Coaches hope changes are for better

Updated: August 3, 2005, 7:17 PM ET
By Mechelle Voepel | Special to ESPN.com

I tuned in to the Detroit-Houston game Tuesday to see the impact Katie Smith and Dawn Staley might make with their new teams. The sideshow, of course, involved the Michelle Snow-Kara Braxton title bout, the bleeping of Bill Laimbeer and whatever it was that Van Chancellor was talking about.

By the way, it was a better show than the one I saw earlier in the day, a coerced-by-children matinee screening of "Fantastic Four." OK, fine, I'll grudgingly suspend my disbelief to accept that cosmic radiation from some freak storm in space re-arranges the lead characters' DNA to give them all different super powers. It's the dumbest thing in the entire world, but I'll accept it.

However, it really fried me that the other three Fantastic Four members and the Thing's estranged wife just happened to be on the very same bridge in the vastness of New York City when the Thing inadvertently starts a pileup and then has to save people. And then the jerk wife picks that moment to dump the poor monster. My eyes are still rolling.

I mean, it's one thing for a movie to just completely make up "science," but there's nothing more annoying than ridiculously contrived coincidences.

However, it was an accidental but fortuitous coincidence that Detroit-Houston was Tuesday's ESPN2-televised game. Staley had five points, including a critical 3-pointer with 2:46 left. Smith had seven points, but was 0-for-4 from 3-point range. Houston survived to win by one point after losing a good-sized lead, and the "big trades" of this WNBA season had their first statistical markers.

Even without that, though, most would agree they were unquestionably good deals from Detroit's and Houston's perspectives. There's really no way players such as Smith and Staley can do anything but help a team. The two veterans are as much known quantities as you'll find in the WNBA. And neither Detroit nor Houston gave up anything it can't replace.

The Shock wanted to avoid the problems of last year and get out of the gate quickly this season. That didn't happen. Instead, it seems Detroit will need to repeat last year's feat, and make a stretch run to secure a playoff spot. Smith is expected to bring offense, obviously, although she's in the midst of a long shooting slump. Regardless, Smith will find a way to get things done, I think.

Some think this will help her, because she no longer has to be the go-to player. I'm not sure that will necessarily be beneficial in getting her out of her skid, though. Smith has always carried a big load in Minnesota, and lightening that load might not solve the problem. If you're struggling with your shot, any size load might be troublesome. But Smith has such a résumé of scoring success over the years that it seems more likely she will figure it out.

Staley is a playmaker on a team that needed one, and no one can walk into a situation and command more instant respect than her. The Comets needed one more piece to make a serious title run, and they got it.

As for the other teams, Minnesota and Charlotte … there's not much wrong with the trades from their end, either.

Playing in Charlotte right now is like taking passage on the "Voyage of the Damned" cruise lines, where you don't know exactly what the next disaster/disappointment is, only that there will be one. Good luck to Muggsy Bogues, the Sting's new head coach as of Wednesday afternoon.

The Sting might as well roll the dice on the future, because there's nothing to lose. Along with a first-round draft pick, Charlotte got Kristen Rasmussen, a pretty dependable role player, and Adrienne Goodson, who is still playing ball despite having competed in the very first women's hoops contest I ever taped on my first VCR, the 1985 NCAA title game. She was then a freshman at Old Dominion. Goodson and Rasmussen may not be around for the Sting next season. But perhaps the draft will work out better than recent years for Charlotte.

The Sting got Nicole Powell in last year's draft, and she had a disappointing season and was traded to Sacramento, where she's flourishing. Janel McCarville, the top pick this year, has had a nondescript rookie season so far for the Sting. Will Charlotte have more immediate luck next year? Or does the cruise keep on sailing into oblivion? Who knows? But I'm glad to see Staley get out and have a chance to play in really meaningful games the rest of this year.

As for Minnesota, it seems like the Lynx have been just good enough most of the time to prompt frustrated fans into wondering why the team isn't better. We haven't really seen how much of a force Chandi Jones might become if she has a full-time role. So there's no reason yet to make any proclamation on her future. The Lynx also got Stacey Thomas and a draft pick.

For the Lynx, even more is riding on the shoulders of young post players Nicole Ohlde and Vanessa Hayden. Ohlde is a very hard worker and a far tougher battler than you might perceive by her body language and facial expressions … but while she was at Kansas State, I always thought she was at her best and most comfortable when she was the extremely talented sidekick to Kendra Wecker on the court. I think Ohlde and Hayden could have a similar chemistry, if it continues to develop as they do as individual players.

It's hard to say exactly what else has to be in the mix at Minnesota for the team to not just be "well, maybe they'll make the playoffs" but instead, "hey, they could win this thing." It's absurd to think Smith was holding the Lynx back, per se, but her departure might end up contributing to the right formula.

Charlotte and Minnesota are about "wait and see" now. Houston and Detroit are about trying to make it happen in the next two months. And though it's weird to see them in new uniforms, Smith and Staley are where they should be.

Mechelle Voepel of The Kansas City Star is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. She can be reached at mvoepel@kcstar.com.

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.