As the Storm prepare to open their 23rd season, several questions loom over the four-time WNBA champions, who might be closing one of the greatest chapters in franchise history.  

There’s a fair amount of uncertainties given Sue Bird is pondering retirement, Breanna Stewart is a free agent next year and the number of newcomers on the court and sideline for second-year coach Noelle Quinn, who revamped her staff before her first full season at the helm of the Storm.  

So, what should we expect this season, which starts 7 p.m. Friday when Seattle faces the Minnesota Lynx in a much-anticipated home-opener and its first regular-season game at Climate Pledge Arena? 

Here are three keys to the Storm’s season.  

Seattle guard Sue Bird has a laugh between plays as the Seattle Storm take on the Washington Mystics at KeyArena in Seattle, Sunday, July 8, 2018. Bird hit two scoring milestones during the game – she broke 6,000 points and became the franchise all-time leading scorer. 206909

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Keep Stewie healthy  

Among Seattle’s Big Three, Seattle can least afford to lose Stewart. That’s not to say Jewell Loyd and Bird are expendable, but the team is built around the 6-foot-4 do-everything dynamo who is a perennial MVP candidate.   

To her credit, the 27-year-old Stewart has been remarkably durable during her seven-year WNBA career. The three-time WNBA All-Star forward missed just one game during her first three years in the league before sitting out 2019 while recovering from offseason surgery to repair a torn right Achilles.  

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However, in each of the past two years, Stewart missed games near the end of the season. Her two-game absence didn’t hurt the Storm in 2020, considering she led Seattle to a league championship and captured the Finals MVP.  

Last year, Stewart missed four games down the stretch and the Storm posted a 1-3 record during her absence. She also sat out Seattle’s second-round playoff loss due to a left Achilles injury.  

Since 2018, the Storm have posted a 75-21 record, including 12-2 in the playoffs, in the games Stewart has played. Her 0.781 winning percentage during that span is the highest among WNBA players.  

Acclimate the newcomers as quickly as possible  

Part of Seattle’s troubles last year was wrapped up in its failed attempt to find a meaningful role for seven-time WNBA All-Star forward Candice Dupree, who started two of 16 games before the Storm mutually agreed to a $142,000 buyout and released the 16-year veteran midway in the season.  

And to a lesser extent, forward Katie Lou Samuelson didn’t pan out as planned during her one year in Seattle. The Storm traded her along with this year’s No. 9 pick in the WNBA draft to Los Angeles in exchange for Gabby Williams.  

Williams and Briann January, who both received one-year guaranteed deals worth $144,000 and $140,000 respectively, were brought in to bolster what was once the league’s stingiest defense that’s been on the decline since losing defensive stalwarts Natasha Howard and Alysha Clark to free agency in 2021.  

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However, Williams and January missed all of training camp and two preseason games while playing overseas. They had their first practice with the Storm on Tuesday, three days before the season opener.  

Williams is expected to compete with Stephanie Talbot for the starting small forward job while January is supposed to play major minutes behind Bird.  

Quinn wants to use a 10-player rotation with hopes of reducing the Big Three’s workload to keep them fresh for the playoffs.  

Hit the ground running  

It’s imperative the Storm get a fast start during the WNBA’s expanded 36-game season considering 9 of their first 11 contests are at home. The early stretch includes an 8-game homestand, which is the longest in franchise history. Seattle will play half of its home games in the first 4½ weeks, which means 16 of the final 25 games are on the road.   

The Storm, which posted a 5-6 record in the last 11 games last year that precipitated a fall from first to fourth in the standings, will be hard-pressed to avoid a similar decline considering eight of their final 11 games are on the road.  

Seattle’s arduous stretch includes three brutal road trips. The Storm play at defending WNBA champion Chicago and Phoenix before returning home July 24 to face Atlanta. Then Seattle makes its last East Coast trip, which includes a stop in Connecticut before back-to-back games at Washington. After a two-game homestand, the Storm close the season with a three-game road trip against Chicago, Minnesota and Las Vegas.