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HomeWNBAStorm will enter a new era after losing Breanna Stewart at free...

Storm will enter a new era after losing Breanna Stewart at free hand

Breanna Stewart has officially made her long-awaited free agency decision, opting to sign with the New York Liberty after playing the first six seasons of her WNBA career with the Seattle Storm. The 2018 League MVP and 2018 and 2020 Finals MVP announced their decision via Twitter on Wednesday, ending months of speculation.

Stewart’s decision is expected to have a ripple effect throughout the WNBA as other teams that have been waiting for her begin to fill out their own rosters. Needless to say, the Storm will be hit particularly hard by Stewart’s decision, which will likely change the course of the franchise as the championship window closes and it enters an era of uncertainty. The team still has All-WNBA guard and Olympian Jewell Loyd on its roster after signing a big deal last offseason, but not much beyond that, and barring another star signing in Seattle, the team is one Rebuild phase closer than any type of championship fight.

Technically, Stewart has yet to sign with the Liberty, and ESPN‘s Holly Rowe mentioned Wednesday during a televised free agency roundtable that a sign-and-trade could be in the works, in which case the Storm would get at least some sort of benefit in return. What we do know is that Stewart won’t be playing for Seattle next season, nor will Stephanie Talbot, who has signed a two-year contract with the Los Angeles Sparks.


By Numbers*

Free Agents (Type) (2022 Salary)

  • Gabby Williams (Restricted) ($144,000)
  • Prince Epiphany (unlimited) ($115,000)
  • Jantel Lavender (unlimited) ($72,141)
  • Ezi Magbegor (reserved) ($60,471)
  • Tina Charles (unlimited) ($34,285)

Average total free agent salary: $425,897

Total salary of the team: $394,936

Cap: $1,025,564


analysis

Center Ezi Magbegor is in for a significant pay raise after playing for much of 2022 as Defensive Player of the Year.
Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

The Storm currently only have two players under contract: Loyd and center Mercedes Russell. They haven’t made any commitments yet, but the loss of Stewart changes a lot what Seattle wants to do going forward.

The Liberty and Las Vegas Aces, who signed forwards Candace Parker and Alysha Clark on Wednesday, have dominated the WNBA’s current free-agency stint to this point, essentially forming “super teams” that they’re comfortably ahead of beat any other team in the league. This is, of course, at Seattle’s expense; With Stewart gone and Sue Bird retired, the Storm no longer have the high-end talent to compete with the likes of Liberty or Aces.

So the question will be, in 2023, will Seattle still try to field the most competitive team possible, or instead approach the season more as a developmental season.

Will Courtney Vandersloot Birds Heir?

The Storm entered the post-bird era without an immediate in-house replacement for the legendary point guard. Briann January also retired after 2022 after playing 14 seasons in the WNBA, while 13-year veteran Prince’s future with the team is unknown; If she is brought back, it seems unlikely that she would play a much bigger role than the one she played from Bank of the Storm.

It was speculated that longtime Chicago Sky Guard Courtney Vandersloot would be ready to join the Storm in 2023, and for a brief moment on Wednesday it looked like that might happen. However, Vandersloot’s representatives were quick to push back those initial reports and she remains without a contract as of Wednesday night.

On the surface it would make sense for the Storm to sign Vandersloot. Vandersloot, the current WNBA record holder for most assists in a season, was born in Kent, Washington and played college basketball at Gonzaga University in Spokane. If she wants to play closer to home, Seattle would be the obvious choice and the Storm will have the cap to make Vandersloot, who has already announced so will not return to Chicagoa tempting offer.

However, Vandersloot has also been linked with Liberty and Minnesota Lynx, and if she wants to compete for a WNBA championship in 2023, both teams may be better options than Seattle. If that’s the case, Seattle could bolster its point guard position through the draft; Currently, the earliest the Storm will pick in the 2023 WNBA draft is 8th overall, and if they want to be wary of that pick, players like Charisma Osborne (UCLA), Jacy Sheldon (Ohio State), and Ashley Owusu (Virginia Tech) and Celeste Taylor (Duke) would be possibilities. The Storm also own the rights to Australian guard Jade Melbourne, who they selected in the third round of the 2022 WNBA Draft; Melbourne is still very young at just 20 years old, but this season could be the perfect opportunity for her to make her WNBA debut on a team that is in dire need of her skills.

Magbegor will be an important building block for Seattle

It’s not all doom and gloom for Seattle. The Storm want one of the game’s rising international stars in Magbegor and they will have their exclusive negotiating rights after extra time qualifying offer to her last week.

Magbegor made visible progress in 2022, averaging 11.3 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game as the starting center of the storm and anchoring the league’s best defense during that period. Magbegor’s role in the team diminished after the team signed Charles – putting a damper on the season that emerged as Defensive Player of the Year – but the Storm is in no danger of losing her to another team and they will they will surely reward their development with a new contract for 2023 and beyond.

Will Williams be able to play?

Another Storm player expecting a raise is Williams, whose restricted free agent status gives Seattle a chance to fulfill any offer from an opposing team and keep them for 2023.

However, Williams may not even get a chance to play. Under the WNBA prioritization clause, which goes into effect this year, any player not on their respective WNBA team at the start of the regular season will be automatically suspended from the league for the entire season.

That’s a problem for Williams, who currently plays abroad for French basketball club LDLC ASVEL Féminin. The end of the Ligue Feminine de Basketball season will overlap with the start of the 2023 WNBA season, meaning Williams could be forced to take the summer off. If that’s the case, the Storm will lose one of its most athletic players and its best defensive playmaker at the perimeter.


* All salary figures are from Your hoop stats.




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