The year 2021 is close to being in the books – and in WNBA circles, it was a year to remember with it being the 25th season in W history.
And, oh yeah – the first year of those oh-so on point uniforms.
Some of our 12 teams such as the Las Vegas Aces, Connecticut Sun and WNBA champion Chicago Sky will look at 2021 as a successful campaign while others like the Indiana Fever, Atlanta Dream and Los Angeles Sparks will look at the four-digit year as a four-letter word. By and large, our 12 WNBA teams were good this year and all were on Santa’s nice list.
We all know what it means when someone is on the nice list – they are rewarded with presents from Santa. What did the basketball fan that is jolly ol’ (Black) St. Nick have for the 12 teams? Here is what they found under respective orange WNBA tree at W headquarters in Manhattan.
Indiana Fever – a new coach
Kysre Gondrezick gets her first preseason bucket 🔥
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) May 12, 2021
Remember the year 2019? When the Fever were a mere two games shy of the playoffs behind the Minnesota Lynx in what appeared to be an up season for its rebuild?
The Fever finished 13-21 that season and, as it turned out, that was the final season of Pokey Chatman as coach. Indiana then hired Marianne Stanley who, at the time, was coming off winning a championship under Mike Thibault at the Washington Mystics as an assistant.
Stanley and her Fever were 6-16 in the bubble and 6-26 last season. In other words, the Fever have won the same number of games in the last two seasons as they did in Chatman’s last season as coach.
It definitely does not appear as if the Stanley experiment in Indiana is working – and maybe it is time for the Fever’s brass, that includes all-time great Tamika Catchings, to conclude said experiment. Indiana is once again in the draft lottery and we will see in a couple of weeks if they have won the first overall pick. After 2021, if Stanley’s seat was not hot enough last season, it may be hotter than the Hoosier State in July if she is still coaching in 2022.
Atlanta Dream – the first pick
NOT TODAY 😤
— espnW (@espnW) June 30, 2021
Up until recently, it appeared that every time the Atlanta Dream were in the news that it was always for drama. Whether it was in 2020 in the bubble for ex-owner Kelly Loeffler’s comments on Black Lives Matter or last season for the altercation that happened after a game in Las Vegas where the Dream got blown out or when the fight video of Courtney Williams and Crystal Bradford was revealed.
This is not even considering all of the newfound doubt on if Chennedy Carter, who Atlanta picked fourth overall in the 2020 draft, is all in with the team. The Dream have been a reality show the last couple of seasons – call it “Real WNBA Ballers of Atlanta.”
The Dream have had some high points – including when the ownership group led by Renee Montgomery bought the team from Loeffler and Mary Brock. And when ex-Aces assistant Tanisha Wright was hired as coach. And when ex-Aces general manager Dan Padover took the same gig with the Dream.
Atlanta has not had lots of success winning draft lotteries. Since the Dream are once again in the 2022 lottery, how about the Dream gets gifted with being on the clock after the lottery and claiming the No. 1 pick. The only question is – what will Atlanta do with said pick? Another point guard such as Rhyne Howard? Someone else on the board? That is the advantage of having said pick.
Washington Mystics – a healthy Elena Delle Donne
.@De11eDonne hooping again 🥲
— espnW (@espnW) August 26, 2021
Obviously, the 2019 rendition of the Mystics was one to remember. Washington won the WNBA championship that season after a grueling 5-game series with the Connecticut Sun. Unfortunately in part because of the pandemic, the Mystics have still yet to be honored properly with a championship parade through our Nation’s Capital.
We sometimes overlook that the Mystics played that Finals with an Elena Delle Donne that had three herniated discs in her back – en route to her first WNBA championship. Emma Meesseman won Finals MVP that season thanks in large part to her 3-point shooting heroics. Since then, the Mystics were set to be perennial contenders, but Washington has been without Delle Donne the last two seasons. She did not go to the bubble in 2020 and still had injury woes last season.
Tina Charles did all she could to try to will the Mystics to the playoffs but Washington eventually found itself on the outside looking in and will be in the lottery. But … imagine for a second if Delle Donne were fully healthy.
The whole game would change and possibly the road to a WNBA championship would once again go through Washington, D.C. since both Delle Donne and Charles were among the W’s 25 of all time. Imagine if both were on the same team with a supporting cast that includes an Alysha Clark who has postseason experience with the Seattle Storm. The Mystics would once again be one of the WNBA’s elite teams.
Dallas Wings – new ownership
— WNBA (@WNBA) September 12, 2021
The Wings took a step forward this past season by qualifying for the playoffs. Even better for the Wings, thanks to a trade Dallas engineered with the Los Angeles Sparks, that lottery pick that would have been the Sparks’ is instead Dallas’ pick.
And we all know over the past few seasons that the Wings have never met a draft pick they scoffed at.
While this past season was a step in the right direction under first-year coach Vicki Johnson and with Arike Ogunbowale and Marina Mabrey as part of its core, Dallas – in similar fashion as the Dream – consistently finds a way to step in it.
