Storm Draft Day Press Conference
Storm General Manager Billy McKinney: First of all, welcome, and thank you all for coming out. It’s a big day for us in many respects. First and foremost, we’re excited to have a signed agreement between the WNBA and the Players’ Association. We’re all very relieved and that allows us to focus on what we’ve been preparing for during the offseason, and that’s getting ready for the WNBA season. We’ve had some significant events over the last couple of days – the Dispersal Draft yesterday and the College Draft today. We’re very happy with the results of both drafts, which we’ll talk about a little bit later.
But before I get going, I’d like to take a moment to introduce some of our staff that’s here. Karen Bryant, our Vice President of Operations who has helped us quite a bit; Director of Operations Missy Bequette; our new assistant coaches, Jenny Boucek, who came from the Miami Sol and Jessie Kenlaw, who came from the Portland Fire and did an incredible job helping us with our preparation for the Dispersal Draft; and a woman that really needs no introduction, our new Head Coach, Anne Donovan. I’m thrilled to have all of them on board. We’re very excited, very, very excited, about the results of the Dispersal Draft and our College Draft.
Anne Donovan discusses the Storm’s drafts with the media.
Michelle Odo/Storm Photos
We’re very excited to build upon a very successful season last year. Qualifying for the WNBA playoffs for the first time in team history was great. Drafting Sue Bird with the first overall pick last year was wonderful. Our other previous first round picks Lauren Jackson and Kamila Vodichkova each had a great season. So we’ve added to our core in the Dispersal Draft and this College Draft, and we’re very excited about our prospects that face us in free agency as well.
The other thing that I should mention is that our renewal rate for our season tickets has increased dramatically from last year, and with the hiring of Anne Donovan, they’ve continued to go up. We have over 700 new season-ticket holders this year, and that number continues to grow as well, I’m sure, now that there’s definitely going to be a season. In addition to that, we open our season May 30 against the two-time defending WNBA Champions, the L.A. Sparks. That’s going to be a big night for us. We’re looking to sell out the building on that night to show off our new roster, which we promise to be very, very competitive. The last thing I’d like to mention before I open it up for questions for Anne and myself is that single-game tickets go on sale May 3. So, without further ado, we anticipate all the questions that you’ve wanted to ask about the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, our new coaching staff, as well as our Dispersal Draft and our plans for acquiring additional personnel to continue to move us towards a WNBA title.
Anne Donovan, Storm Head Coach: No pressure there, Billy. (laughs)
Question: When did you all find out a deal was done? Did you get a call this morning or how did that play itself out?
Donovan: I believe the first phone call was to Karen at four a.m. Right, Karen? Yeah, four a.m. We’ve been very positive feedback throughout the week that that was going to get done. It was just a matter of finalizing it. So we moved forward fully prepared that today was going to go down.
McKinney: We’ve been getting recent updates from the league on a pretty regular basis, from e-mails and phone calls. Needless to say that the league has been bombarded by phone calls from all 14 teams, probably three or four people from each team calling them to make sure the deal was finalized. And of course, we've all gotten up in the middle of the night checking our e-mail to see what the next steps would be to the draft, as the draft today was tentatively scheduled based on the agreement being signed.
Q: You said you made plans to go ahead with the season, but obviously you had some kind of contingency plan. How close do you think this came to not getting done? Was there ever a "sweaty palm" moment?
McKinney: I think the deadline, when last Friday was the deadline and they said if there was no agreement reached [the season would be canceled], we were all sitting here and some people had gray hair, mine happened to fall out. And we had some anxious moments, but it was out of our hands and what we elected to do at that time was just to spend our time focusing on the things that we could control, and that was getting the most information we could on the players that were available in the Dispersal Draft and College Draft. Again, our staff, Anne and her staff, did an incredible job of collating the information so that we would be prepared at very quick notice, knowing that whatever happened from a draft standpoint would happen, and would transpire, rather quickly.
Photo courtesy WKBL
Donovan: You know, the Asian players are always interesting, because if you watch them play with their National Team, they're tremendous. For USA Basketball, this summer at the World Championships, we were looking forward to our competition with South Korea. It was not a game we ever took lightly. And the key player for them was Sun. She's a player that I've watched through the years play for their National Team. A big post player, which in Korea, 6-1 is very big. Her versatility was always what intrigued us. So all summer long, we watched her, we wondered, as the best player on that national team, if she could fit into the WNBA. We've been watching a lot of tapes to determine that. And after watching, I think the thing that sealed it for us was watching her play for her club team this past winter. And in the game, I think Chamique Holdsclaw, who was playing in the league at the time, had 40 [points] and Sun had 38. So just watching her real closely and seeing her versatility, making sure that if we take her out of the system that she plays under, can she be successful. The fact that she's 6-1, she can play the four and the three, she's experienced, she knows all the best players in the world, she's very excited to come in and play with Sue and Lauren. A lot of factors here, so we've been courting her and her agent very hard.
