Expectations are incredibly high for the Storm, which begins a historic WNBA season 9 a.m. PT Saturday against the New York Liberty in Bradenton, Fla.

There’s no sugarcoating it: Seattle is loaded with four WNBA All-Stars who highlight arguably the most talented roster in the 21-year history of the franchise.

“We’re deep,” 17-year veteran point guard Sue Bird said. “You can’t get around that, we’re deep.”

Still, there are plenty of questions surrounding a team that finished 18-16 last year and is tabbed as the preseason favorite to win the franchise’s fourth championship.

Here are five questions facing the Storm:

1. Can Breanna Stewart and Bird return to All-Star levels?

Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart celebrate the Storm’s come from behind win over Phoenix in Game 5 of the WNBA Semifinals in 2018. (Dean Rutz / The Seattle Times)
Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart celebrate the Storm’s come from behind win over Phoenix in Game 5 of the WNBA Semifinals in 2018. (Dean Rutz / The Seattle Times)

That’s impossible to know at this point. Both played a handful of games with USA Basketball early in the year before the coronavirus pandemic shut things down. And reports from training camp have been favorable regarding their progress.

Advertising

Bird, the league’s oldest player at 39, is seemingly ageless, but she expressed a bit of uncertainty when asked if she can still direct Seattle’s up-tempo offense that ranked second in the WNBA with an 87.2 points-per-game average in 2018.

“You’ll have to tune in and find out if a 39-year-old can still run,” said Bird, who missed the 2019 season due to arthroscopic knee surgery.

As for Stewart, there’s less concern the 25-year-old superstar will bounce back nicely after suffering an Achilles tendon injury last year. The 2018 WNBA MVP was voted The Associated Press preseason player of the year by a panel of national media members.

“I’m better today, than I was (in 2018),” Stewart said. “I can say that, and that’s how I feel, but I still have to go out and prove it.”

2. How will Natasha Howard and Stewart coexist?

Seattle Storm forward Natasha Howard during a game against Atlantain 2019. (Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times)
Seattle Storm forward Natasha Howard during a game against Atlantain 2019. (Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times)

While filling in for Stewart, the 28-year-old Howard emerged as one of the league’s top players as she won the league’s Defensive Player of the Year award, All-WNBA first-team honors and All-Star recognition for the first time in her career.

Advertising

Stewart’s return doesn’t necessarily bump Howard down to secondary status.

The last time they shared the court, Stewart finished with 30 points and Howard had 29 in a 98-82 victory over the Washington Mystics to capture the 2018 WNBA title.

During the 3-0 Finals sweep, Stewart averaged 25.7 points and 6.0 rebounds, and Howard averaged 18.7 points and 10.7 rebounds.

3. Are there enough minutes to keep everyone happy?

Jordin Canada is one of the key players to a successful Storm run at another title. (Dean Rutz / The Seattle Times)
Jordin Canada is one of the key players to a successful Storm run at another title. (Dean Rutz / The Seattle Times)

Probably not with a rotation as big as 10 players, but that won’t matter as long as Seattle is winning.

The starters — Stewart, Howard, Bird, Jewell Loyd and Alysha Clark — are set, but it will be interesting to see which players are included in the closing lineup.

Advertising

If Jordin Canada has improved her perimeter game — she’s an 18.4% career three-point shooter — then the ultra-quick, defensive-minded backup point guard can be an asset on the court in the final minutes.

And 6-foot-6 backup center Mercedes Russell is Seattle’s biggest player, who could potentially pair with Stewart and Howard to combat teams with a formidable front line.

4. If the Storm is so good, what can possibly go wrong?

Gary Kloppenburg assumed the role of head coach while Dan Hughes recovers from cancer treatment. (Dean Rutz / The Seattle Times)
Gary Kloppenburg assumed the role of head coach while Dan Hughes recovers from cancer treatment. (Dean Rutz / The Seattle Times)

Plenty. For starters, no one knows with any certainty if coach Gary Kloppenburg is up to the task of guiding a team to a championship.

The 67-year-old defensive guru is filling in for Dan Hughes, who led the Storm to a 2018 WNBA title and is sitting out the season due to health concerns.

Hughes is an 18-year WNBA coaching veteran with a 276-307 record, while Kloppenburg has been an assistant for most his career and has compiled a 10-9 record with the Storm during stints as an interim head coach in each of the past two seasons.

Sponsored

The rest of the coaching staff — Noelle Quinn and Ryan Webb — account for a combined one year of experience as WNBA assistants.

Kloppenburg said Bird, and Clark to a lesser extent, are pseudo coaches on the court. However, he’s the one responsible for managing substitutions and making in-game decisions.

5. Which teams are the title contenders?

Members of the Seattle Storm hold the championship trophy in 2018. (Carolyn Kaster / Associated Press)
Members of the Seattle Storm hold the championship trophy in 2018. (Carolyn Kaster / Associated Press)

Aside from the Storm, a handful of teams have a legitimate chance to capture the league championship.

Let’s start with the Los Angeles Sparks, who return all four double-digit scorers from last season, including All-Stars Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike, who have three MVP trophies between them.

One day after trading DeWanna Bonner, the Phoenix Mercury made the biggest splash in free agency by acquiring point guard Skylar Diggins-Smith to pair with perennial All-Stars Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner.

Advertising

Bonner joined the Connecticut Sun, which advanced to the WNBA Finals last year and came a game short of its first franchise title. Still, Connecticut will be hard-pressed to overcome the loss of MVP candidate Jonquel Jones, who is sitting out this season.

Keep an eye on the Chicago Sky, which returns nearly its entire roster, including All-Stars Courtney Vandersloot, Allie Quigley and Diamond DeShields.

And it’ll be extremely difficult for the defending champion Washington Mystics to remain in title contention without several players who are sitting out this season, including two-time league MVP Elena Delle Donne.