Alisha Valavanis isn’t ready too think about the Storm’s future.
Not yet at least.
It had been less than 48 hours since Seattle claimed its fourth WNBA championship on Tuesday night in Bradenton, Florida, and, rightfully so, the team is still taking a victory lap.
“We’re going to take a second and really enjoy this one,” said Valavanis, Seattle’s CEO and general manager. “But we move to the next phase pretty quickly in terms of planning for 2021. We’ll certainly meet with the coaching staff and start having conversations around the next two pieces: free agency and the draft.”
Under Valavanis’ direction, the Storm has won two WNBA championships over the past three years with a talented corps of superstars and role players.
Seattle is considered the early favorite to win it all next season and would be the first repeat champion since the Los Angeles Sparks did it in 2001 and ’02.
However, bringing everyone back may not be simple. Here’s a look at the pertinent offseason issues facing the Storm.
Bring back Bird
Seattle could lose half its roster once WNBA free agency begins Jan. 1.
Veterans Sue Bird, Alysha Clark, Natasha Howard and Epiphanny Prince will be unrestricted free agents and can test the market.
Meanwhile, Sami Whitcomb will most likely become a restricted free agent after Seattle extends her a qualifying offer at the start of the new year. The backup sharpshooter can negotiate with other teams, but the Storm could match any deal and retain her.
According to Spotrac.com, the Storm’s payroll this season was roughly $1.3 million, but if Seattle wants to retain the core of its championship team, ownership will have to open the checkbook.
Bringing back Bird is a no-brainer, even though the Hall-of-Fame-bound point guard turns 40 next week and was the team’s highest-paid player this year at $215,000.
Bird, who missed half the season because of injury, has expressed a desire to play her 18th season if healthy.
However, the next free-agent decisions could be tricky.
Time to pay AC
Clark, who joined the team in 2012, appears to be in line for a big payday. The nine-year veteran was a bargain this year with an $85,800 salary, which ranked seventh on the team. That amount could double in 2021.
As a comparison, Las Vegas signed 34-year-old Angel McCoughtry to a two-year deal that pays $185,000 this season and $190,500 next year.
Clark, 33, is considered among the best two-way players in the WNBA. She led the league in three-point shooting percentage and was a unanimous pick by for the All-Defense team.
Since her arrival in 2018 via a sign-and-trade deal with the Minnesota Lynx, Howard has exceeded expectations and has arguably been the missing piece considering Seattle has won two titles.
Still, the 6-foot-2 forward who won the Defensive Player of the Year award in 2019 and received league MVP consideration is coming off her worst season with the Storm, averaging 9.5 points and 21.0 minutes.
Conceivably, the Storm could replace the 29-year-old Howard, who made $117,000 in 2020, with center Ezi Magbegor, who is scheduled to earn $58,170 in 2021, her second WNBA season.
Whitcomb and Prince each made $68,000 in 2020 and combined to account for 11% of Seattle’s salary cap.
Both backup guards proved to be valuable bench performers during the postseason.
Restocking via the draft
The Storm has the No. 11 pick in the 2021 WNBA draft, which is familiar territory for a team that has selected near the bottom of the first round the previous two years.
In 2019, Seattle used the 12th overall pick on Magbegor, who remained in her home in Australia before joining the Storm this season.
The Storm chose Kitija Laksa with the 11th pick in the 2020 draft, and the 23-year-old Latvian shooting guard remained overseas. She has played for her national team and professionally for TTT Riga since suffering a season-ending knee injury in college at South Florida.
Considering the Storm is in championship mode with a stacked roster, look for the team to again select a young prospect who can develop overseas.
- The Storm paid $136,000 in playoff bonuses, and each player received $11,356, according to the WNBA’s collective-bargaining agreement.