Q: Does she speak English?
Donovan: Not very well, from what I understand. I have not had a conversation with her to gauge that myself.
Q: Watching the draft on ESPN, it seemed like the only pick they were really stunned at. What was the thinking?
Donovan: You know, real honestly, we went through all the players in the draft and we had it worked out that if all the players we had liked [were gone]. I guess we felt there was a possibility that Sun may drop to the second round. We didn't know if she would make it to 22. So our gamble at eight was, is there a player who can help us more with our current roster? We didn't feel that there was. Sun is somebody we were hoping to steal in the second round, but we just didn't want to gamble. When it came down to eight, we didn't want to take that gamble.
Q: With the pickups that you've made, you've picked up a lot of post players. Are you confident with your guards that are on the Storm team right now? Because you had mentioned that you were looking at perimeter players also.
Donovan: Yes, and we still are. I think what's important to remember is that there's still free agents out there that we're trying to sign. We hope to bring 18 into training camp. That will be a collection of the players from our roster last year, the players we've just drafted yesterday and today, and then some free agents that are out there. And this is where I can't speak enough to how valuable Jessie Kenlaw and Jenny Boucek have been. Both worked, one in Miami, one in Portland, and their experience with those players - helping us to determine that Alisa Burras was the best fit for us yesterday; knowing her inside and out, on the court and off, and making sure that was the right selection yesterday. And now, as we talk to free agents, they're very comfortable thinking about coming to Seattle. So we feel very strongly that we’re able to get some free agents in here to balance out the perimeter.
Q: How different is free agency, with player being able to sign where they want instead of being assigned. How does that kind of impact the pool? Do you see players you need?
Donovan: We do. We still see a need on the perimeter, so we'll go after those players. I think the biggest thing that jumps out at me is that your relationships with players in the league, and your relationships with agents really come into play right now. So hopefully you've developed those through the years and you can have those relationships and help you get the free agents that you want to come to camp.
Q: Do you have a pool of names, do you see anyone you want in there?
Donovan: That's right, so it's up to us. We will talk with them and their agents. They'll determine where they want to be.
McKinney: Wendy, the other thing that benefits us too, the other aspect of free agency, is the fact that this is our fourth team. Being an expansion team, we continue to improve each year and as a result, when you're looking at free agents, the one thing they see is an opportunity to play and be on the roster and contribute. So it's, as Anne mentioned, having the integrity, the relationships that our assistant coaches have with agents and players, and Anne, of course, her experience in the league, it's really been attractive for people to play with Lauren and Sue Jackson. Lauren Jackson and Sue Bird. Lauren Jackson. I was thinking of the Jackson five, excuse me. Flashback. That's also, people that have looked at our roster know that we're a team that's on the rise. That's really been exciting. We're all very excited about the prospects. Usually, in free agency, everyone is nervous about it. We feel very confident from the signals we've received that people want to play here, and that's a great sign.
Donovan: Let me add to that, they want to play here because there is opportunity for them, we have good rapport, but I think the organization has such a tremendous reputation out there. This is one of the top organizations in terms of their support for their WNBA team. Seattle is a great city. Our fan base right now, and the fact that it keeps growing, all those things factor in when you're talking to free agents. They want to select the right team. This is their time, when they have a choice about where they want to be, so all those things factor in. We feel real strongly that we're going to get some good ones.
Q: A couple of teams were talking about not having enough salary cap room, and that's also an issue now. Do you think that you - I know you probably won't give up numbers - but do you have money to throw at a big-time free agent? Or is it kind of you just want to get middle-of-the-road? What are you looking at as far as financially?
McKinney: One of the things that we have to do in this process is the league is still getting us a lot of information on the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Tomorrow, there will be a conference call with all of the teams to go through the agreement and, as a result of that, we'll have a better understanding of what can and cannot be done, in terms of where all the salary levels are. I imagine, from my experience in the NBA, that the system will be pretty similar to the NBA's in terms of service and different salary levels. Those are things that we will know a lot more about over the weekend.
Donovan: Certainly we'll be looking closely at it.
Q: When does it open? Can you start - obviously you've started a conversation - but when can you actually start signing? Do you have to wait until after that phone call?
