Temeka Johnson will team with Tanisha Wright in the Storm's backcourt, trying to plug the crater left by Sue Bird.
Temeka Johnson seems to always be that player.
The player to hold a roster spot until a more desired option appears. The player traded for others no longer in the WNBA. The proven winner turned journeywoman.
“I lost my grandmother in 2008 and ever since then, it’s been one hurdle after the next,” said Johnson, the 2005 WNBA rookie of the year with Washington and 2009 league champion with Phoenix. “Sometimes (roster moves) may not be you, it’s just something they need to change and you may be that person. But I’m a Christian, so I look at it as God used me enough here, so he has somewhere else he needs me to be.”
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Tuesday, that place was Storm practice at Seattle Pacific’s Royal Brougham Pavilion. Johnson, 30, signed a two-year contract with Seattle to plug a crater left by Sue Bird. The Storm’s starting point guard since 2002, Bird will miss the 2013 season. She will undergo surgery Thursday to remove a cyst in her left knee.
The news that Bird wouldn’t play stunned players and fans. Johnson has reacted differently.
She started for Tulsa last season, dragging through a 9-25 season to average a career-high 12.2 points and 4.7 assists. Even before the Shock drafted heralded point guard Skylar Diggins in April, Johnson believed the opportunity in Seattle too enticing.
“Why would I pass up an experience here with everything I’ve experienced against them?” Johnson asked. “I always had to make sure I got a good night’s rest because I knew (coach) Brian (Agler) was going to run me through 90 million screens to guard Sue. So, it’s probably good to be on the same side as them.”
Johnson will team with Tanisha Wright in the Storm’s backcourt. The new tandem has practiced together only twice in training camp but played together through USA Basketball when Wright led Penn State and Johnson starred at Louisiana State.
Forward Camille Little says the combo “brings a little more toughness.”
Still, Johnson’s position will be closely watched. Bird, 32, had missed only 22 games in her 11-year Storm career.
Dependence on Bird and the importance of the point-guard position in the WNBA create the question of whether the offseason scramble could have been avoided.
Agler, hired in 2008, has made failed attempts to find backups for Bird to develop for the future. The names include Kimberly Beck and Olympian Shannon Johnson. There was draft choice Alison Lacey, who left after the Storm’s 2010 championship run because of a lack of playing time.
Agler had another chance to build for the future in 2011. He signed Australian point guard Erin Phillips and drafted former Duke star point guard Jasmine Thomas in the first round. The moves, however, were used to pull a three-team trade with Washington and Indiana to land veteran Katie Smith in pursuit of a repeat title.
Smith, now a 14-year veteran who is the WNBA’s third all-time leading scorer, won championships with Agler (ABL) and assistant coach Nancy Darsch (Ohio State) and an Olympic gold with Bird.
It didn’t work in Seattle, though. Smith spent two seasons on injury-laden rosters and signed with New York as a free agent this offseason. Phillips, an Australian Olympian in her sixth WNBA season, was a starter on Indiana’s 2012 title team.
“To me, the best rosters are the ones you can play a lot of different combinations with,” Agler said in defense of his decisions. “If we had 13 players instead of 11, now all of a sudden you can have that backup point guard. People criticize us for not having a backup point guard, but we’re getting benefits in other areas.”
Johnson is a nine-year vet like Wright. She has found a way to counter her 5-foot-3 stature with quickness.
Tuesday, however, Johnson was simply trying to learn Agler’s system. She concentrated on her offense while playing against Bird in Russia.
“Temeka is going to attack the basket, knock down open shots and she’s going to make the right pass,” Little said. “She’ll also give Tanisha some time to actually play the (shooting guard) position more than she (usually) gets to. It’s all going to work out really well.”
Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @JaydaEvans