Editor's note: Before the 2007 season tips off Saturday, ESPN's Nancy Lieberman and ESPN.com's Mechelle Voepel and Graham Hays each tackle one question facing all 13 WNBA teams. Here, the experts take a closer look at Connecticut.
The Sun went 26-8 in the regular season (best in the East) before losing to Detroit in the Eastern Conference Finals. Coach Mike Thibault enters his fifth season in Connecticut.
Five of the team's top six scorers return, including Katie Douglas (16.4 ppg), Nykesha Sales (13.0), Asjha Jones (11.1), Margo Dydek (9.4) and Lindsay Whalen (9.0). Taj McWilliams-Franklin averaged a team-high 9.6 rebounds, while Whalen dished 4.6 apg. Dydek led the Sun in blocks (2.4) and Douglas paced the team in steals (1.9) and added 2.5 apg.
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We want to see if Asjha Jones can come into her own even more in 2007 after having her most productive season (averages of 11.1 points and 5.4 rebounds) as a WNBA player last year. Jones was the "overshadowed" one on the phenomenal 2002 UConn team, and she's used to that. But the Sun really need Jones to assert herself in 2007; her well-rounded basketball ability can impact games in many ways. -- ESPN.com's Mechelle Voepel
Best of times: There's no reason to insult Taj McWilliams-Franklin and suggest addition by subtraction is a possibility for the Sun following the veteran post's departure in an offseason trade. Still, there is a chance that the sheer force of change won't be an entirely bad thing for a team that had grown almost abnormally steady. Jones has been one of the league's best-kept frontcourt secrets since returning to her college stomping grounds after beginning her WNBA career in Washington, and eight or nine extra minutes a game could lead to a Tamika Whitmore-like statistical breakout. Add healthy seasons from Nykesha Sales (who despite the lasting images of her late-season injuries had been perhaps the league's most durable player in her first seven seasons), Lindsay Whalen and Margo Dydek, continued development from role players such as Megan Mahoney, Jamie Carey and Laura Summerton and new energy might lead to the same old satisfactory results for Mike Thibault's team.
Worst of times: McWilliams-Franklin did a lot of things for the Sun on and off the court. Intangible presence aside, she very tangibly took post pressure off Dydek, who has become the WNBA equivalent of Rik Smits with the Sun, with all the good and bad connotations that carries. If Jones can't pick up the rebounding slack and keep herself out of foul trouble, the Sun suddenly become an undersized, if fundamentally sound, team on the glass. Losing Erin Phillips, who tore her ACL playing in Australia over the winter, is almost as big a blow to the backcourt as losing McWilliams-Franklin was to the frontcourt. Without Phillips, Whalen might have to play closer to 30 minutes a game (she averaged 26 last season), resulting in more wear and tear on her body. The starting lineup appears pretty stable, but there are no proven commodities on the bench after journeyman post Kristen Rasmussen. -- ESPN.com's Graham Hays
The Sun have been legitimate title contenders for several seasons and are solid at every position. That didn't change in the offseason. But you can't say the team got better or worse. Trading away McWilliams-Franklin meant giving up a a major post presence. But the Sun also gained big, strong 6-foot-5 Erica Desouza.
Connecticut's main strength has always been its backcourt and the returners there are as solid as ever. I'm not sure if any of the Sun's draft picks -- forward Kamesha Hairston, center Sandrine Gruba and guards Cori Chambers and Kiera Hardy -- will make any significant impact this season. In fact, Hardy was waived Sunday. -- ESPN's Nancy Lieberman
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