The IX: Basketball Wednesday with Howard Megdal, April 15, 2020
The Tina Charles Era, remembered — Rebecca Lobo talks WNBA Draft — Must-click women's basketball links
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The Tina Charles Era mattered in New York
The story which (sure, I’ll point it out) I broke this morning — Tina Charles, traded to the Mystics — was not a huge surprise, really, for almost anyone. Charles had been unhappy for some time. The Liberty weren’t pleased with how she performed in 2019 and with general manager Jonathan Kolb and head coach Walt Hopkins, are looking to build a young team around whichever point guard out of Oregon they decide to choose with the first pick in Friday’s WNBA Draft.
An invested Tina Charles, still just 31, is going to be an absurdly potent option for the Washington Mystics, who you may remember were, well, not terrible last year.
“Obviously we already are a pretty good scoring team,” Mystics GM and head coach Mike Thibault told reporters on a Wednesday Zoom. “But I felt we could do some more damage with a post player like Tina. If you end up playing her one-on-one, she’s deadly, and if you double team her, she’s a great passer.” A passer to Elena Delle Donne and Emma Meesseman and Natasha Cloud, too. Good luck, rest of the league.
So yes, everybody wins. But let’s note as well that this era in Liberty basketball, one that seemed to promise a long-sought championship, ends without one as well. This was Charles’ goal — it is what drove her to ask for a trade from the Connecticut Sun, a year after winning MVP honors and taking a Thibault-coached team to the Eastern Conference finals.
There was something right about Tina Charles in New York. Her game contains many facets, and not all of them are the traditionally gritty play we often hear ascribed to New York. But it was the overarching takeaway from watching Tina Charles play. It reminded me so much of the Patrick Ewing years for the Knicks — a franchise player who never really got that second elite player, let alone a third, to help her pursue a championship.
Once Cappie Pondexter left? Tina Charles played 5,341 minutes from 2015-2019 with the Liberty. The next five on the list? Sugar Rodgers (3,078), Kiah Stokes (2,605), Brittany Boyd (2,375), Shavonte Zellous (2,292) and Tanisha Wright (2,086). None of those five, while capable players, are second stars, or even, let’s be honest, logical starters on a championship team in their primes (and none of the five were really in their primes, either on the upward or downward slopes of their careers). And notice — this wasn’t a core around Tina Charles. Players came and went, continuity simply wasn’t part of the equation, either.
So the fact that the Liberty won three straight Eastern Conference regular season titles, well, they did that largely in an uphill struggle, a sweating Tina Charles pulling them with all her might across the finish line in game after game at Madison Square Garden. She got knocked out of the playoffs at home in three straight years, too — by Tamika Catchings, the game’s greatest player ever, by Diana Taurasi, the best offensive player in league history and well-known road elimination game warrior, and by nine threes from Kristi Toliver in a game Charles played Elena Delle Donne to a draw.
Tina in the locker room, well, she had a bit of a reputation, tough with reporters. Me? I always loved it. Tina Charles wouldn’t suffer foolish questions gladly, and man, there are a lot of those when you play in the WNBA. We always got along, I believe, because while she knew I had a lot of things to ask her, I always put the work in. I respect the game. And Tina Charles is a worker, and respects the game. She has high standards, and she’ll be surrounded by people in DC who do, too.
There were plenty of whispers around the Liberty about how that changed once the team was exiled to Westchester. But think about it from Tina’s perspective: she forced a trade to go play basketball in New York City, her home, and then the Liberty were forcibly removed from that city, and suddenly she had a massive commute to go play in front of a couple of thousand Westchester fans. That helpless feeling watching Toliver’s threes, but stretched out over two years. It had to have an emotional impact — hell, I know it affected visiting teams just getting dressed in the Westchester County Center locker room, and they’d stay for a night and leave.
The part that’s really heartbreaking, from my perspective: Tina Charles, if she’d stayed in New York, would have played at Barclays Center, just a few blocks from her father’s record shop. A real arena, filled with fans, a franchise ready to embrace a future of major league quality. There are a ton of good, basketball and non-basketball reasons for this divorce, but New York basketball is getting denied a chance to see a hometown hero, and one of the great players the city ever produced, cheered as she won a championship with the New York Liberty.
This Week in Women’s Basketball
Ava Wallace breaks down the WNBA’s post-draft challenge.
Haley Gorecki shares her journey.
Mississippi State is a premier job. (Nikki McCray was an inspired choice.)
Penn’s players are still not over how the season ended.
Listen to Natasha Cloud on being a role model.
The Big East is far better than people give it credit for being.
Henry Bushnell looks at what Sabrina Ionescu’s fame could translate in ways other college stars have not.
Allie Quigley shared her H-O-R-S-E strategy with Mark Medina.
Bella Alarie on the hot seat with LaChina Robinson.
Andrew Joe Potter points out that Sue Bird will be waiting for Sabrina Ionescu when she gets to the WNBA.
Barbara Barker breaks down why Sabrina Ionescu is perfect for New York.
Oregon is in good hands, though.
