January 14, 2021 

Seattle Storm offseason overview

After a temporary down season in 2019, the Seattle Storm were back to full strength last season

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The Seattle Storm celebrate after defeating the Las Vegas Aces and winning the 2020 WNBA Championship in Game Three of the WNBA Finals against the Las Vegas Aces on October 6, 2020, at Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Florida. Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via GettyImages)

After a temporary down season in 2019, the Seattle Storm were back to full strength last season. With Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart back recovered from their respective injuries, the Storm became an instant contender once again.

Would that have changed if teams like Washington, Connecticut, and Los Angeles had their full rosters? Perhaps but those teams would have the same stiff competition as the Storm. There are what-ifs in every professional sports season.

The Storm’s road to a repeat will be difficult. Although they project to have $550K in cap room, it will go fast. Seattle has five expiring contracts and several are core pieces. Alysha Clark, Natasha Howard, Sue Bird, Epiphanny Prince, and Sami Whitcomb are all free agents. Unless someone takes a discount, it seems unlikely for the Storm to retain everyone. 

An offseason most consequential

There are also potentially significant consequences beyond this winter for the Storm. Seattle has to consider what to do with Stewart, Mercedes Russell, Jordin Canada, and Jewell Loyd in the 2022 offseason. Suddenly, it’s not so easy to just say, “Okay, just pay whatever this offseason and be done with it.” 

Simply doing what it takes to re-sign everyone this winter could essentially mean choosing, say, Howard over a younger player like Loyd. You can do that but your window becomes smaller. The Storm could run it back one more season and maybe get another championship before losing a part of the future core. 

This speaks to a unique quirk of the Storm’s roster and being caught between two timelines. Bird (age 40), Howard (29), Whitcomb (32), and Clark (32) represent the old guard, so to speak. Meanwhile, Stewart (26), Loyd (27), and Canada (25) are potentially the future core with Kitija Laksa and Ezi Magbegor injecting more young talent. Howard could remain as an impactful piece with the young core depending on the deal.

Knowing the correct answer here is difficult. Clark is obviously a great player and faulting the Storm for keeping her would be difficult. Re-signing Clark to a max contract would be a no-brainer if it didn’t mean potentially losing Stewart or Loyd a year later. Losing Canada would be tough if Bird also retired after next season because Seattle would suddenly have zero point guards on the roster.

How this can play out

There are many scenarios in play here. Optimistically, it feels realistic for them to bring back two or three of Bird, Clark, Howard, Whitcomb, and Prince. Other ideas include:

  • Let Whitcomb and Prince walk and bank on Laksa taking over the bench scorer role.

  • Retain one of Howard and Clark and fill the roster in with what you have leftover. Keeping both Howard and Clark this winter and retaining key players next offseason feels unrealistic.

  • Is Sue Bird returning and would she insist on another $200K deal? Bird has earned the right to stay and name her price but knowing what her next contract will be would inform a lot of these decisions.

  • Morgan Tuck and Crystal Langhorne are on the 2021 books for a combined $220K next season. Gary Kloppenburg only played them a combined 195 minutes last season. If the Storm don’t see either playing more next season, can they move them to maximize their cap space for this offseason and next?

  • A disaster scenario of losing Howard and Clark and still losing Loyd and/or Canada next offseason.

Part of the difficulty in building a champion is sustaining success and making decisions although you cannot see the road ahead. That’s the challenge in front of the Storm this offseason. Viewing this and next offseason separately is difficult.

Whatever they can do to avoid this same predicament in the future would be a bonus.

Written by Derek James

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