With Breanna Stewart leading the charge, Seattle is poised for another run at the title next year and beyond.
Looking back, the questions directed at Breanna Stewart were off the mark.
During her three years in the WNBA she had to answer for the Storm’s two early playoff exits and many wondered if the 24-year-old star would ever breakthrough and win a league title.
Considering her unparalleled college resume – four NCAA titles and four Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four awards – and the fact she played on a team stacked with three All-Stars, capturing a WNBA championship – in hindsight – was a foregone conclusion for the league and Finals MVP.
The more pertinent question now is how many titles will Stewart win before she’s finished with a career that’s destined for the Hall of Fame?
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“Can I get some days off first?” Stewart said smiling when asked about the Storm’s prospects next year just minutes after capturing a three-game sweep over the Washington Mystics in the Finals.
In many ways, Seattle is poised for another run at the title next year and beyond.
All-Star point guard Sue Bird confirmed she’s returning for her 17th season. Before the season, the Storm locked up All-Star guard Jewell Loyd, Natasha Howard, Alysha Clark, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Sami Whitcomb to multi-year deals.
Reserves Crystal Langhorne, Noelle Quinn and Mercedes Russell are believed to be Seattle’s only free agents. (WNBA teams do not disclose contract information).
Free agency starts Jan. 1 and players can begin signing contracts Feb. 1. A date for the WNBA draft has not been set. Seattle has the last pick (12, 24 and 36) in each the draft’s three rounds.
“You always want to get better as a team, but I’m of the mindset of, if it’s not broke don’t fix it,” coach Dan Hughes said. “Obviously, this is a good group and you want to keep it together for a long as possible.”
Aside from Bird, the league’s oldest player who turns 38 next month, the Storm has a young starting lineup that consists of Stewart (24), Loyd (24), Howard (27) and Alysha Clark (31).
And top backups include: Jordin Canada (23), Whitcomb (30), Langhorne (31) and Mosqueda-Lewis (24).
“They’re the defending champs, they’re young, they’re really talented, they’re smart and they know how to play with each other,” Mystics coach Mike Thibault said. “Teams are going to have to figure out some ways to match up and have as much firepower as they do because even on the nights that you play pretty good defense, they still — they just have so many
weapons to put the ball in the basket.
“They have so many unsung (heroes). Everybody talks about Stewie and everybody talks about Sue, but when you look at the series that Natasha and Alysha Clark and the game that Jewell had the one game, you have so many weapons. And then they bring somebody like Sami Whitcomb off the bench.”
Seattle will begin next season as the title favorite, but there hasn’t been a repeat WNBA champion since the Los Angeles Sparks won back-to-back titles in 2001 and ’02.
The now-defunct Houston Comets, which won four in a row between 1997-2000, is the only other team to win consecutive titles.
“The great ones I’ve been around – and I’m talking coaches and players – always want to bring something more to the table the next year,” said Hughes, whose mentor Van Chancellor led those championship teams in Houston. “That’s where my thinking goes.
“As good as we are and as good as some of the players are, you don’t ever want to lose that edge and trying to find a way to get a little bit better.”
Still, the past 15 WNBA champions, including the Storm in 2004 and 2010, failed in their attempt to win two straight.
“The way we’re built if you look at all the pieces, it’s got championship written all over it,” Bird said. “But I’m hesitant to say here comes a dynasty because you could have said that about 2004 with that team and look what happened the next couple of years. There are a lot of teams that have won where you could have said that.
“Look at Phoenix in 2014. … So much can happen in this league, so I’m hesitant to say it. But the pieces are there.”
Before this season, Minnesota dominated the WNBA while winning four of the previous seven championships. But the Lynx lost star guard Lindsay Whalen to retirement and shows signs of aging.
The same appears true for 2016 champion Los Angeles and Phoenix, which pushed Seattle to five games in the semifinals.
Quite possibly, the Storm’s toughest challengers next season will be Washington, Atlanta and Connecticut – the top three finishers in the Eastern Conference this season.
The Storm players realize how truly special this 2018 season was and believe they can do it again next year. Seattle had the best record in the league at 26-8 and tied a WNBA record with 13 road wins. The Storm also set league records with three-pointers in a game (17) and season (307).
“We have a taste of what it’s like and we know what we’re capable of now,” Loyd said. “It’s something that we know that we can do. It’s not out of reach. It wasn’t luck. We did that. And once you get one, you want another one.
“I want another championship. And Stewie? We all saw what she did at UConn. She’s not satisfied with just one. She’s an animal. I don’t see us slowing down. I only see us getting better.”
- Bird, Stewart, Loyd and Hughes flew to Spain to join Team USA for the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup, which begins Saturday.
- Whitcomb didn’t attend the Storm’s championship parade Sunday because she was called up to play for the Australian national team Opals in the FIBA World Cup. The former Washington Huskies star, who became an Australian citizen earlier this year, replaced injured Leilani Mitchell.
- Bird, Langhorne and Quinn will remain in the United States while the rest of the Storm players are playing overseas during the offseason.