Archive for the ‘WNBA’ Category

For the past three seasons, a piece of the Seattle Storm’s identity was absent even as it remained among the elite teams in the WNBA.

Seattle was missing a permanent home.

The Storm spent the 2020 season playing in a bubble due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and they spent the 2019 and 2021 seasons bouncing between venues in the Puget Sound region while their arena was rebuilt, robbing them of the element that made coming to Seattle one of the more challenging road trips for opponents.

That changes Friday night when the Storm open the WNBA season against Minnesota. They’re back in the heart of the city, making their regular-season debut at Climate Pledge Arena, also the home of the NHL’s Kraken.

“Knowing that the city of Seattle is really so excited to have us be back, be back in Seattle Center and be back in the heart of Seattle playing and know they can’t wait for me to be back out there as well,” Seattle’s Breanna Stewart said.

There’s plenty of story lines that will follow the Storm this season, from the possibility that it will Sue Bird’s final year, to Stewart’s return from a foot injury that caused her to miss the end of last season.

But for the Storm, finding stability is of major importance.

The Storm spent three seasons without a true place to call home while Climate Pledge Arena was under construction. They split the 2019 season between the University of Washington and Angel of the Winds Arena, 30 miles north of Seattle in Everett, Washington.

The 2020 season — when Seattle won its fourth title — was played in the WNBA bubble in Florida due to the pandemic. The pandemic also led to construction delays that left their new home just enough behind schedule that the Storm had to play one more season in Everett.

Seattle’s patience will be rewarded when the Storm step into one of the best buildings in the league.

“This place is first class and from a WNBA perspective, the more that we have facilities that match the play and the product on the floor, the better the business will grow. That’s just kind of how it is,” Bird said. “Sometimes I feel like in the world of business, you have to fake it till you make it. We kind of did that the last couple of years and now we’re very deserving of being in a building like this.”

The last time the Storm played a meaningful WNBA game at their home arena was Game 2 of the 2018 Finals. Seattle beat Washington 75-73 in Game 2 and completed the three-game sweep of the Mystics in Game 3 on the road. Between the regular season and playoffs, the Storm went 18-4 that season at home, and 5-0 in the postseason. That playoff run also included Bird’s famous Game 5 performance against Phoenix in the conference finals when she scored 14 points in the final 5 minutes to lead Seattle to the Finals.

“To be back in the city for the summer, I think fans are excited about it,” coach Noelle Quinn said. “Our players are excited about it, our organization is excited about being back in Climate Pledge.”

The Atlanta Dream used their newly acquired first overall pick to select Kentucky’s Rhyne Howard in the 2022 WNBA Draft on Monday night.

Howard became the first player in Kentucky history to be taken with the top selection in the WNBA. She was voted as a first-team All-American this season for the No. 6 seed Wildcats.

At No. 2, the Indiana Fever took Baylor star NaLyssa Smith with the first of their four first-round picks. The Washington Mystics chose Ole Miss’ Shakira Austin third.

Here are the full results from the draft:

Round 1

1DreamRhyne HowardKentucky
2FeverNaLyssa SmithBaylor
3MysticsShakira AustinOle Miss
4FeverEmily EngstlerLouisville
5LibertyNyara SaballyOregon
6FeverLexie HullStanford
7WingsVeronica BurtonNorthwestern
8AcesMya HollingshedColorado
9SparksRae BurrellTennessee
10FeverQueen EgboBaylor
11AcesKierstan BellFlorida Gulf Coast
12SunNia CloudenMichigan State

Round 2

13AcesKhayla PointerLSU
14MysticsChristyn WilliamsUConn
15DreamNaz HillmonMichigan
16SparksKianna SmithLouisville
17StormElissa CunaneNorth Carolina State
18LibertyLorela CubajGeorgia Tech
19SparksOlivia Nelson-OdodaUConn
20FeverDestanni HendersonSouth Carolina
21StormEvina WestbrookUConn
22LynxKayla JonesNorth Carolina State
23AcesAisha SheppardVirginia Tech
24SunJordan LewisBaylor

Round 3

25FeverAmeshya Williams-HolidayJackson State
26MercuryMaya DodsonNotre Dame
27SparksAmy AtwellHawaii
28LynxHannah SjervenSouth Dakota
29LibertySika KoneMali
30WingsJasmine DickeyDelaware
31WingsJazz BondNorth Florida
32MercuryMacee WilliamsIUPUI
33StormJade MelbourneAustralia
34FeverAli PatbergIndiana
35AcesFaustine AifuwaLSU
36SunKiara SmithFlorida

The WNBA season is set to tip off on May 6.

The Atlanta Dream will make the first selection in the 2022 WNBA draft.

