An offseason of bad news got even worse for the Seattle Storm on Tuesday when the team announced that point guard Sue Bird will undergo surgery on her right knee to address a cyst that was discovered at the end of 2012. Bird will miss the entire 2013 WNBA season.
A specific date for the surgery has not been announced, but the rehabilitation is estimated at six months. After the initial recovery time, Bird will spend the summer in Seattle with her Storm teammates.
“We support the decision to address the issue with Sue’s knee now,” Storm head coach and general manager Brian Agler said in a press release provided by the team. “It is important fo us all to take a long-term view in situations like this. We want Sue to return to full health and be healthy enough to play in 2014 and for many more seasons with the Storm. We are focused on putting our team together and look forward to another competitive WNBA season.
Bird is currently playing overseas for UMMC Ekaterinburg and will complete her obligations to them since she is currently not experiencing any pain.
Bird is the fourth player from the 2012 roster who will not play with the team in 2013. Veteran centers Lauren Jackson and Ann Wauters have already announced they will not play with the Storm in the upcoming season. Guard Katie Smith signed as a free agent with the New York Liberty.
Jackson, Wauters, Bird and Smith all played key roles in helping the Storm reach the postseason a year ago, where they came within a missed Jackson fadeaway of knocking off the top-seeded Minnesota Lynx in the Western Conference semifinals.
There is no question that Bird and Jackson are two of the best women’s players in the world and have helped bring championships to Seattle in 2004 and 2010. Not having both of them for the 2013 campaign means that it will be an uphill battle for the Storm.
But the long-term prognosis might not be so bad. Both Bird and Jackson are expected to play in 2014 and will be presumably healthy. When Bird and Jackson are at full strength the Storm can compete with anyone in the WNBA.
Agler would almost certainly say that Bird and Jackson being out does not mean the team is giving up on the upcoming season. I’m certain that is true, but facts being facts, it will be difficult for the Storm to make the postseason in the competitive Western Conference without both of them. That means the Storm either have to address the problem now and bring in free agents to help fill the void, or understand that this season will be a bit of a rebuilding year and keep an eye on the 2014 season.
My expectation would be that they do a bit of both. The Storm have already signed guards Noelle Quinn and Tameka Johnson as well as forward Nakia Sanford this offseason. Those players, especially Johnson, should help the Storm be competitive this season — and I would assume more signings will be on the way.
But if the Storm do miss the postseason and become eligible for the WNBA draft lottery, it won’t be the worst thing in the world. Seattle already has a good young player in Shekinna Stricklen, who they selected with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2012 WNBA draft. Stircklen is certain to get better this season with extended minutes because of the depleted roster. If the Storm miss the playoffs and come up with another top-four pick going into next season that will give them two really good young players to go along with Jackson and Bird. It helps the team get ready for the future while still trying to win in the present.
This season may be difficult Storm fans, but keep an eye on 2014 and you can rest a bit easier.
The one thing that I can’t stop from thinking about is that if this would have happened a year ago instead of now, the Storm potentially could have had the top pick in the draft, which almost certainly will be Baylor’s Brittney Griner — who is only probably the best women’s college player of all-time.