By Tim Booth Associated Press
SEATTLE — After both missed the 2013 WNBA season because of injuries, Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson were supposed to reunite in Seattle and begin the next chapter of their careers playing for the Storm.
Then another injury to Jackson derailed those plans.
Without Jackson, the Storm went out and added Crystal Langhorne to try to boost their front-court presence. The question of whether adding Langhorne is enough to get the Storm back to the playoffs will begin to be answered tonight when Seattle opens the season by playing host to the Los Angeles Sparks at 7 p.m. in KeyArena.
“To be back, to know I’ll be able to put this uniform on again and play in front of these fans, I’m really looking forward to it,” said Bird, the Storm’s all-star point guard. “This is a place I’m very comfortable in. Every time I take the court and hear those fans go crazy for us, it’s a special feeling, and I haven’t felt it in a while.”
The return of Bird and addition of Langhorne should help make up for the absence of Jackson and the retirement of Tina Thompson. Jackson was expected to return after missing last season but remained in her native Australia after undergoing surgery on her knee and Achilles tendon in February, continuing a run of injuries that has limited her availability since Seattle won its second WNBA title in 2010.
But getting Bird back is a major boost.
“She’s really the face of the organization. She’s a unique talent-slash-player-slash person,” Seattle coach Brian Agler said. “Like I’ve told many people: There are 30-plus NBA teams who wish they had a player like Sue Bird on their team. She just brings out the best. She understands the game, she thinks the game unlike anybody else.”
Here are five other things to watch this season:
1 Langhorne’s Arrival
The trade for Langhorne during the WNBA draft was a needed move by Seattle to add another front-court scorer. Langhorne averaged 12 points per game last season with Washington. She’s also been durable, starting every game she has played in each of the past four seasons.
“I was shocked a little bit. But I was excited about the new opportunity of coming here,” Langhorne said of the trade. “The history this organization has, it’s just a fresh new start and I want to help this team win.”
2 Backcourt Changes
The return of Bird likely puts Temeka Johnson into a reserve role. She started 32 games for Seattle last season and averaged 10.2 points. But she’ll now be coming off the bench, although there are situations where Johnson and Bird could play together.
“Even if she doesn’t start, I don’t look at her as a non-starter,” Agler said. “It’s good to have that quality depth.”
3 Finding Balance
Without Jackson and Bird last season, the Storm found remarkable balance in scoring. Five players averaged double figures last season, including emerging forward Shekinna Stricklen. It’s a goal for Seattle to continue with that scoring balance while adding Bird and Langhorne.
4 Starts on Defense
With Agler, defense will always be the priority and it was an area where Seattle remained strong a season ago, finishing second in the league in scoring defense.
“Defense is a big part of our identity. It’s sort of the stamp we have put on this organization over the past six years,” Agler said. “People really have a lot of confidence in that end of the floor for us.”
5 Be Road Warriors
Seattle’s ability to handle a heavy road schedule the first half of the season will be crucial. The Storm play 15 of their first 23 games away from Seattle. The flipside: The Storm play nine of their last 11 regular-season games at home.