2006 In Review
What Went Right?
The Comets returned to the playoffs in 2006 behind the play of their veteran core and some key newcomers. Ultimately, the season ended with a loss to the Sacramento Monarchs in the Western Conference Finals.
Despite Houston's failure to launch a repeat of its past postseason successes, the regular season gave fans some incredible individual performances. Comets chosen to participate in the 2006 WNBA All-Star Game in New York City included Sheryl Swoopes, Tina Thompson, Michelle Snow and Dawn Staley.
In her last season as a player, Staley reminded us all that she could still play with the best and even won the inaugural 3-point Shootout. After the season, she was awarded the Kim Perrot Sportsmanship Award. The award is given in honor of former Comets guard Kim Perrot who passed away after a seven-month battle with cancer. The honor is given to a player who exemplifies the ideals of sportsmanship. It was the second (and final) time Staley received this honor. She will continue as the coach of Temple University's women's basketball team. Throughout her career as a player, she won three Olympic gold medals and was named to the WNBA All-Star team five times. In eight seasons with the Charlotte Sting and Houston Comets, she finished her WNBA career averaging 8.5 points, 5.1 assists and 2.0 rebounds in 263 games. Her veteran leadership will be missed in Houston, as will her play on the court. Staley actually led the team in 3-point percentage at 42.7%.Dominique Canty all averaged in double-digit scoring with 18.7, 15.5, 13.0 and 10.9 ppg respectively. Rookie Mistie Williams was also a good option off the bench and demonstrated the ability to both score and rebound.
Swoopes led the way on the defensive end as well, finishing third in the league in steals with 2.06 per game. She was recognized yet again for her excellent overall performance and was named to both the WNBA All-Second Team and the All-Defensive Team. She was also named to the WNBA's 10th Anniversary All-Decade Team along with teammates Dawn Staley, Tina Thompson and former teammate Cynthia Cooper.
What Went Wrong?
Although the team had a solid field goal percentage, they struggled putting points on the board. The discrepancy is the result of below-average free throw shooting and their meager 8.9 offensive rebounds per game. Their offensive inefficiencies were also the result of an inability to convert on turnovers. On the flip side, they turned the ball over an average of 15.7 times per game, the second highest mark in the league.
On the other end of the court, the Comets struggled against opposing teams with strong inside play. As a team, the Comets only averaged 2.5 blocks per game. These problem areas became most apparent on the road as the team compiled a 6-11 record away from home.
Looking Ahead To 2007
The questions begin at the top. Van Chancellor, the last original coach in the WNBA, has sailed off into the sunset, resigning after 10 years with the Comets. During his years as head coach, he led the Comets to a 211-111 record along with nine playoff appearances. Chancellor's Comets were truly the first WNBA dynasty as they won four consecutive WNBA Championships from 1997 to 2000. Karleen Thompson, an assistant coach under Chancellor, has been named the new coach and general manager.
There is also a new owner in town. Hilton Koch, owner of Hilton Furniture and Mattress and a season ticketholder, bought the Comets this offseason.
"We are ecstatic to have Karleen Thompson as our head coach and general manager. Thompson has had success at every level she has been at, and her knowledge, enthusiasm, and experience will help build the Comets into a championship contender," Koch said.
There is also some uncertainty in the Comets lineup as Houston lost two key players in the offseason. Dominique Canty signed as a free agent with the Chicago Sky and Staley has retired. Staley's contributions were felt around the league while Canty finally had a breakout season before going down with an injury. So who will lead the Comets backcourt? Look for the Comets to use the ninth pick on a guard, one who is either a strong shooter or who can run the point.
In the recent Charlotte Dispersal Draft, the Comets began to reconstruct their roster by adding 6-5 center Yelena Leuchenka. At her size, she could really help Houston with its interior game, both defensively and offensively. Free agent Hamchétou Maïga-Ba will also be joining the squad by way of Sacramento. Entering her sixth season in the WNBA, she will provide the Comets with depth, maturity and even more championship experience.
With a new coach, a new owner and two key players gone, the Comets are still not ready to call this a rebuilding year. With Swoopes and Thompson, the team will always be in the playoff mix. But where there were once veterans, there will now be several newcomers. This season will be spent helping those younger players to hone their skills and develop their confidence. While an improvement from last year may be a tough task, the Comets must start looking toward the future missions to come.
The Years of Change and Rebuilding (2001-06)
After Cooper retired in 2001, Houston clinched the playoffs with a 19-13 record, but lost in the first round in a sweep to the 2001 eventual champion Los Angeles Sparks. In 2002, when Swoopes was injured most of the year with a torn ACL, the Comets were able to qualify for the playoffs with a 24-8 record, but lost to the Utah Starzz in 3 games. In 2003, they qualified to the playoffs for the 7th straight year, but losing first round to the Sacramento Monarchs in 3 games. They missed the playoffs for the first time in franchise history with a record of 13-21 in 2004, but returned to the playoffs with a 19-15 record, finishing 3rd. In the first round, the Comets knocked out the 2004 defending champion Seattle Storm in 3 games, but lost in the conference finals to the Sacramento Monarchs in a sweep, which Sacramento later became WNBA Champions in 2005. Houston would return to the playoffs with an 18-16 record, but lost to the 2005 defending champion Sacramento Monarchs in another sweep. 2006 was the last playoff appearance for the Houston Comets. After the Comets' season ended in 2006, the Comets underwent major front-office changes during the off-season. In October 2006, team owner Leslie Alexander (who also owns the NBA's Houston Rockets team) announced he was selling the Comets, and longtime Head Coach Van Chancellor resigned in January 2007.
New Ownership and a New Home (2007)
On January 31, 2007, the WNBA Board of Governors approved the sale of the team to Hilton Koch, a Houston-based mattress and furniture businessman. Two weeks later, Comets assistant coach Karleen Thompson was named to become the team's new Head Coach and General Manager for the 2007 season.
For the 2007 season, they would miss the playoffs for the second time in franchise history after starting the season 0-10, resulting in a 13-21 record.
On December 12, 2007, team owner Hilton Koch announced that the Comets would be moving from the Toyota Center to Reliant Arena for the 2008 WNBA season. This resulted in a loss of fans. The Compaq Center drew 13,000 fans, but the Reliant Arena could only house 7,200. In 2008, the Comets' final year, they only drew an average 6,000 fans per game and sold out four games.
End of the Era (2008)
In 2008, Koch put the team up for sale, asking $10 million USD. No investors stepped up. The WNBA took over management of the Comets and disbanded the team in December 2008. They stated that they would only be suspending operations in 2009, which some people saw as a sign that the franchise could be revived if an investor came in. Comets players were sent off to other teams in a dispersal draft.
League president Donna Orender said that the collapse of the Comets was not a sign that the WNBA was in trouble. Former player Cynthia Cooper-Dyke said that the loss of the Comets was "disturbing news" and that the Comets were integral to the WNBA.
The Comets played their final home game on September 15, 2008 at the Strahan Coliseum on the campus of [Texas State Bobcats|Texas State]] due to Hurricane Ike. They defeated the Sacramento Monarchs 90-81. They finished the season 17-17 and missed the playoffs for the third time in their history.
HistoryNew York Liberty in the WNBA championship game to win the WNBA's first championship. When the league expanded the next season, the Comets were moved from the Eastern Conference to the Western Conference. In 1998, they repeated the championship, although by then the championship game had been extended into a three game championship series. They beat the Phoenix Mercury in the Finals that year. More on Comets history.