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Sports Commentary 11/20/13- The Warmth of the Sun’s Hot Stove

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(Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

(Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

THE WARMTH OF THE SUN’S HOT STOVE

The hot stove is stoked.  Not that hot stove, the stove for the other summer sport. WNBA basketball.

For the Connecticut Sun this off season promises to be more interesting than most.  Though they didn’t plan to be in this situation, the Sun not only find themselves in the draft lottery, at 44%, they’re the team with the best odds of winning it.  When will the lottery be held?  The Sun know, but they’re under a mandate to keep it a secret.  ESPN, which will televise the draft, has imposed a gag order on the league.  The first couple of weeks in December is all they’ll say.

If any team knows about odds it’s the Connecticut Sun, for obvious reasons, and head coach Anne Donovan thinks this year in particular they need the odds to pay off.  “You really have to have that number one”, she told a small, informal gathering of media yesterday at the Mohegan Sun, “Especially with our chances.  You’re so much more flexible with number one.  Last year there was a clear top three players, then there was the rest.  You don’t necessarily have that in this year’s draft.”

It’s no secret who would be the number one pick if the draft were held today.  We saw her last week when UCONN played Stanford at the XL Center.  “(Chiney) Oquamike by far leads the pack”, said Donovan, adding, “But the top ten will change throughout the course of the season.”

Sun general manager Chris Sienko was at the same gathering and made it clear nothing is carved in stone.  “The number one pick would always be negotiable”, he said, “We’ll listen to offers for whatever would help our roster going forward, if someone wanted to offer us the number two pick and some players for the number one.”

The Sun expected to go through the pains of transition last summer, with Donovan replacing the popular Mike Thibault as head coach, but they didn’t know how bad it would be, as the injury bug took out premier players for extended periods, Asjha Jones for the entire season, Kara Lawson for most of it, Tina Charles down the stretch.

The two former UCONN stars, Jones and Charles, were hot topics yesterday, Donovan responding to rumors that Charles is not happy with the Sun since the departure of Thibault, saying, “Change is harder for some players more than others.  I think(Tina) was one of the players that struggled most with the change.”  But she added, “Tina’s value is through the roof”, and she expects her to be a critical piece for the Sun next season.

Jones continues to play through injury in the European league, seeing limited minutes, but that may cost her more time with the Sun next season.  The WNBA can’t compete with the money in Europe, where players can make nearly a half million dollars a year, so they’ll choose Europe over the WNBA if one season has to be sacrificed for rehabilitation.

With the season set to begin May 16th, training camps opening April 27th, and run through August 17th, while the playoffs are set to end on September 17th, there still is no collective bargaining agreement in place and the longer it takes to get one done the more player movement is restricted and the longer it will take to put the pieces in place for a rebound campaign.

Donovan feels the Sun set themselves up well at the end of last season, “We played very hard and very well with limited bodies toward the end of the season”, she said, “So we finished on a positive note that really helped before people left town.”

Apparently Sun fans agree.  The window for renewing season tickets opened November 1st and, at last check, the Sun already had 85% of them back.  “People understood the transition and the injuries”, said Sienko, who is now betting the odds, 44%, on the number one pick and the great problem of what to do with it.  It’s one hot stove he’d be more than happy to stoke for the rest of the winter.

With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.

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