- Michelle Smith, Contributor, espnW.com
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It's not an overstatement to say that this is a new day for the Seattle Storm.
Not since 2002, the year that Kelly Clarkson won the first "American Idol" and the first Harry Potter movie was released in theaters, have the Storm taken the floor without either Sue Bird or Lauren Jackson.
But Bird, the team's longtime point guard, is recovering from last week's surgery to remove a cyst in her knee. And Jackson, the seven-time All-Star and three-time league MVP, is at home in Australia resting after January surgery to repair her right hamstring, with no plans to return to the WNBA until 2014.
"We've played a lot of games since I've been here without Lauren," Storm coach Brian Agler said, referring to the fact that Jackson hasn't played a full season for the Storm since 2010 because of injuries and the 2012 Olympic break. "Not that we enjoy it, but we have a good feel for how that is We haven't played many games without Sue."
But Seattle will forge forward, hoping things turn out a little differently for them than, say, the injury-plagued Phoenix Mercury of 2012, who limped to a last-place finish in the West last season. Of course, the Mercury ended up with Brittney Griner, so that didn't turn out so badly after all.
But as good as most of the teams are in the West, it's an undeniably tough time to go without two of the league's most accomplished stars.
"I think the main thing is knowing that we aren't waiting for people to come back, knowing from the beginning who we have," eighth-year forward Camille Little said. "We have our group, we know who is going to be here, and we are working together right now. I think that will help us develop some good chemistry."
Chemistry will need to be created this season. The core of veterans, Little, Tanisha Wright and Tina Thompson, will have to find a rhythm with young talent such as Shekinna Stricklen and Alysha Clark. And there's a crop of veteran newcomers -- point guard Temeka Johnson, Noelle Quinn and Nakia Sanford, all experienced WNBA players -- who will have to mix in as well and learn Agler's system.
"We need to build an identity," Wright, now the longest-tenured player on the roster at nine seasons, said. "I think we've always been a team that's played well at the defensive end, a team that just flat-out outworks people and grinds things out, and I don't think that will change. We are going to make all the hustle plays, and there's never going to be a lack of energy or effort; so, in that way, I don't think things will be different."
But without floor general Bird running the show, they can't help but be a little different. Johnson, who won a championship with Phoenix in 2009, is an experienced WNBA point guard with a penchant for pushing the ball and the pace.
"Sue is so good and so smart and she will take her time and pick you apart," Wright said. "She's methodical about it. But Temeka wants to get up and down. I think we can create some havoc."
Agler said he knows it will take some time for he and Johnson to be on the same page.
"I'm looking for Temeka to do a lot of the same things [as Bird], but I think it's going to take a little bit of time," Agler said. "She's a great competitor, and I have a lot of confidence in her."
The Storm will be looking not only for leaders and a good mesh, but for go-to offensive players. Little is the top candidate. She was the Storm's second-leading scorer last season behind Bird at 11.3 points a game, a career-best scoring average.
Johnson averaged 12.2 points a game in Tulsa last season.
Wright, who averaged 7.9 points and 4.4 assists in 2012, said she is looking forward to the opportunity to increase her impact on the floor as a player and a leader.
"When you have players like Sue and Lauren, they are the center of everything you do," Wright said. "Obviously, you revolve around those two because of how good they are. But when you don't have a team that has that, everybody else has an opportunity to step up and show what they can give.
"And we need people to bring everything out of their repertoire."
15dBonnie D. Ford