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 Indiana.
The Fever went 21-13 in the regular season, then swept New York in the playoffs before getting swept by Connecticut in the Eastern Conference finals.
Though the team's second- and third-leading scorers are gone, Tamika Catchings is back after leading the Fever in scoring (14.7 ppg), rebounding (7.8), assists (4.2) and steals (2.65).
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Better. Way better. So good, in fact, that this is the best shooting team Indiana has had in the franchise's seven-year history. Thanks to the most active offseason of any team -- GM Kelly Krauskopf's great effort included two trades (one of which resulted in a higher pick in the rookie draft) and possibly two or three new starters in the lineup -- the Fever now have more versatility than ever before so that hopefully perennial MVP candidate Tamika Catchings won't have to do everything.
The action started three months ago in February when the Fever traded Kelly Miller (10.2 ppg, 2.4 apg in 2005) to Phoenix in exchange for Anna DeForge. Miller is one of the hardest-working, most focused players I've seen in the game, but DeForge is an excellent perimeter defender and one of the top shooting guards in the league. In the offseason, she won MVP honors and led her team to the Polish league championship, averaging 18.8 points as the second-leading scorer in Euro basketball.
On the same day as the Miller-DeForge trade, the Fever also signed free agents Charlotte Smith and franchise fan-favorite Olympia Scott to help make up for losing Natalie Williams (retired) and Deanna Jackson (expansion draft). Then, after trading away Kelly Schumacher and the Fever's No. 12 draft pick to New York for the Liberty's No. 9 pick (which Indiana used in April to draft La'Tangela Atkinson, who helped lead UNC to the Final Four), March's big free-agency signing brought on Tamika Whitmore, a seven-year veteran power forward who has been to three WNBA finals.
DeForge, Smith and Whitmore are all excellent 3-point shooters and very smart, experienced players. But with Williams and Schumacher gone (they combined for 11.4 points and 7.5 rebounds last season, with Williams starting all 34 games and Schumacher getting 14 starts), the Fever's post game will be played by committee and must consistently be productive. Scott is a role player who can give high energy on defense and rebound, but she is limited offensively. -- ESPN's Nancy Lieberman
Best-case: All the new arrivals blend together as the perfect complement for Tamika Catchings. Anna DeForge (37 percent 3-point shooting in her career) provides the outside accuracy that Kelly Miller (33 percent last season) could not, keeping defenses honest when Catchings has the ball in the post. Tamika Whitmore replaces the defense and rebounding, if not the leadership, of Natalie Williams, and Charlotte Smith keeps shooting like she has the last two years (47 percent compared to 40 percent for her career). Second-year players Ebony Hoffman and Tan White continue to mature, and Tully Bevilaqua, who turns 34 in July, shows last season was just the beginning of a late-career renaissance.
Worst-case: Don't be misled by all the talk of "balance" in Indiana; the recipe for success still revolves around finding the right supporting cast for Catchings to lead. If DeForge and Smith start bumping into each other while clogging the space behind the arc and neither Whitmore nor Hoffman emerge as capable post scorers, the new mix could become a new mess. And a situation in which Catchings, a naturally unselfish star, subjugates her own skills for the supposed good of the team is definitely a worst-case scenario. -- ESPN.com's Graham Hays
The Fever mean a team in the Heartland, and that matters. The state is known for basketball, and having a pro women's team there just makes sense. And neither the WNBA nor Indiana itself couldn't ask for anything more than having Tamika Catchings as the face of the franchise. -- ESPN.com's Mechelle Voepel
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