Lauren Jackson, the three-time WNBA MVP and a cornerstone of the Storm franchise, will not return for Seattle’s 2014 season — her second straight year away from the team.
Jackson, 32, a 6-foot-5 post player, said on Twitter and her website that she injured her right knee in December. Monday, she was in her native Australia to undergo surgery on the knee and a chronic Achilles injury. Jackson wrote if she had not had surgery, the injury would have been career-ending.
“This injury took me by surprise and I’m just coming to grips with the severity of it,” Jackson said Wednesday in a released statement. “I want to finish my career in Seattle and I’m going to push to be as healthy as possible to do that.”
The four-month recovery period means Jackson can’t be ready in time for Seattle’s season tipoff on May 16. However, she is expected to play for the Australian national team this summer. For 2013, she forgoed the WNBA season to have surgery on her right hamstring.
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A first sign of doubt from the Storm came in January.
Karen Bryant, the team president and CEO, announced her resignation at the end of the 2014 season. In talking to Storm personnel about celebrating Bryant’s final season, the return of All-Star Sue Bird from a season-ending knee injury in 2013 was repeatedly mentioned.
But what about Jackson?
“What I’ve learned, as long as they’re still playing, there’s an opportunity for them to potentially be injured or have something happen,” Storm co-owner Lisa Brummel said in January of Jackson, who was playing in China. “Lauren’s career has been up and down in terms of injury, so until we really know and can say for sure that she’s absolutely going to be back, we’re not going to give anything definitive.”
In her 12-year WNBA career, Jackson has averaged 18.9 points per game and 7.7 rebounds.
The question now: Will Bird return?
“You have to look at the odds between the two of them — the amount of time they’re injured and the amount of time they sit out,” Brummel said. Before last season, Bird, who’s currently playing in Russia, had only missed 29 games in her 12-year career. Jackson hasn’t played a full season since the Storm won the 2010 championship.
“Our ability to say, ‘Yes, Sue will be back’ is higher just based on statistics, not based on anything else,” Brummel said.
Both Bird and Jackson earn the WNBA salary maximum, around $105,000 last year. Jackson’s contract will again be suspended for its final year until (or if) she returns.
Storm coach and general manager Brian Agler can’t negotiate with players or agents until the WNBA and its players’ union agree to a collective bargaining agreement. But the Storm will be searching for ways to add depth in the post.
Agler is looking at the free-agent market. MVP Tina Charles is reportedly unhappy in Connecticut. She’s a restricted free agent, however, meaning the Sun can match any offer.
The Storm has the seventh overall pick in the WNBA draft in April. Posts like Stefanie Dolson (Connecticut), Natalie Achonwa (Notre Dame), DeNesha Stallworth (Kentucky) and Natasha Howard (Florida State) are possibilities as a project for the future.
Agler drafted former Maryland star forward Tianna Hawkins last year. She averaged 9.7 minutes in 33 games.
Last year, Seattle was able to advance to a 10th consecutive postseason berth because of the play of veterans Tina Thompson and Camille Little in the post. Thompson retired in September while Little is one of seven players from the 2013 roster expected to return when training camp opens in April.
“We all want Lauren to be healthy and compete again for the Storm,” Agler said. “Until then, we will move forward.”
Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @JaydaEvans