As many as five WNBA teams are ready to sign Storm forward Sheri Sam when contracts can be finalized Tuesday. According to sources, the...

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As many as five WNBA teams are ready to sign Storm forward Sheri Sam when contracts can be finalized Tuesday. According to sources, the Sacramento Monarchs are leading the race for the unrestricted free agent.

The Monarchs covet the 6-foot forward because of her shooting ability, the prime reason Storm coach Anne Donovan traded Seattle’s No. 6 pick in the draft to Minnesota for Sam and center Janell Burse last season.

But Sam had her worst statistical season in the league, averaging 9.1 points on 41.2 percent shooting. Sam was really off in the WNBA Finals, missing 14 of 19 attempts in the three-game championship run.

She’s currently in Kazan, Russia, playing in the same league as Storm teammates Sue Bird and Kamila Vodichkova.

Donovan said she made qualifying offers to her six restricted free agents, including Finals MVP Betty Lennox, and made it clear that she wanted her entire team to return. But the league’s $673,000 salary cap makes that scenario unlikely.

Sam, 30, is entering free agency for the first time in her six-year career, and she would like to receive a two-year deal worth between $70,000 and $89,000, the league maximum for veterans.

The Monarchs are close to those figures, and Sam resides in the Bay Area during the offseason.

Meanwhile, the Storm is already paying Bird the league maximum and wants to re-sign All-Star Lauren Jackson for the same. Lennox, a 5-8 guard, also jumped up in price after averaging 22.3 points in the Finals.

If the Storm paid Jackson and Lennox the maximum, the team would have about $375,000 to spread among the remaining eight unsigned players. That most likely leaves too little for veterans such as Sam, Vodichkova, Adia Barnes and Tully Bevilaqua.

“(Sheri) would have to want to take a pay cut to come (to Seattle), and I don’t think that’s the case,” said Mike Cound, Sam’s agent. “She wasn’t unhappy in Seattle. She’d love to come back. But why should she have to be the one to take a pay cut? She wants to wait to see what develops there, though. But we’re not viewing it as likely. It’s a prioritizing thing, and right now the money isn’t being prioritized to her.”

Donovan mentioned Lennox as being a key signing to help determine how the rest of the roster would fill out.

The coach left for a weeklong trip to Australia yesterday with Karen Bryant, the team’s chief operating officer. They plan to meet with Jackson and Bevilaqua, who is playing for the Canberra Capitals in the Women’s National Basketball League.

Although there are plenty of high-profile free agents available, such as Monarchs forward Tangela Smith, Donovan doesn’t expect to be involved in those talks due to money restrictions. She has determined her core players and anticipates signing them. She said she would fill holes after that.

“They know where we stand,” Donovan said of unrestricted free agents Sam, Barnes, and Bevilaqua. “They all know we want them back. But when it’s a difference between $5,000 and $10,000 and you’re not making a ton of money to begin with … ”

Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or