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May 10, 2017

Rebecca Lobo

LaChina Robinson

New York, New York

MODERATOR: Thanks for joining us as we get set for WNBA tipoff 2017 presented by Verizon. This Saturday, May 13th, we'll have six of our 12 teams in action, highlighted by the ESPN telecast of the Seattle Storm at the defending champion Los Angeles Sparks at 5 p.m. Eastern.

With us, from ESPN, we have Rebecca Lobo and LaChina Robinson who will be calling WNBA games all season long. Welcome, ladies, thanks for joining us. We're going to turn it over directly to questions.

Q. Rebecca and LaChina, same question for both of you. First, is it fair to say the Washington Mystics are the most intriguing team in the league this year, given what they were able to do in the off-season? The second part to that would be how much time do you foresee it taking for that chemistry to develop and the team to really start clicking on all cylinders?
REBECCA LOBO: I think intriguing is the right word for them because you look at their roster and you think they have so many possibilities. I think that's just the question. First, you know, assuming they're healthy, but how long is it going to take them to kind of find that chemistry, and how will it be impacted when Emma [Meesseman] has to leave, and how many games is she going to miss? How long will she be gone when she's back with her National Team? I think that's the end of May into early June.

But when you watched the playoffs last year, it was clear that what matters most, other than having the home-court advantage, and especially if you can get those first two spots, but the teams that are hot at the end and really have the chemistry can do some things. We saw that with Phoenix last year, and their games against New York and Indiana.

But, yeah, Washington is going to be a really fun team to follow, and I think a team that everyone is most curious about.

LACHINA ROBINSON: What was the second part of that question?

Q. Just, do you think also that the most intriguing team in the league this year, given all their offseason moves and the chemistry part to how long is that going to take even though they have so many new players?
LACHINA ROBINSON: Yeah, I think they're very intriguing. When you look at what Elena Delle Donne has already accomplished in the WNBA, being a former MVP, and now you add to that being back to what she calls home. I was watching her reading the letter to the fans in D.C. and to her teammates and coaches, and just how excited she is. So to think that there is another level to her game, possibly, with her being in a place where she feels even more comfortable than she did in Chicago, is something exciting, to think about.

And Kristi Toliver, as well. We watched her in the Finals. I mean, she is a championship-minded player. She plays at a very high level, and I think can bring a mentality to Washington that they've needed. That killer instinct, that player who can help them elevate to the next level. So definitely a very intriguing team.

As far as how long it will take to come together, I think a lot of that will depend on the point guard position. Just, you've got so many options there. Obviously, Natasha [Cloud] is a little younger, but what will Mike Thibault do at that position? I think the number of players that can play at the point guard spot there, but who is the best fit, who gives them the most consistency is going to be something that I think will be a factor in how long it takes this team to get its chemistry together.

Q. Can I get a quick comment from each of you on some of the Notre Dame girls that are going to be playing this year in the WNBA? If we could start off with Lindsay Allen.
LACHINA ROBINSON: Sure, Lindsay Allen is a pure point guard. She's a pass-first point guard. She does an outstanding job of getting the ball to the post, which I think is underrated when you've got players like a Tina Charles, or you've got a Kia Vaughn's size, you need a point guard that in the half court can find the angles and ways to get their post players involved.

I think that Lindsay has proven to be one of the best at doing that, and she's just very poised, very relaxed, high basketball IQ. Doesn't really ever look nervous. So when you're playing in Madison Square Garden every night, that can definitely come in handy. So I'm expecting big things from her.

REBECCA LOBO: Why don't we go to Skylar Diggins. I'm really eager to see -- I guess it's Diggins-Smith now. I'm eager to see her this year in Dallas. Such a young group now that is around her. That's another team that I think people are kind of watching because you don't really know quite what to expect from them with so many new faces on the roster and anticipating her being back at the top of her game, which I'm eager to see because she was having such a great season a couple years ago before she got hurt. We saw it again in stretches last year.

