Will the Sun rise again?
By Mike DiMauro , Day Assistant Sports Editor Published on 9/15/2009
After a summer of watching hideous basketball, a crowd of 9,047 showed up Sunday at Mohegan Sun Arena to send the Connecticut Sun into the most important offseason in the history of the franchise.
I'm not sure why 9,047, a virtual sellout, was there for a meaningless game on a 75-degree sunny day, let alone on the first Sunday of pro football. Maybe it's more proof that this is a women's basketball state before anything else. Or that the Sun's fan base has decided to remain loyal, despite a dark arena at playoff time.
The 2009 season was a gross disappointment. Period. And mercifully, it's over. The good news is that with a high draft pick, cap room to sign free agents and a foundation of four very good players, the summer of 2010 should be better.
The Sun were not good enough to overcome Asjha Jones' injury. No shame there. Look around the league. Indiana stunk when Katie Douglas missed some time. Ditto for Los Angeles without Candace Parker and Lisa Leslie. Chicago without Sylvia Fowles. Nobody is good enough anymore to overcome injuries to key players because the WNBA's moronic decision to cut rosters to 11 won't allow it.
Remember this, though: The Sun weren't exactly the '86 Celtics with Jones, either.
Here's the deal as they move forward:
The Sun have a top five player in the WNBA at two positions: point guard (Lindsay Whalen) and power forward (Jones). They have a promising center (Sandrine Gruda who earned some face-to-face compliments recently from Leslie). Mike Thibault has found a reliable shooter in Anete Jekabsone-Zogota.
Hence, they'll go into next season very solid at point guard, shooting guard, power forward and center.
And then everyone else on this team should be prepared to rent and not buy.
Start with Erin Phillips and Amber Holt. Phillips must be a crowd favorite because she's blond and dives on the floor a lot. Certainly not for her production. This is not easy to write because I like her personally. But the enduring image of the 2009 season for me is Phillips catching a pass and looking befuddled, freezing like a batter who sees a good breaking ball when he's expecting a heater.
She wouldn't shoot. Or pass. She would dribble the shot clock away, or worse, on to an island and turn it over. If she has aspirations of being the point guard for the Australian Olympic team, she better acquire some basketball instincts forthwith. Because right now, she is an athlete first and a basketball player second.
Then there's Amber Holt. After earning a spot on the all-rookie team last year, she broke her hand in training camp and was a microcosm of the team. Some good, some bad, never consistent.
They have much to prove here next summer. And they better realize it.
Kerri Gardin and Tan White deserve to be back. Gardin plays her keister off. She defends and rebounds. White is a decent shooter. But they are complementary players. The more for which they are responsible, they more they will be exposed.
The Sun need help for Jones and Gruda in the post. It's not Tamika Whitmore anymore and might not be Chante Black. They need help at small forward unless Holt improves drastically. What they might get with a high draft pick isn't clear right now. But they should try - very diligently - to get Cheryl Ford, an unrestricted free agent.
Is there a risk? Sure. Ford will get maximum money with a body that hasn't been healthy in a while. But she would give the Sun some fiber in the post and benefit from assistant coach Scott Hawk teaching her.
The Sun have been a lot like the old Marino Miami Dolphins. Always good enough to win, never good enough to win it all and always with a lousy draft slot because of their success. They didn't protect Erika de Souza in the 2008 expansion draft in favor of Phillips. (No one criticized Thibault for that at the time and no one should now).
Katie Douglas decided she didn't want to be here anymore. Because she wasn't a core player, she had the Sun on that tenuous piece of real estate east of the rock and west of the hard place. The Sun got what they could for her in Whitmore, who killed them in the playoffs the year before. Whitmore has not been the same player here.
Some want to blame Thibault. Free country. Here is what I know:
The two-time WNBA Coach of the Year hasn't suddenly hit every branch falling through the idiot tree. Jeff Van Gundy didn't recommend him for this job because he had an insatiable urge to call Mitchell Etess' answering machine. And when next season starts, one (and only one) team in the WNBA will have a coach who has been to the finals twice: the Connecticut Sun.
The Sun have a chance to be as good as anybody else next summer. They're lucky 9,100 people cared enough Sunday to watch the first meaningless home game in franchise history. Most season ticket holders, as well as the rest of the fan base, will give the Sun another chance in 2010. And the Sun need to do a hell of a lot better than this.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.
EDITORIAL FOOTNOTE: The reality was the Connecticut Sun did not play well enough this year. The way the Sun played, they didn't deserve to be in the playoffs.
Who created and coached this team? Who is responsible? Should the GM (General Manager) or the coach go? Do we need different players?
How long will ESPN (national) television, continue to televise the Connecticut Sun games? Who wants to watch a losing team?
What was wrong with the team? Wait until next year? Hello?
Could it be the 9,100 people were there for the tee shirts? What do you think?