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System works out for the Sky

By Mike DiMauro

Publication: The Day

Published July 13. 2013 4:00AM

Mohegan

It was in this very arena nine months almost to the day Friday that the Indiana Fever embarrassed the Connecticut Sun in the culmination game of the Eastern Conference finals. I recall saying the following to a team employee as we awaited the postgame news conference:

"This team is a tease," I said.

It was said in frustration and exasperation. It was also a fact, evidenced by the Sun's 10 years of overall excellence repeatedly crashing into their star-crossed playoff history.

But now nine months later who knew being teased could be so much fun?

Because not even in the despair of another playoff failure last October did I think that by July fans would be asking, "So who's the first pick in the draft going to be next year?"

I have to admit that I'm wondering myself: Is this season worth salvaging?

Because even when the Sun get healthy and - presumably - start playing better, how would they ever beat the team in a playoff series that toyed with them Friday night at Mohegan Sun Arena?

I know, I know. This is sports. Things happen. But if you look at the rosters of the Chicago Sky and the Sun at the moment, you must conclude one team is playing chess to the other's checkers.

The Sky, a perennial WNBA dog until this season, beat the Sun 83-70. This is the same Sky that has been to the playoffs exactly once in their history. And now the same Sky with five lottery picks in the starting lineup.

This is called cause and effect.

Chicago has stunk it up enough over the years to get the second overall pick twice (Elena Delle Donne and Sylvia Fowles) the third pick once (Courtney Vandersloot) and the No. 4 pick (Epiphanny Prince). The fifth starter, Swin Cash, is a former No. 2 pick overall, too.

Chicago has an absurd level of talent.

And maybe the Sky offer a blueprint for the Connecticut franchise's salvation: Be lousy enough to get in to the lottery, get better players and let the good times roll. That's how Phoenix got Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner. That's how Minnesota got Maya Moore and Seimone Augustus (among others). That's how you win in this league.

This is an impossible question to ask Sun players, coaches and management: So do you think you'll tank the next two months? It's an insult, really, to the competitive nature of the players and coaches, not to mention the paying customers who have come to expect winning.

There is also the balance of the season remaining. Kara Lawson returned Friday. Maybe Renee Montgomery is back Sunday. Tan White soon. Tina Charles played magnificently Friday. They're not helpless, especially not in the Eastern Conference with New York, Washington and Indiana also awash in many warts.

But they are also 3-9. And given the makeup of this roster as it exists, it's a legitimate question to wonder if this franchise's best days are in the rear view mirror.

Will they ever be truly good enough anymore to beat Chicago, Phoenix, Minnesota, Atlanta or Los Angeles without lottery help?

And remember: That's the goal here. Win a championship. As it should be. The day they celebrate merely making the playoffs here is the day they should turn out the lights.

The goal is to win a championship.

This is not a championship team anymore, not without sufficient help for Charles in the post and a wing who can score. And I don't see Asjha Jones, Alba Torrens or Sandrine Gruda walking through that door.

I feel the worst in all this for Anne Donovan, the new coach. She doesn't deserve this. And say this much for her: The Sun would be easier to dismiss right now if they didn't play hard. They played hard Friday night.

But you get no points in the pros for effort.

This is about championships.

And the Sun are a long, long, long way away from those days.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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