Whether it was ticking off Skylar Diggins-Smith and Liz Cambage to the point where both wanted out of Dallas, the much-publicized spat between general manager Greg Bibb and former coach Fred Williams, the controversial WASP Rebel uniform that the team later scrapped or the Blocks for the Blue initiative, the Wings are a mess in its front office despite being on the rise on the court. Perhaps, the Wings could use some new management that will not give the team so many PR problems.
Los Angeles Sparks – a fresh start
One thing is certain, @TeaCooper2 is a MOOD.
— TOGETHXR (@togethxr) March 23, 2021
This past season had to be the season from h-e-double hockey sticks if one eats, sleeps, drinks and breathes Sparks purple, gold and teal. Losing Candace Parker to the Sky. Losing Chelsea Gray to the Las Vegas Aces. Not to mention seeing those very Sky led by Parker win a WNBA championship.
Mention the name Derek Fisher to a Sparks fan and the language that will likely be heard will sure to be very colorful. Sparks fans have not felt too keen about Fisher since that Ramona Shelburne report at ESPN about how Parker was underutilized in the 2019 semifinals against the Sun. Los Angeles fans also were not too pleased about Fisher getting a contract extension and being promoted to general manager along with his coaching duties.
When one looks at the talent the Sparks field on a game-by-game basis, one would think Los Angeles would still win more than its fair share of games. They have Nneka Ogwumike, Chiney Ogwumike, Erica Wheeler, Amanda Zahui B., Kristi Toliver among others. There are still plenty of veterans on this team and the Sparks were hampered last season by the injury bug.
Perhaps Los Angeles simply could use a fresh start to put last season behind them. The 2022 season will be a huge indication in seeing if the Sparks are indeed on the verge of a rebuild.
Phoenix Mercury – Robert Sarver out as owner
I don’t think I’ve ever saw a jump ball turned into an alley oop. This was beautiful. #WNBA
— Women’s Hoopz (@WomensHoopz) August 26, 2021
Even as much of a resurgent season last year was for the Phoenix Mercury, there apparently is a dark cloud hanging over the team.
That cloud is its owner Robert Sarver, who not too long ago was revealed in an explosive report by ESPN for having engaged in acts of racism and sexual harassment among others. As we wrote in an earlier Beyond The W piece, the longer that Sarver is allowed to remain as owner of the Mercury, it becomes an even bigger public relations disaster for the team, the Phoenix Suns and the entire WNBA as a whole (as well as the NBA).
The WNBA cannot claim to be an inclusive, progressive sports league yet still have small men like Sarver still running around as if nothing is going on. If the W’s players can take matters into its own hands and begin the process of essentially jettisoning Loeffler from the WNBA’s ownership ranks, then clearly something can be done about the Sarver situation.
Recently, Bob Iger – a former high-ranking executive at Disney – expressed interest in purchasing the Phoenix Suns. Our guess is that the Mercury would be included in that sale. While Iger probably comes with his own set of baggage as many male owners can, having him as the Mercury’s top boss seems like a better option now than having Sarver as owner. Then again, Diana Taurasi has mentioned wanting to get into ownership when she retires so ….
New York Liberty – a big
— Doug Feinberg (@DougFeinberg) September 22, 2021
Last season represented the beginning stages of the WNBA’s flagship franchise finally getting out of the virtual W purgatory they were in the last three seasons.
The Liberty finished 12-20 in its first full season at Barclays Center, claimed the eighth playoff berth and nearly upset the Phoenix Mercury in the first round. Last season featured a young core that included Betnijah Laney, Sabrina Ionescu, DiDi Richards and Rookie of the Year Michaela Onyenwere as well as veterans such as Natasha Howard and Sami Whitcomb.
A lot of what we heard from Lib coach Walt Hopkins was that New York would be a team that would place lots of emphasis on 3-point shooting. While the Liberty did take and make a good bit of 3’s last season, taking shots from downtown primarily works when the treys fall which they will not every game.
If the Liberty are to continue its rise back to the top of the WNBA’s ranks, they need a bruiser in the post. Howard was supposed to be that bruiser, but she was not healthy for a good bit of last season. Perhaps Jonathan Kolb will find that bruiser via the draft – or free agency granted the Liberty can find the cap space.
Seattle Storm – one more year for Sue Bird
JEWELL LOYD CALLS GAME 😱
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) June 5, 2021
Lately, the same question gets asked around the Seattle Storm year in and year out – will Sue Bird come back for one more season or will she put away her jersey and kicks for good?
After the Olympic break and Commissioner’s Cup victory over the Connecticut Sun, the Storm did start to struggle. While Seattle still qualified as one of the eight playoff teams, the Storm were eliminated in the second round of the postseason by the Phoenix Mercury (and fellow UConn GOAT Diana Taurasi).
As everyone knows, eventually Bird will call it a career – and both the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville and the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts will need to work on her Hall of Fame statues the nanosecond she does. But, as we wrote in a previous Beyond The W piece, it would be gratifying if she decided to come back for one major reason.
