Let’s get this out of the way so everyone is on the same page: Crystal Langhorne may fill the gaping void in the middle of the Seattle Storm’s starting lineup, but she’s not going to replace Breanna Stewart.
Because that’s impossible.
And that’s not a knock against Langhorne. It’s a testament to the all-around greatness of Stewart, the WNBA’s reigning MVP who is out for the season due to an Achilles tendon injury.
“Nobody in this locker room or in this gym is sitting here saying Lang is going to replace Stewie or anyone is going to replace Stewie,” Storm guard Sue Bird said. “She’s not replaceable. It doesn’t work that way. In sports, injuries happen and when they do you have to think about who you do have and not who you don’t have.
“How do we go forward? It’s got to be by committee. It’s never going to be one person stepping in and getting all the points and rebounds that Stewie provided.”
During Tuesday’s training camp practice ahead of the season opener on May 25 at Angel of the Winds Arena in Everett, Stewart received treatment in a corner of the gym beneath Seattle Pacific University’s Royal Brougham Pavilion while Langhorne assumed her spot with the defending WNBA champions, who are missing a handful of returners who are still playing overseas.
Langhorne will likely get the first crack at filling in for Stewart in large part because the 6-foot-4 forward has the requisite size, with more talent and experience than anyone else in camp.
Just don’t expect the 12-year veteran to average 21.8 points, 8.4 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.4 blocks and 1.3 steals like Stewart did last season.
Langhorne understands better than anyone the fallacy in the comparisons with Stewart because similar assessments were made in 2014 when Seattle acquired the two-time All-Star (2011 and 2013) in a trade with Washington to replace — there goes that word again — Hall of Famer Lauren Jackson.
As much as Langhorne bristled at the comparisons, they persisted during the 2014 and 2015 seasons when Seattle finished 12-22 and 10-24, respectively, which snapped a 10-year playoff streak.
“You can’t compare me to Lauren,” Langhorne said. “You can’t compare me to Stewie. I’m not that type of player. Even though I was an All-Star, I knew I wasn’t the caliber of player as Lauren. And I’m not the same as Stewie either.
“All I can do is be myself. … I’m older now and I have a different mindset. Mentality wise, I know what I do well. At times in the past I was worried about what other people thought and now I don’t as much any more. I was too much of a people pleaser when I was younger.”
Admittedly, 2018 was bittersweet for Langhorne, who lost her starting job after the season opener to newcomer Natasha Howard who had a breakout season and proved to be the catalyst to a championship puzzle.
It was the first time Langhorne came off the bench since her rookie year in 2008. She also won her first WNBA title, albeit in a backup role that was unexpected.
“At first it was hard, then I saw I couldn’t do the things defensively that Tasha could,” Howard said. “I could see the difference. I was like, we’re winning so (I’ll) just have a different role and accept it.
“But I’m not going to lie, it was hard when I came back (from an eight-game layoff due to injury). You have to be real with yourself in the things you can do and the things you can’t do. Because I’m older I could see that. If I was younger I might have been upset, but since I was older I could see the difference.”
Despite averaging 4.6 points, 3.0 rebounds, 0.3 assists, 0.3 steals and 0.1 blocks — all career lows — last season, Seattle re-signed the 32-year-old Langhorne to a three-year deal. According to High Post Hoops, her $105,000 salary is the fifth highest among the Storm.
“What I said to (Storm CEO Alisha Valavanis), let’s make sure she knows she’s appreciated here, but let her drive the decision,” Storm coach Dan Hughes said. “Her wanting to be here and adjusting to a different role is a powerful statement.
“She beautifully handled what could have been a difficult situation as far as playing time and her role and that’s why we’re champions, because we had players like her. All she said was, ‘What do you need coach and I’ll do it.’”
At the moment, the Storm need a fifth starter to pair with All-Star guards Bird and Jewell Loyd and forwards Howard and Alysha Clark.
“Lang is logically where you first think, but to be honest I try real hard to think not in terms of replacing Stewie but finding our strengths as a team this year and playing to that,” Hughes said. “She’s going to be one of them. There will be other players and the ball will find its way naturally to other places.”
Defensively, there shouldn’t be much of drop-off with Langhorne playing alongside Howard. The Storm could also opt to employ a small lineup and flood the floor with shooters, which would leave Seattle vulnerable defensively.
“With any new team that’s forming its identity you figure it out as you go,” Bird said. “I can’t sit here and tell you exactly what’s going to happen.
“As chemistry goes, you can’t necessarily make predictions and say what you want it to be. It’s just going to be what it is. So we’re just going to have to go out there and play with each other and see what works.”