Published September 17. 2013 4:00AM
Mohegan - Renee Montgomery took the microphone to address the fans Sunday before what became an oddly entertaining season finale at a nearly full Mohegan Sun Arena. Montgomery thanked the fans of the Connecticut Sun for their support, admitting to 8,478 of them that this season was "ugly at times."
The Sun players followed Montgomery's words by tossing T-shirts into the stands. They should have added a few $100 bills, too, for pain, suffering and emotional distress.
Give the Sun this much, though: They were down to eight, then seven healthy players at the end and still won three of their last five. They turned abject failure into a duller ache, if that's possible, with fun, unselfish basketball.
So now comes the franchise's ironic perch. The games are over, yet the Sun face their biggest game in franchise history: the offseason of 2013-14.
It is impossible to say what the roster will look like eight months from now. This offseason will be awash in speculation and then speculating on the speculation. It is not, however, impossible to understate the significance of the team's impending decisions.
The best news for the franchise: It picked the right year to be 10-24. Eight of the 12 teams in the WNBA finished .500 or worse, meaning other teams have warts, too. The draft doesn't have the star power of last season's Griner/Delle Donne/Diggins extravaganza, but is far deeper. And the Sun not only have a lottery pick, but the best mathematical chance of winning the first pick overall. They'll also have several players to trade either for draft picks or for existing WNBA players.
Here's who I believe will be here next year: Tina Charles, Kelsey Griffin, Allie Hightower, Kelly Faris, Danielle McCray and Sydney Carter. I keep hearing Charles may issue the team an ultimatum about wanting to play elsewhere. Not buying it. The Sun, especially behind the scenes, have treated Charles, a restricted free agent, well. She should have post help by next season. I believe she'll return.
Here are the players I believe are gone: Izzy Castro Marques, Kayla Pedersen, Tan White, Kara Lawson.
Castro Marques' best days are behind her. Pedersen is limited. I doubt they'll pay Tan White, who was a solid player here, a maximum salary. And Lawson? Let's leave it here: As they say in divorce court, there are irreconcilable differences between Lawson and team management. They don't want her here anymore and she doesn't want to be here.
Here's who I am not sure about: Mistie Bass (contract is up), Renee Montgomery, Asjha Jones, Sandrine Gruda, Alba Torrens, Kalana Greene. Bass said after Sunday's game that she wants to play more (excluding how much she played at the end out of necessity). Bass is a valuable 15-20 minute player. Is she worth a maximum salary? Would she get it anywhere else?
Montgomery is under contract here for next year. Is she trade bait? Sun coach Anne Donovan isn't enthralled with Montgomery's flighty spells on defense and her penchant for throwing the ball to the other team. But she played hurt here all year. Her shooting percentage wasn't great (37 percent from the field, 33 percent from 3-point range). But she has a penchant to make big shots. And for a team that has a perpetual shooting disorder, that counts. I hope she stays. Plus, Lawson's departure means there's a need for a veteran guard who is familiar with Donovan's offense.
Jones isn't sure 1) if she wants to play anymore and 2) if she does, whether it's here. Gruda probably won't ever play here again. Team and league sources say Gruda would like to play in Los Angeles. Could they work out a deal? Then there's Torrens, who I believe does exist. No, really. Will she play in the WNBA next year? If so, for the Sun? No idea.
Greene, meanwhile, is the best person on the team. Great teammate, funny, engaging, makes the locker room a happier place. But her limited offensive skills are a concern for a team that can't score.
What does all this mean? In addition to a lottery pick, there is ample opportunity to get quality players in return for, potentially, Jones, Lawson, Gruda, Torrens and Montgomery. Not every trade has to be a blockbuster. There's a chance for a steady compilation of picks and players who would fit Donovan's style.
Finally, Donovan: Not going anywhere. Nor should she. This team played hard for her all year under impossible circumstances. She'll have the entire offseason now without college coaching duties to scout and evaluate. A WNBA title and Olympic gold medal didn't find their way to her mantel by falling out of an airplane.
My guess is most season ticket holders give the Sun another chance. They should. One bad season in 11 years isn't so bad. But if bad decisions turn 2014 into a repeat of the barf-o-rama we just watched, the people are going away. Rightfully so.
My advice: Have fun not only watching UConn this offseason but the rest of the women's game to see the potential draft picks. The names Ogwumike, Thomas, Sims, Gray, Dolson, Hartley, McBride, Achonwa and others give us plenty to watch.
And to the 8,478 who showed up Sunday: You are the league's best fans for your loyalty alone. Keep the faith.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.