By now, you've heard that the Los Angeles Sparks have hired former Seattle Storm head coach and general manager Brian Agler to assume their head coach position. This move comes as a surprise to many, considering that Seattle is one of L.A.'s rivals, and that Agler has spent seven years at the helm in the Emerald City. To me, I feel that this is a move that works best for both parties.
Agler is a coach who would rather win games now than go through a rebuild. Rebuilding a team over multiple years from scratch just isn't in his DNA. It was clear last season that he wasn't a good fit for Seattle moving forward, given his recent trades and free agent signings. Going to L.A. gives Agler a fresh start and a chance to motivate a star-studded team that has underachieved in the eyes of many. We'll talk more about him in L.A. in another piece later this week.
For the Storm, Agler's departure also shows that this team is about to hit the reset button into rebuild mode. Yes, that likely means more losing seasons in the short term, but the end result should be a younger, championship caliber team in the long term. Here are some of the biggest questions that newly-promoted President and General Manager Alisha Valavanis must answer over the next several weeks and months:
Who will Valavanis hire as the Storm's next head coach? Will the new head coach properly develop the young players on that team over the next several seasons?
Right now, this is the most pressing need. Despite a Sunday tweet from WomHoops Guru's Mel Greenberg about Associate Head Coach Jenny Boucek possibly taking the reins as the Storm's new head coach:
While it was liberty.past tense at maggie dixon guru hears brian angler likely to be named in LA Boucek may succeed in Seattle blog later— Mel Greenberg (@womhoopsguru) January 5, 2015
The Storm's press release has indicated that they will do a formal search anyway. This doesn't mean that Boucek isn't in consideration. However, she was part of Agler's staff since 2010, and I presume that she has had at least some say over the years on their direction. Therefore, I'm not sold on handing Boucek the reins because she was part of that veteran movement, though I believe she still deserves another crack at a head coaching position. It's also possible that she could go to the Sparks with Agler.
Whoever the new Storm head coach is needs to be someone who is willing to play the youngsters plenty of minutes so Valavanis knows which players figure to be part of the team's long term future. First round picks should not play limited roles, and second round picks should be safe bets to make the roster.
Will Valavanis and Force 10 Hoops part ways with Sue Bird and most, if not all of the Storm's veterans for younger players and draft picks this offseason?
More on the Storm's Offseason
It's time for the Storm to hit the reset button
I didn't expect to see Agler leave Seattle this soon, but now that he has left, the Storm is poised to move in a new and younger direction.
More on the Storm's Offseason
We have referred to Washington Mystics owner Ted Leonsis' Ten Point Rebuilding Plan as a template on how to turn around a team by building from the ground up. We have also shown how the concepts in the Plan worked with the Chicago Sky as they transformed from a cellar-dwelling team to being the 2014 Eastern Conference Champions. With the Storm moving on from Agler, it appears that Seattle is poised to execute a plan that incorporates many, if not most of these same concepts.
Let's assume that Valavanis and Force 10 Hoops intend to follow this plan, point-for-point, line-by-line. They've already answered Point 1 by asking themselves whether the Storm can win a championship as constructed -- they determined that the Storm can't. They also executed Point 2 clearly with the league and their fans through the title of the press release by clearly stating "Franchise Rebuild," and Force 10 Hoops partner Lisa Brummel made no attempt to hide that either.
Point 3 of Leonsis' plan dictates that a rebuilding team must slash-and-burn the foundation by getting rid of all of the previous era/regime's veteran players. In the Storm's case, that means that they need to trade or let go of franchise star Sue Bird and other complementary pieces like Crystal Langhorne, Camille Little, and Temeka Johnson. This is where things get a bit hairy.
In an interview with Seattle Times reporter Matt Pentz, Valavanis stated that "We’re looking at a two- to three-year plan to really build our roster, bringing in some younger players to complement the veterans." That sounds like someone to trying to have her cake and eat it too.
To be fair, Valavanis' statement is understandable. She's stating the obvious with Seattle's need to get younger, but she doesn't want to sound like every veteran player, in particular Bird is for sale. After all, tipping one's hand too much could just devalue players against the Storm's favor in trades. Ultimately, if I have to translate "PR-speak", Valavanis probably said this to keep her cards close to her chest, rather than because she believes that Bird has another five years of MVP-level basketball in her. Going forward, Seattle's younger players must be the foundation of the team with veterans complementing them, not vice versa.
If the Storm's rebuild is going to be a success, they must part ways with coaches AND players who aren't long term fits. Trying to do this any other way would be asking for a run on the "Treadmill of Mediocrity" which is what another rebuilding WNBA team is on the verge of doing.
