Very few, if any, college basketball stars begin their professional careers learning their craft as an understudy to one of the game’s greats while winning league championships in two of their first three years.
Jordin Canada fully understands how fortunate she is to have landed with the Storm with the No. 5 overall WNBA draft pick in 2018.
As a rookie, the 5-foot-6 point guard from UCLA backed up Sue Bird during Seattle’s dominant march to a WNBA title.
When Bird sat out in 2019 due to a knee injury, Canada stepped in and had a breakout year while being named to the WNBA All-Defensive first team.
And when injuries forced Bird in and out of the lineup last year, Canada started 11 of 20 regular-season games while putting up career highs in assists (5.5 per game) and field-goal percentage (42.4%) to help the Storm claim its fourth franchise title.
“It’s crazy, but it’s a blessing,” Canada said. “I’m very fortunate to be a part of this team and a part of this organization.
“I do give myself some grace and celebrate sometimes. But every year and every season, you get back and refocus. You want to win another one, so you do whatever it takes.”
It’s difficult to know if Canada has had to suppress parts of her game while backing up Bird or if playing second fiddle to the WNBA’s all-time assists leader has benefited the 25-year-old playmaker in ways that do not show up in her modest statistics.
The answer probably lies somewhere in the middle.
One could argue Canada is one of the WNBA’s top 12 point guards who is more than capable of leading a team like she did in 2019 when she averaged 9.8 points, 5.2 assists, 28.8 minutes and a league-leading 2.27 steals.
And yet, as Canada approaches her fourth year with the Storm, her future with the franchise is uncertain considering she’s a restricted free agent who could more than double her salary next year on the market.
“I love Seattle,” said Canada when asked if she’s open to returning to the Storm. “I love the city. I love the organization (and) my teammates. Of course, if the opportunity presents itself, I would love to stay here. It just depends on where Seattle sees me in the future and where I see myself. But ultimately, I would love to be here.”
If Canada continues along her current upward trajectory, then this could be her last year in Seattle, considering the Storm will likely prioritize financially rewarding All-Stars Breanna Stewart, Jewell Loyd and Bird, who are all unrestricted free agents next season.
Doling out three max deals would seemingly leave the coffers empty for Canada, who is on deck for a considerable raise to the $70,040 salary she’ll make in 2021.
Case in point, Sami Whitcomb, who earned $68,000 last year, was a restricted free agent after the 2020 season and the former Storm three-point specialist signed a two-year, $300,000 deal after Seattle traded her to the New York Liberty.
Whitcomb was one of nine restricted free agents during the offseason and one of five players who signed lucrative multi-year deals.
Quite possibly, Allisha Gray provides a benchmark for Canada when she hits the market next year. The 6-foot point guard who was taken No. 4 overall in the 2017 draft re-signed with the Dallas Wings and received a guaranteed three-year, $464,400 deal.
Last year, Gray made $65,779 and this year, she’ll earn $160,000.
Those types of leaps in salaries didn’t happen before the WNBA’s collective-bargaining agreement.
“The term contract year just wasn’t a thing in our league for so long,” said the 40-year-old Bird, who also serves as the WNBPA vice president. “Heading into the last year of your contract didn’t really mean anything because you pretty much knew what you’d be making next year. Now we have more player movement, more money to invest in salaries, more pressure if you will for players to perform and quite frankly more story lines to write and talk about. … In my mind, this is all great for the league.”
How Canada handles her contract year will be one of the story lines for the Storm, which looks to repeat as WNBA champion, but she’s not giving much thought about her potential future payday.
“I want to treat it like any other year,” she said. “Just trying to play my role and play my game and not necessarily think that just because this is my contract year I have to try extra hard or do something outside of myself or outside of my comfort zone.
“It’s just sticking to what I do and what I do best. Obviously, you want to get better and progress each year, but I think it’s trying not to overthink it and trying not to do too much. It’s sticking to who I am as a player and doing what I can to help the team any way that I can.”
After two weeks of training camp, Canada has been one of the bright spots in practice while the Storm looks to integrate a handful of veteran returners with several newcomers. Seattle is also missing several key players, including Stewart, Katie Lou Samuelson, Mikiah “Kiki” Herbert Harrigan, Mercedes Russell and Epiphanny Prince.
“Jordin plays a big role with us,” coach Dan Hughes said. “She has the ability to impact us so much defensively. She’s vital. We play her with Sue in some cases. When Sue is off the court, she’s extremely vital. Her impact defensively is really noticeable.”
Considering the loss of defensive stalwarts Natasha Howard and Alysha Clark, the undersized Canada is possibly the Storm’s most imposing player on a defense that ranked first in the WNBA last year in points allowed (76.0 per game) and opponent field-goal percentage (40.1%).
“Defense is one of my strengths first and foremost,” said Canada, who ranks 10th on the Storm’s all-time steals list with 128. “That’s the strength that I bring to the team. The way we rotate, the way we are aggressive on the defensive end, we take pride on defense.
“That’s why being on this team is such a benefit because I can use my quickness and my speed to get into passing lanes and being aggressive on the ball. I know that’s one of my strengths. Seattle takes a lot of pride in the defense.”
- Ezi Magbegor tallied a game-high 17 points, seven rebounds, three steals and three blocks to lead the Storm to an 88-71 exhibition road win against the Phoenix Mercury on Saturday. Kitija Laksa added 13 points and three three-pointers off the bench while Candice Dupree had 11 points in her Seattle debut.