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Deal With Dream Begins Busy Storm Off-Season

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Kevin Pelton, storm.wnba.com | February 6, 2008
What figures to be one of the busiest off-seasons in the history of the Seattle Storm got off to a fast start Wednesday, when the Atlanta Dream Expansion Draft kicked off WNBA player movement. At the conclusion of the draft, the Dream packaged newly-acquired guard Roneeka Hodges, formerly of the Houston Comets, with the team's fourth overall pick in the 2008 WNBA Draft and sent them to Seattle in exchange for the Storm's eighth pick and forward Iziane Castro Marques. Earlier, the Dream had selected Storm guard Betty Lennox, an unrestricted free agent, in the expansion draft.

The moves mark the beginning, not the conclusion, of transactions to strengthen the Storm's core in anticipation of the 2008 season.

"To make changes and to try to improve your team and to try to move forward, it's a give and take," said Storm Head Coach and Director of Player Personnel Brian Agler. "The different situation this year is it's compounded with an expansion draft. We have to evaluate everything, we have to look at our roster and see how we're going to put things together down the road. This is just sort of a beginning spot for us."


"Roneeka definitely has a scorer's mentality. I think she has a chance to be a big part of our basketball team."
Terrence Vaccaro/NBAE/Getty
The key to the trade for the Storm was moving up into the fourth overall selection. Over the last six years, the fourth pick has yielded All-Stars Asjha Jones, Lindsay Whalen and Sophia Young. With a deep draft class including top prospects Sylvia Fowles (Louisiana State), Alexis Hornbuckle (Tennessee), Crystal Langhorne (Maryland) and Candice Wiggins (Stanford), the Storm has the potential to add someone of that caliber.

"I think with that pick we will be able to bring in somebody that has the ability to be a starter, someone that has a great pedigree in basketball," said Agler, noting the value of the pick around the league. "We're keeping our options open. I think when you get to that position you receive a lot of offers and you evaluate a lot of players and then you decide what's best for your team at that point.

"I think everybody sort of feels like they know how the first couple of picks may go. The nice thing about being right under that is it brings more value and you then have an opportunity to choose the player that you feel like will fit your roster the best. If you're sitting down at the eighth pick, a lot of times your choices aren't as plentiful."

In addition to the fourth pick, the Storm also added to the team's depth with Hodges, who is entering the last year of her rookie contract. The twin sister of Doneeka Lewis (nee Hodges), who finished last season in Seattle and is now a restricted free agent, Hodges started 12 games for the Comets over the last two seasons and averaged a career-high 7.5 points per game in 2006.

"Roneeka definitely has a scorer's mentality," Agler said. "I think she's an exceptional three-point shooter. She's a good athlete. She loves the game - plays it both in the WNBA and in Europe. She's young. I think she's a versatile type of player. I just like her basketball IQ, I like her feel for the game. She's a good defender. I think she has a chance to be a big part of our basketball team."


Castro Marques
As Agler indicated, the additions came at a price. The Storm lost two starters, Castro Marques and Lennox each starting all 34 games a year ago. Adding the veterans was part of what Agler termed an "aggressive" strategy from the Dream in putting together the team's first roster. Atlanta Head Coach and General Manager Marynell Meadors had experience with both players during her stint as director of scouting for the Miami Sol, who had both players on the roster in 2002.

"I know that Marynell has some history with Izi," said Agler. "She and I and people with the Storm really regard Izi as a good player, but we also have high regard for the placement of that pick in the draft in a quality draft."


Lennox
Lennox's status as an unrestricted free agent factored in the decision to leave her unprotected. Atlanta had the ability to choose one unrestricted player with the ability to designate them a core player, guaranteeing them a one-year contract for the WNBA's maximum salary.

"We knew that Betty would be in a situation where she would be an unrestricted free agent on the market," Agler said. "We also knew that we needed to try to protect our assets in the post and also protect some of the players we had under contract."

Those assets will pay off for the Storm during free agency. By swapping Castro Marques for Hodges, the Storm still has four players under contract for 2008. Forward Lauren Jackson is the only member of the group who is not still on her rookie contract. Combined with the fourth overall pick, that cap space will make the Storm major players.

AUDIO
Brian Agler spoke exclusively with storm.wnba.com's Kevin Pelton about Wednesday's moves.
WNBA teams have until Feb. 11 to tender qualifying offers to their restricted free agents (Lewis and center Ashley Robinson for the Storm) and declare up to two core players. Starting Feb. 12, teams and players will have a week to negotiate before contracts can be signed starting Feb. 19.

"That's basically in 13 days all that has to happen," explained Agler. "It's going to be quick-moving. There's going to be a lot of things, not just in Seattle but around the league, that are going to take place. There's going to be quite a few changes made on rosters."

The possibility of more additions to come has Agler and company looking forward to the remainder of the off-season.

"We're excited about what can take place over the next two weeks and beyond that when we can start signing players and moving into the draft," he concluded. "We're really focusing on that and we're excited about what can happen. We're going to work our best to make some improvements on our team, absorb some of the things that are taken away from you and make the best of it and work to make our team better than it's been in the past."