From the moment Asjha Jones informed the Connecticut Sun she would not play this season because of injuries, Anne Donovan’s coaching job has morphed incrementally from refinement to reconstruction.
Jones absence was quickly followed by an Achilles’ tendon tear that ended forward Danielle McCray’s season before it began.
And barely two weeks into the Donovan’s first season on the bench, two of the team’s top guards, Renee Montgomery and Tan White were lost long-term with ankle and hand injuries.
Montgomery has not played since May 31 and missed five games. White last played June 1 and has missed four.
Add it all up to discover the Sun has been without four of its core players for most of their first seven games. And look at the bottom line to see how it has impacted them.
The Sun (2-5) has lost six of its last seven heading into Sunday’s game against the Atlanta Dream (6-1) at the Mohegan Sun Arena.
“It’s been a difficult road so far, but where we are is not for the lack of being a good team,” said Chris Sienko, the Sun general manager. “We have the injury bug. We are significantly down [in personnel] from the roster we played with last year.
“When you are without Asjha and Danielle, and have been without Renee and Tan and also missing Kara Lawson for a game [with a sore back], it’s a lot of missing pieces from a very good team. And it’s a lot of missing scoring.”
The Dream, which won the Eastern Conference in 2010 and 2011, leads it again. But even they have had to adapt to things: Sancho Lyttle, their stalwart post, left the team last week to play for the Spanish national team at the EuroBasket championships.
With her gone, the Dream signed veteran center Ruth Riley, a free agent, the NCAA’s national player of the year in 2001 at Notre Dame and a two-time WNBA champion with the Detroit Shock.
“It was a little strange for me going into my 13th season [to not have a job],” Riley said. “It’s not something that I’m used to, but I understand the nature of the business, so I’m just grateful to have the opportunity now.”
In the course of crafting their roster, the Sun could have signed Riley, but chose not to. Instead, they traded a second-round pick in the 2014 draft to Tulsa for center Kayla Pedersen, the former Stanford standout. To make room for Pedersen, 6-4, the Sun waived Ashley Walker, who had finally made the league after being a last cut in three previous seasons.
But Pedersen and Riley will make their debuts Sunday with their new teams.
“Granted, we are 2-5,” Sienko said. “There is a long way to go [27 games] in the season. But it’s a competitive conference. There is no doubt about that.”
Truth is, the fifth-place Sun came into the weekend just two games behind both Washington and Chicago in the standings
Mitchell Etess, the Sun’s chief executive officer, says he understands how difficult the predicament has been for the team.
“We still have plenty of faith in the team,” Etess said. “There is nothing really not a lot you can do with all of these players injured. Who knows how much difference at least having Renee and Tan playing would have impacted us to this point?”
Sienko said the loss of Jones and McCray was perceived by the organization as a chance for Kelsey Griffin, the fourth-year forward, to step into a significant role next to MVP Tina Charles.
“The reality is that we feel Kelsey is coming along just fine, which has been great for us,” Sienko said. “She doesn’t have her scoring and rebounding at an average we would like her to be, but she is getting better by playing as much as she has.”
Charles, who started the season with five consecutive double-doubles, has been contained in the last two games by the New York Liberty and Seattle Storm. Charles scored 22 points and shot 8-for-35 in those games after getting 30 points (13-of-17) at Indiana June 12.
Charles was able to take advantage of Indiana’s lack of post depth to score at will. Etess hopes Pedersen can join with Mistie Bass and Griffin to give defenses something else to worry about.
“Tina isn’t going to sneak up on anyone anymore,” Etess said.