PG: Temeka Johnson
SG: Tanisha Wright/Noelle Quinn
SF: Shekinna Stricklen/Alysha Clark
PF: Tina Thompson/Tianna Hawkins/Cierra Bravard
C: Camille Little/Nakia Sanford
Significant gains: Temeka Johnson, Noelle Quinn, Tianna Hawkins.
Significant losses: Lauren Jackson, Sue Bird, Katie Smith, Ann Wauters (plus Ewelina Kobryn and Svetlana Abrosimova aren’t coming back either). Yeah, ouch.
Well if you thought those teams with just one All-Star missing were in trouble, welcome to Seattle. Star post and three-time league MVP Lauren Jackson is taking the season off to rest and finally try to fix all the pieces of her body that needed putting back together. That news was followed up with the announcement that point guard Sue Bird would be having surgery to remove a cyst from her knee, and would also miss the entire season. So the two rocks that this franchise has been founded on for over a decade are both out for the year. They’ve survived without Jackson before for long stretches, and even without Bird for a few games here or there, but a Storm team without either of them just isn’t going to be the same. Winning basketball games is going to be a lot more difficult, too.
Give some credit to Brian Agler and the Storm franchise though – this is far from a tank job from opening day. If that was the plan, they wouldn’t have gone out and signed two veteran perimeter options in Temeka Johnson and Noelle Quinn, who’ll join Tanisha Wright in the backcourt rotation. Johnson has the unenviable task of trying to replace Bird, but after a solid season last year in Tulsa she should do a reasonable job. She can run a team, she can hit from long range, and while her defense won’t excite anyone that’s no different from Bird. Quinn will take over the Katie Smith role from last season, playing anywhere required around the perimeter. She’s big for a wing, which Agler will like for defensive purposes, and she’ll make a few shots from outside. She’ll also probably be happy to have escaped Washington, so who knows, maybe that’ll give her a new lease of life. Wright will probably be asked to take on more responsibility with Bird and Jackson gone, and if she were healthy she would probably be capable of that. It feels like quite some time since we’ve seen Wright truly at 100%, featuring combo-guard skills that allowed Bird to play off the ball, and shutdown defense on the opposition’s best guard. If Wright’s in one piece, she’ll be one of the leaders of this team – but at some stage it may make sense to shut her down and let her rest next to Sue on the sidelines.
Even with Jackson and Ann Wauters gone, there’s a lot of veteran nous filling the post for Seattle, and they won’t make it easy for any of their opponents. Camille Little has developed her post game to become an impressive finisher inside, Tina Thompson will fire home her usual barrage of deep threes, and they’ve even added Nakia Sanford to bang in the paint defensively. The Storm probably won’t be pretty to watch this season. They’ve always been a slow, low-possession team, and that might be taken even further this year, but under Agler there’s no way that they’re going to quit. They’ll play physical defense for 40 minutes, and they’ll make you work for absolutely everything.
The real focus for the Storm this season, in what has to be regarded as a rebuilding year, is on development for their future. They’ll be hoping to see progress from second-year wing Shekinna Stricklen, a player who offered both perimeter size and some speed that the Storm needed in her first season as a pro. Then there’s rookie post Tianna Hawkins from Maryland, who should receive plenty of minutes even under Agler – who notoriously favours veterans. And while those two are the most likely players to become part of the Storm’s future, if Alysha Clark or Cierra Bravard happen to pan out as contributors – or they pick up someone with potential in midseason – that would be a bonus as well. While they’ll hope to have a couple of good years remaining, at some point Bird and Jackson are going to retire. This is a year to work on developing pieces both to help that pair challenge before they’re gone, and to take over from them in future.
So the Storm aren’t going to win a championship in 2013, that seems safe to say. But this doesn’t have to be a wasted season. Agler will make sure his team competes, and they’ve still got the talent to win some games while focussing on bringing their youngsters along. It just won’t be quite the same Seattle Storm that we’ve grown so accustomed to.