Will she stay, or will she go now?
It was the end of a busier-than-LaGuardia Friday, the day before the WNBA All-Star game, when most players were pooped from various functions, clinics and other league-mandated assignments. And it was Tina Charles who assumed the responsibility of hosting a get-together at one of Mohegan Sun's establishments, plunking down the credit card and thus allowing everyone a group exhale, some laughs and a few social sparklers.
Indeed, no other player, not even Candace Parker, the Most Valuable Player, left the weekend held in higher esteem than Charles, who treated her all-star teammates like all-stars.
Charles was asked why the largesse.
"Because this is my city," Charles said Wednesday.
"I'm representing Connecticut. It was Allie's (teammate Allison Hightower's) first go-round (at the all-star game) and I remember when Asjha (Jones) did the same thing for me," Charles said. "I figured this is my third go-round, it's my turn to host."
This is her city.
Powerful statement from a young woman whose maturity, burgeoning social responsibility and philanthropy has been one of the best stories in the history of the Connecticut Sun, not to mention the UConn Huskies.
Now for perhaps the more pertinent question:
Is this going to be Charles' city next year, too?
Several industry sources have whispered in recent weeks that Charles is not happy here and might consider sitting out next season as Jones has this summer.
I asked Charles the question Wednesday.
"I'm not going to answer a question like that," Charles said. "My focus is on Indiana (tonight's opponent) right now. I'm taking it one day at a time."
Let's pause to examine.
She could have dismissed the rumors as absurd and pledged her undying love for the franchise. Her city, after all. But she did not. Draw your own conclusion.
To be clear: This isn't a decision that's going to be made today, tomorrow or the next day. Clearly, Charles has an affinity for Connecticut. But we'd be na´ve to ignore the current state of affairs here. And that the fortunes of this franchise better change before next season begins or the best player might not come.
Earlier in the conversation, I asked her if she was happy here.
"I'm not happy with the way the season has gone," she said. "Am I happy in Connecticut? I've been here seven, eight years. It grows on you. As far as the season, I don't think anybody wants to be 4-12."
Charles has spent much of the spring and summer awash in double and triple teams. She is shooting 40 percent from the field. She shot 50 last year. That's because she doesn't have another scoring threat in the post now that Jones is gone. She's barely had any on the perimeter with injuries to Tan White, Renee Montgomery and Kara Lawson most of the season.
Think about her situation: The reigning league MVP left here last October for the winter knowing her team came within an eyelash of the finals and would possibly add Alba Torrens and Sandrine Gruda for 2013. Instead, she learned her coach, Mike Thibault, whom she bear-hugged after learning she won the MVP, had been dismissed without her input. Jones didn't come, everyone else got hurt and they're 4-12.
If you are Tina Charles, might you be asking: How did this get so bad so fast?
If you are Tina Charles might you think that it's just not worth coming here next year and getting your body battered if the fortunes are hopeless?
I don't know whether Charles thinks that way. But wouldn't it make sense?
I also get the other argument: contracts mean something. The franchise has treated her well. This is her city. And with all that comes a responsibility.
Here is my guess: If Charles learns during the offseason while playing in Russia that the Sun have positioned themselves in the draft nicely or have made a trade or two to upgrade the roster, I believe she'll return. Happily. But if things don't change and the mess we see today is re-packaged with a lot of ifs and maybes for next year, she might not.
Hence, the Connecticut Sun are on notice. It goes beyond winning and losing for the rest of this summer. It's about a drastic improvement of the roster. Tina Charles needs help.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.
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