Storm general manager Talisa Rhea was asked at a news conference Thursday what her backup plan was if Breanna Stewart had signed elsewhere.

“I didn’t have one,” Rhea admitted with a laugh.

It’s an honest answer, because there is no world in which Stewart’s “transcendent” talent, to use coach Noelle Quinn’s word — conveyed via an internet hookup from Japan, where it was 3:30 in the morning — could have been replaced by the Storm.

But it turns out that no Plan B was needed by Rhea. Even though Stewart said she felt obligated to explore her unrestricted free agency to the fullest, it was more an intellectual exercise than anything else.

“No, there wasn’t a chance I was going to go anywhere but Seattle,” Stewart said during the news conference at the Seattle Storm Champions Center near Climate Pledge Arena.

And then, no doubt alluding to her sit-down meeting with the New York Liberty, Stewart said as an aside to Rhea, sitting next to her on the podium: “Just making things a little spicy.”

It has been impossible to imagine the Storm without Sue Bird for the past two decades. And as the team prepares for what likely be Bird’s final season at age 41, it is equally unfathomable to imagine them moving forward long term without Stewart, 27.


They avoided that occurrence, for now, with last week’s announcement that Stewart had signed a one-year contract for the WNBA supermax amount of $228,094. A relaxed Stewart, with wife Marta Xargay and six-month-old daughter Ruby on hand, expressed how happy she was to be back for her seventh season with the Storm. Stewart said she’s recovering nicely from October’s surgery, termed minor, to repair and reinforce the Achilles tendon in her left leg.

“Seattle has been my home,” Stewart said. “Seattle is where my family has been made. Obviously, this franchise is my family, this organization is my family. And everyone that’s a part of Storm basketball just really means the world to me.”

But does that mean Stewart, with a decade or more still to go if she stays healthy, will follow the career path of Bird and play its entirety in Seattle?

That’s a more complicated question. Stewart said she decided to use her free agency to see how other organizations operated, and compare it to Seattle. Maybe, she theorized, there were some lessons that could be learned by the Storm.

“I think that the fact that I was a free agent, an unrestricted free agent, you want to like dip your toe in the water, and just see how it feels, and experience things,” Stewart said.

“I also felt I wouldn’t be doing my best, or doing my part in the WNBA, if I didn’t kind of see the other side of things as well. So to be able to see something new, like New York, and then to know where home is, like Seattle, and compare the two … it’s just an interesting opportunity. And I’m happy to be back in Seattle.”

The burning question now, as Seattle shoots for its fifth WNBA title, and third with Stewart, is whether she’ll come to the same conclusion next year. Especially now that she’s gotten a taste of the WNBA world outside Seattle.


Asked directly if there was a chance she might be with a different WNBA team next year, Stewart paused, smiled, paused some more, and said, “I mean, I thank you for the question. But I’m committed to Seattle for this season. And I think that that’s going to be biggest priority. We’re going to focus on what happens right now and not really think about what’s going to come in the future.

“As you guys can see in free agency, we are definitely in win-now mode. And we want to make sure that we’re contending for another championship, as well as appreciating as much time as we have on the court with Sue.”

Hmmm. Not nearly as definitive as her answer about this season. Stewart’s decision to sign a one-year contract led many to conclude that she wanted to gauge the direction of the Storm before committing long term. But she said it had more to do with what commissioner Cathy Engelbert calls the “prioritization” of WNBA.

You might not be familiar with that word, but it would be wise to learn about it. As explained by ESPN’s Mechelle Voepel, the WNBA is striving in its latest collective-bargaining agreement to incentivize players to prioritize its league as opposed to foreign leagues. The idea would be to eventually suspend players for the entire season if they report late to training camp — perhaps starting in 2024.

That is troubling to Stewart, who has had a lucrative contract to play for UMMC Ekaterinburg in Russia during the WNBA’s offseason. While the WNBA hopes that the salary increases in the CBA and offseason employment opportunities compensate for income that would be lost by not playing overseas, Stewart doesn’t see it that way.

“It’s something that if I’m quite honest, I’m not happiest about in our CBA, because it’s just really limiting what professional women’s basketball players can do in their offseason and their ability to make money overseas,” Stewart said. “So with a one-year deal, I have a little bit more flexibility in technically what I can do in 2023 as we try and figure out this prioritization.”


It’s a double-edged sword, because players have complained for years about the wear and tear on their bodies caused by playing year-round. The WNBA is trying to do something about that, but it might not be enough for the upper-echelon players such as Stewart.

“I think there just needs to be like a little bit of a happy medium,” she said. “It’s just hard for me, because with the prioritization you’re cutting off one of my sources of income, and not substituting it. … For me it’s, ‘Why does it have to be one or the other? Why can’t we find a middle ground with this thing?’ ”

For now, though, Stewart remains the prime cog of the Storm and one of the most visible players in women’s basketball. She is also finding her voice as one of the leading advocates of the WNBA, willing to point out what she calls “the good, the bad and ugly” of the league.

“I don’t think I can be one-sided,” she said. “You can’t just be the face of the league on the court, and not off. It doesn’t work that way.”

That’s Stewie, just making things a little spicy.