New Beginning, Same Goal For Storm
While I was driving to lunch this afternoon, the song "Closing Time" by Semisonic came on the radio (don't assume anything about my taste in music; I was just flipping around). The last line of the song goes, "Every new beginning comes from some other new beginning's end." Whether by random coincidence or subconscious inspiration, I was at the time thinking of using the same phrase to describe the 2005 Seattle Storm.
On the cubicle wall behind me hangs the Storm's 2004 team poster. Since the start of 2005 free agency in February, I've been mentally crossing off members of the Storm's WNBA Championship roster as they've departed, first by free agency and now by being released during training camp. When Adia Barnes was waived yesterday, it brought the total of departed players to six - exactly half of the roster.
There have been difficult cuts for the Storm every year, from Charmin Smith to Kate Starbird, but this year's departures are tougher than usual because of the magical finish to 2004. In some ideal world, last year's Storm group plays together forever, and Nykesha Sales' 3-pointer at the end of Game 2 of the WNBA Finals misses every single time.
In the same way Storm fans came to love Barnes' work in the community, Tully Bevilaqua's hustle, Trina Frierson's positive attitude through surgery, Greco's ever-present smile, Sheri Sam's feisty attitude and Vodichkova's quiet dependability, you will come to love this season's newcomers.
By trading for Sam and Janell Burse last April, Storm Coach and Director of Player Personnel Anne Donovan made a bold move for a WNBA Championship. Sam was 30 and a free agent at season's end who Donovan knew might head elsewhere. But she also completed the Storm's starting five and her versatility was critical to winning a championship.
"I can't see this team getting this far without Sheri Sam, without a solid three with experience," Donovan said before the playoffs.
The other side of the Sam trade became apparent this off-season when she departed for Charlotte as a free agent. With Bevilaqua signing with Indiana and Vodichkova landing in Phoenix, the Storm was faced with three enormous holes to fill in their 2005 rotation.
Donovan chose this time to build with youth. At center, 26-year-old Burse (who turns 26 today - Happy Birthday) and 24-year-old Suzy Batkovic figure to be the Storm's combination alongside Lauren Jackson for the foreseeable future. While Sam's replacement at small forward has yet to be determined, with 24-year-old Natalia Vodopyanova, 23-year-old Iziane Castro Marques and 21-year-old Tanisha Wright (naturally a shooting guard, but playing the three recently) at the position, the Storm has no shortage of long-term options.
With as many as five newcomers potentially in the rotation and several players arriving at training camp late from overseas, Donovan doesn't doubt that there will be some rough patches in the early going.
"I honestly think it's going to be later than (mid-June)," she said recently. "We've got a serious road trip in early June. It's going to be then as we try to come together, as we continue to learn each other. We've got two new starters and then Batkovic comes in early June; that's another player that I expect in the rotation who we're going to have to adjust to."
The Storm's goals, however, do not relate to mid-June. While the influx of youth means the Storm is taking a longer-term view, Donovan and company are not planning to relinquish the championship trophy without a fight.
"We still have the trophy," Donovan said. "People are going to have to come and get it."
As long as Sue Bird and Jackson remain together, winning a championship will always be the goal. Even more will be asked of the Storm's cornerstones and All-WNBA First Teamers, as they take on a larger leadership role on a team suddenly short on experience.
"They've both been in the league long enough, and their games demand that they be leaders," said Donovan. "They've been surrounded by great leaders in the past like Kamila, Tully and Sheri, so they've learned. Now it's their opportunity to lead."
Bird missed the first week and a half of 2005 training camp while completing her season overseas in Russia. During Bird's first week of practice, almost everyone on the team picked up their play.
"Everybody has such a trust with her and a comfort level with her that people can settle in and do what they do best," said Donovan. "Shaq ( Shaquala Williams, who started at the point in Bird's absence) has done a great job, but there's a comfort level with Sue."
On the court, it's safe to expect continued excellence from Bird and Jackson. 40% of WNBA GMs who responded this year's GM Survey conducted by WNBA.com picked Jackson to reclaim MVP status this year, twice as many as picked any other player. Bird was voted the player who is best able to make her teammates better, while tying Charlotte's Dawn Staley for top point guard honors.
Joining Bird and Jackson as part of the Storm's core group is guard Betty Lennox, coming off MVP honors in last year's WNBA Finals. After playing in Italy, Lennox has been the Storm's most consistent standout during training camp and is poised for another great season.
Overseeing it all is Donovan, who added last year's championship to an impressive coaching resume that includes the gold medal she helped the U.S. Women win in last summer's Olympics, visits to the WNBA Finals with two teams, and 83 wins as a WNBA head coach, a number surpassed by only three others in league history.
Slow start or no, Donovan will improve her wins total this season. What she's most hoping for, however, is another great ending to another uncertain beginning.