Is Mique now more risk than reward?

5/20/2010 - WNBA Atlanta Dream

In December 2008, word came that Atlanta had traded a first-round draft pick to Los Angeles for the rights to Chamique Holdsclaw, who'd been out of the WNBA since leaving the Sparks early in the 2007 season.

The news prompted an ESPN.com column that I started like this:

In her pro career, Chamique Holdsclaw has been one of the more complicated people in women's basketball to write about. So it's with caution that we approach the announcement that she's apparently returning to the WNBA this coming season.

Well, here we are in May 2010, and the dreaded "other shoe" has dropped again for Holdsclaw. Days before this season began, the Dream made it known that Holdsclaw had requested a trade and that Atlanta was trying to accommodate her. Then Wednesday, it was announced she had been waived.

And so goes the latest turn in a WNBA career that has been anything but what might have been expected when Holdsclaw left Tennessee in 1999 having scored 3,025 points.

Who would have guessed her senior-season disappointment of falling in the Elite Eight would be more of an indication of what was to come than her three NCAA titles were?

Holdsclaw was drafted No. 1 by the Washington Mystics, where she played for six seasons. However, during the last one, in 2004, it became known she was struggling with something as she took a leave of absence. For weeks, there was speculation about what the problem was and if she was coming back.

And at that time, I wrote this for ESPN.com:

She's out of the picture for now, and rookie Alana Beard has stepped in as the Mystics' star. Behind Beard, Washington clinched a playoff spot. What does that mean for Holdsclaw's future with the Mystics? Does she want/need a fresh start somewhere else once she's able to play again? Would Washington benefit from that as well?

I had heard from various sources back then that depression was the issue for Holdsclaw, but at the time she didn't confirm that. However, she did later after having gone overseas to play and then requesting a trade to Los Angeles.

Holdsclaw seemed relatively content with the Sparks in 2005. At the start of 2006, she was excused for a while from the team to tend to needs of her father and stepfather, both of whom had cancer. She finished out 2006 -- during that season she played with painful plantar fasciitis -- but acknowledged thoughts of retirement had crossed her mind.

Still, Holdsclaw returned for 2007 with the Sparks, which was especially important since Lisa Leslie was out that season because she was pregnant. Yet then, after just five games, Holdsclaw said she was indeed "retiring."

Understandably, Holdsclaw faced some criticism because of the timing of her decision. Why hadn't she just retired before the season and let the Sparks make plans without her?

Back then I wrote a column for ESPN.com that started like this:

So what do we make of the strange case of Chamique Holdsclaw's professional career? In women's hoops, there has never been more of a "sure thing" who turned into such an enigma.

Actually, though, Holdsclaw didn't "retire" from basketball, she just took a break from the WNBA for the rest of 2007 and all of 2008, but played overseas. Then, she came back to the league last season with the Dream, which seemed a pretty good fit.

She averaged 13.9 points and 4.4 rebounds, both career lows, in 25 games. Knee problems hampered her at the end of the season, and she was a nonfactor in the playoffs. Now, Holdsclaw is again leaving a team at a bad time, although admittedly the season just began.

There has been speculation, as always, about possible personal-life issues that prompted this demand for a trade. She's not the only big-name player who has wanted a deal, of course; Katie Douglas, Lindsay Whalen and Cappie Pondexter are among those who have been accommodated. But each of those players had considerable trade value and no previous requests to be moved, nor sudden departures from teams.

For Holdsclaw, this makes three WNBA teams she has left at an inconvenient time for her teammates and coaches. Holdsclaw will be 33 in August, and with her injury issues and overall history, is she worth a chance for any of the other 11 teams?

Who has a role she can fill and the cap space to give her a salary she'll be agreeable to? For that matter, what team does she want to play for? Or does she truly want to play at all?

Here's one last thing from a past column about Holdsclaw. I once mentioned something that she said her late grandmother, June, used to tell her.

"Sometimes, she'll say, 'Chamique, no matter what you get, it's never enough.'"

The reason I've revisited these things I wrote is to show that over the years, like most other observers, I've been baffled and saddened about how Holdsclaw's career has gone, while empathetic to her struggles.

Ultimately, if I were a WNBA general manager considering adding Holdsclaw to my team, I'd seriously contemplate risk/reward and I think the former would outweigh the latter. Then again, that's the thing about being an enigma. Nobody, really, can ever quite figure you out.

Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com. Read her blog at http://voepel.wordpress.com.