February 11, 2021 

Storm deal Howard, Whitcomb; acquire Harrigan and Samuelson

The Seattle Storm reconfigured their roster and maybe future with the moves they made

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Natasha Howard #6 of the Seattle Storm shoots the ball against the Dallas Wings on September 9, 2020, at Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Florida. (Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images)

There was no trade deadline on Wednesday but the Seattle Storm made deals like there was in. The Storm made four trades with three teams that will shape their roster for 2021 and beyond. While Seattle started the offseason slowly, they more than made up for that this week.

Now that the dust has settled, we can evaluate the moves that were made and where the Storm’s repeat chances stand. Let’s look at each of the four trades more closely.

Trade No.1: Seattle sends the rights to Natasha Howard to New York for their 2021 first-round pick (No.1), 2022 second-round pick, and Phoenix’s 2022 first-round pick

It’s unsurprising the Storm wanted multiple first-round picks for Howard and they got them because the Liberty acquired the Mercury’s 2022 first-rounder earlier on Wednesday. Though, it’s a little surprising the Storm didn’t get a player to help them win now.

Yet, with the Liberty’s youth, they didn’t exactly have many productive veterans. New York had to use Kia Nurse and Megan Walker to get that 2022 draft pick from Phoenix. Once the Liberty obtained the additional pick, they could complete the deal with the Storm for Howard.

Howard’s departure is unsurprising given the silence surrounding her free agency since Seattle cored her. Given the Storm’s cap situation, it was unlikely they would keep both Howard and Alysha Clark. Once Clark departed for D.C., that should have cleared the way for Howard’s return. Yet, all remained quiet on that front.

Things were too quiet, much like with Tina Charles and the Liberty last offseason. Eventually, the Liberty traded Charles’ rights to the Mystics. Howard will now have the chance to lead a young Liberty team while the Storm, well, this is only the first trade.

Trade No.2: Seattle routes the 2022 first-round pick from Phoenix to Minnesota for Mikiah “Kiki” Herbert Harrigan

A combo forward around 6’’ tall, with range, and the potential to defend multiple positions. Does this description sound familiar? The Seattle Storm may be squinting, hoping that Herbert Harrigan can become an Alysha Clark Lite.

That isn’t meant to be reductive. Herbert Harrigan has a similar size and the potential to share some of Clark’s strengths. As a rookie, Herbert Harrigan hit 42.6 percent of her 3-pointers. Although she took just 1.6 treys per game, she was a good shooter in college. At 6’2, she has the physical tools to grow into a good defender.

If there is one area of her game to watch, it’s her rebounding. Cheryl Reeve talked about this concern after drafting her and said Herbert Harrigan would have to rebound to play. Her rebounding was fine. In 11 minutes per game, she averaged 2.3 rebounds and 7.4 per 36 minutes. Again, that’s fine but you would like to see her build upon those numbers.

For comparison, Herbert Harrigan’s 12.6 rebounding percentage (percent of available rebounds grabbed when on the court) would have ranked fifth on last season’s Storm. However, two of those players — Howard and Crystal Langhorne — are now gone and someone will have to make up for that. Rebounding is still going to be an emphasis this season.

Dealing with what was likely to be a mid-first-round pick from Phoenix next season for a pretty good prospect coming off a solid rookie season seems like a decent move. Given the team’s hole on the wings, she could earn a starting spot at some point next season.

Trade No.3: Seattle trades Sami Whitcomb to New York for the rights to Stephanie Talbot

Whitcomb seems like a cap casualty for the Storm with this deal. Last season, Whitcomb proved she was more than a shooter by running the offense and driving the lane as the lead ball-handler when Sue Bird went down. The Storm will miss not only her shot but also her playmaking skills off the bench.

Why this is a cap casualty is that Talbot has not played in the WNBA since 2019 and the Lynx unceremoniously traded her to New York last draft night. In theory, a 26-year-old shooting guard makes perfect sense on this Storm team.

