Storm coach Dan Hughes will sit out 2020 season

2019 WNBA Playoffs - Minnesota Lynx v Seattle Storm Dan Hughes has been the head coach of the Storm since their championship season in 2018. | Photo by Joshua Huston/NBAE via Getty Images

Seattle Storm head coach Dan Hughes battled cancer in 2019 and will miss the 2020 WNBA season in Florida due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He is the first coach to opt out of the season and joins players Chiney Ogwumike, Kristi Toliver, Rebecca Allen, Tiffany Hayes, Renee Montgomery, Jonquel Jones, Natasha Cloud and LaToya Sanders in foregoing the season.

Seattle Storm head coach Dan Hughes will not be joining his team in the Bradenton, Florida, bubble during the 2020 WNBA season. The Storm announced on Monday that he would be at high risk of serious illness if he were to contract the coronavirus.

Hughes missed part of the 2019 season while recovering from cancer, a preexisting condition that increases the likelihood of serious illness or death from COVID-19.

With regards to this news, Hughes offered the following statement:

I am saddened that I won’t be able to travel with the team as everyone knows how much love I have for this organization. I am thankful to be in good health and looking forward to supporting Coach Klopp and the staff and players in any way I can this season.

Gary Kloppenburg, a current Storm assistant coach who served as head coach of the Tulsa Shock in 2012 and 2013, will take over head coaching duties. Former Storm player Noelle Quinn has been promoted to associate head coach.

Player opt-outs

After the deadline for players to opt out was extended, the Los Angeles Sparks announced this past Friday that forward/center Chiney Ogwumike and guard Kristi Toliver will be sitting out for the 2020 WNBA season.

Ogwumike and Toliver both cited health as their reason for not playing during these times. Ogwumike has had previous injuries that affected her decision:

If you know me, you know that I have overcome some of the biggest challenges an athlete can face on the court. ... My previous injuries have given me strength and built character, but unfortunately they require me to be careful with my preparation leading up to a season. This year is unprecedented in many ways, therefore my team and I have come to the decision to be proactively cautious and put my body first.

Toliver, meanwhile, said the following:

Though I want very much to compete with my team, to be a leader and show up for them, I am not comfortable with the risk to my physical health – short-term and long-term – given the many unknowns of COVID-19 and the risk of injury. ... For me, the right decision under the circumstances is to opt out for the year.

Both players mentioned playing a role in helping their communities while away from basketball with Toliver specifically mentioning “social justice issues.”

Ogwumike was the No. 1 overall pick in 2014 and is among the top players on the Sparks. Toliver has won two WNBA championships and is a dangerous 3-point weapon.

Last Thursday, the New York Liberty announced that Rebecca Allen will be sitting out for the 2020 WNBA season.

Allen, a sixth-year player who averaged 7.2 points per game last year, had the following to say about her decision:

This has absolutely been one of the toughest decisions, but after much thought and discussions, I have decided to opt out of the 2020 season in Florida. ... The uncertainty of the COVID-19 crisis and the logistical health risks related to travel have led me to conclude that it’s best if I not play in the WNBA this year.

Last Tuesday, Tiffany Hayes of the Atlanta Dream became the third star player to opt out of the 2020 WNBA season. Hayes said in a statement, “I believe there are much more important things (than basketball) to be thinking about in this moment” — leaving it open-ended as to whether she is sitting out due to racial injustice, the coronavirus or both.

Hayes, a 30-year-old guard who has played her entire career in Atlanta, possesses a career scoring average of 13.6 points per game. With her decision, Hayes joins Dream teammate Renee Montgomery, who announced last week that she will be skip the 2020 season to work on social justice reform.

The worst team in the league in 2019 with an 8-26 record, Atlanta has now lost two key pieces, leaving a lot of pressure on new additions Courtney Williams and Chennedy Carter, the latter of whom was the No. 4 overall pick in the 2020 WNBA Draft.

Last Monday, the Connecticut Sun announced that their best player, Jonquel Jones, will not be playing in the 2020 WNBA season. In 2019, she averaged 14.6 points and 9.7 rebounds per game, was a legitimate MVP candidate and led the Sun through a five-game WNBA Finals series with the eventual champion Washington Mystics.

Jones said regarding her decision:

After careful thought and consideration I’ve decided to forego the upcoming WNBA season and use this time to focus on personal, social, and familial growth. ... This was one of the toughest decisions I’ve made but the resurgence and unknown aspects of COVID-19 have raised serious health concerns that I do not feel comfortable competing in. I’d like to thank the Connecticut Sun organization, my teammates and fans for their unwavering support and understanding. While I won’t be competing this year I’m looking forward to lacing up with my teammates in 2021 and continuing the pursuit for a WNBA championship. Wishing the entire league and everyone involved a healthy and enjoyable season. Go Sun!

Later in the day last Monday, the Mystics announced Natasha Cloud, another key player from the 2019 WNBA Finals win, will sit the 2020 season along with teammate LaToya Sanders. Cloud is opting out of the season to further her social justice work while Sanders, who battles anemia, cited “health and family” as her reasons for not playing.

Cloud, who averaged nine points and 5.6 assists last year, has been one of the most vocal WNBA leaders of social justice reform movements. In a statement, she said:

This has been one of the toughest decisions of my career but I will be foregoing the 2020 WNBA season. ... There are a lot of factors that led to this decision, but the biggest one is that I am more than an athlete. I have a responsibility to myself, to my community and to my future children to fight for something that is much bigger than myself and the game of basketball. I will instead continue the fight for social reform, because until Black lives matter, all lives can’t matter.

The WNBA season is tentatively scheduled to tip off in late July from IMG Academy in Florida, where reported coronavirus cases are spreading rapidly.