So I'm eager to see if she can, once again, be one of the elite players in the WNBA.

Q. How about maybe, LaChina, on Kayla McBride?
LACHINA ROBINSON: Yeah, wow, really excited to see Kayla healthy. Obviously, that was the big thing for her last year. She had a lot of success to start her career, but it's only been injuries that have derailed her. And we obviously see a side of Moriah Jefferson that's got more experience. And with the addition of Kelsey Plum, that could be a really explosive back court.

Kayla's had a successful off-season and some time to get her legs under her. So I think this is a year where she could make that push to the All-Star level type play that I think she'll be capable of throughout her career in the WNBA.

Q. Rebecca, how about Natalie Achonwa?
REBECCA LOBO: Natalie Achonwa, you know, Indiana is an interesting team because so much of their identity in the past has been the fact that it was (Inaudible). So I'm kind of interested to see, especially with a new coach there, how that whole team is going to develop, and Natalie could be a big part of that.

I'm eager to see if she's going to have an expanded role this year or if she'll continue to be the player that comes in off the bench to do some things.

Q. Maya Moore for the first time took the off-season off. She said she needed to be charged and she spent a lot of time working on individual skills. We all know what she's done. She's been MVP, and she's won three titles. Do you guys think at age 27 there is another level for her to get to, and if so, what might that be? If she does that, how impressive would that be?
REBECCA LOBO: What might that be, I frankly don't know. Because Maya's one of those players where you say where can she improve? I don't know. But to see her this year presumably refreshed, her game refined in whichever ways that she was trying to refine it and work on it. Because the way she plays, the way she's been playing, I don't know how much she can add. I think at this point she'll probably just be refining what she can already do pretty well.

To continue to be surrounded by players who know her, there hasn't been a lot of change in Minnesota... clearly not with their starting lineup. So I don't know what those things could be, but it's going to be pretty fun for all of us to watch and see what they are.

LACHINA ROBINSON: Yeah, Rebecca pretty much said it all. But I just think it's scary. It's scary to think of Maya rested, more focused than ever, coming off of what could be described as a heart-breaking loss in the Finals.

So if there is another level to Maya Moore's game, then watch out, WNBA, because she's already an elite player. It seems like that is some of the verbiage we've heard from Minnesota to start the season, is that from the coaching staff down, they feel like there is another level of Minnesota Lynx that they have not yet reached. So that is scary in itself.

But definitely as Maya can find another gear, she can really start to establish herself, if not already, as one of the greatest to have ever played in this league.

Q. The Dallas Wings cut Tiffany Bias and Jordan Hooper this week, indicating that they're really committing to this youth group, meaning there could be five draft picks on the team, as well as Kayla Thornton who has limited WNBA experience. What do you think the pros and cons are of going with this youth group for the Wings?
REBECCA LOBO: Yeah, I was surprised a little bit to see, because I think still they have all five of their draft picks from this year and it looks and seems like Coach Williams is ready to start new. You know, which you can do when you struggled the way they did a year ago and a team that didn't make the playoffs. Chemistry is vitally important for any team, especially a young team. There are just a lot of benefits in terms of salary cap if you have a really young team, because all of those players will be on the lower rookie contract for four years, so you can build, whether you're looking ahead to free agency next year or whatever.

So that's a team that's a bit intriguing just because of how young they are and how many rookies, especially, that you have. I mean, this is still in many ways a veterans league. Championship teams have a lot of veterans who have been through the playoff wars before.

So, yeah, it's going to be interesting to see the last couple of cuts, I think he still has one or two to make, and who those will be. But it will be pretty remarkable if all five of their draft picks are on the roster opening day.

LACHINA ROBINSON: Just to add on to what Rebecca said, I think, if anything, the youth movement signals that there is maybe a longer term plan for the Dallas Wings and they're investing more now in hopes of making this a team that will be a championship contender in the future.