However, the Lynx thought so too. Talbot went from a dependable role player to playing just 10 minutes total over the team’s final three games in 2019. Here’s an excerpt of what Cheryl Reeve told The Next last offseason about the decision to trade Talbot:

“We thought we had an opportunity there,” Reeve said. “I would just say that when you go through a season and you put the whole thing together, being in the trenches, we felt there were different opportunities for us that, for lack of a better word, we preferred.” 

“As I told Steph, she helped buoy us when we were down to seven players. Damiris [Dantas] had reinjured her calf and I believe, at that point, we won four-straight with seven players and Stephanie Talbot’s play was crucial to our ability to get through that. So, Stephanie certainly has some great qualities.”

“At the end of the day, you can’t know all the information. There are reasons things work versus other things not working. We just made the best decision on what we felt like in terms of the big picture for Stephanie and for us,” explained Reeve.

Setting aside Talbot justifiably opting out of the 2020 WNBA season, not expecting much from Talbot is best. Remember, the Storm only have her rights. Seattle would still have to find a way to sign her. If they do, hopefully, things would work out better for Talbot than they did in Phoenix or Minnesota.

In all likelihood, the Storm won’t receive much for Whitcomb. Again, Talbot finding a way on to the team and excelling would be great, but this seems especially unlikely if Australia takes part in the Olympics (if the Olympics are still held).

Trade No.4: Seattle sends New York’s 2021 first-round pick to Dallas for Katie Lou Samuelson and the Wings’ 2022 second-round pick

The Storm would have had a solid day if they only stopped with the Whitcomb-Talbot deal. It’s hard to imagine Samuelson and a future second wasn’t an offer the Storm couldn’t have had down the road. Even if the Storm viewed the No.1 overall pick as more of a trade asset, why not shop it closer to the draft? This seems like a deal Seattle could have had any time.

Here’s the thing, Samuelson showed she can play and is still just 23 years old. She can improve. Samuelson went from 7.7 minutes per game as a rookie with Chicago to 20 minutes a night with Dallas and both her efficiency and counting stats improved dramatically.

She may not be a star but the Storm don’t necessarily need her to be next season. If she can come in and contribute, that will be a positive. Now, whether that production justifies the value of the first pick in the draft will remain to be seen. It seems like that pick should have returned more than Samuelson and a second-rounder.

Putting it all together

You cannot really look at the Storm’s moves as trading Howard, Whitcomb, and two firsts for Samuelson, Herbert Harrigan, and two seconds. These deals were all individual moves. That’s probably a good thing because the sum of these moves looks worse.

Normally, a team dealing with a player like Howard would want prospects and draft compensation to aid a rebuild. The Storm aren’t rebuilding but an established player and draft compensation should have been the goal. Now, they weren’t getting Nurse since New York needed to deal her to get the first to complete the Howard deal.

While Herbert Harrigan and Samuelson will likely contribute, neither have played two full WNBA seasons. They are still inexperienced players with little to no playoff experience between them. Relying on youth in a playoff run is a gamble many teams don’t like and the Storm may not have a case.

Getting younger (read: cheaper) was likely important to the Storm. Retaining Sue Bird and Epiphanny Prince while bringing Candice Dupree onboard will likely help ingratiate the young players into the culture and help them prepare for a possible postseason run.

These four trades, and the Dupree signing, likely informed us of how the team planned to compensate for the losses of Howard and Clark. The Storm were never going to do that given their financial situation, but they are banking on having players that will support the new core of Breanna Stewart and Jewell Loyd for years to come.

In fact, it’s hard to imagine making these moves without thinking of Stewart, Loyd, and Jordin Canada. These players are up for new deals next season and retaining the flexibility to re-sign both was important. Having Dupree on a one-year deal and both Samuelson and Herbert Harrigan on rookie deals helps that goal.

This cap crunch was an unenviable position and time will tell how well the Storm navigated this offseason.

Written by Derek James

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