Storm's Decisions on a Final Roster Looming
Kevin Pelton, stormbasketball.com | May 7, 2010
Since the first day of Seattle Storm training camp, Head Coach Brian Agler has made it clear that he anticipates difficult decisions when making cuts to the roster. Nothing has changed now except that those decisions are looming. The Storm's final roster is due to the league next week, putting emphasis on the Storm's final preseason game at Tulsa on Sunday as well as a scrimmage against the Chinese National Team next Monday and the practices around those days.
One domino fell Thursday, when the Storm found out that guard Loree Moore will have to undergo surgery to remove the torn part of the meniscus in her left knee. Since the WNBA cut rosters to a maximum of 11 players prior to last season, it is difficult to keep injured players, and Moore was not assured a spot on the roster prior to her injury.
"With an 11-player roster, you’ve got have all hands on deck," Agler said Thursday before learning the diagnosis. "It could play into our decision-making."
First-round pick Alison Lacey will surely fill a backup spot at guard, and with Lacey and starters Sue Bird and Tanisha Wright all capable of playing both backcourt positions and the possibility of Svetlana Abrosimova swinging to the position, Agler indicated it is possible the team could keep just three true guards on the roster.
If the Storm wants more depth at the position, shooting guard Aja Parham has had a solid training camp (including scoring 15 points off the bench in the Storm's preseason win over Phoenix at KeyArena last Sunday) and point guard Lindsey Wilson is in the mix.
What Agler doesn't anticipate, even after Moore's injury, is adding another player - though he won't rule it out.
"I feel like if people do the things we know they can do, we feel comfortable," said Agler. "If they don't do the things we know they can do, we'll look for another option."
The most interesting competition right now may be in the post, where Abby Bishop, Devanei Hampton and holdover Ashley Robinson are all on training camp contracts. All three have had good moments during camp. Robinson stood out against the Mercury, showing offense to go with her typically strong defense. Hampton's powerful presence contrasts the Storm's other posts, and Agler highlighted her earlier this week as someone who has played well in practice.
Bishop, who now has four practices with the team under her belt, has arrived in camp as something of a wild card. Agler's first exposure to the Aussie was a positive one.
"I was pleased with what I saw from her," he said after Tuesday's practice. "The only thing I saw before was on film. We saw a lot of film and talked to multiple people, but I was pleased with what she showed on the floor today. I think what Lauren (Jackson, Bishop's teammate in Australia) told me over the winter was right: She's hard-nosed, she's competitive, she's a good athlete. She's skilled, shoots the ball with good range."
The decision in the post, said Agler, "will probably go to the wire." Another question mark is whether international veteran Jana Veselá, who is expected in Seattle at the start of next week, will figure into the competition at post or on the wing. The versatile Veselá can play both forward positions, and possibly even some center. Bird, whose Spartak Moscow Region team defeated Veselá's Rose Casares Valencia squad to win the Euroleague Final Four, speaks highly of her.
"She's a player that if you ask anybody who's played against her with USA Basketball or internationally, everybody knows her," said Bird. "I swear she keeps growing. She's like 6-3 - a legit 6-3 - and she's a (perimeter player). She can play the post, but she's a (perimeter player). If you were to look at the games where we played them internationally, she had to guard Diana (Taurasi) and she did a great job. She really uses her size very well.
"Early on in her career, she was more of a scorer. She's kind of been a role player for the teams she's on, but I've also seen her come out and dominate offensively. I know she has it in her. It will be interesting to see when she gets here how long it takes her to adjust to the speed and everything, but I think she could be really good."
"I have a good feel for what she does internationally," Agler said of Veselá, whose ability to speak English should aid her transition. "Now we're going to ask her to do some different some things here, and whether she can adapt to that or not we don't know yet. I think she can, but we're going to find out."
While several players have arrived late, forward Ashley Walker has been in camp since day one and has been a standout. Walker led the Storm with 17 points and six rebounds against the Mercury, matching her effort in the Storm's first scrimmage against the Chinese National Team and in other practices.
"Ashley Walker, she's playing herself on the team the way she's been playing," Agler said Thursday. "She's competed hard and has had a great training camp."
For all the factors that may go into the final roster, one that may not end up making a major difference is the WNBA's salary cap, despite the fact that the league dropped the cap during the offseason. In addition to the team's starting lineup and key reserves Abrosimova and Le'coe Willingham, the Storm should have room to keep two players making the veteran minimum. Moore and Robinson are the lone players left in camp who fall in that category.
"There are a lot of scenarios where we'll be significantly under the cap," Agler noted, "depending on how many low-salary players we keep on the roster. We're not in bad shape there."
What is left, then, is making the final decisions. While fans get a chance to see only preseason games and even the media is limited in the amount of practices they see, all of those observations will go into the coaching staff's decision-making process.
"Obviously you have to really base your evaluation on competition against other people, but exhibition games are a little different from regular games too - you also have to gauge who you're playing against," explained Agler. "We're going to have more practices than exhibition games. Does one carry a little more weight than the other? I would say the exhibition games may carry a little bit more weight than just one practice, but we have to really base our decision-making on what we're seeing in all aspects, practices and exhibitions."