Rebuilding a franchise is a bit of an inexact science. Some teams can build through trades, while others make progress because the ping pong balls bounce in their favor. And then some – like the Seattle Storm – make headway combining both paths.
Let’s backtrack to last year where Seattle’s journey through the rebuilding process began.
August 21, 2014: Storm win 2014 WNBA Draft Lottery
The Storm finished tied with Tulsa for the worst record in the league and had favorable odds of winning the top draft pick and a prime opportunity to add to its rebuilding fortunes. By the end of the night, the odds held true. Seattle won the top pick and turned its sights to the offseason.
January 28, 2015: Storm trade Little and Stricklen to Sun for No. 3 pick, Montgomery
Then, the front office made a trade with the Connecticut and suddenly the Storm were rich in draft options. The trade sent veterans Camille Little and Shekinna Stricklen to the Sun in exchange for Renee Montgomery and the No. 3 pick. Just like that, Seattle was in business.
April 8, 2015: Jewell Loyd declares for WNBA Draft
The complexion of the 2015 draft class, however, changed dramatically – for the better – when juniors Jewell Loyd and Amanda Zahui B. declared. All of a sudden, the Storm faced a bevy of options with its assets. They could trade one of the picks and try to acquire a talented, established player or two. Or they could do what they ultimately did: keep the picks and add two young talents.
On draft night, it was Loyd and former UConn standout Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis — once projected as the No. 1 overall pick — taken No. 1 and No. 3 respectively by the Storm.
June 5, 2015: WNBA season tips off
Loyd’s progression was obvious. Her contributions on the court started to increase over the second half of the season as she found her footing in the league. At season’s end, she was named the 2015 WNBA Rookie of the Year.
For Mosqueda-Lewis, the progress was a little different. She was buried on the bench for much of the season without opportunity to adapt to the WNBA with game action. Later in the season, though, she was able to find time on the court, and she showed marked improvements in the minutes she was able to play.
“Kaleena got a lot better, and that’s what we’re about right now,” said Boucek, “everybody getting better every single day, and she did that. For half of the year it was more behind the scenes, and then all of the sudden when she got some opportunity she was ready for the speed of the WNBA, and you saw glimpses of what she can be.”
September 24, 2015: Seattle wins the No. 1 pick once again
Seeing the growth of your young talents during the season is enough to leave any general manager or coach in the midst of a rebuild with a smile on their face. But Thursday night that smile got even wider.
Seattle won the top pick in the 2016 WNBA Draft presented by State Farm – the second time in franchise history they’ve selected first in back-to-back seasons. Things worked out nicely for Seattle the last time they chose first in two straight drafts. They wound up with Lauren Jackson and Sue Bird, two of the league’s all-time greatest players that altered the course of this franchise and led them to two titles.
This year’s top pick comes with even larger significance because of the talent at the top of the class: UConn’s Breanna Stewart.
“She’s kind of the future in terms of her versatility coming from a program like UConn,” Boucek said of Stewart.
With the opportunity to select a franchise-changing forward like Stewart, the Seattle Storm are poised to get a jumpstart on its rebuild. Should the Storm select Stewart – Boucek downplayed the possibility of the team going in a different direction – she’d join a roster that features All-Rookie Team member Ramu Tokashiki, Loyd and Mosqueda-Lewis. And all of them would be at the core of a franchise that has not shied away from talking about their situation for what it is: a youth overhaul and a rebuilding phase.
“We are extremely grateful,” Boucek said. “We have a great city, a great fan base and I’m really happy for them. Like I said, we’ve been spoiled a little bit with Sue [Bird] and Lauren [Jackson] all these years, and they were so complementary of each other and we got to watching them grow up before our eyes. And we’ve got a good young crop that we’re starting to acquire that we’ll get to watch grow up as well together, and I think that’s fun for everyone involved.”