The Seattle Storm will have a long road ahead of them if they want to defend their title this season.
Injuries have already hit the reigning WNBA champions before the team’s season opener Saturday against the Phoenix Mercury.
Breanna Stewart tore her Achilles during the “offseason” when she was playing overseas for Russia-based Dynamo Kursk in the EuroLeague Final Four championship. The 2018 MVP will miss the entire 2019 season.
A little more than a month after the Stewart news broke, Bird — the longest tenured player in the league — revealed she would miss much of, if not all of, the year after undergoing knee surgery.
While the bar is still high for the Storm, even Bird acknowledged they might not see the same success this time around.
“There can still be ways we finish the season on a positive note that don’t necessarily come in the form of a championship,’’ she said, via The Seattle Times.
Bird is hopeful she can return at some point this season, but the 38-year-old is also setting her sights on the years to come. The arthroscopic surgery will remove a loose body in her left knee, an area she’s had problems with before.
Bird missed the 2013 season after having cysts removed and then sat out for stretches in both the 2016 Olympics and 2017 WNBA season.
“I’m getting this to make me better,’’ she said. “I’m getting this to extend my career. … It’s to get better and to move forward and continue to play. Some people might call me crazy for doing that, but here I am.”
Jordin Canada will fill Bird’s spot. She appeared in 33 games in her rookie season and averaged 5.7 points and 3.3 assists in 16.5 minutes per game. Canada, who the Storm selected fifth overall in the 2018 draft, finished the year shooting 35.7 percent from the field.
Jewell Loyd will also be asked to do more after coming off a season where she earned her first All-Star appearance. Loyd was Seattle’s second-leading scorer last year (15.5), trailing only Stewart, and will likely lead the team now that the top performers are out. Natasha Howard, who is entering her second season with the Storm, will also be a key to the team’s success this year.
Howard recorded career highs in scoring (13.2 points per game), rebounding (6.4), blocks (1.9), steals (1.4), assists (1.0) and minutes (25.6) last season. The breakout performance for the sixth-year veteran earned her the WNBA’s Most Improved Player award. She also had personal bests in shooting 3-pointers (79.8 percent) and free throws (32.7) and was the team’s third-leading scorer.
Seattle has all of the pieces to win without Stewart and Bird. The Storm are now hoping it all fits.
“Now it’s going to be us against the world,’’ interim head coach Gary Kloppenburg said. “Everybody wants us to fail. We can pull together and do something with what we have.”
He added: “I’m very optimistic we can be an outstanding team, still, even with all the setbacks we’ve had.”
The Storm’s season opener will air on ABC. Tipoff is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday.