Ever felt an e-mail lashing? It has the subject line of “Enough vacationing!” Then it succinctly tells you what has happened while you were gone (LJ’s not going back to Russia. Oregon scored something like 115 points. You missed the Husky Classic) and closes with, “time to write something.”
That “something” jumped out of the Twitter file on Monday after disgraced Olympian Marion Jones told The New York Times she’d like to try a comeback in basketball. I received this column, where the writer actually suggests she might “save the WNBA” and later was asked my opinion.
First, I have to correct myself: Jones did save the WNBA. Instead of wondering about the demise of the league in light of Sacramento folding — the owner meetings are tomorrow — we’re all chattering about Jones’ likelihood of making a WNBA roster. She might be the league’s first smokescreen. I love it.
But then I had to call San Antonio Silver Stars coach Dan Hughes for some perspective.
Jones has been training at their facility since October with trainer Tonya Holley. According to Hughes, assistant coach Sandy Brondello is not involved, as reported, but husband Olaf Lange is running drills for Jones. The most Hughes has said to Jones is, “Hello,” in passing, but has been told she’s in great shape.
“I have not evaluated her and I think it’s unfair to evaluate her at this point,” he said. “She’s working out to play in Europe and at that point I’m sure all of us [coaches] will watch and see how she does.”
Jones, drafted in the third-round (33rd overall) by Phoenix in 2003, would be an unrestricted free agent because her rights with the Mercury expired. She’s eligible to sign with any team as a training camp invitee or under contract. I would suspect it would be the former since she’s 34, just had her third child in May and hasn’t played hoops since 1997.
“That’s a lot of years not playing basketball,” Hughes said. “I applaud Marion for trying to move her life along. We will track her like we would any other player, but it was never a design to have her play for San Antonio. The tie is she lives close to our facility.”
So, can we all conclude that Jones is an incredible athlete who made a mistake and deserves a second chance? Good. But it ain’t gonna happen in the WNBA.
And it’s not because the whole drive behind this is because she allegedly received a call from some NBA rep and thought, “it would be an interesting journey if I decided to do this.” (several sources only could state that Jones’ lawyer contacted the WNBA) That’s reasoning to attempt a triathlon, not a professional league that’s been running for 13 years.
Still, motives are unimportant. Especially given the type of athlete Jones is.
The alarm that snaps this dream is Sacramento.
After Hughes and I were done discussing Jones’ fantasy, I asked him about reality and he let loose a long sigh. “We’re in a holding pattern right now,” he finally said.
The WNBA has leads on investors in the Bay Area, which would be great for a franchise, but can the money be secured quick enough? It’s December. In two weeks, teams are supposed to be able to talk to free agents, including Jones. The schedule is supposed to be near completion and coaches need to book overseas flights to scout players.
Oh, and did I mention everything is condensed because of the World Championships in September?
According to Hughes, none of that is happening because no one has a grasp of what this season will look like.
“We’re preparing for all of the above,” Hughes said. “Sacramento was a real surprise. It’s a wonderful franchise with a good nucleus of players. My hope is that the team lands somewhere.”
If the owners decide the best option is to host a dispersal draft, there’s no way Jones makes a team. Rosters are already limited to 11 players, which I hear will stick no matter what Lauren Jackson pains teams went through last summer. And training camps are limited to 15.
If there’s no room for G Chelsea Newton, there surely can’t be room for Marion Jones, who was an accomplished college PG but has no experience going up against any pro defense. And Europe offers little help.
The WNBA isn’t an Olympic race — unless you’re talking about the sprint to get every dollar possible each summer. Jones could help a franchise do that. Although I wish her motives were because she missed the game and not to use the league as a platform regarding her past mistakes. I hope she truly gives it a go.
But a big part of me wonders if we haven’t been down this street called gimmick before? It’s time for the WNBA to play ball with the true ballers. Again, if Jones can prove she has game, then bring it. But if she doesn’t and a no-name does, please let them introduce themselves.