When it comes to the Seattle Storm’s WNBA championship hopes in 2022, one former UConn player could hold all of the cards—just not the one you’re thinking of.
There’s no question that re-signing Jewell Loyd and Breanna Stewart was imperative for Seattle to remain a title threat this offseason. But maintaining the status quo probably wasn’t going to cut it for the Storm to improve upon a fourth-place finish in 2021.
That’s why general manager Talisa Rhea sent Katie Lou Samuelson and the No. 9 overall pick in the 2022 draft to the Los Angeles Sparks for Gabby Williams.
“Gabby is a versatile player that brings a dynamic skill set to our team,” Rhea said in February at the time of the deal. “As we have watched her develop in the WNBA and excel internationally we are thrilled she will be joining us in Seattle and believe she can have immediate impact on our roster.”
Beyond a few procedural moves and applying the core designation to Jewell Loyd, it has been a tame offseason for the Seattle Storm so far. That might be about to change.
The Athletic’s Chantel Jennings reported free-agent big Stefanie Dolson is down to two finalists: the Storm and the New York Liberty. Beyond potentially adding the two-time All-Star, Seattle’s pursuit of Dolson could send a big message about what the team plans to do with Mercedes Russell.
Russell is a restricted free agent, which allows the Storm to match any offer sheet she receives. That doesn’t guarantee she’ll be back, though. Seattle’s front office may have a firm dollar figure in mind for the 2018 second-round pick. Should another team meet or exceed that amount, then the franchise could be prepared to lose a center who has been a key cog over the last few years.
Those are the sacrifices one has to make when your two best players are free agents and only five players are under contract. You can’t keep everybody.
The Seattle Storm promoted Rhea to general manager in April 2021, by which time the team had already executed their biggest offseason moves. While she had been the assistant GM under Alisha Valavanis since 2019, she hasn’t yet had the opportunity to truly leave her imprint on the roster.
That will change this winter.
The Storm’s official roster at the moment is a bit sparse.
This was likely entirely by design based on Seattle’s offseason business in 2021. The team didn’t re-sign Alysha Clark and traded the pair of Natasha Howard and Sami Whitcomb, both of whom were free agents, to the New York Liberty. While that hindered the Storm’s chances of successfully defending their WNBA title, it cleared the deck for 2022, when they had a slew of players out of contract including Breanna Stewart, Jewell Loyd, Mercedes Russell and Jordin Canada.
Tiger Woods won the 1997 Masters by the largest margin ever less than a year after becoming a professional. Later that season, he was victorious in the Byron Nelson Classic. He was 21 and poised to dominate the PGA Tour.
Instead, Woods decided to totally revamp his golf swing. While that meant taking a step backward in the short term as he figured things out, it laid the groundwork for one of the most dominant stretches in the sport’s history. By tweaking his swing to emphasize control over power, Woods perfected his game and ensured he would continue to stay miles ahead of the competition. If he doesn’t think proactively, then the Tiger Slam probably never happens.
On Wednesday, Seattle Storm general manager Alisha Valavanis changed the team’s swing.
Having already lost Alysha Clark to free agency, Seattle traded Natasha Howard to the New York Liberty for the No. 1 pick in the 2021 WNBA draft, the Phoenix Mercury’s 2022 first-rounder and the Liberty’s 2022 second-rounder. The Storm flipped the No. 1 pick to the Dallas Wings for Katie Lou Samuelson and a 2022 second-rounder while simultaneously sending the Phoenix pick to the Minnesota Lynx for Mikiah Herbert Harrigan. Sami Whitcomb also went to the Liberty in a sign-and-trade for the rights to Stephanie Talbot.
While the WNBA offseason is far from over, the biggest dominoes appear to have fallen ahead of the draft in April.
Once again, the Storm have opted for a more subdued approach, an understandable strategy with Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird back from season-ending injuries. In addition, Seattle had few roster spots available, with Courtney Paris, Blake Dietrick and Shavonte Zellous the team’s only free agents.
Let’s take a look at what has happened so far and what general manager Alisha Valavanis might still have up her sleeve.
What do you get the team that has everything? Seattle Storm general manager Alisha Valavanis and head coach Dan Hughes are about to find out as they look to build on a 2018 season in which the Storm were WNBA champions for the third time.
Incremental change was the theme of the 2018 offseason.
Valavanis didn’t panic after a season in which Seattle finished eighth and fired its head coach in the middle of the year.
The Storm could’ve taken a chance on a young first-year head coach. Instead, they hired Hughes, one of the most experienced coaches in WNBA history.
And rather than shaking up the roster, Valavanis signed eight-year veteran Courtney Paris and acquired Natasha Howard in a sign-and-trade with the Minnesota Lynx. Howard was a revelation in her first year with the team and the missing piece of the proverbial puzzle, but it didn’t look like Seattle got demonstrably better ahead of the 2018 campaign.
The Seattle Storm could’ve overpaid to move up to the second overall pick in the 2018 WNBA draft to take Kelsey Mitchell. They could’ve traded out of the first round for the second year in a row in pursuit of a proven veteran. They could’ve selected Azura Stevens after the Chicago Sky selected Diamond DeShields and Gabby Williams with back-to-back picks.
Instead, Seattle did what pretty much everyone expected and picked Canada fifth overall, and it generally fits with the rest of the Storm’s offseason.
The college basketball season is over, which means the WNBA season is inching ever closer. The Seattle Storm tip off the 2018 campaign May 20 against the Phoenix Mercury.
Before that, the Storm figure to make their last big moves of the offseason when they head to New York City for the 2018 WNBA draft on April 12.
This year’s draft is particularly important for the Storm because they’re unlikely to have a first-round pick this good for the foreseeable future. Finishing eighth in the WNBA was disappointing, but at least Seattle has the opportunity to add an impact player who could be one of the last pieces of the puzzle in the road to a third WNBA title.
As she approaches her second season in the WNBA, Alexis Peterson appears to be no closer to earning a regular role for the Seattle Storm.
Peterson remained on the fringe of the Storm’s rotation as a rookie in 2017. She appeared in just half of the team’s regular-season games and played a total of 121 minutes.
It’s easy to blame Peterson’s lack of playing time largely on former head coach Jenny Boucek. Boucek leaned heavily on her starters and struggled to develop the talent at her disposal beyond Breanna Stewart and Jewell Loyd. But Peterson’s duties didn’t drastically increase after Seattle fired Boucek and made Gary Kloppenburg the interim head coach.
Through the first two years of her WNBA career, Seattle Storm star Breanna Stewart is a case study in the limits of both our perceptions as fans and advanced analytics.
Read almost any story about Stewart’s on-court performance and her defense is bound to earn a graf or two. Even when Stewart is mentioned in passing, her contributions on the defensive end are likely to receive a mention.
It’s not hard to see why. Stewart ranked third in blocks per game (1.9) as a rookie and then sixth (1.6) in her second season. She finished runner-up to Sylvia Fowles in the 2016 Defensive Player of the Year voting, collecting eight votes. To put Stewart’s 1.7 blocks per game in perspective, only six players in WNBA history have averaged more blocks on a nightly basis over their careers.The quintessential Breanna Stewart block—we’ll call it a Brenial™—arguably came in what was her fourth game as a pro. Bria Hartley beat Jewell Loyd and appeared to have a clear path to the basket on the baseline. However, Stewart reacted quickly to rotate over and swat Hartley’s attempt away with two hands.