The Storm announced Tuesday the signing of unrestricted free agent Le’coe Willingham, a starter on Phoenix’s 2009 championship squad. Willingham, a 6-foot versatile post, averaged 10.0 points and 4.2 rebounds during the title run.
The six-year veteran (pictured right by The Arizona Republic) was available because of Phoenix’s inability to manage mega salaries under the altered salary cap. The WNBA and union approved a $28,000 drop from last season, agreeing to a $775,000 cap this summer as a cost-cutting measure.
The original CBA called for an $827,000 cap this summer, which would have allowed the Mercury to sign stars Penny Taylor (unrestricted), Temeka Johnson (restricted), and Cappie Pondexter (restricted). The Mercury, which re-signed coach Corey Gaines this offseason, previously stated the aforementioned were a priority to retain and Taylor spoke of her intentions to re-sign with the team on overseas teammate Chasity Melvin’s blog.
Phoenix’s loss will certainly help Seattle. Willingham is a workhorse like F Camille Little who already told coach Brian Agler that she doesn’t mind playing off the bench. Willingham started 61 of her 68 games in Phoenix the past two seasons, 2008 being the breakout year of her career.
Willingham, an Auburn alum who first signed with Connecticut in 2004 after going undrafted, averaged a career-best 10.1 points on 57 percent shooting in 2008. She also grabbed a career-best 5.9 boards.
“I enjoy doing the little things that don’t always get noticed all the time,” Willingham told the team via phone from Spain where she’s currently playing. “I’m very passionate about what I do and I love basketball. I’ve been undersized all my life and I’ve adjusted to that. I bring toughness, I think.”
But Willingham’s addition starts the clock on centers Ashley Robinson and Suzy Batkovic-Brown’s careers in Seattle. Batkovic-Brown, a newlywed, may not have returned anyway. The Australian suffered a knee injury last week, but a MRI didn’t reveal any major damage.
She would like to start a family while Robinson, an unrestricted free agent, isn’t nearly as productive as Willingham. A 6-foot-4 post who did not play overseas, Robinson averaged 0.5 points and 0.9 in 26 games last season. A Dallas native, she will represent the Storm at the NBA All-Star game this weekend, however, and should be invited to training camp if she doesn’t sign with another WNBA team.
“We need to add one more post player, preferably a younger post player,” said Agler in a team release. “And we’d like to add a player who can support us at the one and two positions.”
Center Janell Burse is currently under contract and contemplating her future. Given the salaries, Agler has already stated he can’t keep all of the post players. Especially since two-time MVP Lauren Jackson is expected to re-sign for a maximum deal and Burse makes near the max salary ($101,500).
In other WNBA free agent news, Minnesota star Seimone Augustus re-signed with the Lynx on Monday and Detroit All-Star Deanna Nolan’s agent has intimated one of the league’s most electric players will not return this summer.
Nolan’s Russian team would like her to rest her nagging injuries. She did re-sign with the former Detroit Shock, but her camp is calling that moot since the team relocated to Tulsa.
Meanwhile former Sacramento PG Ticha Penicheiro signed with Los Angeles and teammate Kara Lawson signed with Connecticut.