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April 15, 2014 at 10:35 AM

Storm coach Brian Agler talks rookies; Tianna Hawkins responds to being traded

Langhorne

Storm F Crystal Langhorne/Photo by AP

Storm coach Brian Agler sounded defensive when I suggested he plays more to win now and doesn’t prefer true rookies on his WNBA team. It’s what the facts show when looking at his history since being hired in 2008. Only one draft pick remains after Agler, who’s also the team’s general manager, traded F Tianna Hawkins and PG Bria Hartley to Washington for All-Star F Crystal Langhorne on Monday.

Hawkins was the sixth overall pick to Seattle last April while Hartley was the seventh overall pick this year. In past years, Agler has made trades or cut rookies who’ve since found success elsewhere in Allie Quigley (Chicago), Jasmine Thomas (Atlanta), Krystal Thomas (Phoenix) and Jasmine James (Phoenix).

“That’s not the case,” Agler said. “If you look at our (veterans), those are players we really respect and they want to have a chance to have success now, too. There’s a lot of things to take into consideration but you’ve always got to keep an eye on three and four years down the road, too.”

F Shekinna Stricklen, drafted No. 2 overall in 2012, is the only rookie to stick on Agler’s roster. She’s being groomed to be the next Swin Cash but her defense and confidence have yet to consistently match her potential. She’s started 24 of her WNBA-career 68 games. She was moved to the bench late in the 2013 season in favor of utility veteran Noelle Quinn, finishing the season averaging 10 points and 2.8 rebounds.

Hawkins never broke into the core rotation and didn’t play in the Storm’s opening-round Game 2 playoff loss to eventual champion Minnesota. She averaged 9.7 minutes as a rookie, Agler constantly stating she had to earn her playing time in practice.

The WNBA giving teams the option to add a 12th player to the roster gave the impression Seattle could stash a player away to be developed for the future. The roster was the second-oldest in the league in 2013 and G Tanisha Wright, 30, has yet to dispute past statements she’d probably retire at the conclusion of her 10th season, which would be this summer at the end of her current contract.

Guard play and leadership for the future are as glaring a need as posts when it comes to the Storm.

Agler almost tried the experiment in aiming to draft F Natalie Achonwa, who tore her ACL in Notre Dame’s regional final win in March. A solid leader and Canadian Olympian, Achonwa could have rehabilitated her injury without even signing a contract to count against the salary cap under new CBA rules, which would require her to honor a verbal commitment to play for Seattle in 2015 and not re-enter the draft.

But let’s be honest. There was only one player in the 2014 draft who appears ready to breakthrough and be an elite, marquee player and that’s PG Odyssey Sims. Tulsa didn’t get what it expected out of rookie Skylar Diggins last season, finishing an almost-there campaign with the No. 3 overall draft pick as a some-time reserve due to injuries and favor of PG Angel Goodrich, a third-round draft pick.

Diggins didn’t play overseas to improve this past offseason but stated on Twitter in between product launches, appearances and Sports Illustrated swimsuit photo shoots that she’s training hard and even was in Tulsa late March to workout with new coach Fred Williams to prep for the season.

The Shock already edged the Storm 3-2 during the regular-season, Diggins at SG with Goodrich and Sims at the point with Riquana Williams in the mix will give everyone in the league fits. Plus that’s four young, gifted ball-handlers, Sims possessing the talent to score from anywhere on the court against three defenders if needed. At least that’s what she showed during her All-American career at Baylor, winning the Wade Trophy award as a senior.

“That wouldn’t have happened if we were in that position,” Agler said of passing over Sims for a veteran All-Star. “Those Odyssey Sims’ don’t come along very often.”

Achonwa is a steal for Indiana but Hartley is no Sims and has a better chance to grow to her potential along with Hawkins within Mystics coach Mike Thibault’s youth movement. Langhorne is a team-first player who said Monday she’s best when not asked to do everything. She won’t in Seattle — just rebound and score when open.

With Langhorne, Agler grades well in this draft because he finagled a way to get an All-Star to put on a team of All-Stars and unsung stars. I slipped and asked if he believed the roster was better than last season after the trade. Then I quickly remembered PG Sue Bird is back after undergoing knee surgery and missing the 2013 season — the first extended absence in the six-time All-Star’s 11-year career.

“That tells you what kind of day you’ve had when you forget about Sue Bird coming back,” Agler joked Monday of also momentarily forgetting the biggest add to the 2014 roster.

Hawkins is still in Hungary competing in the domestic-league playoffs. She responded via Twitter in a stream of three tweets about being traded to Washington after a season in Seattle. It was basically a Maryland swap as Langhorne starred for the Terrapins from 2004-08, becoming the first Terp to have her jersey (No. 1) retired while still playing. Hawkins helped lead the Terps to the Sweet 16 as an All-ACC senior in 2013.

Comments | More in Storm, WNBA, WNBA Draft | Topics: Brian Agler, Crystal Langhorne, Tianna Hawkins

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