Seattle Storm: 2006 Preview
If you were to construct a blueprint of what a championship team should look like, you might start by observing the Seattle Storm, who have all of the necessary ingredients to recapture the title they won in 2004.
1) Motivation. Last year ended with two home playoff losses to Houston, quickly derailing their hopes of a repeat after a 20-14 regular season. The lingering memory of the early ouster should rekindle the fire that was missing against Houston, when Seattle allowed the Comets to shoot 51 percent on their floor.
2) Continuity. All five of Seattle's starters - Sue Bird, Betty Lennox, Iziane Castro Marques, Lauren Jackson and Janell Burse - are back, allowing Head Coach Anne Donovan to hit the ground running in the preseason without having to slow down the learning process to accommodate a new arrival.
Last year at this time, the Storm was adjusting to life without Sheri Sam and Kamila Vodichkova, and started 8-10 before ending the season with 12 wins in their final 16 games. Expect a quicker start this year.
3) Depth. The Storm have seriously upgraded their reserve corps, most notably with the addition of 6-2 forward Wendy Palmer, a career 10.8 ppg scorer and one of the leading rebounders in WNBA history.
The signing of 6-4 center Tiffani Johnson could deliver huge rewards as well. Johnson arrived in Seattle's camp at 195 pounds, 40 pounds lighter than her playing weight in Houston, where she averaged 6.3 points and 5.4 rebounds from 2000-2004.
Barbara Turner might be undersized for a small forward, but the team's first-round pick out of Connecticut has a tendency to come up big at crunch time, as evidenced by her 22.8 points and 10.5 rebounds in the NCAA tournament in March.
4) Leadership. It starts with Donovan, one of the most successful coaches in WNBA history, who enters her fourth season in Seattle. But she can't do it alone and, recognizing that her two best players were both reluctant to assume the role of leader, she recruited a natural in Palmer.
"She brings everything to
the table that I thought she would as an experienced player, a hungry player,"
Donovan told the Seattle Times during training camp. She's
a veteran who's got poise and the ability to really have good chemistry with all
the younger kids and the older players as well. Everything we had hoped for is
already starting to pay dividends."
"They just complement each other well," says New York guard Becky Hammon. "You have to have that inside-out connection. They have that and the have been playing together for a while so they have good chemistry as well, both on and off the court."
Bird and Jackson give the Storm the edge over any team in the two most important positions on the floor. Amazingly, they are both only 25 years old and just beginning what should be their prime years, with one WNBA Championship already under their belt. There's no reason to believe they won't deliver more.
6) Health. The Storm had it last year, when their most serious injury only kept Lennox out of action for six games with a torn ligament in her non-shooting wrist. This year, they can only hope to be as fortunate. Already, Burse has missed time with a labrum tear in her left shoulder and a hyper-extended left elbow.
Even more worrisome are the hairline fractures in Jackson's shins, which have limited her playing and practice time during the preseason and will probably require Donovan to reduce her workload from the 34.6 minutes she played in 2005.
With Palmer and Johnson on the bench, the Storm is better prepared than ever before to survive Jackson's absence…temporarily. If Seattle is to make a run at another title, though, Jackson will need to be the dominant force she has been for the last four years.