McKinney: The league gave us an indication today that even though there's still information that we have to receive, that we'll be able to start signing players possibly by next Tuesday. And that's almost like the negotiations between the union and the league, those are always ongoing conversations. Because right now with free agency, people are going to be looking very closely, as Anne talked about, we both mentioned, the opportunity. What's the best opportunity? Sometimes not being drafted in the Dispersal Draft provides the player with an excellent opportunity to look at where they want to play and what coach, what system benefits them the most.
Q: Signing free agents, bringing them in to training camp, is that going to work similarly to the NBA?
McKinney: I would imagine it would be the same, because if you have 18 players in camp, you're going to be over the salary cap. But before the season commences, you have to get down to 11 active players and two reserve players.
Q: So they'll sign with teams for training camp, correct?
McKinney: In the NBA, what players typically sign, if you have more than 12 players on your roster for training camp, typically 18-20 with the NBA, most of those players at that time would sign what they would call "summer contracts". So those numbers didn't count against your cap. The only time they count against your cap was if you move those players and they're on your active roster.
Q: And you foresee the system being similar to that?
McKinney: Yes, I do.
Q: How much different do you think training camp will be? Every year it's gotten more competitive. How is that going to factor in?
Donovan: I think our training camp is going to be extremely competitive. I think with the new staff coming in, we keep explaining to our players, it's a clean slate. Sure, we have some idea of who the starters were here last year and obviously what the stats were, but with a new staff coming in, it's a clean slate. We'll bring 18 into training camp and every day, every drill will be competitive, which is great. For me as a coach, that's exactly what I want.
Q: Nobody's job is safe, except for a couple of people?
Donovan: It’s going to be competitive; I'd rather say it that way.
Donovan: Our philosophy really was, initially was going to be, to pick a strong, perimeter veteran, mature player. Yesterday in the Dispersal Draft, we just didn't feel like that was on the board - as strong as Alisa Burras. That was our other goal, was a strong post player, a down-low, back-to-the-basket block player. We didn't feel like we had that on the roster. So with Alisa Burras still being there, it was a quick decision. And then, today, it was really best player available, to be very honest. This draft was not exceptionally strong, so going with the best player, in both the first and the second round, was very easy. Those were two players we had targeted. And with Chrissy Floyd, I tell you, I was very surprised she was still there in the third round.
McKinney: Part of the thinking with selecting Sun in the first round - now people can't say there's not Sun in Seattle. (laughter)
Q: When you look at the changes, in terms of culture, basketball and even position for Sun, how long do you think the transition is going to be for her to be a contributor in the WNBA?
Donovan: You know, that's something we've talked long and hard with her agent about. She has connections here in Seattle, her agent apparently has a relative who lives here. Sun picked Seattle as a team she wanted to play for. She wanted to play with Sue and with Lauren. She was involved in this. Any time you draft a foreign player you want to make sure that it's going to be a comfortable fit. It's not going to take a long time to get her here, and once she gets here, you can help her make that adjustment. Will she go through changes? Absolutely. I was an American player that went to Japan out of college, and I know how tremendous the adjustment was from America to Asia. So I think for Sun, I think it will help that I have some understanding of the culture there. We'll do everything we can to make sure that her transition is as easy as possible.
Q: What's the timetable for her arrival here?
Donovan: We just need, really, from what I understand, to finalize her visa. She's ready to go. Her visa's been in the works, it's something the league has been working on, and it's just a matter of getting that completed. So we're hoping five days, a week maybe.
Q: So she's going to be here for the start of training camp?
Donovan: That's our hope.
Q: What about Lauren and Kamila? When will they be arriving?
Donovan: Kamila is with her Czech team, and she will be late to training camp, probably around the middle of May. She plays for a very successful team overseas and that always keeps her there longer, as you guys are probably aware of. Lauren, we haven't determined an arrival date. We're hoping it will be early May.
Q: Does Seattle's relatively strong multicultural environment make it easier for Sun to transition?
Donovan: Definitely. I think in the Asian population here, for sure. Seattle, just in my brief time here, four or five weeks that I've been here, I've seen what an international city it is. So I do think this is one of the best cities that I've seen and been in. It shows a lot of diversity. So for an international player to come in here, I think they'll find a niche pretty quickly.
Q: You talked about the culture, but how difficult will the transition be for her on the court?
Donovan: The style's very different. The Asian style is very different from the USA. Again, that's why we studied enough tape to make sure she could make the transition. She's a four player that can play the three as well, so I think there will be a period of time where she's going to have to get used to, just the difference in athleticism, number one, that's what stands out. But I feel confident she's going to be able to do that.