Atlanta acquired the No. 1 pick from the Washington Mystics on Wednesday in a deal that sent the third overall pick and a second-round selection (14th overall) in this year’s draft to Washington, the teams announced. The Mystics will also have the right to swap with the Dream’s first-round pick in 2023, which originally belonged to the Los Angeles Sparks.

The Dream are targeting a group of players with the top pick, including Rhyne Howard (Kentucky), NaLyssa Smith (Baylor), Naz Hillmon (Michigan), Shakira Austin (Ole Miss), and Nyara Sabally (Oregon), a source told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Brandon Sudge.

Teams also exchanged the first overall pick in the days leading up to the 2021 draft. After first acquiring the selection from the New York Liberty, the Seattle Storm then flipped the pick to the Dallas Wings, who took Charli Collier out of Texas.

The Los Angeles Sparks have acquired rising fifth-year guard Lexie Brown from the Chicago Sky in exchange for the rights to center Li Yueru.

Brown made 17 appearances for the title-winning Sky squad last year. In 9.5 minutes per game, the Duke product averaged a career-low 1.6 points on 26.3% shooting with 1.1 assists per contest.

However, the 27-year-old is a season removed from a two-year stretch with the Minnesota Lynx, where she averaged 7.2 points, 1.8 assists, 1.6 rebounds, and 1.2 steals in just under 20 minutes per game.

The Atlanta Dream drafted Li, 23, with the 35th pick of the 2019 draft, and the Sparks acquired her draft rights in the Chennedy Carter trade earlier this offseason. She currently plays with the Guandong Dolphins in her native China.

Indiana has traded center Teaira McCowan to the Dallas Wings in a deal that gives the Fever four first-round picks in the next WNBA draft.

The Fever got the fourth and sixth overall picks from the Wings in the deal announced Tuesday. Indiana already has the No. 2 and 10 picks, and would be the first WNBA team to make four first-round selections in the same draft if it keeps and uses all of them.

Along with McCowan, a 25-year-old Texas native, the Wings got the seventh overall pick in the upcoming draft. The WNBA hasn’t yet announced a date for the draft. The season begins May 6.

“This was a trade offer that made sense for both teams as we head into the 2022 regular season and we are now focused on 2, 4, 6 and 10,” said Lin Dunn, the Fever’s interim general manager.

McCowan was the third overall pick in the 2019 draft after a standout career at Mississippi State. The 6-foot-7 center averaged 10.7 points and 8.8 rebounds a game in her 88 games (49 starts) the past three seasons for Indiana. She had career highs last season averaging 11.3 points and 9.6 rebounds, which ranked third in the league, and was fifth with 1.6 blocked shots a game.

“Teaira is one of the most dominant, young post players in the WNBA today,” Dallas Wings president Greg Bibb said. “Her size and skill will help solidify our interior post presence as we continue to build our talented roster.”

McCowan is playing overseas for OGM Ormanspor in Turkey, where she is averaging 20.4 points and 13.8 rebounds in the KBSL, and 21.9 points and 14.9 rebounds in 10 EuroCup games.

The deal also included an exchange of first-round picks in 2023. The Wings sent their first-round pick to Indiana, and got the first-round pick the Fever had acquired from the Chicago Sky in another trade.

The WNBA fined the New York Liberty $500,000 for the team’s improper use of charter flights throughout the 2021 season, according to Sports Illustrated’s Howard Megdal – but the penalty for running afoul of the current collective bargaining agreement could have been significantly steeper.

In response to the team clandestinely taking charter flights for each road game from mid-August onward, the league’s general counsel proposed a number of punishments, including stripping the Liberty of future draft picks, suspending Joseph and Clara Wu Tsai’s ownership of the team, or even terminating the franchise altogether, according to a Sept. 21, 2021, missive obtained by Sports Illustrated.

Instead, the Liberty were fined a league-record $500,000, negotiated down from $1 million, and Liberty executive Oliver Weisberg was removed from the WNBA’s executive committee.

The current CBA requires teams to take commercial flights, though players must receive “premium economy” seating if available – but even well-heeled owners like Joseph Tsai are prohibited from chartering private flights.

The Liberty also took a trip to Napa Valley over Labor Day weekend that violated the CBA as a benefit exceeding the allowable compensation to players.

On rare occasions – and at the league’s discretion – charter flights have been commissioned due to limited time between playoff games. This was the case between Games 2 and 3 of the 2021 Finals between the Chicago Sky and Phoenix Mercury, per ESPN’s Mechelle Voepel.

Last September, the Liberty purportedly pitched a plan to make charter flights the default travel mode for all teams, with the added expense covered for all 12 franchises for three years, a source told Sports Illustrated. The proposal failed to gain support among the majority of owners; some reportedly worried about the potential long-term costs of establishing a higher standard.

The WNBA says that the Liberty never presented such a proposal to the league.

