Extension No-Brainer for Bird
This winter, Sue Bird had a chance to do something she's never done before - and might never do again. With the expiration of her most recent two-year contract with the Seattle Storm, signed when she was one of the Storm's two core players, Bird would become an unrestricted free agent. This time, with teams now limited to just one core designation per team and teammate Lauren Jackson also hitting the market, there was no guarantee Bird would have been cored.
Bird could have tested the market. She could have seen what teams were interested in her services - all of them, most likely - and considered the possibility of returning to the East Coast, near either where she grew up on Long Island or where she played college basketball at the University of Connecticut. Ultimately, however, Bird had no need to do any such thing, because she knew she has already found her home in Seattle with the Storm.
Storm Head Coach and Director of Player Personnel Brian Agler began talking extension with Bird in the spring, shortly after she became eligible to sign a new deal on the one-year anniversary of her signing her last contract. At the Storm's Media Day in May, Bird publicly discussed the possibility of signing an extension, leaving things open. Thereafter, talks progressed slowly but steadily as player and team focused on the task at hand during the season.
"There was never any pressure to get it done except from the standpoint that to extend her we needed to get it done before the season was over," explained Agler. "She took her time, which was fine. She dialogued with the people she needed to dialogue with. I don't think she ever wavered in her communication with me about what she felt like she was going to do."
"A few conversations with my agent and that was about it," Bird said, explaining the negotiation process. "It just went this long because when you're in the season you get focused on things."
Money was not a factor in Bird's decision, so it came down to where she wanted to play and live over the next couple of years. On those counts, playing for the Storm and living in Seattle was an easy decision.
"I like it. It's pretty much that simple," said Bird. "I've been here eight seasons now. I live here. All my closest friends are on the team. I have friends outside of basketball. When I say it's home, I truly, truly mean it.
"The best way I can describe it is it's always been Seattle for me in terms of where I wanted to play, where I think I'd have the best opportunity to win a championship. I think it's the best franchise - not just from experiencing it but also from hearing about other people's franchises. In my opinion, it's for me the place to be."
The only time Bird's commitment to Seattle and the Storm was tested was when the team's future was in question because of the Sonics' impending move to Oklahoma City. The experience and the uncertainty only served to remind Bird of what made Seattle so important to her. She also began to think about the possibility of retiring in a Storm uniform.
"It's going to sound corny, but there is a part of me that wants to finish my career here, retire and come back to Storm games to watch," Bird said. "I think when you do play your entire career in one city, there's definitely a connection. I already feel that and I'm obviously not done yet. That's important to me."
No matter how easy the decision may have been for Bird, it was easier from the Storm's perspective. Agler explained that the All-Star point guard was one of the big reasons he took the job as head coach before the 2008 seasons. Since then, Agler has made bringing the best out of Bird one of his priorities. During the press conference, he paid tribute to Bird's ability to step up in the tough circumstances the Storm has faced because of injuries to Jackson the last two seasons.
"Any time there's been a difficult situation, Sue has come through," said Agler. "For example, last year we were playing real well. Lauren leaves, gets hurt and we were undermanned a little bit. What happens? Sue takes it upon herself to lead her team to the playoffs. Fast forward to this year, a similar thing happens. We go down a player, Lauren, and what happens? Of course we have continued success due to how Sue is playing. She's led our team again into the playoffs."
Agler's job as director of player personnel becomes easier knowing that Bird will continue to be one of the team's centerpieces going forward.
"It's just great to have her be a part of this," concluded Agler. "It's great for the future of the Storm. With her being here for a period of time, the Storm is going to be in great hands."
Bird is equally thrilled to be a part of it, even if it meant foregoing a chance to become a free agent.
"You want to know, 'Oh, what team would want me to play for them?' There's that," she said. "Obviously it didn't get that far, so it couldn't have been that important. When I sat down and really, really thought about it, I knew this was the place."