Storm Adds Swoopes to Star-Studded Core
For the Seattle Storm, the recruitment of a three-time WNBA MVP began with an off-hand comment in a conversation between old friends Sheryl Swoopes and Shelley Patterson, the Storm assistant coach who worked with Swoopes in Houston years ago.
"I was talking with her one day about life," Swoopes recalled, "and she said, 'You're going to be a free agent. Have you thought about Seattle?' I kind of laughed it off and was like, 'Yeah, right, Shelley,' and we moved on to something else. I got off the phone and I thought about it and I said, 'Wow, the possibilities could be great.' I talked to her again and I got (Storm Head Coach) Brian (Agler)'s number and we played phone tag. Even then I didn't think anything was going to come from it, but he was persistent and I was persistent."
The end result was Monday's press conference introducing Swoopes as the newest member of the Storm and the team's second major addition of an off-season that has also seen All-Star Swin Cash join the Storm's existing core of Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson.
"The thing that really jumped out to me about Sheryl in our conversations was she expressed what she wanted, but everything she wanted revolved around the team aspect - about being a part of this, how she thought she could help our situation, what she thought she could bring to the team setting. When I heard that from her, a quality player and maybe one of the best players ever in this league, I was really attracted."
The feeling was mutual. Swoopes, looking for a new start after spending the first 11 seasons of the WNBA playing for the Houston Comets and winning four championships, found the city of Seattle, the Storm organization and the potential to compete for another title an enticing combination.
"There were some other teams," said Swoopes, an unrestricted free agent, "but there were never teams that I said I definitely might want to go play there. This was definitely the one that was at the top of my list."
When Agler was named the Storm's head coach and director of player personnel on Jan. 9, he discussed his desire to upgrade the Storm's athleticism and the need for improvement on the defensive end of the court. All Swoopes has done on defense is win Defensive Player of the Year three times and earn All-Defensive First Team honors in 2005 and 2006, the first two years those teams were selected. Adding Swoopes gives the Storm a combination of athleticism and size at shooting guard.
"It's going to be nice to be on her team," Agler said. "I've been on the opposite side, watching her play and disrupt offenses for her whole career. She has great instincts defensively, both on the ball and away from the ball, which not many people have. To incorporate her abilities into what we want to do is going to be exciting for me as a coach."
While Swoopes' defense will be valuable, she also makes the Storm much more dangerous on the offensive end. With Bird, Cash, Jackson and Swoopes on the floor, opposing defenses will have to divide their attention between a pair of WNBA MVPs (Jackson and Swoopes, who have combined to win five of the league's 11 MVP awards), a third member of the WNBA All-Decade Team (Bird) and a two-time All-Star (Cash).
"I think teams are going to have a hard time deciding, 'Are we going to go and double Lauren and leave Sheryl?' or double Sheryl and leave Lauren or double Sue and leave Swin," said Swoopes. "I think we're going to cause a lot of problems. Any time you have a player of Lauren's caliber, obviously it's going to make my job a lot easier. I'm hoping that I'll make her job easier, make Sue's job easier and give teams a tough time deciding who they want to defend."
Agler isn't concerned about sharing the ball because of what he has heard from each of them individually and their intense desire to win - as all of them have. Cash and Swoopes add a combined six championship rings to the 2004 title won by the Storm players remaining from that team, and Swoopes joked during the press conference about winning "one for the thumb."
"Part of that's going to be my job," Agler said of keeping everyone happy on offense, "but the thing that jumped out to me with (Sheryl), with Swin, with Lauren and Sue when I had dialogue with them - the one common denominator with all of them is they want to win. If you want to win, then you play as a team. That's what the expectations are going to be."
Beyond what she offers on the court, Swoopes also figures to be valuable to the Storm because of her experience and leadership. She is one of just seven players whose careers span the entire 11-year history of the WNBA. In addition to her championship experience with the Comets, Swoopes won an NCAA Championship at Texas Tech and has helped the U.S. to three Olympic gold medals.
"My experiences and the success I've had in playing, I think I can bring that to this team," said Swoopes. "People tend to forget, as good as Lauren is, she's still young. As good as Sue is, she's still very young. For me to be one of the older players in the league, I think there's some knowledge that I can bring."
"She brings a wealth of experience and a high level of respect from her teammates, and I think that's a good starting point for being a good leader," added Agler. "After talking with her and listening to what she wants to bring to the team, that was very evident, that she felt she could really impact the team in that way."
Swoopes saw her 2007 season ended after three games by a back injury which ultimately required surgery at season's end. The surgery brought Swoopes immediate relief and, having gone through rehab and been cleared to return to the court, she is focused on improving her conditioning and rebuilding her strength.
Any concerns Agler had about Swoopes' health were reassured by getting a look at her in addition to the physical she passed "with flying colors." When he visited Houston last week to chat with Swoopes, Agler was sure to take her to a gym to work with her.
"I sort of had an idea by just watching her out on the floor and working with her a little bit what she was able to do without really putting a lot of time into it," Agler said. "I felt real comfortable after that. If you look at her history, she's always been one that's bounced back from pregnancy or injury quickly. I also know what kind of competitor she is and how hungry she is to play. I've got a feeling that she's going to get back into about as good health and form as she can."
A healthy Sheryl Swoopes makes the Storm a very dangerous team. That's what she has in mind as she comes to Seattle.
"I think the nucleus of this team is definitely one of the best in the WNBA," Swoopes said. "I said to Brian when we were talking, I think if every player brings what they can bring individually, then collectively as a team I think the sky's the limit to what we can do this year."