“It was agreed that the Liberty would explore opportunities regarding charter flights and present it to the Board (of Governors),” a WNBA spokesperson said in a statement to theScore. “To date, that has not happened.”

Sue Bird says all signs are pointing toward the 2022 season being her last in the WNBA with the Seattle Storm, but she does not want the upcoming season to be a farewell tour.

“I think it’s assumed to be my last and I do believe all arrows are pointing in that direction,” Bird said Tuesday. “For some reason, I don’t necessarily want to operate in that space because I think for my personality … it doesn’t necessarily fit for every game I go into to be ‘this is Sue’s last game in this city. This is her last time putting her shoe on.’ I don’t really operate in that space well, but I understand that comes with it.”

Bird, a four-time WNBA champion, 12-time All-Star and the oldest player in the league at 41, previously announced she would return for one more season. She waited until Seattle finished its offseason maneuvers — including bringing back Jewell Loyd and Breanna Stewart — before signing her deal with the Storm last week.

Bird said she expected the first question to be about whether the upcoming season would be her last.

“I feel really lucky that I get to be in this position to make this decision. It gets to be on my terms,” Bird said. “Not a lot of athletes are afforded that opportunity. Obviously, Lauren Jackson being one I witnessed firsthand having injuries and things like that being the reason for her decision. So I just feel really lucky.”

Bird, the league’s all-time leader in assists, said last season was the first time she played with the idea of possibly retiring in her mind. Seattle lost to Phoenix in the second round of the WNBA playoffs and Bird was met with chants of “one more year” by the home crowd after the loss.

Bird said that resonated and within a few days she called her trainer and decided to start preparing to play in 2022.

Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul is the first recipient of the Kobe and Gigi Bryant WNBA Advocacy Award, the league announced Sunday.

The 12-time All-Star was recognized for his “significant contributions to the advancement of girls’ and women’s basketball, as well as his advocacy for the WNBA.”

Paul has been a regular presence courtside at Phoenix Mercury games and has supported youth girls’ games through camps and his own basketball academy.

“I have seen firsthand Chris’ appreciation of the WNBA and the game at every level for women and girls, especially in Phoenix and North Carolina, and his ardent support of our game strongly reflects the legacy of Kobe and Gigi,” said WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert in a statement.

Engelbert and Vanessa Bryant presented Paul with the award during a stoppage in play at Sunday’s NBA All-Star Game.

The WNBA is also making a donation to the Mamba and Mambacita Sports Foundation. The nonprofit organization, which was named in memory of the late Los Angeles Lakers legend and his daughter, aims to help underserved athletes and youth sports.

Tamika Catchings is stepping down as vice president of basketball operations and general manager of the Indiana Fever, the team announced Monday.

The franchise’s most storied player, who helped Indiana win a WNBA championship in 2012 and was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame last year, had held the front-office positions since 2017, and the team has struggled under her leadership.

“While change is never easy, now it’s time to take a step back from my role as general manager, take a well-earned rest, and prioritize my family, my philanthropy, our community, and my other passions,” Catchings said in a statement. “The opportunity to be drafted into this world-class Fever organization, to be embraced by these amazing owners, fans, coaches, teammates and community, and to be given the chance to grow as an executive leader has been a true blessing.”

Catchings will be replaced by Lin Dunn, who coached Indiana’s championship-winning squad.

Indiana has finished out of the playoffs every season since Catchings retired in 2016. The team’s last two first-round draft picks — Lauren Cox and Kysre Gondrezick — were both cut by the organization before they had a chance to develop. Cox now plays for Los Angeles and Gondrezick was recently signed by the Chicago Sky.

The Fever have the No. 2 pick in the April draft after winning just six games each of the past two seasons.

“Tamika has been instrumental in making the dream of professional sports a reality for future generations of female athletes. And as a core member of the Fever executive team since 2017, she has helped strengthen the Fever basketball brand while reinforcing the organization’s commitment to our most vulnerable communities,” Pacers Sports & Entertainment owner Herb Simon said in a statement.

“Tamika is a fierce competitor, a Hall of Famer in every sense, and she will always be a part of our family. I look forward to watching her excel and grow in whatever pursuits come next.”

The Phoenix Mercury named Vanessa Nygaard their next head coach, the team announced Monday.

Nygaard already had conversations with current Mercury players following her hiring, according to The Athletic’s Chantel Jennings.

The 46-year-old Arizona native most recently worked as an assistant coach with the Las Vegas Aces last season. In her playing career, she starred at Stanford before spending five seasons in the WNBA from 1999-2003.

Phoenix is coming off a strong season in which it fell short to the Chicago Sky in the WNBA Finals. The team’s roster still features a number of top-tier players, including Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner, and Skylar Diggins-Smith.