2007 Preview: Storm Has the Pieces in Place

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Kevin Pelton, storm.wnba.com | May 14, 2007
Every time the Seattle Storm opens a season, it is with a reasonable aspiration of winning a championship. That will be true as long as Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson, both WNBA All-Decade Team picks, remain in the prime of their careers - which, given both are 26, should be some time.

Still, as the Storm prepares to tip off the 2007 campaign on Saturday against the Houston Comets (7:00 p.m., 1150 AM KKNW, ), there is a growing sense inside the locker room that this is the best team the Storm has assembled since the 2004 WNBA Champions.

"Being in the locker room is fun. It seems like everybody wants to do the same thing, which is win a championship."
Terrence Vaccaro/NBAE/Getty
"This is the first year we've really shown pretty special things after our championship in 2004," says Jackson.

In 2005, the Storm was trying to replace two starters and four key players from the championship team. Rookies played more minutes for the Storm than any other team in the WNBA. Last year, injuries wreaked havoc with the Storm all season long. Both seasons ended with the team falling in the deciding Game 3 of their first-round series. Now, the Storm is more experienced, more cohesive and - knock on wood - healthy.

Then too, there is an opening in the Western Conference. The other three traditional powers in the Western Conference - Houston, Los Angeles and Sacramento - are all dealing with major changes. All three teams have new coaches, the Comets have an inexperienced new backcourt and the Sparks have lost Lisa Leslie to pregnancy.

"I think there's a lot of question marks with Houston being new, Minnesota being new, Sacramento new, Lisa out," says Storm Head Coach Anne Donovan. "Phoenix, they had a great run at the end of last year as they adjusted to (Paul) Westhead and his system. So I expect they'll come back, but they've lost Kamila (Vodichkova). I think there's a question mark and a wide-open race."

Wendy Palmer wants nothing more than to emerge atop that race. One of six players in the WNBA to play every season in league history, Palmer can feel the clock ticking on her career at age 32. She signed with the Storm as a free agent before 2006 specifically in the hope of winning the championship that eluded her in 2004, when her Connecticut Sun team lost to the Storm in the WNBA Finals. That feeling drove her rehabilitation from the Achilles surgery that ended her 2006 season after just five games, a severe blow to the Storm.

"I want to win a championship," Palmer said during the off-season. "That's my goal. I want to be part of something special. I want the Seattle Storm to win a championship in '07. That's what motivates me every day. It motivates me every day, getting up and working out."

While they may not entirely share Palmer's sense of urgency, her Storm teammates have the same goal on their mind.

"Everybody's really positive," says Bird. "Being in the locker room is fun. It seems like everybody wants to do the same thing, which is win a championship. We have the makings."

"The morale level, for midway through training camp, it's not normally like that," observed Jackson after she and Bird returned from playing in Russia. "Like today, it just felt different. It felt better - it felt special. I said that when we went into the World Championships with our Australian team. It kind of felt special. We said that right throughout the tournament and we won. So who knows?"

The Storm has cohesiveness on its side. All five starters are back for their third season together, and the Storm figures to have only one newcomer (rookie Katie Gearlds) in its rotation this season. Amongst the contenders in the Western Conference, the Storm was the only team not to suffer any major defections.

"The teams that are successful in the WNBA generally have continuity," Donovan says. "Continuity in the coaching staff, continuity in the players. We have that here."

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"We've got all five starters back," says Bird. "We have a core group that really hasn't changed in a couple of years now. Compared to other WNBA teams, we're probably one of the most experienced in terms of playing together for the longest amount of time."

There is no magical formula for making a run at the championship. This time three years ago, while the Storm's roster was unquestionably talented, the team had not even made the postseason the previous season and had yet to win a playoff game in franchise history. All a team can do is build a roster with the ability and the chemistry to take advantage of the opportunity if it comes. The Storm has done that.

"I think it is a good time," concludes Donovan. "Sue and Lauren are coming of age. Betty (Lennox) is in her fourth year for us and playing very well for us. Wendy's healthy. It is a good time. I don't feel it's automatic like we have to accomplish it this season, but I definitely feel like the pieces - if we can stay healthy this season - are in place."

"I'm really excited," adds Bird. "We have all the pieces. We've just got to put them together."

Over the remainder of this week, storm.wnba.com will assess some of the key factors in the Storm's chances of adding another WNBA Championship to the team's 2004 title, including Lauren Jackson's health, the bench and other contenders in the Eastern and Western Conferences. Check back daily as we count down to Saturday's Opening Night.