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Thursday, May 18, 2006
Updated: May 19, 9:30 AM ET
Inside the Storm

Editor's note: Before the 2006 season tips off, ESPN's Nancy Lieberman and's Mechelle Voepel and Graham Hays each tackle one question facing all 14 WNBA teams. Here, the experts take a closer look at the Seattle Storm.

The Storm went 20-14 in the 2005 regular season before losing in three games to Houston in the first round of the playoffs. Coach Anne Donovan enters her fourth season in Seattle.

Lauren Jackson was tops in scoring (17.6 ppg), rebounds (9.2 rpg) and blocks (1.97 bpg). Sue Bird dished out a Storm-best 5.9 apg, while Betty Lennox led the way with 1.25 spg.
ROSTER | STATS | SCHEDULE's Storm preview

Did offseason changes make the team better, the same or worse?

Despite having already cut two of their three draft picks (they cut third-round pick Erin Grant almost immediately and waived second-rounder Delila Eshe on May 4), the Storm got better and added some quality depth with their offseason moves.

Seattle -- which returns all five starters -- will live and die by its incredible 1-2 punch of Lauren Jackson and Sue Bird. But two new faces stick out: Barbara Turner and Wendy Palmer.

Turner might not have been expected to a be a first-round selection, but the 11th overall pick is a hard worker, and with coach Anne Donovan trying to shore up her defense, Turner could be a good fit.

Palmer is one of just seven original players left from the WNBA's inaugural season. The 6-foot-2 forward is one of the league's top rebounders (6.0 career average) and gives Seattle some added depth and another dependable scorer (10.8 ppg for her career).

After losing Francesca Zara in the expansion draft, however, the one question mark still looming is this: Who is Seattle's backup point guard? That's why it was so surprising that Texas Tech's Grant got cut so quickly.

And it's not a stretch to say that Seattle is still recovering a bit from being decimated by free agency two years ago. -- ESPN's Nancy Lieberman

What's the best-case scenario for the team? Worst-case?

Best-case: Lauren Jackson uses the season as an intense training ground for September's 2006 World Championship, remaining committed to the Storm's season and putting together another MVP-quality summer. Sue Bird maintains her improved shot selection (44 percent from behind the arc over the last two seasons) but becomes more aggressive and equals her career-best scoring average of 14.4 points per game while still averaging fewer than three turnovers. Betty Lennox shoots like she did in Seattle's championship season, one of only two times in her career she has shot better than 40 percent from the field. Full seasons from Suzy Batkovic and new arrival Wendy Palmer, as well as reliable Janell Burse, give the Storm the kind of frontcourt depth behind Jackson that they lacked at times last season.

Worst-case: Pressure from back home distracts Jackson, especially as the WNBA postseason approaches. Or, worse yet, the stress fractures in both of Jackson's legs -- she's playing through the injuries -- act up and force her out of the lineup for an extended time or severely curtail her minutes. Palmer, who has been terrific the last two seasons for Connecticut and San Antonio, reverts back to the form that nearly saw her lose the spot in the league she has held since 1997. Tanisha Wright doesn't develop after showing promise as a rookie, and Barbara Turner is unable to justify the team's decision to invest a first-round pick in a player with toughness but without a defined position. --'s Graham Hays

As the WNBA celebrates its 10-year anniversary, what does this franchise mean to the league?

Seattle means great possibility … and worrisome uncertainty. The fans' thunderous response in the 2004 championship season was terrific to see. The local media coverage of the team is very good. Women's pro basketball definitely can thrive there. But the city and the SuperSonics/Storm might be at an impasse over the teams' future at Key Arena. Will there be upgrades there? A new arena built in the city or the suburbs? Who will pay for what? Or will the teams move elsewhere? It's all still up in the air. --'s Mechelle Voepel