Players get to decide if Sun go from good to great in 2019
And so the 16th edition of the Connecticut Sun was unveiled to the media Wednesday in Neon Uncasville, a wee bit short of nine months since we last saw them crumble in the final few minutes against Diana Taurasi, Britney Griner and Phoenix Mercury in the playoffs.
This is where we begin: at last season's ending.
No shame, really, in a loss to an uber talented team. The Sun played pretty well most of the game. Until the end. And then after it was over, Taurasi, perhaps unwittingly, gave the Sun players a blueprint for a championship in 2019.
In a world suddenly awash in analytics, metrics and other abstractions that tug at the core of the human element, Taurasi said something about free will after the game that has no metric equivalent.
It didn't merely illustrate the core of her greatness, but what's required to be great in general.
"We relish these moments," Taurasi said, alluding to a time when the playoff game was in peril for her team. "It's really up to you whether you want to keep playing. Do you want to come back tomorrow? There was a moment there we could have easily said 'we're good, we've had our good moments, let's go back to Phoenix and get ready for USA Basketball.' You get to make that decision."
Think of the power of those words: You get to make that decision.
Taurasi makes that decision every day. In every drill. In every game. She personifies what her college coach, Geno Auriemma, says about being great.
"Being great means being great every day," he says.
Which leads us to the Sun of 2019. The opportunity is there to win a championship. Breanna Stewart's injury leaves Seattle vulnerable. Taurasi's recent surgery will keep her out 10-12 weeks, perhaps imperiling Phoenix's season. It leaves Connecticut, Washington and Los Angeles as perhaps the three primary contenders.
So, it's there.
And then it becomes about being great every day. It means the will to practice what Taurasi preached. How badly do the Connecticut players want this? They get to make that decision. Maybe that's the very definition of the 2019 season: Will enough players make the decision to be great every day?
Sun coach Curt Miller has talked about his team's need to finish games better. This is where the WNBA offers a blessing and a curse. Blessing: Most games come down to the final few minutes, thereby offering nightly drama. Curse: Most games come down to the final few minutes, thereby making offensive precision and defensive effort non-negotiable.
It hasn't been the strength of this team.
Except that the "we're still young" stuff no longer applies. They've been together long enough. There's enough talent. There is leadership. Athleticism. Jonquel Jones has Most Valuable Player ability. Even better, she needn't defer to the departed Chiney Ogwumike any longer. "Give it to J.J. and get out of the way" not only rhymes, but seems rather prudent, especially in late game situations.
The Sun franchise has been star-crossed over the years. There has been bad luck — playoff injuries to Lindsay Whalen and Katie Douglas — and bad decisions (getting rid of Mike Thibault after a 28-9 season). In a counterintuitive way, though, it's almost made this a better story. There's a loyal group of fans who have been here from the start, hell bent on seeing this through. They've never had a better opportunity than right now.
Not that predictions mean anything, but the finals this year will be Washington vs. Connecticut. Positively delicious. The Sun against their old coach (and Elena Delle Donne) for the whole Heineken truck. Wouldn't get much better than that.
Meanwhile, for the next few months, the Sun, if they so choose, get to have Diana's words resonate: They get to decide.
Away we go.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro