Repeating as champions is hard. Look no further than the Lynx for proof. They have tried three times since 2011, but have come up short — twice in the finals, once in a Game 5 heartbreaker to Los Angeles last summer. Can the Sparks become the first team to win back-to-back crowns since the same franchise did it in 2001-02? The dynamic frontcourt of MVP Nneka Ogwumike (who hit the Game 5 winner) and Candace Parker is still there. But guard Kristi Toliver is in Washington now, and the Sparks will have to adjust to a changed lineup that includes Riquna Williams, who missed last season, and the newly added Odyssey Sims.
The biggest preseason buzz had to be in Washington, D.C. The Mystics acquired star guard/forward Elena Delle Donne from Chicago in a trade. They signed Toliver as a free agent. They already had Emma Meesseman and Tayler Hill, who led Washington in scoring last season. But getting a radically new lineup to mesh will be a challenge for coach Mike Thibault. Plus, Delle Donne missed some of the preseason because of a minor injury, while Meesseman and Toliver were late arrivals to camp. They may struggle early, but watch out late.
Breanna Stewart (18.3 points, 9.3 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game in 2016), last season’s Rookie of the Year, is now an MVP candidate. Jewell Loyd (10.7 ppg, 3.5 rpg and 1.9 apg in 2016), the Rookie of the Year in 2015, is set for a big jump. Veteran guard Sue Bird (career: 12.4 ppg, 2.7 rpg and 5.4 apg) appears ageless, in perhaps the best shape of her career. Seattle has been stockpiling high draft picks. Perhaps now is the time for the Storm to coalesce into a playoff threat.
In a league that grows more competitive each season, there is no shortage of preseason candidates: 1. Ogwumike, who is in position to become the second back-to-back MVP in league history. Dominant and efficient last season, she is the player to beat. 2. Maya Moore. Refreshed from taking the winter off and driven by what the Sparks did to the Lynx last year, she will be a force to be reckoned with. 3. Delle Donne. On paper, this could be the most talented team she’s played with. 4. Tina Charles. The New York Liberty’s inside force is coming off a season in which she led the league in scoring and rebounding. 5. Stewart. She was an MVP candidate as a rookie.
The Mercury has been a Western Conference power — and a team Lynx fans love to hate — for years. But is the Mercury falling? Stars Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner are still formidable. But Penny Taylor retired, DeWanna Bonner is missing the season because of a pregnancy, and Candice Dupree was traded to Indiana. Phoenix got off to a bad start last year, squeaked into the playoffs and advanced to the league semifinals (losing 3-0 to the Lynx). It’d better start faster this year.