While it's no secret that I believe that this team must consider blowing it up and rebuilding for the future, this isn't realistic, and in all likelihood, I'm also in the minority and taking an unpopular position. Realistically, this team is going to do what it can to keep Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson together until they retire.
So, given that, what questions should the Storm address this offseason?
1. "Can this team--as constructed--ever win a championship?"
I pulled this straight out of the now all-too-familiar Ten Point Plan by Ted Leonsis on Hogs Haven, our Washington Redskins site. That's question number one on that plan as a matter of fact. My answer to this question is no with the assumption everyone is at least reasonably healthy and that's why I believe this team has to start over and rebuild the foundation. I also feel pretty similarly with Indiana.
In the Western Conference, the Minnesota Lynx, even if they have to trade Monica Wright away this offseason, may still be too much for the Storm to overcome. The top stars for that team are still in their prime and Maya Moore is still not in her prime. That plus complementarity, the Team MVP, is something that the Storm will have a tough time beating.
Now if the Lynx suffer major injuries while the Storm is healthy all year, then I'll give Seattle a chance in a playoff series. But don't hope for injuries just so you can have a yes answer to this question. Injuries could also hit the Storm as well.
Even other teams, such as the Los Angeles Sparks and the Phoenix Mercury have the talent to win a championship when reasonably healthy but don't quite have the team chemistry and/or coaching skills that the Lynx have. Then you can't count the Tulsa Shock out as a team that could strike it big either in 2014 or 2015 given that there is a young nucleus that could be relevant for many years to come. The Storm has one significant younger piece in Shekinna Stricklen, but this team needs more younger players in order to be relevant in the West for the long term and this term is likely to be repeated again and again next season.
In our comments recently, one of our members, OVJ believes that Seattle still can be a major player in the West for next season. If you do think that the Storm still could win it all in 2014 (without factors like multiple other teams suffering major injuries), then it's going to be because Bird and Jackson play close to their 2010 level when the team won it all. Second, chemistry clicks between the returning Storm players along with the duo. Lastly, Brian Agler continues to coach at a very high level, like he did last season.
2. Which younger players on the Storm could complement Bird and Jackson today and could perhaps be the main players after they're clearly out of their prime?
Fortunately, we can identify the aforementioned Stricklen as a young foundational player for the future, but Seattle needs to try to find another such player. With Jackson coming back and with Camille Little unlikely to be traded away, it's highly unlikely that sophomore forward Tianna Hawkins will be starting, and besides, she hardly played last season, not unlike a particular player who played in Hawkins' hometown and is the poster child for all rookies who don't get enough burn. So much so that that player has not one, but two glossary terms named after or about her.
If the Storm can try to package some veteran players for a younger one and/or a first round draft pick AND give that pick ample time to play, that could help Seattle have a young core group that plays with Bird and Jackson, which could make the Storm a dangerous team over the next several years, even as the veteran duo declines because the younger players will improve at the same time.
3. Could keeping Bird and Jackson actually harm the basketball team more than not over the long term?
While there's always a feel good story about the Cal Ripkens, Derek Jeters, Hines Wards, and Darrell Greens of the world, all great players in their sports who stay with one team, in pro sports, players are commodities that can and often have to be traded away in order to help THE TEAM succeed with its long term interests, which is... winning games, and ultimately, championships.
Last summer, the Boston Celtics traded away their aging franchise player, Paul Pierce for younger players and draft picks along with long time defensive star Kevin Garnett. I'm sure Celtics fans wished he'd stay for life like Larry Bird or Bill Russell. But keeping Pierce and KG would only have kept the Celtics running on..... The Treadmill of Mediocrity, the same machine that some on this site believe that the Storm is running on, most notably me.
If a team is willing to give up younger players and draft picks in exchange for Sue Bird and/or Lauren Jackson, then the Storm needs to listen intently and strongly consider pulling the trigger. Yeah, I get that fans will not be happy that franchise players were traded away. I'm sure Celtics fans weren't happy with seeing Pierce and KG go. But at the same time, the Storm could be better off long term, win more games, and better yet, build another dynasty.
But Shades noted in various comments that WNBA teams, not just the Storm are more hesitant to move star players than NBA teams, often for sentimental reasons, even if keeping those players isn't the best thing for its long term basketball future.
4. What happens if Seattle doesn't win it all or doesn't come close to it in 2014?
If Seattle loses in the WNBA Finals or loses in the Western Finals, and Bird and Jackson look great all year long, then I can see them both come back for 2015. There may be this mentality that the Storm just needs "one more piece" wherever it may be.
If Bird and Jackson look like they have clearly declined and the Storm either misses the playoffs or has another one and done playoff appearance, then I think the team has to really look at Question 3 of this piece just a bit harder.
And if and when this team decides to rebuild, you have to wonder whether Brian Agler is the right GM and head coach to do the job given that he prefers veteran lineups. I say that he is not.
So, there are my questions in the Storm's offseason. Do you think that the Bird and Jackson Dynamic Duo is over the hill now considering the current complexion of the Western Conference? Or do you think that this team is still in a good position to win it all for 2014, and possibly even longer than that? Feel free to debate in the comments below.