WNBA Commissioner’s Cup: What is it? How does it fit into the rest of the

The Connecticut Sun will take on the Seattle Storm in the inaugural WNBA Commissioner’s Cup on Thursday. But what is it?

Before the WNBA season began, players were barely aware of the Commissioner’s Cup.

The Players Association had agreed upon setting it up during its Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations with the league 12 months earlier.

You can forgive them for their forgetfulness: it’s been quite a year. After returning from overseas play in 2020, COVID-19 delayed and shortened the WNBA season, then when it was over, many players went straight back overseas, while others began training with Team USA for the Olympics.

So when this season was tipping off, and those pesky reporters started asking players what they thought about the upcoming Commissioner’s Cup, fan favourite Courtney Williams scratched her head when she spoke candidly on Khristina Williams’ WBB Weekly Clubhouse chat: “I’m not even sure what it is.”

WNBA Commissioner’s Cup: What is it? How does it fit into the rest of the

“The best from the conference puts a little more validity on games you play in your conference and having them mean something.”

Connecticut Sun’s Jonquel Jones

What is the Commissioner’s Cup?

While east and west conferences are no longer considered much of a thing in the WNBA – having just 12 teams makes it a little redundant – the Commissioner’s Cup reignites some of those old regional rivalries in this 25th anniversary season. The competition saw each team play the other five in their conference twice – one home and one away – in the first half of the season.

The top teams – Connecticut Sun in the East, and Seattle Storm in the West – will now compete in Thursday night’s Commissioner’s Cup Championship Game, being held at Footprint Center in Phoenix, Arizona (starts 2am BST).

This structure is appreciated by the Sun’s Jonquel Jones. She told Sky Sports: “It pays respect to the way things were done in the past in terms of east versus west. The best from the conference puts a little more validity on games you play in your conference and having them mean something. All games matter, but having something to add that little extra oomph, and having the cash compensation for our league, is overall a good idea for the league.”

There is $500,000 on the line to the winning side, which might not seem like much for other leagues, but due to the nature of the WNBA being played during shorter stints in the summer months, most players earn more money playing in Europe, China, Australia and elsewhere in the winter than they get in the United States.

This means that for some players on the rookie scale, winning the Commissioner’s Cup could double their season earnings.

How does it fit into the rest of the season?

The games designated as Commissioner’s Cup in the first half of the season still count towards the regular season standings, so for Curt Miller, coach of the Connecticut Sun, it has been tough to balance priorities. He said: “There’s nothing like the first. We cherish this opportunity [to win the Commissioner’s Cup].

“We’re playing like it’s a true championship and we’re playing like we know what it will mean financially to the players. But we compartmentalise that. At the same time, we never stop talking about the double-bye, the single-bye, the chase for positioning in the playoffs with only 12 games to go.”

The way he has kept his team’s focus is by going one game at a time. He said: “A few years ago when they implemented the Executive Of The Year in the league, I was a young GM and was honoured with it in the first year. Well, a couple of months later, everyone wanted me fired over a GM move. You can never be too high, never too low.

“We’re going to play our butts off in this Cup – we know how important it is – but then we’re going to turn quickly to Dallas [a regular season game] later this week.”

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How will it play out?

The nature of the Commissioner’s Cup so far means the finalists haven’t played each other in games that matter towards the competition, but they have faced off twice during regular season play, when the Seattle Storm have had the Connecticut Sun’s number.

The first time they played was a barn burner and the Sun lost by three points. In the second contest, the Sun played without their MVP candidate Jonquel Jones, who was representing Bosnia & Herzegovina at EuroBasket, and they were blown out.

The Storm love to play with a quick pace and almost all their losses come when their opponents can hold them to 80 points or less. The Sun have been the best defensive team by far this year, having allowed an average of 73.2 points per game, so if they can slow Seattle’s pace, it should be a good game.

Seattle’s Katie-Lou Samuelson said: “We’ve been very aware of every game that we have played this season that is for the Commissioner’s Cup. We’ve taken the steps to mentally and physically prepare for this game… We’re ready.”

A big thing that could cause the Storm issues is rest. They are the most professional team in the league and have such strong leadership that they will be prepared, but several of their main players have been competing at the Olympics until the past weekend. Sue Bird, Breanna Stewart, Jewell Loyd won gold with USA, while Ezi Magbegor and Steph Talbot were playing big minutes for Australia.

“We have had fewer people here than probably most teams,” Samuelson said of the Storm’s training sessions in the past few weeks.

“We’ve been working with what we have. The biggest thing is the group we’ve had here is locked in and ready to go because we want to be able to step up and take responsibility for this game if we need to.

“We can’t just count on Stewie, Sue and Jewell to save the day – they could still do, but we want to help them out as much as we can and let them know that we’ve got their backs because they were doing such a great job and came home with the gold.”

The fresh, non-jet-lagged legs will help the Sun, but a lack of competitive basketball in the past month might hinder Connecticut, whereas the Storm’s game-ready energy could be enough to take them over the line, even if their chemistry might be off having not played together.

Either way, it will tip off the second half of the WNBA season with a bang – and being the inaugural Commissioner’s Cup winner is a statement both sides will want to make.

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