Storm All-Star Swin Cash and Le'coe Willingham were traded Monday to Chicago for the No. 2 overall draft pick in an effort to provide salary-cap flexibility.

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All-Star Swin Cash, who helped the Storm win the WNBA title in 2010 and teamed with center Ashley Robinson to tag the team’s fans as “Storm Crazies,” was traded Monday.

Cash and teammate Le’coe Willingham were dealt to Chicago in exchange for the No. 2 choice in the upcoming WNBA draft. The Storm also sent Chicago the No. 23 selection in the draft.

The reasoning for the Storm is understandable. Minnesota won the 2011 title with a roster full of lottery picks, including Finals MVP Seimone Augustus. While Seattle was able to win the 2010 title with veterans, including Willingham and Cash, the oldest team in the league wasn’t going to improve without an injection of youth.

The Storm will open the 2012 season without three-time league MVP Lauren Jackson, who will be preparing with her Australian teammates for the London Olympics before returning to the Storm later in the season.

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“This one isn’t taken lightly by any means,” said Brian Agler, the Storm’s general manager and coach. “Our team has a great chemistry. Swin and Le’coe were part of that. There was a lot of dialogue with our key players and we talked a lot within the organization about how this could impact us. … The best way to look at it is we know we have opportunities ahead of us and we embrace the opportunities. But this wasn’t a day we were looking forward to, to part ways with Le’coe and especially Swin.”

The Storm hasn’t had a lottery choice since Jackson (2001) and point guard Sue Bird (2002) were selected No. 1 overall.

WNBA teams can sign players Feb. 1 and Seattle expects to ink long-term deals with unrestricted free agents Bird and guard Tanisha Wright. With Cash and Willingham traded, the Storm has about $200,000 in cleared space under an expected $878,000 salary cap.

Rookies selected with the top four choices earn a base pay of $48,470 in the first of three-year deals. The fourth-year option is $61,800.

“As this business has evolved … more teams are top-heavy in terms of a significant portion of their salary cap going to top players, as the market has dictated maximum salaries for a lot of the starting five of most teams,” Storm CEO Karen Bryant said of the 12-team league where only Connecticut, Minnesota and San Antonio made a profit last season. “That has put pressure on your ability to deepen your bench, which is why draft picks become an important part of the mix. Now (our) opportunities and options are endless.”

Agler and Bryant will make a trip to Europe this month in anticipation of signing a top free agent early. The team could also make another trade to improve its roster.

Seattle has made a WNBA-tying eight consecutive playoff appearances. But the Storm was bounced in the opening round six times, including last season against Phoenix.

“For us, success is not defined as playoff berths,” Bryant said. “It’s defined by championships, and we believe this move puts us in position to get us back to the elite level to make a run at another title.”

Cash, 31, was acquired by Seattle from Detroit in 2008 in exchange for the fourth overall choice. She averaged 12.7 points and 6.2 rebounds, and was named MVP of the 2009 and 2011 All-Star games. Willingham, 30, signed as a free agent from Phoenix in 2010. She averaged 6 points and 4.2 rebounds.

Neither player was immediately available, but Cash, who is playing in China, did post on Twitter, “To the City of Seattle, teammates, staff, my #Cashforkids girls& #STORMCRAZIES I say thank you for the love&support! Blessed to have helped bring another ring to the Emerald City.”

Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or On Twitter @JaydaEvans.

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