Not to say they don't have that possibility this year, but it will be incredibly hard lacking the experience that Rebecca talked about that some of the better teams in the league have. On the positive side, they have tremendous upside. I mean, you look at some of the younger players like the Kaela Davis or Allisha Gray, and how this team can play, they can be small and fast or big and fast and very versatile... but just great upside as some of those younger players, Aerial Powers, will get more WNBA experience, because they're already very talented players coming out of college. Every year we're seeing more and more talent.

But you add to that the experience that they will gain over the next few years and this seems like a Dallas team that's in it for the long haul.

Q. Keeping with the theme of the youth movement, I have a two-part question. One, I wanted to see with all these new pieces the Chicago Sky have, who do you see as their starting five and who might be a key player from that. Also, if you look at some of the pre-season rankings, the Sky rank near the bottom in some lists, do you think that's a fair assessment? What are your expectations for the Sky this season?
REBECCA LOBO: Sure, I honestly don't know what the starting lineup would look like for the Chicago Sky right now. I definitely think Cappie Pondexter with her experience, with everything she brings, having been a WNBA champion. I would imagine she would be there. I know they've had some talk about the point guard spot, but I would imagine that Courtney Vandersloot would be part of that starting lineup. Imani Boyette, I expect to be part of that starting lineup.

Now as far as some of the new additions, that's where I have more questions, just as far as where Amber [Stocks] sees them fitting in or fitting all together. I think some of the key players, though, for this team, obviously, Stefanie Dolson and Kahleah Copper... what can they bring?

I also have my eyes on Jessica Breland, because it seems Amber's very high on her. She's been playing a lot of the three position. I think how well she plays her role will kind of help everyone else to fit in. Even though she's versatile, I think if they can find her position, that's going to be best for her. Now as far as you said the predictions for the Sky?

Q. Yes.
LACHINA ROBINSON: There was a lot of retooling, and I think one of the things you've heard on this call, both Rebecca and myself, it takes time for teams when they have new pieces and young pieces to get themselves in the conversation of the playoffs and definitely to get yourself in the conversation when we're talking about the L.A. Sparks and the Minnesota Lynx of the world. So, it's just a very talented WNBA.

You lost Elena Delle Donne, and I guess the question would be who is going to be that MVP-level player on this team. Those that have that player oftentimes put themselves or, you know, also, if they have an established style of play, kind of put themselves in that conversation and Amber is a new coach, and I think it's going to take some time to find their way.

REBECCA LOBO: What's more intriguing to me is how the whole post rotation is going to come to them. With Stephanie and with Imani and with Cheyenne [Parker], just kind of how, and Breland, how that mix is going to work. How much Breland will play out at the three spot.

But because I was a post player, post players interest me and intrigue me. So there are so many on this roster, you know I am looking forward to seeing how they're going to work together. Will Stefanie ever play with Imani, and, if so, how does that work? That's something that I'm going to be looking for early in the season.

Q. That's a good point you throw Alaina Coates in there as well when she's healthy?
REBECCA LOBO: Yeah, that's the question of whether it's going to be this season or next season. But, yeah, absolutely.

LACHINA ROBINSON: If I could just add to that one quick point, I do think that Jamierra Faulkner with her injury is a major loss. I think she had some brilliant moments last year. You look at the supporting cast of this team. I think she was one of the younger players that you can't keep off the floor, and then she gets injured.

So what happens when Courtney Vandersloot has to leave for possible overseas obligations? Cappie obviously can play the point, but what happens to your backcourt rotation. So that was a major loss for Chicago.

REBECCA LOBO: I think this is a general comment, and I think it's going to be one of the big story lines in June, which teams lose players for the European qualifiers, and how that impacts their team. When they come back re-acclimating to their teams, dealing with fatigue, injuries, that sort of thing. You know, we have this every couple of years, but this year will be another year where teams, you mentioned Washington before, and how many games they'll miss Emma in.

I think most teams in the league are dealing with this to some degree, and I think it's going to be one of the big, early story lines.

