Noelle Quinn is searching for reasons to feel good about a five-week break in the WNBA schedule for the Olympic Games.
The Storm coach is thrilled for the league’s players — including six from her Seattle team — who are headed to Tokyo later this month.
And yet, Quinn admits this isn’t an ideal time for the Storm to suspend play after climbing to the top of the standings at 16-5.
“Honestly, it’s twofold,” she said. “I would love to keep things rolling because we are in a good spot, but also we know that we still have a lot of work to do and we know that we can get a lot better. We love our Olympians and we love that there’s an opportunity to represent our country, but understanding that we were kind of getting in the flow and getting into a really good groove. How do we maintain that is the toughest part.”
Quinn also said she understands many Storm players, including Mercedes Russell, Epiphanny Prince and Kennedy Burke, arrived late to training camp while fulfilling commitments with their overseas teams and haven’t had an extended break from basketball since last summer.
“So the flip side of that is our players get an opportunity to reset their minds and come back with renewed spirits and renewed minds and bodies,” Quinn said. “Maybe that will be helpful and beneficial even though we did want to stay in the flow. Allowing those guys an opportunity to go home or wherever they’re going to be. Maybe on a beach.
“But just some time for themselves I think is very useful as well.”
The Storm players who do not have Olympic commitments receive two weeks off and are scheduled to report back to practice July 26.
Seattle will then have 18 days to prepare for the WNBA’s inaugural Commissioner’s Cup championship game against the Connecticut Sun on Aug. 12 at Phoenix Suns Arena.
Quinn has mixed emotions about the league’s new in-season tournament finale, which rewards $30,000 per player to the Cup champions and $10,000 per runner-up.
She supports endeavors that generate excitement among WNBA fans and players.
And yet, she recognizes the Storm is at a tactical disadvantage because Connecticut doesn’t have any players participating in the Olympics.
Furthermore, timing could be an issue for Seattle’s Olympians considering the U.S. team is heavily favored to win the gold medal game Aug. 7, which would give Storm players five days to return home and then fly to Phoenix for the Cup championship.
“I’m not looking at this as if the players are slighted in any way, but Connecticut happens to have a squad that’s just not in the Olympics right now,” Quinn said. “That team has firepower. Jasmine Thomas is playing well. We know what DeWanna Bonner does and Jonquel (Jones) is playing at another level. They can prepare for us in a way that we can’t quite prepare for them specifically for this game.
“But I’m also looking at this game in that it’s fun. It doesn’t affect our record in any way. It’s not the championship game. It’s a fun new experience and money is on the line. There’s no pressure in that. … So yeah, they have this time to prepare, but win, lose or draw it isn’t for the big championship.”
Quinn said she is keenly focused on putting the Storm in the best possible position to defend its 2020 WNBA title.
History says to repeat as champions, it’s imperative that Seattle finishes with a seed in the top two that guarantees a bye into the semifinals. Since the league’s current playoff format in 2016, the top two seeds are a combined 29-9 in the best-of-three semis while advancing to the Finals nine of 10 times.
Seattle has a one-game lead over Las Vegas (15-6), but the Aces won the regular-season series 2-1 and would get the higher seed if the teams finished with an identical record.
The Storm has the tiebreaker advantage over Connecticut (14-6) and Minnesota (12-7), which are third and fourth in the standings.
When the WNBA regular season resumes Aug. 15, Seattle has 11 games remaining, starting with a five-game road trip followed by a four-game homestand.
In addition to the playoff push, several Storm players are vying for postseason awards.
All-Star Breanna Stewart is among the top MVP contenders while All-Stars Jewell Loyd and Sue Bird are in the mix for All-WNBA honors.
And Quinn will draw coach of the year consideration if the Storm finishes near the top of the league. She’s 11-4 since taking over May 30 when former coach Dan Hughes abruptly retired.
“We’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this break and how we’ll approach things,” Quinn said. “We’ve been working with Susan Borchardt (the team’s sports performance consultant) to help us formulate what we want to do. There will be a gradual ramp up.
“Then once the season starts again, it’s kind of like a sprint to the finish. In 2018, we tightened up the rotations a lot. I don’t know if we’ll do that again, but it becomes a feel thing as far as minutes. You’re just trying to win that night and doing what’s best for the team. So far, we’ve done a good job at that, but like I said, I really believe we can get better.”
Important WNBA dates
Wednesday — WNBA All-Star Game
July 27 — First of three Olympic preliminary round games for USA women’s basketball team
Aug. 3-4 — Olympic women’s basketball quarterfinals
Aug. 6 — Olympic women’s basketball semifinals
Aug. 7 — Olympic women’s basketball gold- and bronze-medal games
Aug. 12 — WNBA Commissioner’s Cup finale between Seattle and Connecticut
Aug. 15 — WNBA regular season resumes. Seattle at Chicago to begin a five-game road trip
Aug. 21 — WNBA trade deadline, 5 p.m. PT
Sept. 19 — Last day of regular season
Septe. 23 — Playoffs begin
Oct. 19 — Last possible WNBA Finals date