SEATTLE (AP) – The Seattle Storm got used to star center Lauren Jackson being absent because of injuries and commitments with the Australian national team.
Now, they’ll have to adjust to playing without Jackson and floor leader Sue Bird.
Both will miss the entire season while recovering from major surgeries. Jackson is rehabbing her hamstring, and Bird recently had knee surgery.
The rest of the team will have to step up without two stalwarts who led Seattle to two WNBA championships during their careers. Those veterans include Tina Thompson, Tanisha Wright and Camille Little.
“I definitely think it’s going to take some time,” Thompson said. “The personality of our team is going to be very blue collar. We’re going to be a very hard-working team. Defense is definitely going to be a staple and personality of this team.”
It also provides opportunities for younger players, including Seattle’s first-round pick Tianna Hawkins of Maryland and second-year player Shekinna Stricklen.
The Storm open on the road Sunday at Los Angeles against the Sparks and star Candace Parker. They get a week off before hosting No. 1 pick Brittany Griner and Phoenix for their home opener on June 2.
The first month of the season will be a crash course in jelling the veterans, free-agent signings and younger players. Seattle’s offseason additions included guards Noelle Quinn and Temeka Johnson, and forward Nakia Sanford.
“The general public sort of sees us being is a non-factor. But I beg to differ,” Seattle coach Brian Agler said. “I’m excited about this season. There are a lot of things about it that are going to be challenging, but we welcome challenges here.”
A year ago, the Storm played the majority of the season without Jackson, who remained in Australia to prepare for the London Olympics. She played in just nine games and hasn’t played a full season since 2010, when Seattle won its second league title. In her nine games after the Olympics, she averaged a career-low 10.2 points.
Jackson underwent hamstring surgery in January and announced a month later she would bypass the WNBA season while she recovered and tried to get healthy for the first time in years.
The loss of Jackson was significant for a team with enough pieces in place to be a contender even without her. But Jackson’s loss was amplified when Bird announced in March that she’d have surgery to remove a cyst from her right knee and needed six months to recover.
The two All-Stars will be spectators for a franchise that’s come to expect nothing less than reaching the postseason.
Wright would seem to have the best chance of emerging from the shadow of her two injured teammates, having spent her entire career with the Storm and becoming a two-time all-WNBA defensive team selection.
“It gives us an opportunity to step out of our comfort zone and challenge ourselves,” said Wright, who has never averaged more than 12 points.
Little has averaged 10 points in her four previous seasons with Seattle, and Thompson averaged nearly 9.0 points a season ago. But they’ll need to improve offensively to make up for Bird and Jackson’s absence.
Seattle’s also hopeful about the development of Stricklen, who averaged 8.1 points as a rookie in 2012, the most by any Seattle rookie since Bird in 2002.
“The ability to find our identity as quick as possible is going to be very, very important,” Agler said.
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