Q. If you could share with us a little bit of any un-obvious story lines that you're looking at? And when will the WNBA have a Christmas day type of experience, an opening night experience as the NBA has when they come on television? If you could share any un-obvious story lines that you are looking at. And two, do you see the WNBA coming to have a Christmas day experience like the NBA has in terms of premiering games on television?
REBECCA LOBO: In terms of story lines that might not be so obvious, one of them would be the players leaving for however many games. Those that have tremendous European teams. Another one right as the season starts is you don't want to dig yourself a hole. That's kind of what Phoenix did last year, losing their first four. I think they lost six of their first eight, especially with the way the playoff format is now where it's not as much about your conference as it is about your record on the whole. You don't want to have those stretches where you struggle or you dig yourself into a hole.

In terms of something like Christmas Day, I assume you mean where the WNBA has four games on TV in one day and that's kind of the kickoff, you know, that happens a month into the NBA season. I think we're fortunate that ESPN, we're the one who covers most of the games along with NBA TV.

We have the opening games this weekend. So we might not have double or triple or quadruple-headers, whatever they have, but I feel pretty good about the coverage that our network is providing.

Q. Both of your takes on the following, when you go back through history, typically players have improved significantly, especially the elite players from first to second year. So with Breanna Stewart in that spot, I'm wondering in what way and how you see her potentially improving when you look at her rookie season when she was already Top 5 on both the offensive and defensive ends.
LACHINA ROBINSON: I think the biggest thing for a player just in general going from first to second year is they have the opportunity to play overseas. Playing internationally, from what I understand, it's a bit different in terms of your role. Like the American players are often expected to carry a little bit heavier of a load. Some players that we'd typically see as a role player are the star players. So it allows them to build more versatility to their game, maybe thriving under a little more pressure for those players that did not have that role in the WNBA.

So the development creates a lot of opportunities overseas. Then as far as Breanna Stewart, you know, I think she fortunately but unfortunately, avoided a tough stretch where we watched her go from National Championship to the WNBA, to the Olympics, back to the WNBA, to overseas, and then she had the injury in China which afforded her some rest and well-deserved rest and much-needed. So to think of the level that she can play at when rested, when her body and mind are rested, it is intriguing to think about it.

You think about the number of systems she's had to play from UCONN, and I know that the National Team plays maybe some similar ways with Geno as a head coach. But all the different systems. So mentally and physically, she had a taxing stretch. So rested, I expect to see even bigger and better things from Breanna Stewart though. She was pretty darn impressive already.

Q. Rebecca, what about you? Do you see any specific area that you think will see an improvement from Breanna in her second year?
REBECCA LOBO: I was going to say LaChina nailed it. There was a stretch right after, and Howard you're better at this than anybody going back and looking at numbers and stuff, but I think it was soon after the Olympics where Stewie had a dip. We did one of their games at Minnesota and I talked to her and she was clearly tired. She was willing to say that she was feeling a little bit of that fatigue.

I think because of the schedule that LaChina talked about, I think this year she'll be rested. Even though she has the comeback because of the knee issues, I think she'll be rested and I think she'll be able to maintain the highest level of her game, even if it's the same level we felt last year, I think you'll be able to see her maintain it throughout the course of the season.

Q. Wanted to ask about Tiffany Mitchell and Indiana. Going into year number two, how much do you think her role will improve this year with the Fever?
REBECCA LOBO: You heard Howard mention in the previous question about how players make such a significant jump, it tends to between their rookie and second year. I kind of expect that from Tiffany as well. Especially with a new coach, different opportunities, you would imagine different systems, different focus without Tamika Catchings there.

You know, she is a player who has so much ability. Started off so strong last year and then kind of fell off a little bit. But I would expect her to kind of have one of those breakout seasons that second-year players can have.

MODERATOR: Rebecca, LaChina, thank you so much for helping us out once again. You've been terrific. We look forward to watching you and listening to you on the telecast. Thanks, ladies.

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