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 the Houston Comets.
The Comets went 18-16 in the regular season before losing in the first round of the playoffs. Coach Karleen Thompson, an assistant coach with the Comets for the past two seasons, was named head coach and general manager in February.
Tina Thompson led the team in scoring (18.7 ppg), Sheryl Swoopes was tops in steals (2.1) and Michelle Snow ranked first in rebounds (7.9) and blocks (1.1) per game. Dawn Staley led the team in assists (3.9).
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Best of times: Even in replacing a legend, new coach Karleen Thompson brings new energy to a team still trying to mix a core of veterans with a carefully crafted reloading plan. Playing for her old college teammate brings out the best in Tina Thompson, who stays healthy all summer and shows she's still among the best inside-outside threats in the league. Sheryl Swoopes proves last season's drop in numbers wasn't the inevitable beginning of a decline for the 36-year-old veteran, bouncing back to the MVP level she played at in 2005 and offering proof she'll be out in front of the pack into her 40s. Even with the veterans playing in top form, Michelle Snow continues to gradually assert herself as the team's star in waiting, while progression from Mistie Williams and the addition of Hamchetou Maiga-Ba and Latasha Byears makes the Comets a formidable team on defense and on the glass.
Worst of times: Thompson and/or Swoopes start to fade or miss time with injuries, and even with Snow stepping up in the post, no clear successor emerges to create offense on the wings. Point guard dissolves into a mess with Dawn Staley out of the picture, with nobody emerging from a group that includes Dee Davis, Erin Grant and Roneeka Hodges to truly take control of an offense that already ran on a turnover deficit last season. And with a new coach with no prior experience running a team, other than a brief stint as interim co-coach of the Sparks, veterans like Byears grow frustrated as the team sinks in the competitive Western Conference standings and young players like Williams and Sancho Lyttle fail to progress in a negative environment. -- ESPN.com's Graham Hays
Neither Dominique Canty (free agent) nor Dawn Staley (retired) are coming back, and you don't win in this league without exceptional guard play, especially at point guard. Although Houston drafted Ashley Shields with the eighth overall pick, I'm not sure Houston fulfilled its point guard need. Shields is a gifted scorer who averaged 25.9 points per game at Southwest Tennessee Community College last season, but can she or Dee Davis step in at the point immediately? There's no mystery, however, to Houston adding Hamchetou Maiga-Ba. She's a good defensive stopper with a nice open-court game. She can help the Comets. -- ESPN's Nancy Lieberman
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