In 2022, the Storm will play its first full season at Climate Pledge Arena, a new state-of-the-art venue that is as every bit as green as the green in the Storm’s own logo. Can someone say carbon neutral? Its nickname might as well be The Greenhouse that Sue Built and our guess is she is more than deserving of the opportunity to have a proper farewell tour centered around the Storm’s new digs.
Minnesota Lynx – commitment from incoming ownership
Can you feel the energy? 💥
— espnW (@espnW) June 13, 2021
When Glen Taylor announced that the Minnesota Lynx and Timberwolves were being put up for sale, fans on the Wolves side of the ledger were thrilled because they believe he has been cheap with spending money on the NBA side – not to mention his beef with all-time Timberwolves great Kevin Garnett.
Things have been different, obviously, on the WNBA side of things with the Lynx. That team is coached by Cheryl Reeve – an all-time great professional basketball coach. The Lynx won four championships in the 2010s behind Maya Moore, Sylvia Fowles, Rebekkah Brunson, Seimone Augustus and Lindsay Whalen.
There was genuine concern when the sale to Marc Lore and Alex Rodriguez was announced. After all, A-Rod is not exactly who one thinks of when they think of Minnesota. Not to mention, a big reason as to why the Lynx have been so successful was because of the co-branding of many off-court initiatives as including both teams as opposed to simply the NBA franchise.
As loyal as Lynx fans are, they are more than deserving of a commitment from the incoming owners that nothing will change on the Lynx’s side of things and that the financial investment into ensuring the Lynx remain a success will still be there after the sale to Lore and A-Rod is complete around 2023. Reeve deserves it. The Lynx’s current roster deserve it. Lynx greats deserve it and basketball fans in Minnesota deserve it too.
Connecticut Sun – a new court at Mohegan Sun Arena
Wait for it … 😱 #SCtop10
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) August 19, 2021
This one is tough … because what do you give to a team that has nearly everything it needs? The Connecticut Sun have a dedicated fanbase in one of the hotbeds of women’s basketball around the country and a team that contends year in and year out in search of that first championship that ought to be just around the corner.
But … did someone notice something odd about Mohegan Sun Arena this past season? It should not have been difficult to notice given a development that occurred earlier in that offseason with the Sun.
Connecticut was one of three teams that between the 2020 and 2021 seasons updated its logo – the Sparks and Storm were the other two. It was a simplified version of its previous logo and placed more emphasis on orange and blue – the Sun’s three uniforms from this past season were a reflection of that.
But in every game that Connecticut played at home last season, its court still featured its old logo. This may be nitpicking, but it is still something that ought to be rectified. Then again – several WNBA team courts had the old WNBA logo that was last utilized during the 2018 season on its court instead of the new logo in debuted in 2019.
Las Vegas Aces – a championship run
.@ecambage is the definition of dominant 😤
♦️ 13 Pts
♠️ 13 Reb
♦️ 5 Blk
— espnW (@espnW) May 31, 2021
Here is another team that was difficult to give a gift to. After all, the Aces have a big three in A’ja Wilson, Liz Cambage and Angel McCoughtry, a coach in Bill Laimbeer who has plenty of postseason experience, a new owner in Mark Davis whose pockets run deep and a team that is a contender for a championship.
Not to mention, Las Vegas advanced to the WNBA Finals in 2020 in the bubble even without Cambage making that trip to the bubble.
So … what better gift to bestow upon the Aces than … a championship run. Yeah, we know that title run was supposed to happen last season and after how successful 2020 was (which included Wilson winning MVP, it feels like a step backwards for the Aces).
Except … it was not. Replacing Dan Padover as general manager and assistant coach Tanisha Wright (both who went to the Atlanta Dream) will not be easy, but as long as they keep that big 3 + Chelsea Gray together, Las Vegas should be just fine.
Chicago Sky – flowers for an unforgettable 2021
— Chicago Sky (@chicagosky) November 29, 2021
There is nothing like one’s first time – and the Sky experienced its first championship when all was said and done in 2021.
Candace Parker, as it turned out, was the Sky’s missing piece. James Wade already had plenty of talent with the Sky from Courtney Vandersloot to Allie Quigley to Diamond DeShields to Stefanie Dolson. But it was the hometown hero that returned that her native Chicago that made all the difference.
In many ways, 2021 was a year where the Sky was getting flowers from WNBA fans all year long. Chicago had received lots of praise for its Heroine, Explorer and Rebel uniforms on top of the Parker signing and bouncing back after starting the season 2-7 with an injured Parker.
In many ways, the Sky winning the 2021 WNBA championship was a watershed moment in the Windy City’s transformation from a city that the W took a chance on in the mid-2000s to a full-fledged women’s sports city. At a time where many of its more ballyhooed men’s teams have been struggling lately, Chicago rallied around the Sky and both team and city were rewarded in the most gratifying of ways.