Bird's return should bolster Storm
Sue Bird is a believer in chemistry. To a point.
"Sure, you have teams that might be less talented that can get farther than a team with more talent because they know how to play together," Bird said. "But there's definitely a happy medium. We want to have both."
As the Seattle Storm retool for a new WNBA season and prepare for a brutal opening stretch, a happy medium would probably suit them just fine.
The Storm are four years removed from their last title, in 2010. They've reached the playoffs three times since but have watched as the Minnesota Lynx became the new standard for excellence in the Western Conference and the league.
Seattle hopes that having Bird back on the floor -- she took off the 2013 season to heal a knee injury -- will help the Storm become players again in a conference in which Minnesota, Los Angeles and Phoenix are all regarded as championship contenders.
The Storm's All-Star point guard returns to a team that doesn't quite resemble the one she left. Lauren Jackson, the player Bird won championships with in 2004 and 2010, remains in Australia and will miss her second straight WNBA season. Bird also has new teammates in Temeka Johnson and Noelle Quinn -- who joined Seattle's roster last season -- and forward/center Crystal Langhorne, acquired by the Storm in a draft day trade with Washington for a pair of first-round draft picks.
Storm coach Brian Agler said chemistry and camaraderie helped his team exceed expectations last season. Without Bird and Jackson, Seattle earned the Western Conference's final playoff spot to continue its run of 10 straight postseason appearances. The Storm lost in the first round to eventual champion Minnesota in a competitive series.
"I'm hoping we can get the same thing this year," Agler said. "I think it's very important that we bond over a common goal."
Bird said she has had little trouble reacclimating.
"There are a lot of new players, but we are running the same system, and I'm getting used to playing with everybody," she said. "There are a lot of new faces, but our system and our identity are still the same."
Agler knows Bird is "going to be fine" as the Storm open the season at home Friday night against Los Angeles.
"She's such a team-oriented individual," Agler said. "She's not going to rock the boat in any way, even if it's an adjustment with her being back on the floor."
Langhorne's addition -- she averaged 12.9 points per game in six seasons at Washington -- filled Agler's need to get an experienced post to replace Jackson. Because of Seattle's late draft positions over the past few years, he couldn't make it happen with a young talent straight out of college. He needed a veteran presence to play alongside stalwart Tanisha Wright.
Langhorne, a two-time All-Star who started every game over the past four seasons for the Mystics, is a different player than Jackson, more of a back-to-the-basket post.
"She's the first one we've had," Agler said. "I don't know if that's going to change how we run things, but we will emphasize her strengths."
Langhorne said Agler has told her to "just play."
"It's a good system," Langhorne said.
Seattle opens the season with perhaps the toughest slate in the league, playing 10 of its first 13 games on the road, including two trips east. While his players are getting to know one another and the team is coming together on the floor, Agler hopes they can establish a tone.
"We need to stay right with the pack because we could easily get behind, and not because we aren't a good team," he said. "We need to be very mentally tough and find a way to win some road games."
Langhorne agreed that the Storm don't have a lot of time to put all of their new pieces together.
"It needs to happen sooner rather than later," Langhorne said. "The whole season is so condensed that we need to get it going right away."
WNBA SEASON PREVIEW
The WNBA's 18th season tipped off Friday.