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 the Houston Comets.
The Comets went 19-15 in the regular season, then beat Seattle in three games in the first round of the playoffs before getting swept by Sacramento in the Western Conference finals. Coach Van Chancellor enters his 10th season in Houston.
During an MVP season, Sheryl Swoopes led the Comets in points (18.6) and steals (2.0) per game. Michelle Snow was the top rebounder (6.8) and shot blocker (1.15). Dawn Staley dished out a team-high 4.5 assists per game.
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Like Charlotte, Houston isn't focused around any offseason acquisitions. Rather, Comets fans are likely focusing on the fact that Tina Thompson is back at 100 percent. Thompson, who gave birth to a son last May, averaged 10.1 points (half of her average from the 2004 season) and 3.8 rebounds (down from 6.0) in 15 games (all starts). However, she played great in five playoff games, increasing her averages to nearly 14 points and six rebounds, and is expected to be back in form.
Houston probably did the best it could in trying to fill the void left by Brazilian guard Janeth Arcain (career averages of 10.4 points, 3.6 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.4 steals, 43.7 percent accuracy from the field and 30.1 miles in 196 starts), who is not returning. Simply put, Arcain -- who has been one of the top women's basketball players in the past three Olympic Games -- is irreplaceable.
That said, Tamecka Dixon is a savvy veteran and still gives Houston three of the remaining seven original players left over from the WNBA's inaugural season. Dixon -- a three-time All-Star in L.A. whom the Comets signed via free agency in late February -- has some of the attributes necessary for filling in for Arcain. She can get points in the half court, has a nice jumper and is very good at getting to the rim. She also plays well with veterans around her and is used to playing on a championship team after two titles with the Sparks.
Currently, the Comets' roster includes 14 players, including rookies Mistie Williams of Duke and third-round pick Tiffany Stansbury of NC State. -- ESPN's Nancy Lieberman
Best-case: Tina Thompson doesn't miss a beat in her first full season back on the court, reuniting with reigning MVP Sheryl Swoopes to form a dominant one-two punch. With so much defensive attention focused on Thompson and Swoopes, Michelle Snow continues to emerge as one of the next great post players, making a difference on both ends of the court. A deep collection of proven veterans, including Dawn Staley, Dominique Canty, Tamecka Dixon and Tari Phillips, gives the Comets the depth to keep all of them fresh for the postseason. And young players like Sancho Lyttle, Roneeka Hodges and Mistie Williams chip in as role players.
Worst-case: Swoopes and Thompson have a difficult time re-establishing on-court chemistry, following a season in which Swoopes took more shots than in any season since 2002. Staley and Dixon, two players used to playing heavy minutes throughout their careers, can't find a rhythm while sharing minutes at the point with Canty. Thompson, whose rebounding numbers were sliding even before last season, continues to drift away from the post, and Lyttle is slow to develop as a reliable option, leaving Snow with little support on the boards and in the post on offense. -- ESPN.com's Graham Hays
The Comets mean "trail blazer." The Houston franchise set the standard for high-quality play, winning the league's first four titles. The fans helped tremendously by creating the atmosphere. Houston's excellence -- led by the Big Four of Sheryl Swoopes, Tina Thompson, Cynthia Cooper and Janeth Arcain -- helped carry the league through its birth and infancy. -- ESPN.com's Mechelle Voepel
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