February 6, 2024 

Nneka Ogwumike signing completes Seattle’s turnaround into immediate contender

One of the WNBA's all-time great players adds both impressive offense and defense that will undoubtedly further elevate the Storm

The Seattle Storm made their second splashy signing of 2024 WNBA free agency Monday, as they signed Nneka Ogwumike. Ogwumike’s list of accolades is extremely long but reads in part: eight-time WNBA All-Star, 2016 WNBA MVP, and 2016 WNBA champion.

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“I’m stepping into this season of change with you, Seattle,” Ogwumike said in a press release. “With my teammates, coaches, staff, organization, ownership, and, most importantly, the fans. Every part of me is grateful and ready for this opportunity to continue to be great and sustain legacy. You can’t calm this Storm.”

The forward is a massive signing for the Storm. She was one of the most highly sought-after free agents this offseason after she announced she was leaving the Los Angeles Sparks. L.A. is where Ogwumike spent the first 12 seasons of her career after being picked first in the 2012 draft.

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One of the best players bringing her best to Seattle

Ogwumike has consistently been one of the league’s top offensive threats, ranking among the top 30 in scoring in every season she played. She was also one of nine active players to be named to the W25 team. That team honored the 25 best and most influential players of the first 25 years of the WNBA.

“Nneka is an efficient scorer, a strong rebounder, an elite defender, and is one of the most versatile players in the W. We know she will immediately elevate our play this season” head coach Noelle Quinn said.

Despite being 33 years old, Ogwumike posted some of the best numbers of her career in 2023, rivaling the stats of her MVP season. She averaged 19.1 points, 8.8 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game. Those stats earned her All-WNBA and All-Defensive team honors for a sixth time each. She scored in double figures in all but two matches, while scoring more than 20 points on 18 occasions and posting 16 double-doubles.

A highly respected leader in women’s basketball, Ogwumike is also the president of the Women’s National Basketball Players Association. She led the WNBPA through the process of negotiating and agreeing to the groundbreaking collective bargaining agreement in 2020 and continues to be an outspoken advocate for equality and women’s empowerment.

“Nneka is one of the most impactful players in the history of our league, not only her achievements on the court but also as an agent of positive change across the WNBA,” Storm general manager Talisa Rhea said in a press release.

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What this signing means

Seattle now has a new “big four,” as Ogwumike adds both her offensive and defensive prowess to the already talented trio of All-Stars in Jewell Loyd, Skylar Diggins-Smith and Ezi Magbegor. Some might argue that Magbegor is less proven than the other three, and thus it’s more of a “big three,” but I would disagree. The Australian international has shown exponential growth every single year, and there is no doubt in my mind that if Seattle is to contend for another championship, she will be a major piece.

All four players demand high-quality defensive attention, and together they will be incredibly difficult for the opposition to stop. Compare that to the 2023 roster, which relied almost entirely on Lloyd for its scoring, and this is a massive turnaround.

The three other than Magbegor form one of the highest-scoring trios on the league. Taking the average scoring of Loyd, Diggins-Smith, and Ogwumike from their last seasons played, and the trio combine to average 63.5 points per game. That is the highest combined total of any three players on a current WNBA roster.

Projecting a starting five at this point is 80% easy. It starts with Diggins-Smith running the point, Loyd getting buckets, and Ogwumike and Magbegor in the front court. Looking at the current roster, Jordan Horston is most likely to start at the three spot. While she is the least experienced, the No. 9 pick in the 2023 draft showed promise despite struggling with a shoulder injury.

The bench has some decent strength as well. Three-point sniper Sami Whitcomb won’t allow opponents to slack on defending the backcourt. Mercedes Russell will provide experienced height off the bench. Twenty-one-year-old Jade Melbourne will have the ultimate role model to learn from in veteran Diggins-Smith, and I’d expect the Australian international to keep growing.

More to come?

Sources confirmed to Richard Cohen that Ogwumike’s deal with the Storm is for one year, protected, and will earn her $204,500. Seattle could’ve offered the All-Star the maximum of $208,219, which is what Diggins-Smith is earning, but Ogwumike is taking just below that.

The remaining $153,083, which does not take Joyner Holmes’ training camp contract into account, allows Seattle to specifically sign two players to a veteran minimum salary to round out an 11-player roster. If Holmes does remain with the team, she will take one of the veteran minimums. Even so, the Storm still have the cap space to sign another veteran instead of needing to sign a draft pick.

This indicates that there could be another veteran they hope to sign to a starting position or add depth. We have seen that happen with a variety of players to help create the New York and Las Vegas superteams. If the Storm don’t sign veterans, they still have the No. 14 and No. 26 picks in the 2024 draft.

