SEATTLE – In one sentence, Swin Cash summed up the biggest reason why the Seattle Storm have continually been considered the WNBA power unable to match its potential.
“It’s kind of scary to see what we can be when everyone’s healthy,” Cash said.
But for five consecutive seasons, after winning the league title in 2004, health has been a major reason why Seattle has never been the team everyone in the WNBA expected.
Even with rosters filled by various combinations of all-stars, MVPs and Olympic champs, Seattle has failed to make it out of the first round of the playoffs in every postseason since winning that title a half-dozen years ago.
The two key components from that title team are back again for the 2010 season. And both Sue Bird and former MVP Lauren Jackson feel the urgency to again make a playoff push that goes beyond the first round.
“I think if you look at each of the last five seasons in some ways there were times that we kind of blew it and there were times when you look at injuries or we were unlucky,” Bird said. “And in this league each team is so good, so competitive, that you have to have a little bit of luck on your side. You need some luck on your side, just a little bit.”
And she adds before moving on, “It’s definitely been way too long.”
Last season, Seattle posted its second straight 20-win campaign, but a 20-14 record was only good enough for second place in the loaded Western Conference. That meant a first-round playoff matchup with Los Angeles, which ended Seattle’s season for the third time in four years with a 2-1 playoff victory.
The Storm did their part in keeping the core of those 20-win teams together – Bird, Jackson, Cash and emerging guard Tanisha Wright.
Jackson was again an All-WNBA first-team pick last season after averaging 19.2 points and despite missing the final six games of the regular season and all of the playoffs with a stress fracture in her back. She signed a multiyear deal with the Storm in March, almost ensuring she’ll play her entire WNBA career in Seattle.
Bird and Cash, the former UConn teammates, were all-star selections and Wright was an All-WNBA defensive team selection. It’s an impressive core for any team to build around.
The task for coach Brian Agler, now in his third season with Seattle, is piecing together the rest of an 11-player roster that complements the Seattle stars.
His debate: versatility versus specialization.
“You need versatile players, because with an 11-person roster you have to have individuals that can play multiple positions,” Agler said. “But we also have a core group of players we have to balance out to. … We have this set group, now what goes best with this set group.”
Among the certainties to be key contributors are Camille Little, who started all 34 games last year and averaged 10 points, and Alison Lacey, Seattle’s first-round pick this season out of Iowa State who has the ability to play both guard positions.
Ashley Walker, last year’s first-round pick, is healthy again after missing most of last season with a toe injury.
Svetlana Abrosimova was signed as a free agent and is a WNBA veteran who can play at either guard or small forward. She’s also a former UConn teammate of Cash and Bird.
The real debate for Agler comes in the frontcourt, where a handful of players appear to be vying for the final roster spots.
One surprise for Agler has been the performance of 21-year-old Abby Bishop, a teammate of Jackson’s back in Australia.