NEW YORK (AP) — Domestic violence, absent marquee players and Isiah Thomas lobbying to become a potential owner has made for a busy WNBA offseason.
President Laurel J. Richie hopes that with the league’s 19th season beginning Friday the attention will turn to the play on the court instead of the news off of it. That might be hard to do with some of the offseason problems still unresolved.
Thomas’ ownership application for the New York Liberty is still pending. Richie had hoped to have Thomas’ petition vetted and a decision rendered before the season began, but that wasn’t feasible. The league just announced this week that a six-member committee of the WNBA Board of Governors was formed to evaluate his application.
“The committee had their first meeting this week and it was a very good meeting,” Richie told The Associated Press on Thursday. “We will have a series of meetings and I believe in following the process. I’m committed to the committee doing its due diligence and seeing the process unfold and seeing it through. I’m willing to take my hard knocks on the time it takes because I’m more focused on making the right decisions rather than making speedy decisions.”
Richie was widely praised for the record seven-game suspension the league handed to Brittney Griner and Glory Johnson for their domestic violence arrests in April. The players, who are married, have until Saturday to appeal it. Johnson has said that she’s going to appeal, although she will miss the upcoming season with the Tulsa Shock after she announced Thursday that she is pregnant.
Griner had said a few weeks ago that she wasn’t planning on appealing, but the All-Star has been hearing from players around the WNBA who would like her to change her mind so that a precedent isn’t set. Even if she does appeal, Griner will start serving the suspension on Friday when her Phoenix Mercury takes on San Antonio.
Richie will be on hand as the Mercury celebrate last season’s title. Griner will be in attendance to get her ring as she was granted an exemption by the league to attend the ceremony.
Diana Taurasi will be there as well, but that may be the only time the Mercury see her on the court this season. Taurasi announced in the winter that she would skip this season to rest.
Taurasi isn’t the only star sitting out this year. Candace Parker said she will miss at least the first half of the season to rest and was unclear when she would return. Sylvia Fowles asked the Chicago Sky to trade her or she wouldn’t play.
Some things to watch this season:
The top two overall selections in the draft this year — Jewell Loyd in Seattle and Amanda Zahui B. in Tulsa — left college early to turn pro. While that’s a common occurrence in the NBA and NFL, it’s rare for the WNBA, which doesn’t offer the same financial benefits.
“I just felt it was my time to play at the next level and face the next challenge,” said Loyd, who left Notre Dame after her junior year.
Zahui B. left Minnesota as a red-shirt sophomore. She was the Big Ten player of the year and was able to leave because she turned 22 in the same calendar year as the draft.
“I like to be unique,” Zahui said in April. “I like to do my own thing.”
A third of the league had coaching changes since last year.
Brian Agler moved down the west coast from Seattle to Los Angeles and his former top assistant Jenny Boucek took over the Storm. The two teams open the season against each other in Seattle on Saturday.
Stephanie White also moved one seat over, becoming head coach of the Indiana Fever when Lin Dunn retired after last season. The Indiana native will try and guide the team to an 11th straight playoff appearance.
While White will get her first chance to lead the team, Bill Laimbeer returned to New York for a second stint after briefly getting let go by the Liberty in October.
SHOCK THE WORLD
Tulsa hasn’t made the playoffs since moving from Detroit in 2010 and hope to end that dubious streak this season.
With Skylar Diggins coming off a season in which she averaged 20.1 points per game and the additions of the rookie Zahui and veterans Karima Christmas and Plenette Pierson, the Shock are positioned to make a run in the Western Conference even without the pregnant Johnson.
The Shock won just nine games combined in their first two seasons in Tulsa and went 12-22 last year.
AP Basketball Writer Jon Krawczynski contributed to this story.
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