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Oct 17, 2021; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Chicago Sky guard Courtney Vandersloot (22) dribbles the ball against Phoenix Mercury guard Skylar Diggins-Smith (4) during the second half of game four of the 2021 WNBA Finals at Wintrust Arena. Mandatory Credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

With the WNBA's new season kicking off Friday, let’s take a look at where each team stands and who'll be playing in the finals this fall.

Atlanta Dream

After a tumultuous 2021, the Dream have a new head coach in Tanisha Wright, two exciting rookies in Rhyne Howard and Naz Hillmon and a new general manager in Dan Padover, the former architect of the Las Vegas Aces. He pulled off the pre-draft trade so the Dream could select Rhyne Howard, the star out of Kentucky. But with everything different from last year, we don’t really know what the Dream will look like this season, and that’s what adds to the fun.

Chicago Sky

Chicago won its first WNBA championship in 2021 with the help of Candace Parker. She’s back and driven to win another title in her hometown. With their entire starting five returning, the Sky want to avoid the ups and downs they endured in the regular season last year. Emma Meesseman was a key addition, adding another experienced big to the rotation.

It’s important for Chicago to make another championship push now. Parker is 36, sharp shooter Allie Quigley will turn 36 in June and point guard Courtney Vandersloot may have to choose between overseas commitments and the WNBA with new CBA rules coming into effect in 2023. There’s no guarantee this group will be together next season, so the time is now to try to repeat.

Connecticut Sun

The 2021 Sun had the best record in the WNBA (26-6), the league MVP (Jonquel Jones) and Coach of the Year (Curt Miller), but they fizzled against the Sky in the playoffs. Jones, who averaged 19.4 points and a league-best 11.2 rebounds last season, is back, as is Miller along with key players DeWanna Bonner, Jasmine Thomas and Natasha Heideman. It’s a gamble to think this group will thrive again this season, but Connecticut has shown it can compete.

Arike Ogunbowale averaged 18.7 points and made her first All-Star team in 2021.
Arike Ogunbowale averaged 18.7 points and made her first All-Star team in 2021.

Dallas Wings

Youth is on Dallas' side. Led by star Arike Ogunbowale, the Wings broke out of a playoff drought in 2021 but lost to the Sky in the first round. The most experienced veterans have played five or six seasons, but six players have less than two seasons in the WNBA. Still, that youth, coupled with the experience from last year's playoffs, means the Wings could surprise this season.

Indiana Fever

It’s OK if you have to keep checking the roster to learn the names of the Fever, because there’s a whole lot of new people on the team. Tamika Catchings stepped aside as general manager, and the Fever brought back Lin Dunn, the coach who led Catchings to her — and Indiana’s — last title.

If you watched the NCAA women’s tournament, you’ll recognize several of the Fever’s rookies. Baylor’s NaLyssa Smith and Queen Egbo, Louisville’s Emily Engstler, South Carolina’s Destanni Henderson and Stanford’s Lexie Hull were all drafted by Dunn. They are a scrappy, competitive group of rookies, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be WNBA-ready.

It’s not likely Indiana will make the playoffs this season, but there’s so much unknown about the Fever that they could surprise.

Las Vegas Aces

After going 24-8 and earning the second seed in the WNBA playoffs, the Aces were bounced in the semifinals by Phoenix and made big changes. The biggest news in the offseason was the hiring of Becky Hammon as head coach. Hammon was a star in the WNBA before coaching under NBA legend Gregg Popovich in San Antonio, and now she will get a chance to take her skills back to the league where she played.

The Aces lost Liz Cambage to the Sparks and Angel McCoughtry to the Lynx. Yet the roster is still loaded with 2020 MVP A’ja Wilson and four-time All-Star Chelsea Gray. The question is: How will Hammon elevate this group?

Los Angeles Sparks

The Sparks could be the most intriguing team in the league this season. In 2021, they finished in seventh place, barely making the playoffs. With both Ogwumike sisters missing games, the Sparks were missing, well, a spark. But their big offseason moves landed Liz Cambage, one of the league’s best bigs, Jordin Canada and Chennedy Carter.

How will this new roster play together under Derek Fisher? The Sparks have the talent, but the interesting part will be to see how these players work together.

Minnesota Lynx

When Sylvia Fowles announced she was coming back in 2022, she made it very clear this is her last season. Since it’s Fowles’ last dance, the Lynx are motivated to make another championship run to add to the franchise's titles in 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2017.

Minnesota signed five-time All-Star Angel McCoughtry, who missed most of 2021 with a torn ACL but is healthy again. One wrinkle for the Lynx is the absence of Napheesa Collier, a two-time All-Star. She is pregnant but due early in the season, so she is hoping to be back before the end of the season.

New York Liberty

Last season, the Liberty made the playoffs by the skin of their teeth, just beating out the Mystics in a tiebreaker. Betnijah Laney, Natasha Howard and Sabrina Ionescu showed the potential of what this team could be, but New York was missing a big presence in the paint. Enter Stefanie Dolson, a center on the champion Sky who signed as a free agent.

Asia Durr has returned after recovering from long COVID, Rookie of the Year Michaela Onyenwere is back and new coach Sandy Brondello has taken over. The Liberty will be a team to watch, not because of what they’ve done. It's due to the potential of what they can do.

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Apr 21, 2022; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Phoenix Mercury guard Diana Taurasi works out during training camp at Verizon 5G Performance Center. Mandatory Credit: Cheryl Evans/The Republic via USA TODAY NETWORK

Phoenix Mercury

The Mercury made a surprising run to the WNBA Finals in 2021, but so much has changed this year because of Brittney Griner’s absence. In February, the seven-time All-Star was arrested on drug charges in Russia, where she was going to play for UMMC Ekaterinburg, and now the U.S. State Department, which believes Griner was wrongfully detained, is seeking her release. The WNBA also announced Monday that Griner will be paid her full salary for the season and that her name and number would be placed on every WNBA court.

The Mercury, who will dedicate their season to Griner, added several strong players this offseason. Tina Charles, the 2012 MVP who had a resurgence in 2021, and Diamond DeShields, a 2019 All-Star with Chicago, signed with the Mercury. They join stars Diana Taurasi and Skylar Diggins-Smith and new coach Vanessa Nygaard in trying to make another WNBA Finals run.

Seattle Storm

Sylvia Fowles isn’t the only WNBA legend retiring after this season. Sue Bird — the league’s all-time assists leader, a four-time champion, a 12-time All-Star and a five-time Olympic gold medalist — is hanging up her basketball shoes after this season. The Storm wants to help her win one more ring. MVP Breanna Stewart is back, as is Jewell Loyd.

Seattle's core showed in 2021 that it can win, but the Olympic break proved to be too much for the team. Now, can a healthy Storm win it all?

Washington Mystics

If the 2021 Mystics were a healthy team, they would've been talented enough to be a title contender — but they weren’t healthy. Both Elena Delle Donne and Alysha Clark missed most of the season with injuries, and the team went 12-20.

This season? Delle Donne and Clark are expected to be at full strength. Rui Machida also will make her American debut after starring for Japan at the Tokyo Olympics.

PLAYOFF PREDICTIONS

And here's how the postseason will shake out.

Maggie Hendricks' playoff predictions
Round Maggie's picks
WNBA semifinals Seattle Storm, Chicago Sky, Las Vegas Aces, Minnesota Lynx
WNBA Finals Seattle Storm, Chicago Sky
WNBA champion Seattle Storm

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