At the conclusion of every WNBA regular season there are four teams that qualify for the postseason – and four teams on the outside looking in thinking about what went wrong (and right).
This year, our four teams whose seasons concluded without playoff games are the Atlanta Dream, Minnesota Lynx, Los Angeles Sparks and Indiana Fever.
The Dream and Fever are no strangers to looking forward to draft lotteries. It was only a few seasons ago when the Lynx and Sparks were squaring off in back-to-back Finals and Minnesota vs. Los Angeles became the most heated rivalry in the W.
Oh…how the mighty can fall.
What does the offseason look like for these four teams? Let us have a look…
The Dream were the team that came closest to qualifying for the postseason without actually making the dance. On the final day of the season, Atlanta needed a win over New York and for the Phoenix Mercury to lose its contest with Dallas. The Mercury defeated the Wings and the Liberty earned an 87-83 that had the intensity and atmosphere of a late-round playoff game.
While the Dream finish the season with a 14-22 record, Atlanta should be proud of its 2022 season. Teams rarely go from the lottery to contending overnight and the Dream took, this year, a large step in re-establishing Atlanta as contenders.
Rhyne Howard will more than likely be named Rookie of the Year. She finished the season having averaged 16.2 points per game in addition to 4.5 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.6 steals. It may also not be the worst thing for the Dream to be back in the lottery given Aliyah Boston will be at the top of next year’s draft class.
One thing is for sure – the Dan Padover in Atlanta’s front office is the same Dan Padover that was the architect of building the Aces into the contenders they are now. He knows how to make the right moves to bring a team out of the basement and into the penthouse suite.
With the retirement of Sylvia Fowles, the last Lynx link to Minnesota’s glory seasons of the 2010s has called it a career (Maya Moore has yet to officially retire, but she is all but retired at this point).
The Lynx’s record is somewhat misleading as well given Cheryl Reeve’s team played much of the 2022 season sans Napheesa Collier as she was giving birth. Minnesota is anything but a bad team and Reeve is anything but a bad coach.
Minnesota will likely draft a center in Fowles’ stead. Lines.com’s current 2023 mock has the Lynx selecting Elizabeth Kitley out of Virginia Tech with the No. 4 pick. While it is an insight into what the thought process may be in Minnesota’s front office, we can disregard many a mock for now since the full order will not be known until after the draft lottery – one the Lynx could win and put them on the clock – where it would be a near guarantee they would draft Boston.
Los Angeles Sparks
If the last couple seasons of Los Angeles Sparks basketball has taught us anything, it is this – Candace Parker was really the glue holding that organization together.
The Sparks have now failed to make the playoffs in back to back seasons – a very un-Sparkle like stat for the Original Eight franchise. While Derek Fisher may be gone as Los Angeles’ head coach, many of the issues he encountered still exist. Fred Williams was only interim coach for this season after the Fisher fire happened and Williams is taking a job with Auburn.
Prior to the start of the 2022 season, Los Angeles brought up players that had big personalities but that did not translate to many wins at LA Live. Liz Cambage got a contract divorce more than halfway through the season and just recently addressed her sudden exit. Chennedy Carter was a consistent “if” in terms of her playing time. Also, the Sparks are the only one of the non-playoff teams to not have a lottery pick because that pick was traded in the Carter deal with the Dream.
The immediate pressing issue for the Sparks front office is Nneka Ogwumike is an unrestricted free agent in 2023 and her sister Chiney has indicated that she and big sis are a package deal. If the Ogwumikes bolt, Los Angeles may be staring a rebuild right in the face.
The Fever did fix one issue with its team – they got rid of former coach Marianne Stanley after only a few games, but Indiana still has a litany of issues as this season has displayed.
The sad part of playing for the cellar dwellers that are the Indiana Fever is when one puts up big numbers, but they go mostly unseen because the Fever concluded the season having lost 18 consecutive games.
NaLyssa Smith, Queen Egbo and Destanni Henderson’s rookie seasons would have been more ballyhooed if they were on almost any other team. But a counterpoint to that can be if Smith, Egbo and Henny would have received as much playing time on another team as they received in Indiana that is still rebuilding following (former general manager) Tamika Catchings’ retirement following 2016.
The best thing that Lin Dunn can do is hope the Fever can attract free agents – which is more difficult to do when a team is coming off losing season’s rather than winning campaigns. It is either that or hope that the ping pong balls, which has given the Fever faithful heartbreak in recent years, will actually give the Indy team some Aces-style lady luck.