January 28, 2022
JANUARY HYMN: Nine thoughts after Seattle reaches deal with Briann January
If Bird, Loyd, and January all scale back their minutes from last year, that nearly exceeds the 80 minutes available across the guard spots
Who knew The Decemberists’ beloved “January Hymn” was actually about the Storm’s 2022 free agency!
Maybe if we just “let it be”
maybe Briann will just come back to SEA
Sing oh, January, oh!
(Okay maybe I adapted it slightly.)
Head coach Noelle Quinn now has a heck of a lot of options in how she wants to run her lineups; between point guard Sue Bird, Jewell Loyd (who’s a near-lock to play at Climate Pledge Arena this year) and January, the team has a top-three at each of the primary, secondary, and tertiary playmaking roles — to say nothing of big wing Breanna Stewart’s ability there. Should Seattle choose to run an undersized lineup featuring Bird and Loyd and January alongside Stewart, they’d force defenses to contend with more possibilities than any other lineup in the league.
2. Bench experiment
The three-headed backcourt monster is a near-lock to play more minutes with at least one member off the court than all together, though. Which raises a big question: What does the Bird-less backcourt look like?
Loyd has moonlighted at point before, but she spent only 2% of her time there last year, and her playmaking vision is mostly limited to the quarter-court. January runs a lot of pick-and-roll actions, but isn’t a true playmaker or lead creator out of those. Phoenix has made its primary lineup excel over the past couple of years despite the absence of a true point guard by pairing two of the best secondary playmakers in the league (Diana Taurasi and Skylar Diggins-Smith). Can Loyd and January learn to play off each other, with January stepping up her facilitation, enough to make a point guard-less lineup work?
3. Off-ball guard city
Between Loyd and January, the Storm have taken the two best off-ball guards off the market. We projected them fourth and tenth in contract earnings from this cycle, as arguably the two best two-way two-guards in the league. (I’m not quite Jay-Z, but that’s three twos for y’all out there.) Seattle often struggled last year with finishing plays when the ball swung to a third or fourth player after putting the defense in rotation. This should help end that concern.
4. Canadian emigration
If Bird, Loyd, and January all scale back their minutes from last year, that nearly exceeds the 80 minutes available across the guard spots. They’ll play together at times, but that still doesn’t leave a lot of room for another guard commanding a decent salary. Pair that with Loyd and January being a top-two defensive backcourt combination and point guard Jordin Canada is squeezed out.
I forecasted that Canada was unlikely to return earlier in the month, and this all but seals it. Her immense talent as a defender and value-added playmaking makes her a [player desirable to some teams] — meaning she ought to cost more than the bare veteran minimum. But in January, the Storm have made a lateral defensive move at worst, while giving up some playmaking for a massive upgrade in production. There aren’t enough minutes or roles open in Seattle anymore for re-signing Canada to be a justifiable addition to the team’s cap sheet.
5. Prince sticking around
Speaking of 2021 Storm guards who I expected to be off the team’s payroll. I thought Prince’s unprotected salary (meaning the team can cut her without financial repercussion) was a shoo-in to get cut, given we’ve projected that salary range to feature players contributing more than I expect her to in 2022.
But as of publication, the 12-year veteran is still on Seattle’s roster. With this being a team that I’d say tries to do right by its players — they didn’t have to trade big Natasha Howard last winter; off-ball guard Alysha Clark sung the front office’s praises despite leaving — it likely would have cut Prince by now if that was in the cards, to give her time to find a new home. Perhaps management is currently working on a trade; but with her contract still active, I’m beginning to think it’s more likely she remains in green and yellow this season.
6. Weakening rivals
Connecticut would not be where it was last year without January’s defense and shot-making. Connecticut is a team that could have room for a January-level free agent at the two-guard or wing. New York badly needs a two-way guard. The Aces have one of their best players an unrestricted free agent at off-ball guard (though she’s expected to re-sign).
These are all teams looking to contend that could’ve made great use of January. Now, they’ll have to beat her instead.
7. Noey gets her wish
Quinn addressed one of Seattle’s biggest offseason needs was, “in order to match the youthfulness that’s coming into our league, the isolation situations, the athleticism; I think we have to counter that with adding more depth [at guard].” Despite January having turned 35 a couple of weeks ago, the Storm have indeed added a better athlete at the two-guard spot.
8. Draft flexibility
Barring some 2021-esque reaches on draft night, Seattle is likely to see the best players on the board during its first-round pick to be point guards. But as I imagined in the team’s free agency Choose Your Own Adventure, gunning for a championship while running a rookie as your backup point guard when your starter is likely to be capped at 26-32 minutes a night is not an exceedingly comfortable proposition.
With the aforementioned Loyd-January bench combo likely to eat a ton of minutes, will that make the front office more comfortable in taking someone like South Carolina’s Destanni Henderson or Indiana’s Grace Berger? Or will the team sign a veteran (likely at the minimum) to be its true backup point while taking a wing like Tennessee’s Rae Burrell?
9. Looking ahead
Seattle remains without a starting-caliber center on its roster and remains weak at the three-spot.
If January signs near the median projection of $125,000, the Storm don’t have the money left to nab a top center; those options being re-signing Mercedes Russell, whose preference is to return according to a source familiar with her thinking, and Stefanie Dolson, who The Athletic’s Chantel Jennings reports is choosing between Seattle and New York. The Storm would need Bird and Loyd and Stewart to sign for a combined $40,000 under the supermax before inking either and rounding out the roster with their first-round pick.
If Prince is taken off the cap sheet, then Seattle gains enough money to sign Russell or Dolson and replace Prince with a minimum-level player — perhaps a Rachel Banham, or a Stephanie Talbot re-signing if her market is underwhelming, or even Prince re-signing but at a lower figure.