Storm Busy in Free Agency’s First Week
A week into the 2009 free-agency period, the Seattle Storm has been one of the league's most active teams. Last week, the Storm re-signed restricted free agent Tanisha Wright while inking New York's Cathrine Kraayeveld to an offer sheet. Monday, the Storm found out that the Liberty would match their offer to Kraayeveld. At the same time, the Storm decided not to match Chicago's offer to one of the team's own restricted free agents, forward Shyra Ely.
The outcome of the first week has added some clarity to the roster the Storm will take into the 2009 season. Yet, with six players under contract (not including Kimberly Beck and Kristen O'Neill, both re-signed by the Storm to training-camp deals last week) and four incumbent players still on the market, there remains work to be done for Storm Head Coach and Director of Player Personnel Brian Agler and the rest of the coaching staff.
"Right now, we're talking to a variety of people. We're debating on how our roster's going to look, but we feel like we're getting close with a couple of people."
The Storm had an explicit decision to make after the Sky signed Ely to an offer sheet. Ely averaged 3.3 points per game while seeing action in all 34 games during 2008, her second season in Seattle. Ely started the season in the rotation, but saw her playing time wane after the addition of Camille Little, like Ely capable of playing both forward positions. The Storm would have liked Ely back, but opted not to match Chicago's specific offer.
"We thought Shyra was a very good player," said Agler, "and we appreciate the job she did for us and want to wish her the best of luck."
The first week of free agency has seen several teams, including the Storm, re-sign their own free agents. So far, reserves Ely and Erin Thorn - also signed by Chicago - are the only players to change teams. Center Kara Braxton will return to Detroit after the Shock matched Los Angeles' offer sheet. Most of the big names on the market - including the Storm's own Lauren Jackson as well as former Houston Comets Michelle Snow and Tina Thompson, amongst others - have yet to make decisions. When they do, there could be a domino effect that spurs more movement.
"I think all that impacts the situation," said Agler. "I think everybody has certain people that are priorities. That doesn't mean that all the teams have one or two people that are priorities, but I think everybody takes a look at what their needs are and moves from there. It's a chess match."
One factor that may already have had an impact on how teams have approached free agency is the league's move to 11-player rosters. The past three seasons, teams have been allowed up to 13 on the roster, with 11 players active for each game. While the change isn't drastic - many teams, including the Storm two seasons ago, opted to play with just 11 to stay under the salary cap - it does have strategic implications. Now, teams that had chosen additional depth in the past have extra cap room to disperse elsewhere on the roster.
"I think people have the money to spend on some of their priority players," noted Agler. "I think the situation with Tully going back to Indiana played out like that. I think some of the other people re-signing with their teams may have played out that way. But I also think it's going to come out and hurt some of the veteran players that may not be at the max level. I think that's how it will play out."
The exact path the Storm and the rest of the WNBA's teams will take in free agency remains to be seen, but so far Agler is comfortable with the team's direction.
"We have a plan in place," he said, "and we feel like things are going to fall into place for us."