WNBA

Storm Face Turbulent Free Agency

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Each week over the first three months of the offseason, we will look at what each team has in store for free agency. We will look at pending free agents and then consider who may be a logical target for them to bring in. This series will start in standings order for the teams that missed the postseason and then go in order of elimination when it comes to playoff teams. We have looked at the Dallas Wings, New York Liberty, Washington Mystics, Los Angeles Sparks, Atlanta Dream and Indiana Fever. Now we move into the first team eliminated in the second round, the Seattle Storm.

If you had asked anyone following the Commissioner’s Cup what to expect for the rest of the season, a Storm championship would have been top of mind. After an injury to Breanna Stewart, the season skidded to a halt before ultimately ending in the second round. With a huge offseason ahead, what comes next?

Pending Free Agents

After years of sustained success, the reckoning is coming for the Seattle Storm. Sue Bird, Jewell Loyd and Stewart are the three faces of the franchise and they are all entering unrestricted free agency. Stewart is coming off another Achilles injury but is one of the most dominant players in the world anytime she is healthy. Bird is among the oldest players in the league but was still among the league leaders in assists per game (5.3) and 3-point percentage.

Loyd might be the biggest swing player of them all. The three-time All-Star was explosive this season, often seeming to be the best player on the team. While Stewart and Bird have cemented themselves as top options on championship teams, Loyd appears to be the most likely to take an opportunity elsewhere.

The final unrestricted agent is Cierra Burdick. The journeywoman played for three teams last season, logging 35 total minutes with the Storm. After discussing three All-WNBA level performers (at least Sue Bird was once upon a time), this is something of a drop-off. Burdick is certainly talented but her free-agency will be less of a priority.

Reserves Jordin Canada (restricted), Stephanie Talbot (restricted) and Karlie Samuelson (reserved) will all receive consideration in free agency. However, outside of the top three players, restricted free agent Mercedes Russell is a major target. As a full-time starter with the departure of Natasha Howard, Russell was a force on the glass and helped set the tone defensively.

The Plan Forward

Much of the financial planning for the Seattle Storm comes down to whether or not Sue Bird is calling it a career. Should she come back for one more year, she is likely to take up about a quarter of the team’s cap space. Stewart and Loyd are worth similar contracts. If they were to sign at those rates, the Storm would be left with around $200,000 to add four more players, including a starting center.

If Bird is retiring or willing to take a pay cut, bringing back Loyd is doable. The core will likely be used on Breanna Stewart to easily retain her, but Loyd could and should test the market. If she should choose to leave, the Storm would have to quickly reset.

Ultimately, this offseason will be telling about how the Storm intends to compete for the majority of Stewart’s athletic prime. When they were at their best they were one of the deepest teams in the league. Handing out max salaries to their top three players would prevent them from filling out their bench with high-quality reserves. Decisions, decisions.

About Corey Rausch

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