By Aaron Lommers Herald Writer
SEATTLE — It has been a long time since Seattle Storm point guard Sue Bird has experienced anything like what she is going through this season.
Not since missing most of her freshman year at the University of Connecticut more than 13 years ago has Bird missed significant playing time because of an injury. But surgery to remove a cyst from her left knee has benched her the entire 2013 WNBA season.
“When I think back to (my freshman year), that was probably a turning point for me,” Bird said. “Even though I was only 18 or 19 years old, it was probably a turning point for me because I just got to sit and learn. I don’t know if that is going to be the same result as this, but I guess there is always room to learn a little bit.”
Without Bird and center Lauren Jackson, who also is out for the season while recovering from hamstring surgery, the Storm are off to a 5-6 start. They most recently defeated Chicago on Tuesday and aren’t exactly reeling in the absence of their two biggest stars the way some might have expected.
Still, it hasn’t been easy for either the Storm or for Bird, a veteran guard just trying to make the best of a bad situation and help her team in any way she can.
“When you’re not playing all you can really do is just try to be positive and be someone that cheers their teammates on,” Bird said. “I do try to say things, just now and then, in people’s ears. I’m not going to try to be a coach or anything like that, but if I do see something, I feel comfortable enough with everybody to say it.”
Bird had her surgery May 9. It went well and she is right on schedule in her recovery, which was slated to take six months.
Her rehabilitation began in Connecticut before rejoining the team on the bench for a June 16 road game against the Connecticut Sun. She flew back to Seattle with the team the following day and has been with the Storm ever since.
Watching from the bench when she aches to play is “not fun, but I’m definitely not a person who dwells on the negative,” Bird said. “At my age, I’m just trying to see the positives, which is resting my body and getting it healthy for what could be the next three, four or five years of my career. Had I not done this, who knows what would have happened.”
Having Bird on the bench during games, at practices and in meetings is a plus, Storm head coach Brian Agler said. But “her main role right now is to get healthy,” he added.
“That’s what she spends the majority of her time on. She’s in practice every day and she’s in our meetings, but her main objective is to get healthy,” he said. “That’s the most important thing for her right now.”
Bird has had several surgeries over the course of her career and said the latest obstacle had to be taken care of to preserve the longevity of her career.
“I’m definitely no spring chicken these days,” she said. “I’m getting older and my body is a measure of that in a lot of ways. It was a situation where the decision wasn’t mine and I just have to make the best of it. What I mean by that is being able to comeback for the next couple years and not have to worry about this particular knee situation.”
Jackson announced her decision to forego the 2013 season before Bird, but the point guard said Jackson’s decision did not have any impact on her decision to have surgery now.
“(My decision) was purely based on doctors’ opinions, which can be frustrating because it’s completely out of your control,” Bird said. “But at the same time, it made my decision for me, so I never had to sit down and think about pros and cons. It was just, ‘hey, you need to have surgery.’ And when a doctor tells you that, you can’t really argue.”
Bird said she expected the Storm to play with intensity and to be sharp on the defensive side of the ball, but so far the offense has impressed her more than anything.
The team is averaging 72.1 points per game, shooting 42.3 percent from the field and has four players averaging double figures in scoring.
“I’ve really been impressed with our offense, with the amount of points we’ve been scoring and just the fact that we are really a tough-minded team,” Bird said.
This is the first time under Agler that the Storm have started a season without both Bird and Jackson. But even without his two superstars, Agler and the team remain focused on getting back to the postseason for a 10th consecutive season.
“It’s different, obviously,” Agler said. “They have been staples here and they are a big part of our team, but we had a chance to sign some other people and now we’ve got to work hard every day to get better and our goals haven’t changed in regard to making the playoffs.
“I think we’ve competed well. I think we are still learning a lot about our team, what our strengths and weaknesses are. That being said, we are still evolving.”Aaron Lommers covers the Seattle Storm for The Herald. Follow him on twitter @aaronlommers and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.