UNCASVILLE — The second consecutive rebuilding year for the Connecticut Sun ends Sunday against the Atlanta Dream at the Mohegan Sun Arena with nothing remaining to gain but avoiding the league's worst record again.
The Sun (12-21) began Saturday with the same record as Seattle and Tulsa, both of whom are out of the playoffs in the Western Conference. The Shock played at Minnesota on Saturday night. Seattle hosts Phoenix in its final game on Sunday.
How the teams finish matters in just one way: how proportioned their chances will be to land the first pick in the 2015 draft when the lottery is held on Thursday.
The New York Liberty will join the Sun, Storm and Shock in the lottery. But Connecticut owns New York's first-round pick through the Tina Charles trade.
But that's a story for another day, one the Sun hope points them more directly to the postseason for the first time since 2012. In terms of guard Chelsea Gray, the future of the franchise is just getting started.
"I am excited for that day to come," Gray said
Gray, who played collegiately at Duke, was the 11th overall pick in the 2014 draft. But she was not able to play this season while recovering from a fractured kneecap suffered against Boston College in January.
"That was devastating for me," Gray said. "It was my senior year. I thought to myself, 'That's it.' And on the night of the draft, I just remember being wide-eyed about it, realizing that it would be a blessing if someone were to draft me. I was just excited about having the chance to put on a WNBA uniform."
It was the second injury to the same knee in two years for Gray, a sad coincidence that probably prevented her from becoming the type of player who would have gone higher in the draft.
But the Sun saw enough potential to invest a high pick in her knowing that it would be a year before she could play for them. And next year, if all goes well, Gray will compete for the starting point guard spot on a team that will be expected to win after not doing much of it lately.
"Chelsea is a true point guard," Sun coach Anne Donovan said. "Our point guards now are true combo-guards. But having a true point guard, someone with a vision from the point [of the offense] down [to the post] means we'll have someone looking for assists more than anything else. In fact, in talking to college coaches [pre-draft], she is not one to take shots. So we're going to need to encourage that. She's asked for the playbook already. She has a point guard mentality and that will be a nice thing to coach."
Gray is spending the weekend with her future teammates. And the plan is for her career to continue someplace in Europe in December or January.
"I'm not rushing the process, last time I rushed it a little bit," Gray said. "It's been exciting just to be back on the floor and feel the knee not give out on me. I'm feeling stronger when I drive to the basket now."
Gray has been working out in California, slowly getting her body adjusted to the game again. She has been keeping up with the WNBA by attending Los Angeles Sparks games.
If all goes well, Gray will take her place with the young Sun core that now includes rookies Chiney Ogwumike and Alyssa Thomas and second-year players Kelsey Bone and Alex Bentley.
"I consider myself a fun person who gets along with everyone and it seems like the team already has good camaraderie on the floor," Gray said. "I'm excited about joining them."
"We got past that, we are good friends now," Gray said."We're at a new level, a new horizon. I got past that and we are both excited for me to come here next year and for us to be teammates."
Thomas, who has excelled as a rookie, knows the type of player the Sun will be getting.
"We played against each other for four years, having to really focus on each other," Thomas said. "I've loved her game since we were both freshmen, so I'm looking forward to her being on the same team as me."
Donovan says she has no special plans for doling out playing time in the finale. But veteran guards Katie Douglas and Allie Hightower will not play because of injuries.