Welcome to The Next: A basketball newsroom brought to you by The IX. 24/7/365 women’s basketball coverage, written, edited and photographed by our young, diverse staff, dedicated to breaking news, analysis, historical deep dives and projections about the game we love.
Subscribe to make sure this vital work, creating a pipeline of young, diverse media professionals to write, edit and photograph the great game, continues and grows. Paid subscriptions include some exclusive content, but the reason for subscriptions is a simple one: making sure our writers and editors creating 24/7/365 women’s basketball coverage get paid to do it.
The Seattle Storm were going to have a hard time bringing new players in, so re-signing their own free agents was important. We know Alysha Clark is a Mystic, but we know two other players are returning to Seattle.
Guard Epiphanny Prince is returning on a multi-year deal, according to Rachel Galligan. Prince played in 15 games for the Storm and averaged 4.3 points, 1.2 rebounds, and 1.4 assists per game, However, Prince elevated her play in the playoffs once Sami Whitcomb left for the birth of her child.
ESPN reported on Monday that Sue Bird will also return, but will wait to sign her deal until the Storm are done making moves to accommodate their cap space. Bird played in just one-half of the Storm’s game this season because of a bone bruise. The 2021 season will be her 18th in the WNBA.
The Bird news is unsurprising. She was going to be able to return as soon as she said so. The fact she isn’t actually signing her new deal is incredibly helpful from a salary cap standpoint. Bird was in the final year of a max contract and bringing her back immediately at a similar salary would essentially have kept them from bringing back Natasha Howard, for instance. It seems that Bird will wait patiently for the Storm to finish their moves and she will have what’s left.
At age 40, Bird showed she had plenty left. She averaged 9.8 points and 5.2 assists per game on 49.6 percent shooting from the field and 46.9 percent from 3. Bird’s roster spot is more than just a legacy award.
Though she only played 11 games last season, the Storm may have discovered the formula. Resting Bird and allowing her to heal kept her fresh for a championship run. If the team’s depth once again allows them, Bird management could be a wise idea.
We could see more of Prince in 2021
Having Prince back is beneficial. When Bird when down with her injury, Prince and Whitcomb had informal in-game auditions for the role of backup point guard. Whitcomb eventually claimed the job but Prince showed her prowess as a perimeter creator.
Here’s the thing: Prince has played a lot of point guard in her day in the WNBA and overseas. Up to 2015, Prince was a playmaker before injuring her knee and has struggled to find consistent playing time since. It’s unlikely the team was having her run the offense in the middle of the season because practice time was scarce. What will help Prince in 2021 is:
Surrounded by a talented roster, even without Clark.
Clear expectations from Day 1 she is the third point guard in case of injury or a Bird rest night.
Regular practice reps as the point guard.
Prince’s role felt murky but we saw how quickly an injury or two can force someone into a new role. With consistent playing time, it seems reasonable Prince can rediscover her rhythm. Some players need those minutes to play through their struggles and she may be one of those players.
What about Whitcomb?
Prince’s returns leads you to wonder what of Sami Whitcomb. Whitcomb is another free agent. Like Prince, Whitcomb is another key veteran bench piece. Shooting will be more important than ever with Clark’s departure and Whitcomb connected on a career-best 38 percent of her 3-pointers.
But Whitcomb showed she doesn’t just stand in the corner waiting for the pass. She demonstrated proficiency running the offense as Jordin Canada’s backup when Bird was out. Whitcomb could get in the lane and find teammates for open looks. She’s far from “just a shooter.”
However, how badly does the team need all of Bird, Canada, Whitcomb, and Prince again? That’s before you factor in Jewell Loyd and Kitija Laksa coming from overseas. After all, the Storm just lost their star combo forward. It seems like the better use of a roster spot would be a wing or a big.
However, there is something to be said for roster continuity.
We also don’t know what Whitcomb wants. Perhaps she wants to explore her WNBA options. She’s also a new mother and may want to remain close to her family in Australia. Perhaps all of this and the Prince signing are all unrelated and Whitcomb’s deal is coming.
Wondering what’s next
Aside from Bird’s verbal commitment and until Howard has a new deal, Whitcomb is the outstanding Storm free agent whose situation remains entirely unresolved. It feels like the Storm’s backcourt is mostly set but it’s hard to be certain. Howard and Whitcomb are two significant remaining pieces the team must figure out what to do with after re-signing Prince and Bird.