Monday was hard.
“I feel like we should be on a plane right now,” Storm center Camille Little said a day after her team fell three points short against Minnesota in Game 2 of its opening-round WNBA playoff series.
Instead of traveling for a decisive Game 3 at the Target Center, Little went through the mundane routine with teammates of physicals, exit interviews and autographing items for offseason promotions. The Storm advanced to a 10th consecutive playoff appearance, exceeding the predictions of most considering Seattle was without mainstays Sue Bird (knee) and Lauren Jackson (hamstring) due to offseason surgeries. But that didn’t make Monday feel any better.
“It’s never a joy to have your season end,” Storm coach Brian Agler said. “But I do think our team achieved a lot this season. They weren’t placed in a real positive position early in the year but we had a lot of people step up.”
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At 17-17, the Storm won one more game than in 2012 when it had both Bird and Jackson. The positive is, after all of the roster changes to quickly fill gaps this season, not much should change in 2014.
Aside from losing retiring veteran Tina Thompson and welcoming back the stars, of course.
Bird is nearly 100 percent healed. She’s going to attend a USA Basketball training camp in October but said she wants to wait until her Russian season to test the knee in full-contact practice. She’ll play in the Russian League, which is slightly less competitive than her Russian team’s parallel EuroLeague schedule.
Jackson, a 6-foot-6 center, played competitive basketball during her Australian national team’s two-game run in August to qualify for the 2014 FIBA World Championships. She’s headed to play in China this winter.
“(I’m) so happy for the girls,” said Jackson via email of the Storm. “They have done exceptionally well. I (said) earlier this year, ‘I bet they make the playoffs.’ They have so much heart and talent and Tanisha (Wright) is a great leader — so I’m happy for them but it doesn’t surprise me!”
The bulk of the Storm roster will return. Key reserve Noelle Quinn was a signed to a three-year contract, point guard Temeka Johnson to a two-year deal. Forward Alysha Clark seems to have played herself into a return season, setting career bests during the postseason and finding herself part of the final five in Sunday’s loss.
The question, really, is where everyone will fit. Will Johnson have to play off the bench with Bird back to be the starting point guard?
“That’s a huge assumption because Temeka is one of our best defenders,” Wright said. “(A three-guard lineup) is a quicker lineup. No matter what, you have three people who can attack in the pick-and-roll. I’m sure that’s going to be a lineup that, regardless of whether it’s a starting lineup, is going to be seen for sure.”
Agler likes the early debate. He was one vote shy of Coach of the Year honors this season, many marveling at his ability to find success with a roster whose only star was 17-year veteran Thompson.
Thompson might join Storm post players Shekinna Stricklen, Ashley Robinson and Quinn in South Korea this offseason. That would be her final basketball run, she said.
Really, the only thing that could shake up the Storm is the pending negotiations for the WNBA’s new collective-bargaining agreement. The current contract expires Sept. 30, but its expiration will not interrupt postseason play.
The players and league hope to quickly resolve issues like an injured reserve list and the pay scale.
“I would challenge the players to remember that there always needs to be maintenance,” Thompson said. “The WNBA, we’re not in the clear, yet. There’s still work to be done in order for this league to have longevity. Instead of coming in and taking ownership, come in prepared to work, because we need it.”