Lynx go for production over popularity in draft

  • Article by: Pam Schmid
  • Star Tribune
  • January 9, 2007 - 9:28 AM

In April 2004, the Lynx resisted the temptation to trade away the store, the parking lot and the indoor swimming pool for the services of Lindsay Whalen. The iconic ex-Gopher was selected fourth overall by Connecticut, two spots ahead of the Lynx.

One year later, the Lynx had the 11th pick in the WNBA draft and no realistic chance at nabbing another former Gophers star, Janel McCarville. After she was selected with Charlotte’s top pick, the 6-2 center spent most of the past two seasons on the bench, nursing a recurring back injury. Last week, the Charlotte Sting folded, and finally, a popular ex-Gopher was there for the plucking, served up on a gold-plated platter for a Lynx team sorely in need of buzz.

The Lynx passed her up. Instead of choosing McCarville on Monday with their No. 2 pick in the dispersal draft, the Lynx selected Tangela Smith, a ninth-year All-Star forward who led Charlotte in scoring last season. McCarville was taken third by New York.

Viewed as a pure basketball decision, the Lynx did the proper, logical thing.

They added a proven player, a career double-digit scorer, a veteran who brings savvy and seasoning to a team that took its knocks last year as the league’s youngest.

“In this business if you base everything emotionally,” newly hired Lynx coach Don Zierden explained, “you’re not going to be successful.”

But this business is different from the Twin Cities’ other pro franchises. After eight seasons, it’s still trying to gain a toehold in the Twin Cities’ crowded sports market. The Lynx need to win, but they also need to drum up interest, to put some people in the Target Center seats. The team’s average attendance of 6,442 ranked 12th in the 14-team league last year.

Roger Griffith, the Lynx chief operating officer who took his lumps after the team failed to land Whalen, said the team’s front office met for two solid days last week discussing the dispersal draft and the team’s needs. Everyone agreed that Monique Currie and Tangela Smith were Charlotte’s top two players.

The “marketing angle,” as Griffith termed it? It was mostly off the table, with owner Glen Taylor’s blessing. “Philosophically,” Griffith said of Taylor, “he believes the best way to fill the seats is to win the most games that you can.”

But some long-suffering fans — fans who watched their team struggle to a 10-24 record last season and who want to win now — are clearly unhappy with the decision. I expected some Gophers fans and others to grouse about passing up “our player,” the local girl who made good. But even though a few fans backed the decision, I was surprised at the vitriol spouted in e-mails and on team and WNBA message boards.

“Eventually, we need to bring in fans,” one poster wrote. “We can do that by winning a lot … or we can do that by growing interest in other ways — and Janel would have done some of that, while Tan [Smith] won’t at all. “Indeed, this whole thing will alienate a lot of fans. I’ve wasted a lot of my life trying to defend Roger et al. for not getting Lindsay [or Janel] in the past. But I won’t say a word in their defense about this.”

Women’s basketball isn’t typical water cooler talk around here, but for much of the day Monday, the Lynx’s decision not to pick McCarville was the most widely read story on this newspaper’s online website.

McCarville was one of the most popular female basketball players in Minnesota history. But she still hasn’t proven herself in the WNBA, although some can argue that Charlotte had a terrible track record of developing players. What’s more, back injuries can be notoriously hard to shake.

The McCarville saga might not be over. It’s likely the team will make a stab at trading for her between now and the start of next season.

But that might not pan out. And then the team’s brain trust might wind up asking itself whether taking a proven WNBA player instead of a beloved local was worth the ill will.

Pam Schmid • 612-673-4565

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