For the first time in what seems like forever, the Storm will have to plan on a future without Sue Bird, their quintessential point guard who plans to retire at the end of the season.
Since her arrival in the 2002 WNBA draft as the No. 1 overall pick, the 41-year-old star has become synonymous with the 22-year-old franchise while playing 19 seasons over 21 years.
Together, they’ve won four league championships (2004, 2010, 2018 and 2020), two conference titles and the 2021 inaugural WNBA Commissioner’s Cup.
Bird, who sat out 2013 and 2019 due to knee injuries, has started in each of her 614 games, including playoffs, while compiling a 352-262 overall record. The 5-foot-9 playmaker has played in 78% of the Storm’s all-time games and 84.2% of the team’s wins.
Before the Storm raise her No. 10 jersey to the rafters, build her a statue outside Climate Pledge Arena and possibly rename a street Sue Bird Pass, they’ll need to do what was once unthinkable and find another point guard to lead Seattle.
“We’re never going to replace Sue Bird,” coach Noelle Quinn succinctly said. “We can cross that bridge when it comes.”
Quinn is keenly focused on wrapping up Seattle’s five-game road trip on a positive note following a fourth-quarter meltdown in Friday night’s 82-71 defeat against the Connecticut Sun, which halted a four-game win streak.
The Storm (9-6) face the New York Liberty (6-9) at 9 a.m. PT Sunday, which is the last time Bird, a Syosset, New York native, will play in her home state.
And Seattle’s overarching goal is to put itself in position to compete for a WNBA championship.
But when the season ends in September, the Storm will be in the market for Bird’s replacement.
Considering Bird’s backup, 35-year-old Briann January, has said this will be her last year in the WNBA and repeatedly refused to change her mind, Seattle will likely need to look elsewhere for its next point guard.
Here’s a look at a few possible candidates to replace Bird.
Kelsey Plum | Las Vegas Aces | 5-8 | 5th year
Analysis: This might be the most favorable scenario for Seattle-area fans who watched the former Washington Huskies star set the NCAA all-time scoring record and carry UW to three NCAA tournaments, including the 2016 Final Four. It’s still somewhat inexplicable that Washington hasn’t retired her No. 10 jersey.
Admittedly, Plum, the No. 1 overall WNBA draft pick in 2016, struggled her first three years in the league. Last year, she won the league’s Sixth Woman of the Year award and captured an Olympic gold medal with the U.S. 3×3 women’s basketball team.
This season, the 27-year-old Plum is second in the WNBA in scoring (20.1 points per game), tied for fourth in assists (5.9) and will likely be selected to her first WNBA All-Star Game.
Plum is an unrestricted free agent after the season, but Las Vegas could use its core designation to retain her.
Courtney Vandersloot | Chicago Sky | 5-8 | 12th year
Analysis: The 33-year-old Kent, Washington, native who starred at Gonzaga reportedly met with the Storm in the offseason and discussed plans to finish her brilliant WNBA career at home.
If anyone has the cache to fill Bird’s shoes, it’s Vandersloot, who is fourth on the WNBA’s all-time assist list at 2,278 behind Bird (3,118), Tina Penicheiro (2,600) and Lindsay Whalen (2,348).
Vandersloot, who has led the league in passing in each of the last five seasons, is second this season at 7.0. She’s also averaging 11.1 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.1 steals.
Vandersloot helped Chicago to its first WNBA title last year, but the two sides engaged in a prolonged contract negotiations during offseason before she signed a one-year deal.
Vandersloot has several ties to the Storm, including assistant Pokey Chatman, who was her former Sky head coach, and Breanna Stewart, her teammate with the Russian team UMMC Ekaterinburg.
It should be noted, Vandersloot and her wife Allie Quigley are believed to be a package deal and both are unrestricted free agents.
Jordin Canada | Los Angeles Sparks | 5-6 | 5th year
Analysis: There was a time when the Storm considered their No. 5 overall pick in the 2018 draft would be Bird’s successor. Canada spent three years as Bird’s understudy and filled in admirably in 2019 while Bird sat out and helped the Storm to an 18-16 record and a playoff win.
At her best, Canada is a defensive menace who led the WNBA with 2.3 steals in 2019 and a quick playmaker who can score around the rim.
However, the Storm ultimately soured on Canada, perhaps in part due to her career 17% three-point shooting percentage and didn’t re-sign the restricted free agent this year. She landed with Los Angeles on a bargain one-year deal worth $98,000.
This season, she’s averaging career highs in points (10.4) and assists (5.4). Canada is shooting a career-high 47.1% on two-point shots, but has converted just 2 of 18 three-point attempts (11.1%).
Kiana Williams | 5-10 | 2nd year
Analysis: The Storm drafted the former Stanford standout with the No. 18 overall pick in the second round of the 2021 WNBA draft. Due to a logjam in the backcourt, Williams appeared in just eight games last year before being released on June 28.
Williams began the 2022 season with the Phoenix Mercury and was released at the end of training camp. When Bird went on the league’s health and safety protocols, Williams joined the Storm and appeared in three games while averaging 1.7 points, 1.7 assists and 9.0 minutes.
Jade Melbourne | Australia | 5-10 | Rookie
Analysis: The Storm took a flyer on the 19-year-old Aussie and secured her WNBA rights with the third-round pick in the 2022 draft.
Much like fellow countrywoman Ezi Magbegor, who was 19 and selected by Seattle in the 2019 draft, Melbourne is staying home for at least a year and playing with the Australian national team this year.
Early reports have been promising, but it remains to be seen if Melbourne is more suited to be a point guard or shooting guard.