While it’s an overstatement to suggest the Storm got hosed in a series of offseason moves that resulted in the departure of two starters, it’s impossible to say — at least for now — that the defending WNBA champions got better.
Here are three observations on what has been a wild and chaotic series of deals and trades for the Storm.
WHY NOT RE-SIGN AC?
For the life of me, I don’t understand why the Storm allowed Alysha Clark to leave in free agency.
The 33-year-old forward, who had spent her entire nine-year career in Seattle, signed a two-year, $366,00 guaranteed deal with the Washington Mystics.
Given everything that’s happened this week — Crystal Langhorne retiring and trading Natasha Howard and Sami Whitcomb to New York (more on that later) — the Storm could have retained Clark, a fan favorite who has been described as the heart and soul of the team.
You could even make a case that re-signing Clark should have been the team’s top offseason priority considering she was the de facto captain of a defense that’s led the league in fewest points for the past two years.
Despite all of its moves, the Storm still has a sizable hole at small forward.
It remains to be seen who among the Storm defends Diana Taurasi, Arike Ogunbowale and Angel McCoughtry.
Jewell Loyd lacks the size and Breanna Stewart doesn’t have the foot speed to contend with the WNBA’s top wing scorers.
It will be interesting to see if Mikiah Herbert Harrigan, a 6-foot-2, 152-pound first-year player who the Storm acquired in a trade that sent a 2022 first-round pick to Minnesota, is ready for a major role with a title-contending team.
As a reserve last year, Herbert Harrigan averaged just 11.1 minutes for the Lynx.
HOWARD, WHITCOMB HAD TO GO
Considering the contracts they received, it makes sense why the Storm dealt Howard and Whitcomb to New York.
Howard collected a four-year, $889,000 guaranteed contract, which is the fourth richest deal in WNBA history. And Whitcomb, who doubled her 2019 salary, netted a two-year, $300,700 deal
Simply put, the Storm couldn’t afford to keep them.
And truth be told, first-year center Ezi Magbegor outplayed Howard at times and showed great potential last year. Magbegor may not be ready to start, but newly signed Candice Dupree — a seven-time All-Star — is more than capable of replacing Howard.
In return for Whitcomb, the Storm obtained third-year veteran Stephanie Talbot, who received a training-camp invitation. If the 6-4 forward from Australia makes the roster — and that’s not a guarantee — she’ll likely receive the player minimum of $70,040 for veterans with three or more years of experience.
The Storm has 11 players under contract, not including Sue Bird. (WNBA team are allowed 11-12 players.) It also has three picks in the upcoming WNBA, including No. 11 overall in the first round and would need to allocate $64,375 if she were to make the roster.
Now, it’s puzzling why the Storm used the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 draft that it received from New York and traded with Dallas for second-year forward Katie Lou Samuelson and its 2022 second-round pick.
Two teams have given up on Samuelson, the 2019 former No. 4 overall draft pick and University of Connecticut star, who was traded by Chicago after a subpar rookie season.
Perhaps Samuelson, who averaged 4.0 points, 2.4 rebounds and 20.0 minutes as a reserve last season, can find a role with the Storm.
Samuelson is probably a better fit than anyone in what’s considered a weak draft. Besides, the Storm is in win-now mode and its last two first-round draft picks (Magbegor in 2019 and Kitija Laksa in 2020) sat out a year before joining the team.
Samuelson (23) and Herbert Harrigan (22) are still on rookie contracts that’ll pay them $60,069 and $66,555 respectively next season, which makes them attractive in terms of roster management.
Still, it seems as if the Storm could have made the Samuelson trade at any time and might have scored a bigger haul closer to draft day.
THE BIRD FACTOR
During an interview last year, Storm co-owner Lisa Brummel said she hopes Bird ends what will be a Hall-of-Fame career in Seattle, and it doesn’t appear as if the team’s management will ever push her into retirement.
Still, you have to ask the question: Is it wise to continue investing in Bird?
Granted, Bird is arguably the greatest player in Storm history and she’s been underpaid for nearly two decades as the face of a franchise and one of the premier players in a league that only recently revised the collective bargaining agreement to address salary and compensation issues.
With that being said, how practical is it to commit over $200,000 and roughly 20 percent of the $1.3 million salary cap in a 40-year-old point guard who has played just 11 regular-season games the past two years?
Bird missed the 2019 season due to arthroscopic surgery on her left knee. Last year, she sat out nine games due to a bone bruise in her left knee and missed the final two regular-season games with a knee injury.
In the playoffs, Bird was brilliant while guiding the Storm to sweeps over Minnesota and Las Vegas for the franchise’s fourth league championship. She averaged 9.5 points, 9.2 assists and set postseason and WNBA Finals assists records.
Aside from the years she missed with injuries, Bird has been the Storm’s highest-paid player for over a decade, but her salary is starting to put cap constraints on the Storm’s ability to contend for a championship.
Looking ahead, it’s going to be nearly impossible for the Storm to continue paying Bird top dollar when Stewart and Loyd are due supermax deals of $228,094 in 2022.
Unless Bird takes a significant pay cut next year, this is likely her last season with the Storm.