After the first four, the draft gets murky

As most everyone agrees, the first players in the taken in the WNBA draft will be ...

All of them have had outstanding college seasons and have done nothing to diminish their projected value. But there's more to the draft than that, and a lot of it depends on team needs rather than the talent of the players involved. With that in mind, here are some educated guesses about the way the draft will fall -- and remember, trades can change the picture and probably will.

The first pick in the draft rests with the Minnesota Lynx. The rumor mill has indicated that there is a disagreement between Lynx Chief Operating Officer Roger Griffith and coach Susie McConnell-Serio: From what we have heard Griffith wants Augustus and McConnell-Serio wants Pondexter. The Lynx need a point guard and Pondexter fits that bill better than Augustus as Pondexter can play the point; Augustus cannot. Of course, the Lynx will deny any conflict and that might be true as reports of this disagreement are in the form of widespread rumors, not any hard facts. In any case I think that Minnesota will choose Augustus, despite the team need.

The two hole belongs to the Phoenix Mercury, whose greatest need is for someone to play the point so that Diana Taurasi can be moved to the shooting guard role. This is even more urgent with Anna DeForge no longer on the team, so it becomes quite obvious that the Mercury will choose Cappie Pondexter (assuming that the Lynx did not take her as their pick). Pondexter is the perfect fit for the Mercury, who also now have Kelly Miller to back up at both the one and two guard spots. A quality backup is something Phoenix lacked last season, as well as a true point guard, and now both needs might be filled.

The Charlotte Sting holds the three pick and will most likely take Currie. Being relatively local and coming off a fine season, Currie is the logical pick even for a team that in the past has made plenty of mistakes. Currie's performance this season has put to bed many of the doubts some experts had about her ability to be a star at the next level. Currie showed far more consistency from downtown than she has shown the past and will help the hapless Sting.

Drafting fourth will be the San Antonio Silver Stars. They were one of the weakest teams in the league last season, and already have made several moves that should improve their performance. It seems most likely that the Silver Stars will chose Sophia Young, an excellent player who has shown increased range this season, as well that she will likely be strong enough to be successful in the physical WNBA. And she is also from a Texas school, which always helps with marketing.

Fifth up are the Los Angeles Sparks, who filled some of their needs with the big trade that included Nikki Teasley, Murriel Page, Temeka Johnson et al. Their major need now is for another perimeter player. It seems most likely that the Sparks' GM Penny Toler will look most closely at Nikki Blue and Lisa Willis, who both have the added marketing value of being from UCLA. Blue has a carload of talent, but is often a loose cannon who forgets about her teammates. Willis, on the other hand, is steadier, taller and a better long- range shooter. If I were Toler I would chose Willis, but Toler is know for doing the unexpected, so this is a place where a longshot may wind up being a high draft pick.

The sixth position in the draft belongs to the expansion Chicago Sky, who did a very good job in the expansion draft, getting themselves a competitive team. They have decent, if not outstanding, size and a very good perimeter game. The general feeling is that the Sky will draft Megan Duffy of Notre Dame, the best point guard in the senior class. She has the game and mental toughness to be effective the league and she is also a great leader. But of course the Sky can go in a different direction in they so choose. They have some guards who can be backup point guards and they have Stacey Dales who would a high quality point guard as a starter. However, I feel that Duffy the perfect fit for a team from Chicago as she is from Notre Dame and Irish Catholic, both good marketing values for this team.

The Minnesota Lynx also have the seventh pick and their greatest need is for a point guard. If they did not take Pondexter with the first pick, now will be the time for them to get a point guard. With Duffy likely gone to Chicago, the top two point guards still on the table will be Erin Grant of Texas Tech and LaToya Bond of Missouri. Prior to this season, Grant was very highly thought of, but an inconsistent year has brought some doubt into play. Her stock has slipped some as her offensive skills and overall toughness are question marks. As for Bond, her stock has skyrocketed despite Missouri's flameout in the tournament. Bond seems to be a better all-around talent who is coming off a stellar year for the Tigers. If I were drafting for the Lynx, I would take Bond. Also in the mix here is Blue, if L.A. has not taken her.

Beginning with the eighth pick it becomes pretty much a crap shoot. The Washington Mystics have traded away Murriel Page to they may go for some size -- which leads to Tye'sha Fluker from Tennessee, or perhaps Candice Dupree of Temple. Both are good players, but lack immediate impact abilities. Given the Mystics' need, however, it would not surprise me if they took one of these players.

Going ninth are the Indiana Fever, whose biggest need is also height, especially since they traded Kelly Schumacher to the New York Liberty. Thus I would expect the Fever to take whichever of the Fluker and Dupree duo that the Mystics do not. 

In the tenth hole, the Charlotte Sting gets their second pick of the first round. I would think that the Sting might well look at Tamara James of Miami or Sherill Baker of Georgia here, though the other strong possibility is that they might go bigger and chose Misty Williams of Duke. With their needs and Trudy Lacey still at the GM reins, it is near impossible to know what in which direction they will go.

Seattle goes 11th and the Storm needs a quality backup point guard for Sue Bird. After all, they need to cut down some on Bird's minutes and also use her at the shooting spot some of the time. Thus if Erin Grant if still available (or LaToya Bond), I would look for the Storm to chose one of them.

At 12 are the New York Liberty, who have made a lot of moves so far but still need some help. But it is really impossible to know what way they are going to go as they have already have a large roster with players at every position. Overall, though, the roster lacks top-flight talent so look for GM Carol Blazejowski to go after the best available athlete, perhaps Nikki Blue or Alexis Kendrick. But I am really taking a shot in the dark. If fact, if a player does real well at the combine in Boston, she could enter the picture for New York.

The Sacramento Monarchs pick 13th and 14th, and do not really need much help. I think they will also just go with whomever catches their eye. Coach John Whisenant like defense, so if Sherill Baker is still available he might well go in that direction, but beyond that I have no strong opinions.

So there you have a view of possible story line for the first round, but there a couple or caveats: First, I am only trying to give some educated guesses, and these coaches and GMs often surprise you. Second, there are likely to still be several trades that will rearrange the entire picture. Third, there may be some foreign players who will pop up in the draft that I have not heard of or did not know would be coming over this season. Fourth, some players' stock will be affected by how they play in the NCAA and WNIT tournaments. Lastly, some players' stock will also be affected by how they do in the WNBA combine to be held the Monday of the Final Four in Boston.

On that Wednesday, the speculation will end, and the shape of the WNBA for 2006 will become apparent -- but it doesn't appear that the league will be dramatically shaken up, even with the arrival of the four players at the top of everyone's list.

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