By Aaron Lommers Herald Writer
SEATTLE — Team success can be viewed in different ways.
For some, it’s all about winning. Anything short of a championship is deemed a failure. For others, success is measured by giving everything you have and getting the absolute most out of the pieces you have.
For believers in the first philosophy, the Seattle Storm came up short in 2013. They will be viewed as a team that was, at best, mediocre and was eliminated from the playoffs in the first round by a team they failed to beat in six tries this season.
For those who follow the second ideology, what the Storm accomplished in 2013 is nothing short of miraculous.
With all-star point guard Sue Bird and former league MVP Lauren Jackson out for the season with injuries, many WNBA followers picked Seattle to finish dead last. The remaining players, led by defensive specialist Tanisha Wright, gritty forward Camille Little and the league’s all-time leading scorer, Tina Thompson, proved them wrong.
Against long odds, the Storm posted a 17-17 regular-season record and qualified for the postseason for a league-record 10th consecutive season, capturing the fourth and final seed in the Western Conference.
The Storm were eliminated from the postseason this past Sunday, swept by the Minnesota Lynx in the best-of-three Western Conference semifinals. That the Storm lost the series wasn’t surprising. In the first five meetings between the two teams, Minnesota won all of them by at least 13 points.
The way the sixth and final game played out did surprise some. The Storm held the Lynx to their lowest point total of the season. In the final minute of the game, Seattle led by a point and appeared poised to take the league’s best team to a decisive game five.
The performance embodied the Storm’s season.
“This has been one of the most rewarding seasons I have ever had in my whole career,” Wright said. “The type of people that we have on this team, the character, the determination, everything about each and every person on this roster this season is absolutely amazing. I enjoyed every bit of it, even in the beginning when we weren’t playing our best, but we stepped onto the court every day and fought. We went against odds and every single time we did it with grace.”
There are several people within the Storm organization who, like Wright, have won at least one championship. But many of them regarded this year’s team — which lost more games than it won if you factor in the postseason — as special.
It was Thompson’s last season. She announced in May she would retire at season’s end. The 38-year-old won championships in each of her first four seasons in the league with the now defunct Houston Comets.
“This is the first time that I’ve ever been in a position where the appreciation, the love and the genuine concern and want for everyone to do well was there consistently,” Thompson said. “It was real. It wasn’t fake. The fact that we were able to do it under the circumstances, because usually that only happens when everything is going well and everything didn’t go well for us this season.”
Despite not having Bird and Jackson, Storm head coach Brian Agler said the team vowed to be as competitive as possible.
“In the offseason, when we realized we weren’t going to have Sue and Lauren, we could have handled this situation a little bit differently, but we decided to be very fair to Camille, Tanisha and Tina and to our fans that we were going to give every effort to make the playoffs,” Agler said. “We never talked about who we didn’t have, we always talked about who we did have. It’s not our organization’s philosophy to make excuses.”
The Storm got off to a rocky 6-10 start. But the players and coaches never panicked and the wins started to come. At one point the Storm won nine of 13 games. They finished the regular season by winning 11 of their final 18 games.
In four meetings against the Phoenix Mercury, a team many predicted would win the championship with veteran Diana Taurasi and rookie Brittney Griner, the Storm never lost.
Seattle also had success with Los Angeles, the other Western Conference team to make the postseason, splitting the four-game regular-season series. Had the Storm drawn any other team in the first round, they may well have advanced to the conference finals.
The Storm always believed they could beat Minnesota, Agler said.
“Obviously we feel bad for losing, but we’re not hanging our head for lack of effort, lack of attention, lack of heart, lack of focus, none of that,” Agler said. “We knew we were playing against a great opponent and we knew it was going to take an extraordinary type of effort to win, but never did we think that we couldn’t do it.”
Lesser teams might have folded under the circumstances the Storm faced in 2013, but this team found a way to persevere.
“At the end of the day we’re not regretful because I don’t believe that any other team, facing the odds that we faced, could have been in this moment with the exception of us,” Thompson said.
The overachieving Storm will be without Thompson next season, but barring any setbacks will welcome back Bird and Jackson.
“We’ve got some reinforcements,” Wright said. “For us to come into this season without two of the best players in the game and to be able to accomplish what we accomplished is absolutely amazing. Obviously to have them back is going to be something special.”
And Thompson is excited to see what her former teammates can accomplish.
“I think going into the next season, having the players that we have on this team and the attitude and the effort that they have day in and day out and then you add a Sue Bird and a Lauren Jackson — the WNBA better be prepared because this team is really going to be a force to be reckoned with,” she said.
Aaron Lommers covers the Seattle Storm for The Herald. Follow him on twitter @aaronlommers and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.