- Mechelle Voepel, espnW.com
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With the WNBA playoffs soon to get under way, it's natural to look at logical predicting factors. These include teams' regular-season records against each other, how they compare at each individual position, who has home-court advantage (although with three-game series, that's kind of a toss-up), who is the healthiest, who has the most players with postseason experience, which coaches tend to strategize for specific matchups the best.
(And if this were the NCAA tournament, I would add that you look at my online bracket and then do a lot of picking the opposite of what I have.)
After examining all those things, I think we're going to end up with a Detroit-San Antonio meeting in the WNBA finals.
But the neatest thing about the anticipation for the playoffs is thinking about what it would mean to every franchise involved to win the trophy. This is the time for us to imagine each of the eight teams getting the trophy.
So let's take a look at what would be the coolest part of a WNBA title for all the squads who have a chance. We'll go in alphabetical order, not in order of whose story line would seem the sweetest. Because there are reasons for nonpartisan hoops fans to like something about every one.
Connecticut: Tamika Whitmore would be able to experience winning it all, something that she desperately wants to have once in her career. Minnesotans still pining for native daughter Lindsay Whalen could feel the ultimate in their continued devotional duality: the pride that she won a WNBA title, and the pain that it isn't with the Lynx.
Coach Mike Thibault is one deserving, dues-paying dude. He does his homework, cares tremendously about the franchise and the league, and knows how to win games with whatever group of players he has.
Detroit: Taj McWilliams-Franklin likely ties with San Antonio's Vickie Johnson as the veteran player fans would be most thrilled to see win a WNBA title. McWilliams-Franklin is one of the most multifaceted and interesting pro athletes you'll ever meet. And her acquisition seems like yet another right move by coach Bill Laimbeer. This title would be one more gem in the Katie Smith legacy ring. Alexis Hornbuckle would tie her buddy Candace Parker for titles in 2008, as both won the NCAA championship and CP3 got the Olympic gold medal.
Indiana: Katie Douglas would feel as if she has come full circle, having won an NCAA title in her home state in 1999. Coach Lin Dunn might just yell, "Yeeeeeeeeee-haaaaaaaw!" really loud at the trophy ceremony. Rookie Khadijah Whittington would share her happiness with college coach Kay Yow and the entire NC State Wolfpack women's basketball community. All the Aussies in the league would be proud to see another championship team again include an Opal (Tully Bevilaqua). Ebony Hoffman never got the chance to play in the NCAA tournament while at USC.
Los Angeles: Candace Parker would put the finishing touches on a year that couldn't be topped: NCAA title, Olympic title, WNBA title. Guard Kiesha Brown is a case study in perseverance. Unable to fully reach her peak in college at Georgia because of knee injuries, she has just never given up. She has played in Washington, Houston, New York, Minnesota and is having her most productive season now for the Sparks. Everyone 5 feet, 3 inches or shorter will stand taller because of mighty mites Temeka Johnson and Shannon Bobbitt.
New York: The Liberty fans who've been faithfully carrying the torch all these years could at last dance wildly through the streets of Manhattan and -- in the great tradition of New Yorkers -- still call for president/GM Carol "Blaze" Blazejowksi to be fired immediately. If one Rutgers legend (Sue Wicks) couldn't be a champ with the Liberty, at least another would (Essence Carson). Remember what we said about Minnesotans and Lindsay Whalen? Ditto for another beloved ex-Gopher, Janel McCarville. Speaking of her, who knows? Maybe J-Mac would end up with bright orange hair (that can be seen from as far as 10 miles away) for the victory celebration.
Sacramento: DeMya Walker, who has had horrible luck with injuries in the past year-plus but has battled back to play again, would win her second WNBA title. And she'd get to experience it with her former Virginia teammate, and now coach, Jenny Boucek. And that's a tremendous story for the Wahoos. With an Olympic gold medal and a WNBA championship this year, Kara Lawson might stand a very, very slim chance of being forgiven by some Tennessee fans for picking Stanford over the Orange Crush in April's NCAA title game.
San Antonio: See above item about VJ and Taj Each devoted "Hammonite" will start her/his own thread (and continually add to it) about "Why I Love Becky" on every women's basketball message board found on the Internet. Including those in languages they don't speak (one in particular). Who doesn't feel good when all-world nice person Ruth Riley (even when she was a "Bad Girl") wins a title? A floating "parade" on the Riverwalk would be pretty awesome.
Seattle: If the Storm win the title, it means we get to see Lauren Jackson play in the postseason (because it ain't happening without her). You could say it would be a great last "hurrah" for Yolanda Griffith and Sheryl Swoopes, but they might be around for even more. Let's be honest: It could be amusing to hear exactly how Swin Cash might say, uh, "Take that!" in regard to former coach Bill Laimbeer. What a great "immediate" reward a title would be for the ownership group that stepped forward, thank goodness, to keep the Storm in Seattle.
Mechelle Voepel of The Kansas City Star is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
At least one expert expects Detroit and San Antonio to clash in the WNBA finals. But what exactly would a title mean to all eight of the playoff teams?