It remains to be seen how well they execute Points 4 through 10 of the Plan, but that is simply because offseason moves haven't happened just yet.
If the Storm keeps Sue Bird, could they still have her AND BREANNA STEWART in 2016?
More on Breanna Stewart and 2016
More on Breanna Stewart and 2016
This is an interesting question. Last season, Bird played on a veteran-laden Storm team which finished tied for last in the Western Conference. This season, it's safe to say that they will be in the lottery once again in 2015, regardless of whether she stays. If they're lucky, the Storm could have the #1 pick in both the 2015 AND 2016 Drafts. That would mean that UConn junior forward would presumably be on the Seattle Storm in 2016. To be honest, I believe that Seattle is Stewart's most likely destination given the gap in talent depth between the most and least talented teams in the Western Conference are greater than in the Eastern Conference.
Seeing both Bird and Stewart in green and gold would be a shot in the arm for the new era of Storm basketball. It would also be a passing of the torch as one star hands the keys to another. But at the same time, I don't know if the Storm will have enough young assets around Stewart to contend that year or even the next in Seattle, though this depends on who's coaching and which young players are there. But still, getting the #1 picks in 2015 AND 2016 would make Seattle a go-to destination for free agents, just like it was during the heyday of the Bird and Lauren Jackson era.
In order to see this happen, the big question is whether Bird wants to stay on a rebuilding team for what could be the rest of her career. There is also no guarantee that the #1 pick in 2016's coming their way, since there's a lottery that will determine the rise or downfall for rebuilding WNBA teams.
Though Stewart could be Bird's successor as Seattle's franchise player, she could succeed Tamika Catchings in that role for the Indiana Fever; succeed the recently-retired Becky Hammon for the San Antonio Stars; or be the first-ever legitimate franchise player for the Washington Mystics. These other teams I mentioned could very well be lottery-bound in 2015 themselves, and they are dreaming about the UConn junior too. And we can't forget about a playoff or championship-caliber team perhaps "resting players" to get a chance. Anything could happen right?
I'll finish the section by saying this. If the Storm can't win the #1 pick (or at least #2 to presumably draft Notre Dame junior Jewell Loyd) in the 2016 Draft and still have Bird for the entire time, that would be a pretty rough way to end an otherwise-great WNBA career for the future Hall of Famer. I'm not sure if Bird wants to risk that, since you'd think she would want to win another title while she can still make an impact on games. Preferably, it would be in Seattle, but I don't know if that's realistic.
How many additional young players can Valavanis acquire for the Storm during this offseason?
Sue Bird may be the Storm's franchise player until she leaves or retires, but from a basketball-only lens, she is no longer the most important player for the long term. If Bird stays, she serves the role as the grizzled veteran leader for the young troops, and that isn't necessarily a bad thing if she wants to fill that role.
Unlike current young and rebuilding teams like the aforementioned Mystics, the Tulsa Shock, and the Connecticut Sun, the Storm will have an uphill battle getting as young as possible, as quickly as possible. Seattle only has two rotation or starter-level players who are 25 years old or younger and on rookie contracts for the 2015 season:
Of course, Valavanis could trade Stricklen and/or the #1 pick for more players and picks. But I would be a bit weary about trading Stricklen given that I don't think she had a fair shake at this point in her career. Trading a #1 pick, even in a potentially weak 2015 draft class also needs to be approached cautiously, unless Valavanis gets an offer she can't refuse. Either way, the player she acquires in any deal should be a younger player if at all possible.
If I have to peg a goal of how many 25-under players that the Storm should have for 2015, I would try to increase that number to at least seven out of the 12-man roster. Some of the younger players could be 2015 second or even third round draft picks.
That alone wouldn't cut it, especially in a draft which many are projecting as weak. Even if a team figures to be lottery bound, it should still have a good number of young players who could feasibly be long term fits. Therefore, Valavanis will have to trade at least some of the 2014 veterans in order to acquire additional quality young talent in order to accomplish that mission.
Final takeaway: The Storm took a big step in the right direction, but they just started their plan
The Seattle Storm is in a better place today now that they are under new management and are making clear steps to rebuild. Brian Agler is also in a better place now where he can now focus on coaching a talented team that could use his expertise to get them over the hump.
However, parting ways with a previous coaching regime and a press release saying the right things are just the beginning. Alisha Valavanis has her hands full as she now is responsible for making the necessary moves to turn the Seattle Storm around, and will have to make some painful decisions since the rebuild will take multiple seasons. Here's to hoping that she's able to turn things around and make this already-successful franchise one of the WNBA's top teams once again.