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Sue Bird Is Back! But the Storm Have Other Moves to Make.

What does the legend’s return mean for Seattle’s offseason?

As Sue Bird stood next to her college teammate and longtime friend Diana Taurasi following the Storm’s 85–80 single-elimination second-round loss to the Mercury last September, the Seattle crowd started to serenade its beloved star.

“One more year. One more year,” they pleaded, as Taurasi, standing to Bird’s left, motioned for the chants to continue.

Bird clearly took that gesture to heart. On Friday, she reshared the moment in an Instagram post captioned, “OK. Let’s gooooo.” Put simply, Sue Bird is returning for her 19th WNBA season (though she cannot officially re-sign with Seattle until Feb. 1).

Bird turned 41 this past October and already holds the record for most seasons played in the WNBA. Age aside, however, she remains among the league’s most crafty guards.

Last season, according to Basketball-Reference, Bird put up her second-highest win share total since 2012. The WNBA’s all-time assists leader is still a skillful passer and plays in complete control when out on the floor: Her 2.9 turnovers per 100 possessions last year, for example, was the best mark of her career.

What Bird’s return means for the Storm

Bird played only 27.7 minutes per game during the 2021 season, her lowest average (minimum 15 games played). But when out on the floor, she showed great synergy with those around her. It’s no surprise that Bird, guard Jewell Loyd and forward Breanna Stewart recorded a +10.9 net rating in 646 minutes together last season, and it’s hard to find key teammates that she didn’t make better. Both center Mercedes Russell and forward Katie Lou Samuelson, for example, thrived alongside Bird, putting up a +13 net rating and +6.3 net rating, respectively.

Seattle raced out to an 11–2 start last year, having amassed a league-best eight double-digit wins in the first month of the season. And the Storm took home the inaugural Commissioner’s Cup in August, looking poised for another championship push before an injury to Breanna Stewart derailed the team’s second-half and postseason chances. When healthy, Bird remains an integral part of Seattle’s Big Three. Even playing fewer minutes, it’s fair to expect a similarly high level of production.

This summer will also likely be her last as a player. In November, Bird told Ryan Ruocco on the R2C2 podcast, that the weight of not knowing if last year would be her last weighed on her at times, saying, “If I play next year, it will be my last year. I just don’t know if I’m playing yet.”

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What does Bird’s return mean for Seattle’s offseason?

It answers one key question for the Storm. But the team still could look significantly different next year. Stewart, like Bird is an unrestricted free agent, though the 27-year-old forward told reporters last fall that she “plan[s] on being back unless something crazy happens.” Loyd is also an unrestricted free agent, and her future seems far more uncertain.

Loyd told reporters after the season that she was “going to take this time to have a break, talk with my family, talk with Stewie and everyone else. Reevaluate where I’m at in my life and my career and go forward from there."

At 28, the star guard played on her first U.S. Olympic team this past summer and has emerged in recent years as one of the WNBA’s top playmakers, averaging 17.8 points and nearly four assists per game. It’s fully possible she’ll elect to sign elsewhere, where she might play an even bigger role.

That decision would certainly limit Seattle’s ceiling going forward and put even more pressure on Bird to perform entering Year 19.

Stewart and Bird were, not surprisingly, effective when playing together, logging a +8.2 net rating in 735 minutes last season. But that minutes total also marked the least amount of time they had spent on the floor together (excluding 2020, when Bird played just 11 games) since Stewart entered the league in ’16. Could Stewart and Bird lead Seattle back to the playoffs if Loyd doesn’t return to the team? Absolutely. But would Seattle likely need to make other moves to match the expected firepower of the Sun, Sky and Aces? Without a doubt. (Keep in mind Russell, Jordin Canada and Stephanie Talbot all are also restricted free agents, per Her Hoops Stats.)

Bird’s announcement Friday is merely one answer—albeit a still significant one—in an offseason that will go a long way in shaping both the short- and long-term future of the franchise. For fans of the Storm, and the WNBA alike, it’s exciting that Bird will return to the court in 2022. But that’s just Step 1 for the Storm.

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