The heart and soul of the Seattle Storm, Tanisha Wright, will be counted on more than ever this year. Juan Ocampo/NBAE/Getty Images
Sue Bird (injury)
Lauren Jackson (injury)
For a team that will be without three players with a combined 15 All-Star appearances and more than 12,000 career points, the Seattle Storm will spend 2013 -- at least the early part of it -- looking for a leader.
Luckily for them the Storm still have a wealth of veterans -- even with Sue Bird, Lauren Jackson and Ann Wauters not suiting up, for various reasons -- to guide them through a season of uncertainty in the unforgiving Western Conference.
The trio that will step to the forefront will be Tina Thompson, the only player to compete in all 16 WNBA seasons and the leagues all-time leading scorer, Tanisha Wright, whos played all eight seasons of her career with the Storm and Camille Little, a six-year veteran.
All three of those people are extreme competitors and they take a lot of pride in who they are and how they play and they take a lot of pride in the type of team they play on, Seattle coach Brian Agler said. So I dont think theres any question that theyll put their stamp on our team and everyone will fall in line surrounding that.
A team that prides itself on tough defense -- they surrendered a league-best 71.6 points per game last year -- Seattle made the Playoffs as the No. 4 seed in the West in 2012 after compiling a 16-18 record, even with Jackson missing 25 games and Bird missing five. In the Playoffs, they came within a point of ousting the Minnesota Lynx in the first round.
Since Thompson finds herself in the twilight of her career -- she still managed to put up 8.9 points last season -- it appears Wright and Little will be counted on more than ever, especially if you like metaphors.
Ive always said that Tanisha, shes sort of the heart and soul of our team and always has been over the past five years," Agler said. "And Camille, her makeup is sort of part of the fabric of our team, the way she plays and competes.
Another player that should receive increased opportunities is Shekinna Stricklen, last years No. 2 pick in the WNBA Draft. With her production improving as the season went on last year, she finished 2012 averaging 8.0 points and 4.3 rebounds in 23 minutes per game.
I think (this season) is obviously a tremendous opportunity for someone like Shekinna Stricklen, Agler said. I dont think theres any question Shekinna will play a heavier role in terms of her minutes and what we rely on her do to on both ends of the floor.
In terms of the daunting task of replacing both Bird and Jackson, it will be a total team effort, as no one player can single-handedly produce like those two legends. But two acquisitions may be called upon to attempt this more than others.
First, theres point guard Temeka Johnson, coming off a year where she averaged a career-high 12.2 points and handed out 4.7 assists per night with Tulsa. She will be penciled in as the starter at the point and she will be expected to be a major contributor.
Temeka has proven to be one of the better point guards in the league over the past several years so signing her was huge, Agler said. And as things have played out, its been pretty important that we have somebody like her because she has the same type of mentality we like in players. Shes very competitive, hard-nosed, values the defensive end, but at the same time shes aggressive and makes players around her better.
Temeka is added to a stable of perimeter players that also added Noelle Quinn, a player Agler said the team will rely on heavily, giving them a capable and diverse group of guards and wings to go with Stricklen and Wright.
In the frontcourt, left thin without Jackson and Wauters, the Storm turned to former Maryland forward Tianna Hawkins with the No. 6 pick in this years draft.
Hawkins was a rebounding major in college, finishing her career with 1,086 rebounds, only the third Maryland player to surpass 1,000 rebounds in history. She also shot 57.4 percent from the field at Maryland. If Hawkins can have an immediate impact, that will go a long way in filling the void in the post.
Luckily for Hawkins, as this rookie and this scrambling team inevitably endure some growing pains, there will be plenty of leaders to help steer the ship.
2012 LEADERS Scoring
1. Sue Bird (12.2)
2. Camille Little (11.3)
3. Lauren Jackson (10.2)
1. Ann Wauters (5.8)
2. Lauren Jackson (5.6)
3. Camille Little (5.1)
1. Sue Bird (5.3)
2. Tanisha Wright (4.4)
3. Camille Little (1.9)