Editor’s note: Seattle Times reporter Jayda Evans will have a weekly conversation with a newsmaker in the WNBA. This week she speaks with Storm point guard Sue Bird, whose team missed the postseason for the first time since 2003. Bird played after missing the 2013 campaign due to knee surgery. She averaged 10.7 points on a career-low 38.9 percent shooting from the field. Bird also averaged a career-low 4.1 assists as Seattle finished with a 12-22 record, fifth-best in the Western Conference. Bird, a 13-year veteran, will turn her focus to USA Basketball and the FIBA World Championship tournament in Turkey in September. She’s under contract to play one more season in Seattle.
Seattle Times: The season ended with a 78-65 loss to Phoenix on Sunday; did a night’s sleep offer any perspective?
Sue Bird: No. We knew we weren’t going to make the playoffs four days ago. I won’t feel a difference until I wake up and don’t have a practice. Even Monday, I woke up and had to be somewhere (exit interviews). It only hits you that your season is over when you wake up and you don’t have any responsibilities. Then it’s, “Oh, wait a minute.”
ST: How do you feel you performed in your return from knee surgery?
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Bird: If I could have that first month back, I would love to get it back. It took me time to adjust and get acclimated to the style and the WNBA as a whole. Simultaneously, we were going through “it,” so to speak, as a team. Trying to figure out myself and trying to figure out the team at the same time, yeah, if I could have that first month back, I think things maybe would have been different. Otherwise, once I got back into the flow – you have good games and bad games – I felt normal again.
ST: In the past, players felt their success during the WNBA season played a factor in their making the national team. Are you concerned?
Bird: If I’m on the national team for my shooting, there’s a problem. Again, if I could take that first month back … it was a rough start. Overall as a player, I’m still the same. To be judged based on a box score? That’s never been me throughout my career. I’m not worried about it. I’m just going to go to training camp (Sept. 8-10 in Maryland) and see what happens.
ST: This was your first full season without Lauren Jackson, a three-time WNBA MVP. How do feel you responded to not having a go-to Olympian on the roster?
Bird: I didn’t miss that or think about that. You can’t. You’ve got to keep going. But something that did affect this team was it was all new and we were trying to find what was going to make us click or work. Not having that type of player (Jackson), it made it more difficult to find (our) way. By the end of the season we kind of figured it out. I wish it could have happened sooner.
ST: There was a theme in 2013 of getting reinforcements because you and Lauren would be back. Lauren missed the 2014 season due to injuries but no one is mentioning her as a perk to the 2015 season. Why?
Bird: Lauren has to get healthy in order to come back, that’s the first thing. She wants to come back, but you have to be healthy. She’s not choosing to be (in Australia), it’s her body. But at some point you have to put a team together without hoping someone comes back. That’s just the reality of it. Everybody wants her to come back. And if she’s ready, body-wise, she will and there will definitely be a spot for her. But you have to move on in a way as well.
ST: KeyArena attendance also dwindled. How did you handle that in addition to the losing?
Bird: It goes hand in hand. People like winners. It’s exciting when a team is doing well and there’s a bandwagon situation that happens. We still have a good product. Our core fan base still comes, and I don’t know if it’s the arena or people or what, but whether there’s five or 5,000 it’s loud as (heck) in here.