Sue Bird/Temeka Johnson
Tanisha Wright/Jenna O’Hea
Noelle Quinn/Shekinna Stricklen/Alysha Clark
Crystal Langhorne/Nicole Powell
Camille Little/Angel Robinson
That’s it for now. When your roster is old, it tends to be expensive – hence why they can only fit 11 players under the salary cap.
Significant additions: Bird back from injury, Langhorne, O’Hea, Robinson if they’re really lucky, Powell if this is at least five years ago
Significant losses: Another shred of hope that Lauren Jackson will ever play in the WNBA again, Tina Thompson, Tianna Hawkins
I may have been the only person on Earth who predicted the Storm would make the playoffs last season (I kept pointing it out when analysts claimed no one had, because it’s nice to be right once in a blue moon). They made it by clawing their way to frequently ugly wins, slowing games down and grinding out enough points to sneak over the line. This year’s squad is probably more talented overall, but Brian Agler is going to have to pull off a similar trick to keep them around .500 and chasing the playoffs again. It might not be pretty, but the Storm never go away without a fight.
There are two major additions to last year’s team, one through a return to health and one via trade. Point guard Sue Bird has been a leader on this team for a decade, but missed the whole of last season due to a knee injury. Temeka Johnson was a useful replacement, but Agler and Storm fans will be delighted to have one of their favourite daughters back on the floor. Bird’s a smart, heady player, Agler’s ‘coach on the floor’, who’s also known for her tendency to step up and make big time shots when they’re required. Even if she’s not as quick as she once was, or as fearless driving into traffic, she knows how to affect a game (and unlike many players returning from injury for the 2014 WNBA season, she’s been playing in Europe so there’s greater certainty that she’s physically ready).
Crystal Langhorne is the entirely new addition, acquired in return for Tianna Hawkins and the #7 pick in the draft (which was Bria Hartley for Washington’s purposes, but reportedly would’ve been the injured Natalia Achonwa if Seattle had kept it). Seattleites are going to enjoy Langhorne. She’s a hard-working, physical post who likes to score in the paint but can hit jumpers out to the elbow as well. With Lauren Jackson missing once again due to a combination of the need for rest and national team commitments, Langhorne gives them a post they can run their offense through. She’s a very different player from the retired Tina Thompson – Lang won’t be setting up for any 28-foot threes – but she’s over a decade younger and can be just as effective. Given how little Agler tends to trust youngsters, and the opportunity to acquire an all-star calibre post, it was a trade they had to make.
Bird can be a useful option off the ball as well as running the offense, so we’ll likely see her playing alongside Johnson at times, or just sliding over like the old days while Tanisha Wright runs the point. Wright is still one of the better perimeter defenders in the league, and a capable scorer when the mood strikes her. She and Bird have developed good chemistry over the years, and it’ll be nice to see them reunited. The other definitive starter will be Camille Little, a reliable and versatile post who can defend virtually anyone and provide her share of production in the paint. It might take a little while to develop the Langhorne/Little pairing so that they’re complementary rather than getting in each other’s way, but they’re both smart enough to work it out.
Now to the remainder of the roster. It’s a weird collection. There’s one backup post in Angel Robinson, who’s the only player on the roster with legitimate size, and has produced decent numbers overseas, but is completely unproven on the WNBA level. Everyone else is a tall-ish wing player of some description. Noelle Quinn is still there from last year, someone who can play any of the three perimeter spots to equally mediocre levels, hitting the occasional three but disappearing more often than not. Shekinna Stricklen is back for her third WNBA season, still flashing glimpses of tantalising talent and athleticism, but lacking any kind of consistency. Alysha Clark returns, after suggesting that she might be rounding into a vaguely serviceable backup last year, although she’s always going to be small for a 4 and a little lacking in perimeter skills for a 3. Jenna O’Hea arrived in a trade from LA, a versatile Aussie gunner who can hit from outside and work hard defensively against a variety of assignments. And then finally, Nicole Powell was added just a couple of days ago after Tulsa paid her to go away so they could play their youngsters instead. Back in the day, Powell was a valuable piece on some good teams in Sacramento, but she’s been a disappointment in both New York and Tulsa. She’ll still hit threes occasionally, but she’ll disappear from your consciousness on most nights, whether she’s on the floor or not. 2009 was the last time any WNBA fan was particularly happy to have her on their team.
That was a long list of players fighting over very similar spots. Between them they’ll fill the small forward minutes, a little bit at 2-guard behind Wright, and some of them are going to have to masquerade as power forwards at times. There’s going to be a lot of switching going on when the Storm play defense, partly due to Agler’s schemes, but often simply because the perimeter players are going to be about the same size as the posts anyway. Even with the way basketball has been trending in recent times – towards smaller, more flexible lineups – it’s a strange way to construct a roster. They’re really small. Even smaller than last year, when Little and Thompson were their posts.
As I warned last year, you never want to count out the Seattle Storm. Brian Agler is one of the best coaches in this league, and this franchise finds a way to win games even when they’re missing players or considered underdogs by the vast majority of people on the sidelines. Langhorne and Bird are quality additions, offering a little more offensive firepower than they had last year, even without Jackson (again) or Thompson. But it’s going to be hard work in this Western Conference with such a small, aging team. They haven’t missed the playoffs since 2003, but it might be even tougher than last year to keep that streak alive.
(You’ll have to check my predictions later today to see if I stick my neck on the line and back them yet again)