May 18, 2016

SEATTLE (AP) Sue Bird understands the Seattle Storm are evolving.

They are moving away from the time when the team was defined by the combination of Bird and Lauren Jackson, arguably the most recognizable set of teammates in the WNBA for nearly a decade, to the period where the team's next generation of No. 1 picks, Jewell Loyd last year and Breanna Stewart this year, are coming to the fore.

None of this needs to be explained to Bird, even as she remains one of the premier players in the league.

''She's a legend,'' Stewart said.

Bird began her 15th WNBA season last week in Seattle's season-opening loss at Los Angeles. She's now 35 years old, surrounded mostly by young players as the Storm continue to rebuild around Loyd and Stewart, who should eventually be the reason the Storm rediscover success.

But Bird still remains the American standard for point guards. It's why she's on yet another Olympic team bound for Brazil later this summer. And it's why Bird will be the one to decide when she's ready to walk away from the professional game.

When she re-signed with Seattle in the offseason, Bird made certain she had a multi-year deal. She didn't want her contract status to determine when the final year of her career arrives.

''Truthfully, the way I view it is a one-year plan. Everybody has their own (way). Tamika Catchings is an example of somebody who announced her retirement early. Then Ray Allen is somebody I communicate with and he is somebody that never announced it. Just stopped. But that was what was right for him,'' Bird said.

''I think every player when it comes to their retirement only knows how they are going to feel and how they want to do it. And right now what is working for me in my own little mind is a one-year plan. So I'm going to take it one year at a time and see how I feel health-wise and see how I feel mentally even and just go small little portions of time at a time. The multi-year deal, all that really did was not have my retirement (dictated) by a contract. What if I signed a one-year? Everybody would be asking about it. Multi-year just gives me the room to make the decision on my own.''

Even with Seattle's potential after rebuilding through the draft, Bird has been exposed to a level of losing the past two seasons that she's never faced before in her career. When she arrived in the WNBA as a rookie in 2002, the Storm started on a run of 10 straight seasons of finishing with a .500 record or better, including two league titles. Bird and the Storm won at least 16 games in each of her first 12 seasons in the league.

The last two years, Seattle has won 22 combined.

''Even though last year through all the losing it was still an enjoyable experience, and I knew we would be better and I knew it would be more enjoyable,'' Bird said.

Bird has started preparing for when the time comes to step away. She did not go to Europe for the second straight offseason and started working as a television analyst for women's college basketball games on ESPN. Bird already sees that as a way to stay connected whenever she decides to retire.

''The ESPN stuff has been awesome,'' Bird said. ''It definitely gets your juices flowing. Live television; you have to be on and ready. It's kind of cool in that way.''

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