PHOENIX, AZ - JULY 26: Sue Bird #10 of the Seattle Storm awaits a free throw shot from the Phoenix Mercury during the WNBA game at US Airways Center on July 26, 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Storm defeated the Mercury 83-77. Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images.
Swish Appeal regular and resident Washington Mystics fan thewiz06 begins his look at Category 3 teams with two teams that can both begin to rebuild and aim for the playoffs. See Part 1 and Part 2 of his series of guest posts for a look at all the categories and where teams fit.
I wrote this knowing that I was going to take heat for some of my thoughts. One person wrote to me saying that I overemphasized roster age and Sue Bird's free agency. Outside of talent, age is very important and overall roster age is the most important thing, all other things being equal. The main way I viewed my rationale of teams is from this ten step rebuilding plan from Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis, and it is something that's pretty big in Washington. Ted also owns the Mystics (I know Sheila Johnson is the President and is called the de-facto owner too), and the Wizards NBA team.
I do think most, if not all the points of Ted's plan are valid for any team in any league, though the WNBA and the NHL have inherent differences. I get that he hasn't won a Stanley Cup, an NBA Finals or WNBA Finals trophy, yet, but they are good ideals. Note in point one of the link, that Ted believed a championship team should be a "great young team with upside that can make the playoffs for a decade and win a [championship] or two." At Bullets Forever, the Wizards SB Nation blog, this plan is being monitored by many community members and criticized too, because Ted has promised the fans that he will tell the front office to build this team like the Capitals, and the NBA and NHL have differences.
When I put Ted's first point to the test, my answer for the Fever and Storm is "No." That is why I put them in this category. I personally would love to see the Fever and Storm win more and possibly even get to the Finals this year, but I just don't see it when their rosters don't have the upside that some of the other contending teams have now.
Do I think that the Fever and Storm have to trade every good player they have, or endure a number of losing seasons for a successful rebuild? The answer to that is also no. In fact, these two teams could rebuild successfully without having to trade most of, if not any of their most coveted players while adding youth. Still, teams that have decided to rebuild must openly consider dealing any single player on their rosters, regardless of how they feel about them personally. So, Ted Leonsis's rebuilding plan is certainly a good way to start viewing how a team should be rebuilt, but it's not necessarily the best way to rebuild either, at least for these teams.
Again, roster age is the most important thing to me. Last year, five out of the Fever's top six scorers were over 25 years old, and three of their top six scorers were older than 30 (Tangela Smith, Douglas, and Catchings). Though Indy has made the playoffs every year since 2005 along with some trips to the Eastern Finals, there was only ONE trip to the Finals.
There is no doubt that the team needs to add youth. The Fever had only one player younger than 24 in Jeanette Pohlen on last year's roster. This year, they will get the 11th pick, and I can't really say how much of an impact this pick will have on their roster.
According to WNBAlien, Tamika Catchings was given the franchise tag (a/k/a "cored") for the 5th time in her career and the last possible time she can get the tag. But there also doesn't appear to be that much cap space either.
I think Indiana has the talent as is to still make the playoffs this year and they may advance to the Eastern Finals, but the roster isn't going to get any better as it gets older. Waiting longer to make a deal involving Douglas, Sutton-Brown, and/or Catchings could just lower their trade value, especially if the Fever fails to make the playoffs, and/or if any of them suffer a decline in performance. I'm not saying that the team needs to go on a fire sale and get rid of all of them now. However, if there's a deal available involving a 2013 first round pick or quality young talent (preferably 25 year old players or younger and no projects), the Fever should seriously consider trading one of their older stars for these assets.
Regardless of what it ends up doing, if the Fever misses the playoffs this season, it could be a blessing if it can get Griner, Delle Donne, or Diggins for 2013 who could be a franchise successor not unlike how Candace was to Lisa Leslie. Then again, I could say that about every team.
The "easy" answer is that the Storm realized that it can't win another championship in the short and long term with a big three of Sue Bird, Lauren Jackson, and Swin Cash, and yes, they're all older than 30. There was no one younger than 25 on the roster last year. If Agler thought they could win it all this year, perhaps Swin wouldn't have been traded. Also, I have to note that this move was criticized by many Storm fans because they believed that the Storm got the bottom end of this deal.
Using Ted's "ideal championship team" of a young team with upside, the Storm was a great success because it made the playoffs nine out of the last ten seasons and it won two WNBA championships. However, the Storm failed to get out of the first round in seven out of its nine playoff appearances, so it also had a good number of disappointing playoff runs. Jackson also suffered injuries in three of the last four seasons and missed the playoffs in 2008, 2009, and 2011. She has a considerable injury risk and is not getting younger, not to mention that she will miss the first half of this season for the Olympics.
We got to hear some hints from both Coach Agler and GM Karen Bryant regarding their rationale for the Cash trade, and what they want to do for the future. The good news is that they emphasized future. Karen Bryant also stated that she intended to keep both Sue and Lauren until they retire, while trying to bring in younger talent and winning their fair share of games. Considering this, it's their way of saying that the team is rebuilding, but they also want to keep winning. Is it possible though?
The Storm will get much needed youth with the #2 pick in the first round and this is a good start. For this team, I don't completely agree with Ted's third point (click here for it) where he would imply that Bird (after signing), Jackson, and even Tanisha Wright (after signing) need to be traded for volume amounts of picks and young prospects as soon as possible. That said, the Storm still needs to consider deals for them. If another team is willing to give up quality picks and/or starter quality young players who have clear upside, then it may be worth dealing either of the three.
There is a flaw however in my thinking on rebuilds too. I am thinking about a lot these things from an NBA state of mind. After all, Sue and Lauren can never earn more than $105,500 each out of a flex cap of $878,000, according to womensbasketballonline.com so both of them can't even earn 25% of the cap. Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol of the Lakers earn a combined salary of over half of the NBA's soft cap of $58,044,000. This makes it easier for the Storm to acquire free agents in theory at least, but Seattle must aim for younger free agents first. WNBA players love Seattle, it's a great city (ask Thunder forward Nick Collison), and the Storm has great fans, so there should be no problem getting folks interested. The #2 pick could also be traded in a package for younger players who are ready to contribute right away to a top tier team.
These above moves are rebuilding moves, and these options above don't involve dealing Sue Bird and/or Lauren Jackson; therefore, they are probably the types of moves that the team will make. If their moves to acquire youth (without losing their duo) play into their favor, Seattle could very well still contend in the long run, even for championships, and this rebuild would be a success.