A season that really never had a chance to begin ends Sunday for the Connecticut Sun against the Indiana Fever in the regular-season finale at the Mohegan Sun Arena.
In terms of defeats and disappointment, the franchise suffered from start to a finish that leaves them at the bottom of the WNBA. Their 24 losses already are the most in the history of the team.
Appropriately, it will end with just seven players, the result of injuries that laid the team bare before training camp began in May. Watching the season end in street clothes will be a creditable starting five: Tan White, Kara Lawson, Allie Hightower, Tina Charles and Tan White.
“I thought we were a playoff caliber team at the start of the season. But I don’t want the injuries to be a big excuse,” said Chris Sienko said. “We want to take a look at the players we have, how they played together, whether they were able to play together within Anne Donovan’s system.”
What’s most immediate is exposure to the WNBA’s Draft Lottery. The Sun will have the best mathematical chance to secure the first pick in the 2014 Draft. And if the draft were being held today, Stanford senior Chiney Ogwumike, the sister of Los Angeles forward Nneka Ogwumike, seems to be the one for the Sun.
After being guaranteed one of the first four picks, the Sun will have to work to get another. They traded their second-round pick in the 2014 to Tulsa – perhaps one that would be as high as No. 13 – for forward Kayla Pedersen.
But much will take place with this team before then. The 11-player roster, never whole this year because of incessant injuries to the backcourt, will be evaluated by Donovan and Sienko.
“I wouldn’t expect the players to apologize for what happened this season, but they are feeling badly,” Donovan said.
Still, minus the injured Asjha Jones and Danielle Walker, this was basically the same team that came within one win of the 2012 WNBA finals under Mike Thibault.
The team’s drop was precipitous and conspicuous.
“It doesn’t take this long [the season] for everyone to begin feeling terrible,” Donovan said. “It’s been a miserable season for us.”
The Sun has four restricted free agents – Tina Charles, Allie Hightower, Kaleena Greene and Kelsey Griffin. Restricted free agency allows the Sun to match any offer made for the player by an opponent and keep their rights.
Veterans Tan White and Mistie Bass are free agents and can negotiate any deal they choose for next season and beyond.
Bass, completing her seventh WNBA season, seems uncertain about her future.
“I’m not sure yet,” Bass said. “I want to take a good look at all of my options and try to decide what’s the best place and situation for me.”
Even before Sunday, Sienko began the process of conducting exit interviews with the injured players.
“Those I have spoken to overwhelming believe we could have been a playoff team had it not been for the injuries.”
The Sun never won more than two games straight and did that just twice. They were 2-15 on the road, losing their last eight away from the casino after a blowout win at New York on Aug. 3.
Charles, the reigning MVP, led the team in scoring (18.0) and rebounding (10.1) in her 29 games and had 17 double-doubles, giving her 80 in just four seasons. She has 10 games with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds. But she never appeared totally at ease with Griffin, Bass and Pedersen at her side at the power forward spot.
Griffin and Hightower, who made the all-star team with Charles, had breakout seasons and should be pieces of the team that moves forward, along with Faris and Charles.
But nothing else is certain.
The Sun have no idea with Jones will return. Nor do they know if European stars Alba Torrens (Spain) and Sandrine Gruda (France) will commit for next season with the 2014 World Championship on the horizon.
All three could be trade chips, as might Lawson, Montgomery – and even Charles, who would reap and enormous bounty in an effort the franchise makes to reshape itself.
“I don’t believe in the term “rebuilding,” Sienko said. “But we do need to shuffle some pieces in the effort to find those adept in Anne’s system and are willing to give of themselves to help the team, no matter the circumstances.”
When asked if there was anyone on the Sun he wouldn’t consider trading, Sienko was intriguingly blunt.
“I won’t answer that,” he said.