Lauren Jackson, a three-time WNBA MVP, officially pulled out of contention to compete with Basketball Australia in the FIBA World Championships later this month in Turkey. Instead she underwent a surgical procedure Tuesday on her hip and will continue rehabilitation on her right knee, which was first operated on in February.
It’s another episode in “Jackson Watch” for Storm fans. The organization hasn’t seen a healthy Jackson dress for the team since the 6-foot-6 post won it a WNBA championship in 2010, also earning the regular-season and Finals’ MVP honors. The 33-year-old Australian hasn’t played at all for the Storm since 2012.
In Jackson’s basketball calendar, the Storm is third due to national team obligations and overseas play during the WNBA-offseason’s winter months. This cycle, the global star suffered the knee injury in China last winter and had to miss the 2014 WNBA season to rehabilitate with the goal of playing with the Opals in Turkey.
Given this week’s setback, Jackson’s new aim is to play in November for the Canberra Capitals in her home country’s WNBL. That season tips in October and will crown its champion in March.
The WNBA season would fall next for Jackson, the American league typically opening training camp in April. But many doubt that will happen and wonder if she will ever play for Seattle again due to the rash of injuries and increasing age.
“When she’s made decisions based on the national team and/or injury, naturally it frustrates some people,” said Storm coach Brian Agler, who said he talks or texts with Jackson about three times a week. “She’s fought a lot of injures the last four or five years. In my seven years here, I don’t know the exact number, but I think she’s played in less than 33 percent of the games and it was mostly based on being injured.”
In total, Tuesday’s hip surgery was Jackson’s fifth operation this year. Since 2010, she’s had surgeries on her hip (2011), Achilles (2011), and hamstring (2013).
Jackson’s first documented surgery since being drafted by Seattle with the top overall pick in 2001 was on her shoulder following that WNBA season. She didn’t return to Seattle after the 2008 Olympics due to ankle surgery. After returning from the 2012 Olympics and playing nine games for Seattle due to nagging injuries, Jackson said she should’ve listened to her aching body and not played that WNBA season.
The Storm lost in the opening-round of the WNBA playoffs to Minnesota, Jackson missing a last-second shot that could’ve advanced the team to the Western Conference Finals. Jackson has averaged 18.9 points and 7.7 rebounds in her 12-year career in Seattle, winning two WNBA championships.
Knowing Jackson’s health, Agler doubted in August she would play in the World Championships. Also the Storm’s general manager, Agler didn’t rule Jackson out for the 2015 season but stated, “we’re talking right now about somebody who’s not on the court, yet.”
“It’s hard to gauge (Jackson’s return to Seattle),” Agler said. “Everybody in Seattle has been disappointed with Lauren not being here but it’s hard to blame somebody about that when they’ve been injured. They (fans) also understand how good of a player she is and how much impact she makes on an organization or on a team when she is healthy and she is playing. So, I don’t even know if we can get into any discussion about her until we know that she’s healthy enough to play.”
The last remaining year on Jackson’s WNBA contract was suspended in 2013 when she underwent hamstring surgery. It dissolved under the new collective-bargaining agreement signed in 2014, but Seattle did retain Jackson’s rights.
Agler acquired F Crystal Langhorne, a two-time all-star, in a trade with Washington as a stopgap for Jackson missing the 2014 season. The move didn’t result in success, the Storm finishing at 12-22 — its worst record since Jackson led Seattle to a 10-22 finish her rookie season. The WNBA played a 32-game schedule then.
This year, Seattle missed the postseason for the first time since 2003. It won the ensuing draft lottery to gain the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 draft. Agler plans to utilize the coveted advantage to get younger, a necessity further heightened by Jackson’s latest injuries.
“With Lauren and being here in Seattle, a big part of that is going to be based on her heath,” Agler said. “As an organization, we will closely monitor that throughout the wintertime as she plays in Australia. And will also base that on how we want to move forward in a bigger picture with our organization.”
Jackson, who signed a three-year deal worth approximately $900,000 AUD to play with the Capitals, assured fans via Twitter she’d be on the court by November.
@Jovianshadow @CanberraCaps YEAH I AM PUMPED ABOUT THIS YEAR. IT WILL BE FUN AND I will def be in a uniform with the Canberra this year.
— Lauren Jackson (@laurenej15) September 2, 2014