Three questions after Alysha Clark's departure

Do-it-all forward Alysha Clark is on to the Capitol and now the Storm will have to figure out how to replace her

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PALMETTO, FL - SEPTEMBER 24: Alysha Clark #32 of the Seattle Storm posts up Bridget Carleton #6 of the Minnesota Lynx in Game Two of the Semifinals of the 2020 WNBA Playoffs on September 24, 2020, at Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Florida. (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)

There were no guarantees the Seattle Storm were going to keep their championship core intact. The 2020 Storm roster consisted of two divergent timelines. Seattle was bound to lose at least one of Sue Bird, Natasha Howard, and Alysha Clark. On Monday, it was official: Clark was headed east to Washington D.C. after nine years in Seattle.

Clark will earn roughly $366,000 over the next two years, according to Winsidr, a price point the cap-strapped Storm may have struggled to match and still fill out their roster. Clark will go from earning $85,500 in 2020 to $183,000 annually. There is no doubt Clark deserves it for her strong play, including back-to-back all-defensive team appearances.

Replacing Clark will be difficult. With several decisions yet to make this and the next offseason, there is no obvious one-player solution. In fact, there may not be another player like Clark in the league. There aren’t many versatile two-way players who can make over half their 3-pointers, who doesn’t need the ball in her hands while defending nearly everyone.

Let’s look at some lingering questions following Clark’s departure.

How do the Storm replace Clark?

Thankfully, the Storm designated Natasha Howard as a core player. Though coring Howard gives them exclusive negotiating rights, that does not mean she will return. Remember, the Liberty did the same with Tina Charles and still traded her to the Mystics last offseason. However, it makes little sense for Clark to walk and then deal Howard.

Retaining Howard allows the Storm to keep some defensive burden off Breanna Stewart. Howard is still young enough, at age 29, to align with the next era of Stewart, Jewell Loyd, and Jordin Canada. Nothing is official yet, but keeping Howard seems more obvious than ever. I don’t think anyone would have faulted the team for choosing Clark over Howard if it came down to it, but that decision is seemingly made for them.

Yet, you don’t replace a player like Clark with one player. The Storm will need more from Mercedes Russell and Ezi Magbegor next season.

Russell is still just 25 years old and has had an inconsistent role with the Storm. She came to Seattle from the Liberty in 2018 as a rookie and played went from 16 minutes per game to 4.6. When Stewart was injured the next season, Russell played 25.6 per game and back down to 13.8 last season. Seattle didn’t ask much from her last season besides setting screens, grabbing rebounds, and playing a little defense. That figures to change next season.

Aside from Magbegor’s continued growth, the Storm need to get more from Morgan Tuck and Crystal Langhorne in 2021. The two earned a combined $220,000 last season, a meaningful number for a team in cap trouble. In the Storm’s situation, they need more than 195 total minutes from this pair. It’s not that Tuck or Langhorne were injured, they just didn’t see the floor. Seattle needs to position them to produce more in 2021. Losing Clark will certainly free some minutes in the frontcourt and wing.

How hard did the Storm try to keep Clark?

Clark was arguably the Storm’s biggest priority this offseason and based on Clark’s comments on Monday, that seemed to be the case.

“The Storm did everything right. My time spent with them was nothing short of amazing. Our ownership group out there is really special. They made it very clear to me throughout this process as well that they wanted me back and were doing everything they could to bring me back,” said Clark. “At the same time, they respected my time to be able to process, which is something that in any business when you have some people that are in charge of running it that can respect that, even if that potentially means that you may not stay with that business.”

“But to be able to give that respect to me to be able to do that you know it's something that you know was really really special for me and just spoke volumes of their character, which I already knew. I didn't think they would do anything less than that.”

Losing a player like Clark is tough but it sounds as if the relationship ended amicably. Clark also talked about playing in a big city and mentioned growing up in Tennessee, where she will be closer to now. At age 33, this was one of Clark’s final chances to cash in and choose her team. To go from the Storm and Mystics and not compromise playing for a contender also had to be attractive.

If you’re the Storm, it’s best to have players saying great things on the way out. This is typically indicative of a healthy organization and something players notice. Players also talk and handling the departure of a franchise cornerstone well can go a long way in the eyes of many.

Did the Storm know she was gone?

We’re also not hearing Clark’s former teammates trashing her on the way out. In fact, the most surprising thing was hearing from Clark that her teammates may have expected her to leave when asked about having difficult conversations.

“They weren't difficult, no. I mean everyone, of course, was just talking to me about understanding the process and obviously the importance of me to that team and organization but they all expected it and they've all wished me well and tell me how much they would miss me because it's bigger than basketball,” said Clark. “Our relationships and the friendships that we've built, they'll be on the court. So, that's something regardless of if I'm playing there or playing here in D.C., our friendships aren't going to change and that for me is, that's what matters at the end of the day.”

It makes sense that her teammates would wish her well after what they’ve built over the last decade. Of course, it could go the other way and the remaining Storm players could resent her for leaving but that doesn’t seem like the case. There’s no denying that Clark gave the Storm all she could and left the franchise on a high note.

Losing Clark is no doubt difficult and creates as many questions as it answers. The Storm are playing the long game. Figuring if they could keep Clark was just one difficult decision they had to face this winter. Now, they have another: how do you replace an Alysha Clark?