The WNBA released its schedule on Wednesday. The Storm season-opener is May 26 in Los Angeles. The home-opener is against Phoenix at 6pm on June 2 at KeyArena. Seattle plays Phoenix and LA four times each this summer and has 10 weekend games overall.
But, of course, the news of the day is three-time WNBA MVP Lauren Jackson opting to skip the 2013 season in order to fully recover from right hamstring surgery in January. The native Australian is already missing her WNBL season and said Wednesday she’s uncertain whether she’ll even be able to play for the Canberra Capitals in 2013-14.
“With the Capitals, what if in June I’m feeling great and running and want to play but I can’t?” said Jackson, who’s already forgoing a combined $400,000 to fully heal her body for the first time in her 12-year pro career. “There’s a team in Albury and I’ll be working out with them (eventually). I’m giving up a lot but I have to do this. And the team will probably be better from this as well.”
No one was blindsided by the decision. Storm coach and GM Brian Agler and Karen Bryant, the team’s CEO and president, were involved in talks since November. Both expressed concern for Jackson, not wanting her to experience any more pain. Bryant said the organization intimated to her in January that it would be OK to miss the season.
“We hadn’t yet ordered our bobbleheads,” Bryant joked of holding a planned giveaway for Jackson last year that the Olympian couldn’t attend due to commitments for being her country’s flag bearer at the London Games. “This is still pretty fresh, although we’ve known this was a possibility for a little bit here. We’re going to take on this challenge with a tremendous amount of resiliency and competitiveness. In some ways where excited for the challenge.”
Jackson called PG Sue Bird in December to discuss the process. G Tanisha Wright, F Camille Little, and former teammates Swin Cash, Ashley Robinson, Le’coe Willinham and Adia Barnes were also sounding boards through months of treatments that never healed the problem until surgery.
“Without them, I really don’t know how I would have come to terms with it,” said Jackson, the WNBA’s fourth all-time leader in points scored. “It was hard enough last night (Tuesday) knowing that people where going to find out and that I was probably letting a whole lot of people down.”
Jackson has missed 22 of the Storm’s 68 games the past two season. The team continued its WNBA-record nine consecutive playoff appearances, but only advanced past the opening round when a completely healthy Jackson played 32 games in 2010. Of course the Storm won the championship and she was named the regular-season and WNBA Finals MVP.
A 6-foot-6 center, Jackson admitted she should have had surgery immediately after the 2012 Olympics but was told repeatedly a certain treatment would work only for it to fail. That knowledge naturally brought up a conversation about hard-headed athletes not resting their bodies for the long run — like NFL quarterback Roger Griffin III.
Jackson said she’s guilty of the same.
“Yes. This was the worst,” she said. “But, again, it was an Olympic year. I made a commitment to Seattle. And honestly, because of what I was being told, I thought I was going to be OK. But I called from America and said you (medical team) need to take me to see a specialist when I get back. I actually couldn’t walk when I got off the plane.
“They said two weeks off and I’ll be OK. It became a four-week cycle. Same program and waiting for it to get better every morning.
“But athletes in particular, like knowing what Sue goes through, players that love the sport as much as we do, it’s our livelihood. We want to play through things and we don’t want things to be bad. Especially when you’re getting a little bit older and all you want to do is play. This is the one thing where I had to say I actually can’t.”
Now Jackson, who still has a five-year retirement plan, has faith she’ll have more of a Ray Lewis exit than Michael Jordan.
“I want the last few years of my career to be good and productive and quality,” she said. “So, I need to make sure I do everything now and come back in great shape.”
Agler scouted No. 3 UConn senior Kelly Faris in January. The do-anything G working on adding an offensive shot to her repertoire, averaging 10.6 points on 53.7 percent shooting compared to 6.7 points on 43.8 percent shooting as a junior, now looks like a solid replacement for G Katie Smith, should the latter not return. Smith has stated she’d like to play another WNBA season. Here’s more from Agler on his trip.
But with Wednesday’s news regarding Jackson, plans for the draft could change. Agler said not drastically, yet he doesn’t really have any players to trade to get stronger inside and said he will not give up his draft pick. There are posts available beyond Baylor star Brittney Griner, only none are on the same playing field as her or Jackson.
F Tina Thompson is expected to return but F Jana Vesela, a member of the 2010 Storm championship team, will not. A native of Czech Republic, Vesela and PG Sylvia Dominguez (Spain) will play for their native countries in the EuroBasket this summer. Agler is in communication with Aussie F Abby Bishop, an Olympian and member of the 2010 Storm title team. Bishop didn’t play in the postseason, however.
The draft is in April and training camp opens in May.
Things aren’t dismal for Jackson in Australia, either. She expects to be running next week and has spent time making appearances, attending her team’s games and practices and reconnecting with friends. She plans to make a trip to Seattle this summer to meet with fans and catch a few Storm games.
Jackson even filmed a segment for Disney.
“This is really magical,” she said. “I know it’s only one season but it’s going to give me the opportunity to get back to where I feel comfortable being a great player, again.”