Jackson Not Ready to Consider Free Agency

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Kevin Pelton, storm.wnba.com | September 25, 2008
Lauren Jackson has waited her entire eight-year WNBA career to be an unrestricted free agent. Now that the moment is here, the Seattle Storm's star forward is going to take her time deciding her future. For now, Jackson has been focused on returning from ankle surgery late last month and has yet to really consider her impending free agency.

"To be honest, I haven't even thought about it," Jackson told reporters Thursday after conducting her exit interviews with Storm Head Coach Brian Agler and CEO Karen Bryant. "There's a lot of things that will factor into my decision-making, but I haven't even really thought about it. I'm just trying to get fixed and healed and get ready to get back on the court again."

"I haven't even really thought about it. I'm just trying to get fixed and healed and get ready to get back on the court again."
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images
To an extent, the surgery to remove bone spurs from Jackson's right ankle complicates the decision. Even if she was not an unrestricted free agent, Jackson might be confronted with the question of whether or not to take a summer off from the WNBA at some point to rest and heal her body and get away from her near-nonstop basketball surgery. Jackson said that she would have had to ponder her long-term future even had her ankle flared up and required surgery. However, she also reiterated that her health has to be a priority going forward.

"It's been a pretty long campaign for me personally, going Europe, Korea, WNBA and then the Olympics and everything that happened at the Olympics," explained Jackson. "It's just time for me to sit back and really reevaluate what I want. What I do from now on, I want to do 100 percent. I don't want to go in to anything hurt or injured or sort of sacrificing any part of my life. I really want to be focused. All injuries aside, everything like that, I'll have time to think about it."

Earlier in the day, when he and Bryant met the media, Agler was asked whether in an ideal world he'd like Jackson to sit out the winter season in Russia and focus on her career in the WNBA and with the Storm. Agler quickly dismissed such talk, and the economics of women's basketball make it an impossibility. That said, Jackson downplayed the notion that the WNBA takes a backseat to playing overseas.

"I think the professionalism of the WNBA and obviously because the WNBA is the best league in the world," she said, "that makes playing for the Storm and playing in America pretty much the pinnacle of any athlete's career, regardless of the money. I think that's the difference. The WNBA's got the best talent in the world, it's the most prestigious league in the world and I don't think anything really is a priority over the WNBA. At this stage, you've got to think about money too."

Assuming Jackson opts to continue her WNBA career, she'll have the choice of whether to do so with the Storm or explore other possibilities. As Agler noted, 13 other teams will be interested in the two-time MVP, giving her options. That's a change from the past.

Jackson was a restricted free agent in 2005, when she signed the three-year contract with the Storm that she is now concluding. By signing long-term, Jackson opted out of free agency, though at the time it seemed inevitable that she would be designated a core player by the Storm when and if she hit the market. That changed when this year's new Collective Bargaining Agreement reduced the number of core players from two to just one per team. The Storm cored Sue Bird last winter, and she retains that designation because she signed a two-year contract. Thus, Jackson is unrestricted.

"This is sort of really the first time that I'll ever have been not cored or not obligated to come back," she said. "It's a huge deal. Obviously people are going to make a big deal out of it, but ultimately it's my career and it's my life and I'll do what I want to do. It's just a period in my life where I need to figure out what I want and what's best for me."

Naturally, the Storm will do its best to ensure that Jackson continues to believe that Seattle is the right place for her.

"I am going to approach the recruitment of Lauren Jackson just like I would approach getting ready for a season," said Agler. "We're going to be aggressive, we're going to be proactive and she's going to have a good feel of how much not only myself and Karen and her teammates but how the fans and the organization want her and need her in Seattle."

For now, however, the Storm has respected Jackson's wish not to think about contracts and free agency until the time comes.

"We have really given Lauren the space this year," said Bryant. "She's kind of asked for a little bit of space to continue to evaluate her future in general. It's fair to say that Lauren, the caliber of athlete that she is, has a lot of options with respect to her career. She communicated to us pretty early that she wanted to go through this summer and not get into contract discussions. We've given her that space."

Jackson expects to get similar consideration from Bird as well as Diana Taurasi, her teammates and roommates overseas with the Spartak Moscow Region club. While Bird naturally wants to keep her close friend on the Storm and Taurasi would love to lure Jackson to play with her for the Phoenix Mercury, it's the kind of topic they know better than to address at this point.

"We've been in situations like with the Olympics and in the WNBA where there's a no-go zone," Jackson said. "We've pretty much gotten to the point where, in times like this, we don't go there. We talk about it when we really need to talk about it, but otherwise it's friendship first."

For now, it's about rehabilitation for Jackson, who was able to do some light running on Thursday as she works back from ankle surgery. With no continued Storm playoff run to rush back for, Jackson has targeted Oct. 16 - Spartak's opener in defense of its two consecutive Euroleague titles - as her return date. That would put her precisely seven weeks out from her ankle surgery, which has a typical timetable of 4-to-6 weeks for rehab.

At first, Jackson expects her playing time to be somewhat limited as she eases her way back onto the court and fits into the Spartak team with only limited practice time (she'll be home in Australia through Oct. 13). By December or January, she figures to have ramped up to normal action - just in time for the opening of the WNBA's free-agent market (players can begin negotiating with teams Dec. 15 and signing contracts on Jan. 5) and for her to have a better idea of her future.

"I think by December, January, I'll really have a good feel for what my body's responding like, especially to this last surgery, to how I feel about taking time off or not taking time off and what I want to do," said Jackson. "I know that Brian and I will stay in contact a lot. I love the Storm; I love the franchise."