Upon her arrival in Seattle in February, Candice Dupree made it clear her main motivations for joining the Storm were money and winning.
“Those are my two big things,” said Dupree, who signed a one-year, $170,000 contract with the defending WNBA champions, which is the richest deal in franchise history for an incoming free agent. “I’m not looking to go to a team and be the franchise player and play the majority of the minutes.
“It was pretty easy. It helped narrow down a lot of teams and Seattle was the best fit.”
But after 12 games and a dramatic decline in production from the seven-time All-Star forward, it’s become clear that fitting in with the Storm has been more difficult than she expected.
Admittedly, Dupree is unsure about her role.
“I’m still trying to figure that out,” she said last week. “This was never, this wasn’t anticipated — I’ll say that — leading up to the season with the conversations that I had with the front office. So I think at this point, it’s something that we’re all trying to figure out.
“I don’t have a solid answer because I didn’t anticipate coming here and being in the position that I’m currently in. It’s a little complex so I’m trying to figure it out.”
After completing over a third of the season, the Storm has been unable to effectively integrate one of the WNBA’s all-time great scorers into the league’s second-highest scoring offense that averages 89.1 points per game.
Dupree is averaging just 6.5 points, which is nearly eight points fewer than her 14.4 career average to start the season. She’s also averaging career-lows in rebounds (2.9), assists (0.67) and minutes (17.5).
And yet, Dupree needs just six points to move past Cappie Pondexter for sole possession of fourth place on the league’s career scoring list. Only Phoenix’s Diana Taurasi (8,994 points) and Naismith Hall of Famers Tina Thompson (7,488) and Tamika Catchings (7,380) have scored more points.
“That’s a heckuva list,” Dupree said. “Some really good players on that list.”
There are bigger concerns for Dupree aside from reaching a historic milestone.
The 36-year-old veteran is at an unfamiliar crossroads in a remarkable career as she makes her first return to Indiana on Tuesday night, where she played the previous four seasons.
A cursory look at the standings validates Dupree’s decision to join forces with the league-leading Storm (10-2) and ditch the Fever, which is riding a seven-game losing streak and sits at the bottom of the standings at 1-11.
During her four-year tenure, Indiana compiled a 34-90 record while constantly rebuilding with young players and never came close to qualifying for the playoffs.
“I met a lot of great people there,” Dupree said. “The winning and losing, that didn’t really go the way that it was planned. The biggest thing I learned there was how to be a better leader being that I played with so many younger players there. How to coach them on the floor. Great people and I enjoyed my time, but it was time to move on.”
In theory, Dupree, a 6-foot-2 and 178-pound forward, was supposed to replace departing Natasha Howard, a 6-2 and 165-pound forward, who blossomed into a defensive star in Seattle.
Dupree started the season opener against Las Vegas, but it quickly became clear she lacked the size and athleticism to defend big post players like the Aces’ Liz Cambage and Minnesota’s Sylvia Fowles.
That’s when former Storm coach Dan Hughes, who retired May 30, talked with Dupree about a lineup change.
“It was a conversation I wanted to have with her, but she actually initiated it with me,” Hughes said at the time. “That’s how special this player is. She recognized that there are some matchups that are just really hard for us with her and (Breanna Stewart), especially when you’re talking about the Cambages and Fowles of the world.”
Hughes didn’t want Stewart, Seattle’s leading scorer, collecting unwanted fouls while playing in the post, which pushed 6-6 center Mercedes Russell into the starting lineup.
And Dupree, who had started 464 out of 468 games before joining the Storm, is on the bench for the first time in her 16-year career.
Some nights, she’ll score 12 points on 6-for-9 shooting in 24 minutes as she did May 28 during an 82-72 victory over Minnesota.
And other nights, Dupree will log just 7:55 minutes in a 90-87 overtime triumph against Connecticut.
Following a three-game stretch in which she tallied six points, Dupree was asked if she was in a scoring slump.
“I don’t know that I would call it a slump,” she said. “There’s overall been some inconsistencies with rotations and playing time and all that kind of stuff. I had a conversation with Noelle (Quinn, the Storm’s head coach) in trying to sort that out. What is my role going to be? What are minutes looking like? All that kind of stuff.”
Ideally, Quinn wants Dupree, a methodical mid-range shooter, to assume a primary scoring role with the second unit that generally includes guards Jordin Canada and Epiphanny Prince and center Ezi Magbegor.
“Over her career, she gets buckets,” said Quinn, who has recently tinkered with the rotations and paired star point guard Sue Bird with the bench players in hopes of coaxing more production from Dupree. “To take ownership within that unit is very essential. To understand that we can play through her. She’s a leader in that. She’s a veteran in that. And she’s the experienced one within that unit.
“Just standing firm in that and taking ownership in the fact that whoever is in at that point, we’re going to sustain the level of play or elevate the level of play. Once adjusted to a role like that and once having the consistent rotation with that, it becomes a part of it naturally to say ‘Hey look, I’m the one in this unit. Let’s get it going.’”
So far, the Storm has been so dominant that Dupree’s inconsistent performances haven’t been a detriment.
And seemingly, Seattle’s pursuit for a second consecutive championship might soothe Dupree’s misgivings about her diminished role.
“I knew what I was getting into when I came to Seattle,” she said. “I know who the offense runs through and I was 100% OK with that. I’ve never been the type of player to say I need X amount of shots per game in order to be happy. I’ve always been a pro and I do my job. I’m coachable. I’ve always been coachable.
“But this situation is definitely unique and not one that I would have anticipated.”
— The 17th WNBA All-Star Game will be played July 14 at Michelob ULTRA Arena at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. The game will be broadcast live at 4 p.m. PT on ESPN.
All-Star fan voting begins Tuesday at 11 a.m. PT and conclude on June 27 at 8:59 p.m. PT. Fans can choose up to 10 (four backcourt and six frontcourt) players at WNBA.com/vote and the WNBA App.
The All-Stars will be determined through a combination of votes from fans (50% of the vote), current WNBA players (25%) and a national panel of sportswriters and broadcasters (25%).
The top 36 vote-getters (who will comprise at least nine backcourt and 15 frontcourt players) from that voting process who are not members of the USA Basketball 5×5 roster, will then be provided to WNBA coaches who will determine from that list, the 12 players who will play for the Team WNBA All-Stars versus the USA Basketball Women’s National Team.
Coaches will not be able to vote for their own players. The 2021 WNBA All-Star rosters will be announced June 30.