Editor's note: Before the 2006 season tips off, ESPN's Nancy Lieberman and ESPN.com's Mechelle Voepel and Graham Hays each tackle one question facing all 14 WNBA teams. Here, the experts take a closer look at Detroit.
The Shock went 23-11 in the regular season, beating Connecticut in the East finals and then winning the final two games of their five-game series with Sacramento to win their second WNBA championship. Coach Bill Laimbeer enters his sixth season in Detroit.
Guard Deanna Nolan and forward Cheryl Ford led the Shock in scoring at 13.8 ppg. Nolan also topped the team in assists (3.6) and steals (1.4). Ford averaged a career-high 11.3 rpg. Ruth Riley had 1.4 blocks per game.
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Even without a first-round draft pick, the Shock got better. And that's a compliment to Bill Laimbeer. The Detroit coach knew chemistry has been lacking since the 2003 championship season and went out and got the one player via free agency who might be able to infuse some camaraderie again: Kedra Holland-Corn. Her numbers are solid (9.5 ppg career scoring average), but more importantly, Holland-Corn is the ultimate team player and leader who won't complain about minutes and will give Laimbeer and her teammates whatever is needed.
The year after the championship, Detroit's chemistry was absolutely terrible. Holland-Corn's departure, Swin Cash's ACL injury and bad chemistry all struck at the same time. But now, with All-Stars at every position (including a slimmed down Katie Smith), and with Elaine Powell and Iciss Tillis gone, Laimbeer has worked hard to make sure his team members are aligned and understand the goal: to win. -- ESPN's Nancy Lieberman
Best-case: Like a slow-simmering stew, all that talent finally blends together in a masterpiece that was worth the wait. Swin Cash shows no lingering effects of the knee surgery that plagued her last season, giving the team a player who can bridge the gap between the talent in the post and on the wing. Motivated by last season's failures and/or trade rumors, Cheryl Ford and Ruth Riley play with purpose and aggression on a nightly basis. Katie Smith settles in for a full season and spreads defenses to the breaking point with her outside shooting, while Deanna Nolan plays distributor without sacrificing any of her amazing athleticism.
Worst-case: Bill Laimbeer plays the role of Bill Murray in a reprisal of "Groundhog Day." Minus Cash, who was never herself in coming back from injury last season, all of this talent was in place for the stretch run last season. And we saw how well that worked out. Nolan might be the most underrated talent in the league, but she might be miscast as even a part-time facilitator. Without much proven depth, aside from the enigmatic and intriguing Kara Braxton, there won't be many strings to pull if things go wrong. -- ESPN.com's Graham Hays
The Shock mean the power of salvation. This franchise was all but packed up before Bill Laimbeer took over and said, "Let's just give it another chance." With him as coach, the Shock won the WNBA title in 2003 and should be a contender again this season. Not all ex-NBA guys have worked out in the WNBA's coaching ranks, but Laimbeer certainly has. -- ESPN.com's Mechelle Voepel
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