There isn’t necessarily a rush to make the decision between a veteran and a draft pick. Multiple veterans can be signed to training camp contracts, where they can compete with the draft picks, and it doesn’t affect the salary cap until they make a roster on the first day of a season.

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Why Ogwumike chose Seattle

As free agency began, Nneka’s sister, Chiney Ogwumike, said on ESPN that her choice had been narrowed down to Seattle, Chicago and New York. Speaking to Chiney on ESPN on Monday, Nneka said she was lucky to have even more options than that but that “ultimately, I felt like I just fit best in an organization that has so much history.”

Ogwumike continued, “We’re living in a house that was built by legends and continues to be built and coached by legends, and it just really resonated with me to be able to continue to build on that legacy with some other key pieces.”

The WNBA champion expects greatness to accompany her signing. She didn’t cite any singular factor or individual that influenced her decision but knows the difference she can make in this organization.

“I really want to step into this with everyone’s expectations to be great. You can’t be great without other great players, and I think we all know how much weight we can hold. But we want to empower not just each other but everyone else that’s a part of this organization and team.”

Legacy was evidently a factor in Ogwumike’s decision. “It’s all about legacy. It’s all about grace. Grace for me, I think, is a really big part of my legacy of being great. And that’s something that was birthed in me and ultimately, a huge part of who I was with the Sparks. And as difficult as the decision was, I think a big part of my next chapter is having a little bit more of a foundation, having a little bit more of something that is structurally there. If I was younger, maybe this conversation would be different, but you know, I’m 12 years in and I’m about to enter season 13.”

The Storm are on the verge of opening their brand-new dedicated practice facility, something many WNBA teams can’t provide their players. Ogwumike called the facility out specifically as something that is “symbolic and representative of so much of the value that these players should experience not just in free agency but in all aspects of being in the WNBA.”

Add the recently renovated Climate Pledge Arena, and the investment is highly visible to all prospective free agents. It is no coincidence that the franchises putting the most investment into things like facilities— Las Vegas, New York, Phoenix and Seattle — are attracting major free agents.

One place investment also shows is in how the team has marketed its new signings. Ogwumike will wear a different number for the first time in her WNBA career as she switches to No. 3 instead of her usual 30. In a win for Storm PR and marketing, just like with Diggins-Smith, the new signee’s jersey is already available for fans to purchase.

Ogwumike is also excited for what is now a balanced squad and specifically called out various coaches, noting Quinn’s experience winning in the WNBA as both a player and coach. She also mentioned assistant coach Ebony Hoffman, who she played with in L.A., as well as Pokey Chatman, another assistant who heavily recruited her going into college.

“I’m just really grateful to be a part of a lot of our worlds kind of colliding in this way. And in a really serendipitous way. So I’m excited,” Ogwumike said.

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The newest superteam?

Many people both in the media and on social media, even A’ja Wilson, have referred to Seattle as the third super team. While I wouldn’t go so far as to use that term, partially because I disagree with it in principle, Seattle are now undoubtedly next-level contenders. However, as with the other superteams, the defining factor will be how quickly the group jells. Despite all their massive signings, last year’s Liberty were beatable because they struggled to find their flow. Compare that to the Aces’ core, which has been together for several years at this point and knows one another’s tendencies incredibly well.

This isn’t a typical rebuild through the draft built for long-term success. This is a franchise looking to quickly make its way back to the top after losing two generational players after the 2022 season, Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart.

They lost two huge players, but Loyd, a generational player in her own right, stuck around with a belief in the potential of winning a third championship with the franchise that drafted her. Both Loyd and Diggins-Smith are signed through the 2025 season, and maybe success will lead to re-signing in the future, but Ogwumike signed only a one-year contract. This could suggest that Ogwumike hopes to win in year 1 or that she simply wants to keep her options open.

The Storm likely are hoping for near-immediate success, but it will also be interesting to see how the team handles planning for long-term success. Can they build on the faith Loyd has put into the franchise? Magbegor, for example, is only 24 years old and is set to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason. The core designation could be used if necessary to keep her, but can they convince her to stay without it? Will they focus on retaining the talented youth they have helped develop or on signing big-name free agents?

Regardless of what this team looks like a couple of years from now, it is set up to succeed in 2024. Boasting arguably one of the best starting fives in the entire league, they are rivaled only by the Liberty and Aces. After a 2023 filled with losses, Seattle is set to compete for a championship this season.

Written by Bella Munson

Bella has been a contributor for The Next since September 2023 and is the site's Seattle Storm beat reporter. She also writes for The Equalizer while completing her Journalism & Public Interest Communication degree at the University of Washington.

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