Storm

Storm Bid Legends Farewell & Brace for 2023 Decisions

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The Seattle Storm’s season came to an end after four games against Las Vegas Aces in the WNBA playoff semifinals. They won the first game 76-73 in Las Vegas, but they were unable to win another game. Their losses came by an average of 7.3 points in the most entertaining basketball series.

Following Seattle’s elimination, many questions surround the future of the franchise. Two legendary careers have come to an end, leaving the Storm in an unfamiliar position.

Seattle Says Goodbye To Their Own

The Storm lost their last game of the season, but there was a bigger meaning to the result. This meant the careers of Briann January and Sue Bird have come to an end. January spent only one season with Seattle, but she grew up in Spokane, Washington and she wanted to finish her career back home. Bird grew up in New York and played college in Connecticut. She spent her whole career with the Storm over 21 seasons and became a fixture in Seattle.

January traveled around the league during her 14-year career. Before finishing in Seattle, she spent nine seasons in Indiana, two seasons with Phoenix, and two with Connecticut. January won only one title with the Indiana Fever in 2012, which was also their only championship as well.

She helped lead her team to the finals two other times in 2009 and 2015. A seven-time all-defensive team selection, January is also a 2014 all-star. She leaves the WNBA as one of the most talented defensive point guards of all time and one of the best competitors ever.

Bird is another legend whose career ended after the Storm’s defeat. Unlike January, she spent her whole career with the Storm, helping them win four championships. Along with legends like Lauren Jackson, Adia Barnes, and Crystal Langhorn, she brought two championships to Seattle.

When the franchise entered its “rebuilding” phase, they created a big three with Jewell Loyd and Breanna Stewart joining Bird. That trio won two more championships in 2018 and 2020. She leaves the game as the all-time assist leader in the regular season and the playoffs. Storm fans will always remember her as the greatest point guard ever after what she’s done for the city of Seattle and the game of basketball.

Uncertainty In The Emerald City

Seattle has two players under contract for next season. Loyd and Mercedes Russell are under contract for 2023, while everyone else on the roster is some sort of free agent.

Gabby Williams is the only restricted free agent. This means when another team signs her, Seattle can match the offer to keep her. Ezi Magbegor is a reserved free agent. This means her last team, the Storm, has priority in the negotiation process.

These tags only qualify if the player has played for three years with the same franchise and four years in the league for a restricted free agent. Everyone else on the roster is an unrestricted free agent. This means they can sign with any team with no restrictions. There is a problem that could prevent the Storm from contending next season, one that includes All-Defensive Forwards Stewart and Williams.

The league CBA has a Prioritization clause taking effect next season. The clause mandates players who are late to training camp next season will face a fine.  For overseas players, such as Stewart and Williams, this is not ideal since their seasons end after Seattle’s training camp begins.

If players are late in 2024, they can be suspended for the whole season. The players with international responsibilities will refuse to play if there isn’t a change to this clause. Holdouts are motivated by the fact that they will earn significantly more playing overseas than WNBA salaries.

Williams said in her exit interview “I’m also shying away from the W because teams aren’t touching what I’m making in Europe.” Players who play for both international teams and WNBA teams will prioritize whatever brings them the most income. All eyes are on Stewart for next season as she has many options as an unrestricted free agent.

Stewie’s Decision Looms

The biggest free agent in the WNBA this offseason is Stewart. She finished second in MVP voting this season and averaged 21.8 points per game in the regular season. She improved in the postseason after averaging 27.0 points per game. Both of these points averages were league-leading during the season.

Stewart also tied Angel McCoughtry for most points in a playoff game after scoring 42 points in their loss to the Aces.

Stewart enters free agency with many suitors but she has made her intentions clear if she were to play next season. She enjoys playing with Loyd, who is under contract next season. “She’s someone that I really love playing with,” Stewart said. “Just thinking about where we started when we were 14, 15 to where we are now, it definitely makes you think about how exciting we can continue to be as we are entering our primes, in our prime. It’s a duo that’s tough to stop.” Loyd remaining in Seattle next season could be an important recruitment piece to keep Stewie with the Storm.

Figuring out the clause is essential to the league for her to make her final decision. While it will likely not be rescinded, the league schedule may not contradict with Stewart’s schedule playing for a team in Turkey. Seattle fans should worry about the prioritization clause claiming Stewart instead of any of the 12 teams in the WNBA.

While the Storm navigates the uncharted waters of the WNBA offseason, their cloudy future will be watched by many.

About Brenden Potts

Brenden is an American writer and Washington State University Sport Management student in Pullman Washington. He has less than a year of writing experience getting started with The Lead. He writes about the Seattle Storm for The Lead.

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