Roster cuts on mind as season nears
Some very good players holding breath as teams trim rosters to 11 players
No chance that this phrase will ever be one of the WNBA's season slogans, but it does convey the truth that it's a high-talent league.
It is both a play on the inaugural "We got next" and a less-grandiose expression of the current "Expect Great."
Here's how it would go. The WNBA commercial would show a montage of stellar passing, ball handling, shooting, rebounding and shot blocking with pulse-racing music then conclude with a group shot of the participants looking into the camera and saying:
"We got cut."
Kind of a downer, sure. But it could give those athletes a little paycheck while conveying the very real truth that to secure one of the 11 roster spots on the 13 teams, you have to be very, very good. Just one "very" probably won't be enough.
Skilled, hardworking players are going to get the ax; there's no way around it. So each day as we get closer to the start of the season (June 6), the carnage will convincingly show how outstanding the players who do make it really are.
Admittedly, it's not good business sense to focus on the negative but on the other hand, you could look at it as turning a negative into a positive. This roster-cutting stuff is so wrenching and difficult -- especially when teams are down to about 13 and just can't imagine how they're going to part with two more -- that any lighter way to look at it might be appreciated.
Clicking on the transactions link on the WNBA's Web site in the preseason is kind of like visiting an electronic guillotine, one where hopes -- not heads -- get chopped off. The "end" in one WNBA city, though, might not be the "end" in the league for a player. There's always that chance somebody else might want her and she'll still be one of the fortunate 11 somewhere. For instance, Washington cut eight-year veteran Coco Miller, who was then picked up by Atlanta.
If that option doesn't pan out, next up is waiting for the potential of enough calamity to strike a team that it falls to fewer than nine players and can bring in an emergency reserve.
Otherwise, there are still opportunities to find places to play overseas. And, of course, away from hoops, there's always the fabulous and vibrant job market we're experiencing now in any number of occupations although none is coming to mind right at the moment.
So there's stress of an extreme kind in the lives of a lot of players in WNBA camps now, and that is likely to affect the ability of some to show their best. Yet that fact, in and of itself, is part of the winnowing process.
It seems the type of players who are usually the most in danger -- unless they're stars -- are the "tweeners." They're listed at between 5 feet, 10 inches and 6 feet (although they're often shorter in reality), and they typically had a lot of success as undersized post players in college.
Their WNBA future rests on having outstanding all-around skills and being on a team that really knows how best to use such a player because that takes some coaching acumen.
Versatility always sounds like a good thing, and one would think that was especially so with this limited roster size. But, in fact, sometimes the versatile player who does everything very well does not do any one thing extremely well. Or just not quite well enough.
In fact, take a look at Monday's transactions, and you'll see two tweeners who were let go, both from Texas A&M. Morenike Atunrase, a 5-10 guard/forward in her second year in the league, was waived by San Antonio. Meanwhile, Chicago waived rookie Danielle Gant.
Atunrase was hampered by injuries in her Aggies career, but she was a very important part of their 2008 Elite Eight squad. As was Gant, who then, as a senior, was A&M's glue player this past season.
But tweeners have an even more limited chance of making it in the WNBA if they can't shoot the 3-pointer, and Gant didn't take a single shot from beyond the arc as a senior. A&M coach Gary Blair said she was working on it and could hit them in practice, but that's not the same as making them in games.
Also often in "danger," along with the tweeners, are pure point guards. Give most WNBA teams the option of keeping the extra shooter or the extra point, and they usually seem to say, "Oh, heck. We'll figure out other ways to get the ball up court and distributed. We'll keep the shooter. She can at least dribble, right?"
Meanwhile, the players on the potential chopping block who are most likely to get the benefit of the doubt somewhere are, not surprisingly, the true centers who are 6-5 or taller and have mobility that is at least measurably better than that of a Maytag appliance.
The reason for this is not exactly a "Jeopardy!" question: They are fewer in number and so worth more, even with lesser skills.
In the end, though, rosters are still a lot like jigsaw puzzles and sometimes what seems like a good fit just isn't. By the same token, sometimes a player many don't expect to make it actually does. And, of course, salary-cap considerations are part of these puzzles, too.
None of this is going to be much, if any, consolation to those who are let go in the next two weeks. But at least they can know "We got cut" really does not mean anything as bleakly harsh as "We couldn't cut it" in this league.
It just means it's very hard to make it.
Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog at http://voepel.wordpress.com.
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