Let’s rip the band-aid right off and say what’s true: The Storm isn’t nearly as talented as it was when it won the WNBA championship last year.
An All-Star is gone. Another defensive mastermind is, too. Pieces that were critical in Seattle winning two titles in the past three years are off the roster.
But sad as some of those departures may be for Storm die-hards, they were borderline inevitable. Now the question is: Did the Seattle brass set this team up to win more championships over the next few seasons, or are the Storm’s peak years in the past?
On Wednesday, a blizzard of activity dramatically changed how the Storm will look going forward. First, it traded away All-Star forward Natasha Howard to the Liberty for two first-round draft picks, including the 2021 No. 1 overall selection. Then it shipped the 2022 first-round pick (acquired from the Liberty) to Minnesota for second-year forward Mikiah Herbert Harrigan.
It also traded guard Sami Whitcomb to the Liberty for 26-year-old forward Stephanie Talbot and, finally, moved the 2021 No. 1 overall pick to the Wings for 23-year-old forward Katie Lou Samuelson and their 2022 second-round pick. All this comes after Alysha Clark — a unanimous first-team WNBA All-Defensive player for the Storm last year — signed with the Mystics earlier in the offseason.
It doesn’t take a basketball savant to understand that the Storm is less mighty than it was a few months ago, when it won the WNBA title in the Florida bubble. But these moves — or at least moves like these — were necessary.
Like Clark, Howard was an unrestricted free agent due a big pay raise. She was the league’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2019, when she averaged 18.1 points, and she posted 15.8 points per game in the 2018 playoffs, when the Storm won the title. Given the Storm’s $1.34 million salary cap, it was going to be impossible to keep that championship roster intact — especially with Sue Bird, Jewell Loyd and reigning Finals MVP Breanna Stewart on the roster. So Seattle got younger — a lot younger — hoping to keep the Storm in championship contention for years to come.
Two things to know: 1) At 26 years old, Stewart is already the best player in the world. Barring injury (and she already overcame a significant one), she is likely to be highly productive for the next 7-10 years. Surrounding her with a young nucleus now is integral to maximizing her long-term window.
2) Bird, the future Hall of Famer, is 40. Yes, she probably deserves a statue in front of Climate Pledge Arena one day, but as Charles Barkley often says “Father Time is undefeated.” It’s likely the Storm wants to give itself cap flexibility for the future rather than go “all in” this year with Bird at the point.
So what can fans expect from this team? Part of that might come down to how productive Samuelson is. It was certainly interesting to see Seattle deal this year’s No. 1 overall pick to Dallas for her.
Samuelson was a star at the University of Connecticut and the No. 4 overall pick in 2019, but she has struggled in the pros — averaging just 3.8 points per game in two years while starting just four times. Do Storm general manager Alisha Valavanis and coach Dan Hughes see her having a breakthrough? Because she might have to.
In Clark, Seattle lost the player who led the WNBA in three-point shooting last year (52%). It also is losing a 38% three-point shooter in Whitcomb.
Samuelson shot 40.8% from deep in college but has hit just 31.7% of her three-point attempts since turning pro. Her rediscovering that UConn touch could be essential in the Storm maintaining its outside threat.
There are plenty of things to feel confident about if you’re a Storm fan. Stewart will likely play at an MVP level for years to come. Loyd, 27, will likely play at an All-Star level, as she did in 2018 and 2019. And Bird will find a way to contribute every time she takes the court.
But there are uncertainties that didn’t exist in 2018 and 2020, when the Storm blitzed through the playoffs and won all six of their Finals games. The defense is probably going to take a dip. Same goes for the outside shooting. These things happen when financial restrictions force you to part with key players.
The question is, has enough of the void been filled?
Over the past few years, players such as Stewart, Bird and Loyd have demonstrated that they are among the best in the world at what they do. Now, we find out if the same is true of the Storm’s front office.