Instead of celebrating its WNBA championship, the Storm spent its offseason dealing with one piece of bad news after another. Now the defending champs are definitive underdogs.

Here’s all you need to know before Seattle opens its season against the Phoenix Mercury on Saturday.

Once a repeat title contender, the Storm starts the 2019 WNBA season as an unlucky underdog

PROJECTED STANDINGS

1. Washington (29-5)

2018 record/finish: 22-12, 3rd

If Elena Delle Donne had been fully healthy for the WNBA Finals (she suffered a bone bruise semifinals), then maybe the Mystics would have provided more of a challenge and avoided a 3-0 sweep. Delle Donne returns for her third season in Washington looking like MVP candidate for a team with legitimate championship aspirations. The Mystics are loaded with backcourt duo Kristi Toliver and Natasha Cloud. Plus, forward Emma Meesseman returns after missing last season.

2. Las Vegas (25-9)

2018 record/finish: 14-20, 9th

In just his second year, Bill Laimbeer has turned a franchise that finished last in 2017 into a title contender. The Aces orchestrated the biggest trade of the offseason and landed disgruntled star center Liz Cambage, who led the WNBA in scoring (23.0 ppg.) last year in Dallas. Pairing her alongside All-Star forward A’ja Wilson, the 2018 Rookie of the Year winner who averaged 20.7 points, potentially gives the Aces the highest scoring frontcourt tandem in the league. Plus, Las Vegas has two-time All-Star Kayla McBride, 2017 No. 1 overall draft pick Kelsey Plum, the former Washington Huskies star, and 2019 No. 1 pick Jackie Young out of Notre Dame.

3. Connecticut (21-13)

2018 record/finish: 21-13, 3rd

Seemingly the Sun is stuck in a time warp after finishing 21-13 the past two years and capturing a first-round playoffs bye before losing a single-elimination game to Phoenix in the quarterfinals. Despite trading leading scorer Chiney Ogwumike (14.4 ppg) to Los Angeles, the league’s highest scoring team shouldn’t take a dip if fourth-year veteran Jonquel Jones reprises her 2017 season when she was a WNBA All-Star and tabbed as a rising star.

4. Atlanta (16-18)

2018 record/finish: 12-22, 10th

In its first year with coach Nikki Collen, the Dream made an 11-game improvement before losing 3-2 to Washington in the semifinals. Atlanta is without two-time scoring champion Angel McCoughtry, who is expected to miss most of the season with a knee injury. Still, the Dream has enough firepower with Tiffany Hayes, Renee Montgomery and Alex Bentley to make another deep run in the playoffs.

5. Los Angeles (16-18)

2018 record/finish: 19-15, 5th

Last year was a disappointing season for the Sparks, which had made trips to the WNBA Finals the previous two years and won it all in 2016. New coach Derek Fisher has a talented roster bolstered by the addition of Chiney Ogwumike who reunites with her sister Nneka. L.A. is missing do-everything star Candace for 2-4 weeks due to a hamstring injury.

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6. Phoenix (16-18)

2018 record/finish: 20-14, 5th

If not for a Game 5 defeat to the Storm in the semifinals, the Mercury would have advanced to the WNBA Finals where it would have been the favorite against Washington. When healthy, the Mercury is a title contender. But perennial All-Star Diana Taurasi will miss 8-10 weeks due to back surgery. All-Stars Brittney Griner and DeWanna Bonner should keep the Mercury in playoff contention.

7. Chicago (16-18)

2018 record/finish: 13-21, 10th

The Sky is starting over for the second time in three years. New head coach/general manager James Wade follows Amber Stocks, who was 15-43 the past two seasons. No. 4 draft pick Katie Lou Samuelson gives the Sky another strong three-point threat along with Allie Quigley, Diamond DeShields and Courtney Vandersloot.

8. Seattle (15-19)

2018 record/finish: 26-8, 1st (WNBA champions)

The losses of Breanna Stewart (Achilles tendon) and Sue Bird (knee) make it extremely unlikely the defending WNBA champions will win a second straight title. The All-Star duo combined for 36 percent of the offense and 43 percent of the assists last season. However, there’s still enough talent to make the playoffs with All-Star guard Jewell Loyd and forward Natasha Howard moving into starring roles.

9. Minnesota (16-20)

2018 record/finish: 18-16, 7th

The Lynx appear to be nearing the end of a dynasty that won four WNBA titles and made six Finals appearances in the past eight years. Minnesota is without two of its mainstays in Maya Moore, who is sitting out the season due to personal reasons, and Lindsay Whalen who retired. This looks like a transition year for the Lynx, which brought in six newcomers.

