Sun outlook is brighter ... even without their best player

Mohegan — Will she be missed? Please.

How can you not miss someone whose outlook is mostly sunny with an excellent chance of awesome?

And the idea, that, you know, Chiney Ogwumike is the Connecticut Sun's best player.

All of which would contribute to perfectly understandable profanity from Sun loyalists, knowing exactly who's not here as training camp opens.

But then ...

Who's to say that with a little patience and the trusted healing powers of time and space, the Sun won't come back with bigger, badder fangs in 2018?

"I'm a big unintended consequence guy. Huge," Sun coach Curt Miller was saying at Wednesday's Media Day inside Mohegan Sun Arena, amid lots of orange and optimism.

So no, Miller's had happier thoughts than his best player blowing out her Achilles in China. Which Ogwumike did last November, thus imperiling the 2017 season. But her absence — and cooperation — has led to a contract extension, a procedural suspension that's opened up roster space and the space to send other (younger) players on quicker voyages of self-discovery.

Miller said Ogwumike's injury ultimately led to Camille Little's departure, which, in turn, scored the Sun another post (Lynetta Kizer) and a quality draft pick (Brionna Jones). Most importantly, it allows for the quicker maturation of Jonquel Jones, who may be shaped like 6 o'clock, but whose potential screams prime time.

"Chiney's injury allows Jonquel Jones to go into the season without looking over her shoulder," Miller said. "She's going to be able to play through mistakes and stay on the floor. It's a great opportunity for her to blossom on to the WNBA scene in what we truly believe is going to be a breakout year for her.

"J.J. had a great last game of the year in Washington," Miller said, "and I still yanked her for every mistake she made. This year she gets to play through those mistakes. You have to look at the bright side of things. Not having Chiney opens the door for Morgan (Tuck), Kizer and J.J."

And it's not like Ogwumike won't be around. Her burgeoning duties at ESPN will keep her close to Neon Uncasville. Ogwumike, Stanford educated, figured out that there's not necessarily a negative connotation to being suspended, especially when it benefits the franchise. The franchise in turn rewarded its best player and most magnetic personality with a contract extension.

Makes you wonder: Why can't this happen in sports more often?

"Keeping the culture we're creating and keeping this core group together was really exciting for both sides," Miller said. "Knowing Chiney is a player that desires to be in Connecticut went a long way for us. ... She wants to be in the Connecticut market."

Sure, the ESPN connection helps.

But so does a promising future with the Sun, whose window is opening.

"We have the ability to develop other players, understanding this team may be better and stronger coming back in 2018," Miller said. "Chiney is a team first player. We didn't have to shove that down an agent's throat. She thought about that herself. We worked together and found a great mutual decision."

True enough: It's not an easy sell for the Sun to — again — ask their fans for patience. But it's significantly easier watching a young, exciting team grow than a bunch of miserable veterans pout their way through summer. The Sun will be exciting, if nothing else. And, yes, Ms. Sunny Disposition will be among us.

"Financially, we can't have Chiney on the team, but she will choose to be around," Miller said. "Her opportunities at ESPN will allow her to stay in the market a great deal. She is allowed to work with our training staff, medical staff and strength and conditioning staff. We just can't pay for housing and some of the extras. But for a person who will be suspended, you'll be surprised how much Chiney on her own will be in the Connecticut market."

Patience folks. Patience. They're headed in right direction here. Finally.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

READER COMMENTS

Loading comments...
Hide Comments