There were several familiar faces — say hello again to Sue Bird, Breanna Stewart and Jewell Loyd — plenty of newcomers and a handful of notable absences at the Storm’s first training camp practice Sunday.
Seattle welcomed the return of its Big Three as well as Stephanie Talbot, Ezi Magbegor and Epiphanny Prince, who were the only other holdovers from last year’s team that participated in practice.
“The first day is always a lot of teaching and a lot of getting to know (teammates), but overall it was good,” Bird said. “We’re going to have a lot of new players and a brand-new staff. It’s been a great group.
“Yesterday we had a team meeting, everyone is here to win. Eager to learn so it’s good vibes.”
The excitement of a new year was tempered by the team’s announcement that fourth-year center Mercedes Russell suffered a non-basketball related injury and will miss training camp as well as the Storm’s two exhibitions.
Storm coach Noelle Quinn declined to provide detailed information about the injury and was vague when asked if Russell would return for the May 6 season opener.
“We’re super optimistic to have her back pretty soon and looking forward to having her in the fold,” Quinn said.
In addition to Russell, forwards Gabby Williams and Kennedy Burke and guard Briann January will miss a significant portion of training camp while fulfilling commitments overseas with their respective foreign teams.
Per the league’s collective-bargaining agreement, which runs through 2027, WNBA players who play overseas will be fined if they miss the start of training camp next year. They’re also subject to a seasonlong suspension if they miss the regular-season opener.
And in 2024, WNBA players will be required to attend the start of training camp or face a seasonlong suspension.
For now, the Storm is prepping for Saturday’s exhibition home opener against the Phoenix Mercury with a makeshift starting lineup that included the Big Three alongside Talbot while Magbegor and newly signed Jantel Lavender split time at center.
“The beauty of playing in the WNBA is you become someone who can adapt easy because every year is a different schedule, a different length of training camp,” Bird said. “Preseason games come quick (and sometimes) they don’t come quick. Every year is different, so you just take it as it comes. We have a lot of returners in camp, which is a good thing and that helps things move along while we teach some of these new players.”
The fact that the Storm have the 41-year-old Bird on the court for her 19th season is a bit of a surprise considering the league’s oldest player seriously pondered retirement for the first time in her 21-year career.
Admittedly, Bird might have called it quits if not for an impassioned chant of “One More Year” she received from Storm fans following Seattle’s loss in the second round of the playoffs last year that ended the season.
“I’ve been as honest as possible in my whole journey in deciding to play,” said Bird, who has signed one-year deals in each of the past three seasons. “The truth was last season there was a lot of back and forth in my head. Is this the last season? Some days it felt like it was. Some days it felt like it wasn’t.
“When the final horn went off, I really didn’t know what I was going to do. A couple of days later, I had it in my head I’ll probably run this back so let me operate like I am. As the days and weeks went, it became clear it was the right decision to come back.”
However, here’s the thing, Bird isn’t sure if this year will be the end.
“I don’t know,” she said smiling. “Ask me after a couple of games. It’s tough. I feel like I try to be as honest as possible because I don’t want to be in and out and left and right. That’s annoying for everybody and for me too.
“When the ‘One More Year’ chant happened and I kind of played on that with my announcement (to return) there was an assumption of one more year and I felt like yeah, one more year. As my workouts started to get a little more intense and I feel more healthy, I was like what if it isn’t?”
Granted it’s just one practice, but the WNBA’s all-time assists leader didn’t appear to have lost a step while dropping dimes and draining three-pointers during a brief 5-on-5 scrimmage against male practice players at the end of Sunday’s workout.
“At this stage, I’m just an athlete trying to figure it out,” Bird said. “Trying to see how my body feels. Trying to see how I respond to practices and to games and those are just the unknowns. Ask me in a month and I’ll have a better idea. I don’t want to have that push and pull with you guys either and I’ll try to be respectful of that.”
It’s a funny thing to watch Bird, arguably the greatest point guard in the history of the WNBA who could anticipate and see moves on the court before they happened, struggle so openly to forecast her future.
When asked a second time if this is the last year, Bird agreed — with a caveat.
“I feel like I’m approaching it like it is,” she said. “I’ll be honest as I go through it. I won’t try to Tom Brady ya, but maybe that happens. You can sense a lot of confusion I’m sure.”