I wrote about Tamika Catchings in historical context, which is always fun.
Nicki Collen talks to Daniel Shirley about the Atlanta Dream offseason.
Megan Gauer has key stats for 40 WNBA Draft prospects.
I took a look at how the offseason moves that preceded the WNBA Draft have altered the draft trajectory.
Sarah Valenzuela looks at the culture change Sabrina Ionescu represents in New York.
Bella Alarie joined Around The Rim, which is always must-listen.
I spoke to Allie Quigley about her win in the H-O-R-S-E Challenge.
Jim Souhan spoke to Tamara Moore about becoming the first WNBA player to coach a men’s college team.
Chaunte’l Powell looks at the players she’s tracking the most ahead of the draft.
Wonderful, painful read from Roberta Rodrigues on the decline of the Brazil women’s national team.
Tweet of the Week
Five at The IX: Rebecca Lobo Talks WNBA Draft
(Great insight, as always, from Rebecca on a Monday conference call with reporters. Here are some highlights, including a question from me.)
Q. What are your thoughts on Chennedy Carter and how her game will translate to the WNBA. And also with the Dallas Wings having four first-round picks, do you see them keeping all four picks?
REBECCA LOBO: Chennedy Carter’s talent obviously translates really well — her ability to score, her effectiveness in the pick-and-roll game. You hear some people call her a generational talent. This is a player who is clearly capable of being a big-time scoring threat in the WNBA.
It’ll be interesting to see, once we have a season, how she does on other facets of the game, getting teammates involved, how she does on the defensive end of the floor. But without question her scoring ability is right there in terms of WNBA talent.
Dallas, it’ll be interesting to see if they end up with all the picks that they have right now. You could see potentially a trade happening before the draft or even on draft day that might change the number of picks they end up with. But it’s got to be an exciting time for fans of the Dallas Wings because they’ve got the foundation with Arike Ogunbowale and will have a big opportunity to build in a big way around her with this draft. They will have some nice building blocks for their franchise going forward.
Q. I wondered if either of you think Megan Walker or Bella Alarie could be available when the Mercury pick at 10, and if not, who do you think could be a logical pick for the Mercury at that spot?
REBECCA LOBO: I think there’s a slight chance that Megan Walker could be available. I don’t necessarily think Bella Alarie would be available there. Phoenix is in a relatively good position that they have their Big Three coming in, assuming Diana Taurasi is healthy, Skylar Diggins and Brittney Griner. They’re in a situation, will they be looking at the best available. Wing, combo guard might be ideal for them because they have depth in the post. It will depend on what happens in the picks above them. But I think there’s a chance that Walker will be available.
Q. I want to ask you about Jocelyn Willoughby from Virginia. Do you see her getting drafted on Friday and maybe what round could be a possibility? And do you see her skill set translating to the WNBA?
REBECCA LOBO: Yeah, Jocelyn will get drafted. The question is just going to be where. Will she be an early- to mid-second-round pick potentially? A lot of the people I have spoken to have talked about Jocelyn. Again, not necessarily in the first round, but maybe earlier in the second round, mid-second round.
I think definitely her game translates. Her body translates. She can score at a high clip and high efficiency from the three-point line. She can take it to the basket. She’s got a good frame. She’s a good finisher. She gets to the free throw line. A lot of potential. And that’s what a lot of coaches — that’s in a lot of ways what the draft is. It’s not only what they’re going to be right away, but with seasoning, playing overseas, more time with your WNBA team, what can you become? Do you have those tools? And she is a player who has those tools.
Q. Rebecca, I want to talk to you specifically about three bigs who are talked about quite a bit and have been on this call in Satou Sabally, Lauren Cox and Bella Alarie. When you look at those three, where do you see each of them standing out in terms of not only their ceiling but also what their floor is, not just the type of 4s that have been successful at the college level but where the 4 game is going as well?
REBECCA LOBO: Yeah, it’s the most skilled position in the WNBA right now, the 4 spot. Elena Delle Donne, Breanna Stewart, that’s the way the game is thriving right now in the WNBA.
Satou, I think she is going to be able to come in and contribute pretty quickly. Her game, I think, translates right away, and there is a very high ceiling. There’s a lot of room still for improvement for her, even though she’s going to be pretty ready when she comes in.
Lauren Cox is interesting because there’s a conversation I think of, is she a 4 or is she a 5? Is she better suited, especially on the defensive end, to guard a 5 in the WNBA than she might be at the 4 spot? I think she will also, depending on the situation and where she goes, contribute right away, and will have some success with the things she does well and will be able to learn pretty quickly in terms of the things that she needs to improve on.
I think Bella, the floor may be a little bit different for Bella just because of physical strength. She’s not quite as strong as those other two, but she can get there. It seems like her body is still in the process of developing and strengthening and turning into the grown woman that you see in the WNBA. But I think, again, hopefully a situation for her where she can continue to learn and doesn’t have to do too much her rookie year. She is a player with a really high ceiling, good work ethic, smart player, really good physical tools, but her body might mature a little bit later than those other two women.