Storm coach Brian Agler has been busy on the phone since free agency opened on Friday. Not talking. Texting. And most of those messages have been to the Storm’s frontline, three of which have major decisions to make.
Agler, who’s also director of player personnel, confirmed under the league’s new salary cap, he can’t keep his entire post rotation from last season. Forward Camille Little is under contract while two-time MVP Lauren Jackson is expected to sign a two-year deal once contracts can be finalized on Feb. 1. But a decision has to be made between centers Janell Burse, Suzy Batkovic-Brown and Ashley Robinson.
Burse averaged the most minutes (15.9), starting eight games when Jackson suffered a season-ending back injury last summer. Burse also averaged 6.1 points and 3.1 rebounds, her worst outing since her rookie season. Batkovic-Brown took time to get re-acclimated to the WNBA, last playing in 2005, averaging 2.4 points and 1.5 boards. Robinson struggled with her offensive shot, averaging 6.4 minutes.
Burse is entering the second year of her contract, which bumps her salary up to about $95,000. Robinson and Batkovic-Brown’s contracts expired, but Robinson, a seven-year vet, is in a higher veteran salary bracket while Batkovic-Brown (pictured right by the WNBA) would have to take a serious pay cut to return. A native Australian, she’s trying to have children, making her return uncertain.
“We’re going to have to make a decision based on salary cap fit more than a player’s physical ability to make our team better,” Agler said. “I wish we had the money, but it is what it is.”
The cap is $28,000 less than it was last season at $775,000 and the maximum salary is $101,500 for a player re-signing with their original team – $99,000 if not.
Agler said the players would have to vie for the coveted position at training camp, a situation Burse didn’t exactly want given her tenure in the league. Yet, according to Agler, a trade would be difficult because of her near-maximum contract.
Teams already strapped financially would have to find her equally valuable as Seattle.
“I really like Janell as a person,” Agler said. “She wants to play someplace where she can contribute. She’s not a person who wants to come in and collect a salary and leave. She wants more. I respect that.
“What happens is going to be up to Janell. But she’ll have to come in and work hard and take advantage of the opportunity.”
Aside from deciding on the trio, Agler does want to get stronger inside through free agency, get “tougher” mentally and find a solid backup PG to replace Shannon Johnson, who retired last year.
The coach has been in contact with Detroit All-Star Katie Smith, but she would like to play for the Washington Mystics. Smith, who’s currently playing overseas, also is questionable health-wise.
“If Washington doesn’t happen, Seattle is a place she would strongly consider,” said Agler, who coached Smith in the defunct ABL and Minnesota. The cap would, again, be a factor, however. “We’re in strong contention. For Katie Smith, we’d try to make something happen.”
Agler said he’s had good talks with either players or agents in getting deals lined up for the Feb. 1 signing period. Another name considered is Chicago unrestricted free agent Dominique Canty. But big names like Smith will have to fall into place before other names are locked up.
The Storm has seven players under contract.
“There are going to be some very good players left off rosters because of the money each team has to spend,” Agler said. “You’re going to be shocked. The All-Star players will be there, but it’ll be interesting what that nine, 10, 11 player looks like. Rookies and one or two-year players — more than what teams had in the past.”
NOTE: Speaking of Jackson. She’s reported healthy after missing the end of the Storm’s season due to two stress fractures in her lower back. The Aussie was named WNBL Player of the Week today and she plays Batkovic-Brown’s team Saturday.
Little, who turned 25 on Monday, signed with Ramat Chen in Israel last week. She scored 10 points and had eight rebounds in her debut, helping her team upset Ramla 73-72.