelle Snow and Tari Phillips share the center job. Both have won the most improved player award; the Comets will need Snow to continue improving.

NWBL connection: Swoopes won a couple of NWBL titles with the Houston Stealth, but it was the one time I saw her with the Dallas Fury that floored me. The Fury's plan against the San Jose Spiders was to release the backcourt players on a Spider field goal attempt so early that the rebounder had to throw a very long pass to start the break; it had to be a baseball pass almost every time. The trouble is that the baseball pass requires a wide open receiver plus a passer with room to cock and release -- for the first 10 minutes or so, the Spiders kept the score close by interfering with the Fury break, but then Swoopes started class. She grabbed two rebounds, dribbled clear of the pack to give herself some room, and then fired perfect passes downcourt to lead to fast break baskets. After she showed the outlet passers how to do it, she moved outside and got out on the break herself, flying past kids 10 years her junior. The Fury won by 20.

Outlook: The Comets have been in the playoffs eight years out of nine. They'll make it again, but to get as far as, say, the conference finals against Seattle, there are several "ifs". If Swoopes' ankles hold up, if Dixon provides enough of a shooting threat to spread the floor for the All-Decade trio, if Snow keeps improving at center, if the emotional lift provided by Staley's farewell tour is a great one...
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