The Seattle Storm parted ways with head coach Brian Agler and have started making moves to rebuild the franchise. The questions now are how long will it take and who will their key pieces ultimately be?
The Seattle Storm franchise is one of the best in the WNBA. Two of the league’s Top-15 players of All-Time have spent their entire careers there with Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson being the faces of the franchise for over the past decade.
Since 2008 when Force 10 Hoops bought the franchise from Seattle SuperSonics owner Clay Bennett, Brian Agler has been the Storm’s head coach and general manager. In the first four years, his team won 20 or more games each season, which included a dominant run to the 2010 WNBA championship. This helped him solidify his place as one of the best head coaches in the league.
However, after winning the 2010 title, he has attempted to continue building around Bird and Jackson by acquiring veteran players who were past their prime, which has ultimately been nothing more than a band-aid as the years went by and the team slipped into mediocrity.
By the end of the 2014 regular season, Seattle was left in the cellar along with the Tulsa Shock with a 12-22 record.
Nobody will question whether Agler is a good coach. I believe that his 2013 performance as a head coach was superb. But as a general manager, he is responsible for making sure that he has his team on the right track long term. That’s where he fell short. Although the Storm won the first overall pick in the 2015 WNBA Draft, it really doesn’t send the right message when Agler represented the team on that night: this franchise is best moving on from Agler and it should have been done after the end of the 2014 season. And although I believe that this should have been done earlier, the news about Jackson missing the 2014 FIBA World Championships due to nagging injuries should be the final straw.
As I’ve said before, I don’t like the way Agler is building this team.
He still refuses to infuse his roster with young players, in particular when most people can see that Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson will never play like they did during most of the 2000’s again. Seeing both Bird and Jackson take the 2013 season off due to injury should have been his last chance to turn things around with youth.
Agler could have acquired multiple young prospects, played them often, and have that group help lead Bird (and possibly Jackson) to one more deep playoff run if things played out right with them. Sure, that team would have likely missed the playoffs. However going young in 2013 could have helped Seattle acquire one of the Top-4 picks in the 2014 Draft, which really could have helped long term.
Instead, he chose to acquire Temeka Johnson who is only two years younger than Bird. And he depended on a 38-year old Tina Thompson to lead the 2013 team to a 17-17 record instead of giving many of those minutes to rookie post Tianna Hawkins and other young players who could have been on the team. Then in 2014, after learning that Jackson would be out again, Agler decided to acquire Washington Mystics forward Crystal Langhorne in exchange for Hawkins and his first round draft pick, Bria Hartley, who he drafted for D.C.
I showed you the Mystics’ side of the deal from Monumental Network. Here’s the Storm’s side from the team’s YouTube channel:
Instead of making this deal, Agler should have just drafted Natalie Achonwa (or another prospect he had rated highly). This is even if she wasn’t going to play in 2014 due to an ACL tear:
Storm Brian Agler intended draft Natalie Achonwa. Natasha Howard to Indy put Wash-Sea trade in play. Mike Thibault wanted Hartley #WNBADraft
— Jayda Evans (@JaydaEvans) April 15, 2014
This team needs to rebuild with youth now. The 2015 first round pick is certainly a welcome addition, but Seattle needs more than just that pick. Considering Agler’s past history trading first round picks — or not playing them enough in Shekinna Stricklen’s case — I’m well past the point of no return here. Agler isn’t suddenly going to change and do what Mike Thibault, Fred Williams, and Anne Donovan are doing for their teams. And even if he does, it’s too little, too late to change my mind at this point.
Still, firing Agler isn’t the only solution for this team — it’s really just to clear the way for a new coach who wants to rebuild a team with a storied past and also a bright future. That would include the Storm parting ways with its most desirable veteran players, like Langhorne and Camille Little in addition to Bird and Jackson. All of these players should be flipped for draft picks and other young players who are better fits for the team’s future.
I get that trading all of these players, in particular Bird and Jackson may make Seattle fans unhappy. It sometimes sounds like I only care about young teams and disparage older ones. So I make sure that I note Mystics owner Ted Leonsis’ Ten Point Rebuilding Plan piece again from time to time.
In 2009, Leonsis gave SB Nation Washington Redskins blog Hogs Haven his Ten Point Rebuilding Plan for the Washington Capitals NHL team. The principles in that plan have also been used for the Washington Wizards NBA team and the Mystics — I even say this despite my concerns about their rebuild. You can read that plan by clicking to the right of, or above this paragraph.
Yes, it’s true that no Monumental team has won a title during Leonsis’ ownership. But it’s also undeniable that these 10 points are all things that a rebuilding team needs to do in order to become a contender long term. Then let the chips fall where they may.
Let’s go back to that Langhorne-Hartley/Hawkins deal in 2014 again. The Mystics’ acquisition for Hartley and Hawkins fits in exactly with Point 3 of the plan, where veterans are traded for a volume of younger players. Before, some Mystics fans may have felt that a Langhorne-less team would go nowhere. But now, they don’t feel that way, and believe that the future is brighter because of it.
As for the Storm, it’s in the franchise’s interest to get a fair share of “Bria Hartleys” in exchange for teams that could use current veterans’ skills to win now. Doing so could help accelerate the rebuild.
Even though I believe that Agler and the Storm should part ways, I also don’t expect this to happen. He probably will be with this team until his contract runs out in 2015, probably with a veteran-laden roster. And though he is cautious about potentially bringing Jackson back, who knows whether he still believes that he can make one more deep playoff run with Bird and Jackson.
There are other WNBA teams who can use his coaching expertise to help them get over the hump. But he is not a good fit for a team that needs to hit the reset button.
Sure, I’m not a Storm fan like Nate is, but I did admire Bird and Jackson Era when they were at their peak. However, now is the time for this team to move on to a bright new beginning with a new core. Hopefully this team will do that.
For more on the teams already looking ahead to next year, check out our 2015 WNBA Draft section.