Trade is First Step Toward Remaking Roster

Kevin Pelton, | Jan. 2, 2012

The Seattle Storm will have a new roster for a new year. On Monday, the first day the WNBA league offices were open for business leading up to the 2012 season, Storm Head Coach and General Manager Brian Agler announced a blockbuster trade sending forwards Swin Cash and Le'coe Willingham to the Chicago Sky with a second-round pick in exchange for the No. 2 overall pick of the WNBA Draft.

Monday's trade is the first step in a series of moves that will remake the Storm's roster for 2012 after the team showed signs of age during a first-round loss to the Phoenix Mercury last summer. As much as that, the Storm was hamstrung by the WNBA's hard salary cap. With so much of the Storm's payroll tied up in the starting five and Willingham, it would have been difficult for the team to make significant changes without a trade.

The process that led to the deal with the Sky started not long after the Storm was eliminated, when Agler met with his coaching staff, CEO Karen Bryant and Force 10 Hoops to evaluate the season and prepare for the future. Looming over those discussions was the need to inject more youth and athleticism into a core group with three starters and five members of the rotation age 30 or older.

Sue Bird was the No. 1 pick of the 2002 Draft.
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images

The last time the Storm held a top-two pick, it yielded Sue Bird at No. 1 overall in 2002.

"We felt after the season," explained Agler, "like if we had an opportunity to bring in a quality younger player or some quality young players to our roster - somebody that can contribute right away but also somebody that we can build around for the future - we would take advantage of that."

To do that through the draft, the Storm would have to move up. While the team traded its 2012 first-round pick to Washington to get Katie Smith before last season, the fact is the kind of picks the Storm has had in recent years - No. 12 in both 2009 and 2011, No. 10 in 2010 and 2012 - have not yielded impact players.

Since the WNBA reduced rosters to 11 players apiece, few picks late in the first round have enjoyed lengthy careers. Just two of the eight players selected 10th or later in 2009 and 2010 played in the league last season. In that sense, the Storm was a victim of its own success, which meant a series of drafts at the end of the first round.

As compared to those picks, the No. 2 overall selection has the chance to be transformative. After the Los Angeles Sparks make the first pick, the Storm will have its choice of a group of seniors that includes Stanford forward Nnemkadi Ogwumike (considered the probable No. 1 pick), Glory Johnson and Shekinna Stricklen from Tennessee, Connecticut guard Tiffany Hayes, Ohio Stateís Samantha Prahalis and Miamiís duo of Shenise Johnson and Riquna Williams.

Agler is also open to trading the pick if it means adding young talent that is already in the league. But the pick is not the only benefit to the deal he sees.

"Obviously this trade is going to provide us an opportunity to select a good young player or the opportunity to use the second pick in the draft to bring young talent onto our roster," Agler explained. "At the same time, it frees up a substantial amount of cap space where we can go out and be active and aggressive in the free-agent market."

In the past, the Storm has had success luring veterans to Seattle because of the reputation the organization enjoys throughout the league and the chance to play with Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson. Now, the team will have substantial room under the salary cap to utilize in free agency. That could allow the Storm to improve its depth in the post to deal with Jackson's absence for the first half of the 2012 season in addition to strengthening the team's core.

"We definitely have a plan in place," Agler said. "We have our priorities. It's now a matter of putting our plan in place. We can be very competitive in the free-agent market now, and we plan to do that."

Of course, those benefits came with a cost, and that was dealing two key players from the Storm's 2010 championship team. The Storm would not have won the title without Cash's energy at both ends of the court, and Willingham's stout play in the paint and toughness helped turn the team's bench from a weakness to a strength.

Cash was the first player Agler acquired after he was hired in Seattle, and she turned around her career with the Storm after back surgery, winning All-Star MVP honors twice. One of the most important tasks Agler and the Storm face this offseason will be replacing Cash's contributions at small forward.

"Swin is a great individual, a very good leader and one of the greatest competitors that I've been around," he said. We're not going to go out and have the ability to replace her with just one player. Our team will look different next year because of this."

Both Cash and Willingham have well-deserved reputations as winners. Cash has won three championships between Seattle and Detroit and Willingham pulled of the rare feat of winning titles in back-to-back years with different teams after leaving Phoenix for the Storm. Yet the Storm believes the upside of this deal will be worth sending them to Chicago.

"We felt like we could do two things here," summarized Agler. "Go out, make a trade and pick up a lottery pick. At the same time, to get something like that, you have to give up quality players like Swin and Le'coe. But then it also creates the cap space where now you can go back into the free-agent market and be aggressive, be active and try to boost the roster in that direction as well."

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