Detroit and Los Angeles look like the teams to beat in the WNBA. That might be the only similarity to last year.
The new season, which begins with three games today, features possibly the deepest rookie class ever, one fewer team and a monthlong break for the Olympics.
The Shock looks to follow the two previous champions in winning consecutive titles. Houston won the league's first four crowns, followed by Los Angeles' two.
"I believe it is easier to repeat than to win the first time," said Shock coach Bill Laimbeer, who won consecutive titles as a player with the Pistons in 1989-90. "Mentally, it's easier because you know what to expect, you've been there and you carry a little better attitude about you when you go play the games."
The Shock returns all five starters and added veteran Merlakia Jones and rookies Chandi Jones and Iciss Tillis. After losing the last two games of the best-of-three finals by six total points, the Sparks improved their depth by signing veterans Teresa Weatherspoon and Tamika Whitmore.
The league lost two teams after the 2002 season, and another this year when the Cleveland Rockers folded. But president Val Ackerman expects the league to add a 14th team in the next two years.
"We feel very solid about our city locations and market locations, and are exploring expansion options in NBA and non-NBA markets," she said.
With the dispersal of Cleveland's players to the remaining teams and the influx of touted rookies, led by Phoenix's Diana Taurasi, the season should feature more parity. Ackerman believes the league will benefit from the record ratings for the NCAA championship in which Taurasi led UConn to its third straight title. The game drew the highest ratings since ESPN began broadcasting the event in 1996.
Other prominent rookies include former Duke star Alana Beard with Washington, Stanford's Nicole Powell with Charlotte and Minnesota's Lindsay Whalen with the Sun.