10. Dallas (12-22)

2018 record/finish: 15-19, 8th

The Wings haven’t had a winning season since moving to Dallas in 2016, and expectations are low considering the Wings dealt their best player in Cambage while All-Star guard Sklyar Diggins-Smith will miss most of the season due to pregnancy. New coach Brian Agler is rebuilding with first-round draft pick Arike Ogunbowale and second-year veteran Azurá Stevens.

11. New York (12-22)

2018 record/finish: 7-27, 11th

One of the league’s original eight teams nose-dived to a franchise worst 7-27 record last season under first-year coach Katie Smith. The protracted sale to new owner Joseph Tsai and a rocky move from Manhattan to Westchester, N.Y., nearly overshadowed the dismal play on the court. Six-time All-Star center Tina Charles re-signed in the offseason, but the Liberty is years from seriously contending for a title.

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12. Indiana (12-22)

2018 record/finish: 6-28, 12th

Pokey Chatman will either win the Coach of the Year award or she’ll be the first coach fired. During her tenure, the Fever is 15-53 the last two years. Granted, Chatman took over a team in transition that had made 12 straight postseason appearances. But after finishing last in the WNBA in 2018, Indiana needs to show progress and perhaps make the playoffs to warrant a fourth year for its coach.

Seattle Storm’s Jewell Loyd speaks with media members at the basketball team’s media day Monday, May 13, 2019, in Seattle. (Elaine Thompson / The Associated Press)
Seattle Storm’s Jewell Loyd speaks with media members at the basketball team’s media day Monday, May 13, 2019, in Seattle. (Elaine Thompson / The Associated Press)

FIVE THINGS TO KNOW

Jewell Loyd is ready for her closeup

The last time the Storm asked Loyd to carry the team, she was a 21-year-old rookie in 2015 and wasn’t ready for so much responsibility. Four years later, Loyd, who made her first All-Star appearance last season, is more than ready to take over as the No. 1 scoring option due to the losses of Breanna Stewart (Achilles tendon) and Sue Bird (knee).

Can Natasha Howard do it again?

In her first season with the Storm last year, Howard tallied career-highs in scoring (13.2 points per game), rebounding (6.4), blocks (1.9), steals (1.4), assists (1.0) and minutes (25.6). She also had personal bests in shooting three-pointers (79.8 percent) and free throws (32.7). Howard, who won the WNBA Most Improved Player award last year, will have every opportunity to prove if she can transition from a supporting role to being a headlining star.

Dan Hughes’ absence creates a void in leadership

It’s been nearly two weeks since Hughes stepped away from the team to have a cancerous tumor removed from his digestive tract. The Storm is in capable hands under the direction of interim Gary Kloppenburg, but you just don’t replace someone like Hughes who is a giant in WNBA coaching circles with two decades of experience.

Second-year sensations?

Point guard Jordin Canada and center Mercedes Russell were the stars in a pair of exhibition losses to Phoenix and Los Angeles. And both figure to assume larger roles this season given the absence of Seattle’s stars. Canada steps into the starting lineup for Bird and looks to improve on an inconstant rookie year in 2018 in which she averaged 5.7 points and 3.3 assists. Meanwhile, Russell will likely crack the rotation after averaging just 1.7 points, 1.4 rebounds and 5.6 minutes in 24 games last year as a rookie.

There’s no place like home

Due to the renovation at KeyArena, the Storm will play five home games at Angel of the Winds Arena in Everett and the remaining 12 at Alaska Airlines Arena, which is on the campus of the University of Washington. It’s uncertain where Seattle would play if it makes the postseason and hosts a playoff game.

The Las Vegas Aces acquired Dallas star forward Liz Cambage, Percy Allen’s 2019 WNBA MVP pick. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill, File)
The Las Vegas Aces acquired Dallas star forward Liz Cambage, Percy Allen’s 2019 WNBA MVP pick. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill, File)

PRESEASON PICKS

All-WNBA first team: G Jewell Loyd, Seattle; G Tiffany Hayes, Atlanta; F Elena Delle Donne, Washington; F A’ja Wilson, Las Vegas and C Liz Cambage, Las Vegas.

Most Valuable Player: Cambage.

Rookie of the Year: G Arike Ogunbowale, Dallas.

WNBA champion: Washington 3-2 over Las Vegas (best of five series).