Seattle Storm president and general manager Alisha Valvanis twice declined to say that Jenny Boucek would remain the head coach for the duration of the 2017 season, as multiple Storm players expressed frustration over both the team’s performance and Boucek’s role in it.
“I would say that I am working closely with our head coach on how we can recalibrate, how we can do everything possible to make a playoff run,” Valvanis told The Summitt in a phone interview Thursday, when asked point-blank if she would commit to Boucek remaining the coach for the duration of the 2017 season. “That’s how I feel, and that’s where we’re at. I’m actively working with Jenny to see if we can make any adjustments to calibrate this for a playoff run, which has been set as a very clear goal.”
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Asked a second time whether that meant she was committed to Boucek for the remainder of the season, Valvanis responded, “What I’m prepared to say is that I’m working actively with our head coach to assure that we are positioned for the rest of the season, and that we’re doing everything to get back on track.”
The Storm declined to make Boucek available to The Summitt for an interview.
The reticence comes after several Storm players, on background, spoke of a bewilderment over a range of Boucek decisions, within a season the Storm expected to take a step forward from last season’s playoff appearance.
Instead, the Storm currently find themselves with a record of 9-12, out of the playoffs if the season were to end today, while the team has taken a step back in both offensive and defensive efficiency. A season that most expected would involve the Storm asserting themselves as the next elite team in the league has instead seen the Connecticut Sun take that mantle, essentially leaping ahead of the Storm in the pecking order. The Washington Mystics, too, look readier to compete for a title. Even the Dallas Wings, with a roster that includes five rookies, find themselves ahead of Seattle in the standings.
What was supposed to be a coming out party for Breanna Stewart and Jewell Loyd at the All Star Game last weekend in Seattle instead turned into a celebration of Sue Bird, yes, but with all the buzz about Stewart’s fellow 2016 draft class participant, Jonquel Jones.
That gap between expectations and performance continued with a listless performance against Los Angeles on Tuesday.
“It doesn’t always look like we’re being coached to win,” according to one player, referencing a view that rotations are irregular, a team slow to make tactical adjustments, and players are often left too long on the bench. “There’s too much talent here that isn’t competing.”
One player just shook her head when asked about the fact that Sylvia Fowles of the Minnesota Lynx was single-covered for an entire half earlier this season during a game in Seattle. Fowles scored 26 points in the half.
Another Storm player also pointed out the number of WNBA players who have gone on to success elsewhere after limited opportunities in Seattle, naming Renee Montgomery (now of the Minnesota Lynx) and Krystal Thomas (now of the Washington Mystics).
“We’re like the Portland Trailblazers of the WNBA,” she said.
Perhaps the most perplexing part of Seattle’s season to date has been the use of Carolyn Swords. The veteran center represents the biggest acquisition of last offseason by Valvanis and the Storm. She is a rim protector designed to keep Stewart from having to do as much of the heavy lifting guarding opposing fives, and whose rim protection was supposed to take the WNBA’s fifth-ranked defense to another level.
As Storm guard Sue Bird put it back in February, “I think we were really missing that size, someone who could come in and guard a big player, get rebounds, that type of thing. And from watching Carolyn play over the years, I know she can fit perfectly.”
Accordingly, the Storm gave up the sixth overall pick in the 2017 draft to get Swords, a pick Washington used to select Shatori Walker Kimbrough. Brionna Jones, another big body who could have addressed Seattle’s 47.9 rebounding percentage, eleventh in the league this season, was still available when the pick was made.
But after averaging 17.5 minutes per game last year with New York, Swords is getting just 8.6 minutes per contest for the Storm so far this year. And against a Sparks team on Tuesday that boasts elite size across their frontcourt and outrebounded Seattle, 39-28, Swords did not get a minute of playing time.
Around the league and within the team, Swords’ reduced role baffles many. As an opposing WNBA coach put it, “Seattle should play Swords and target people and not do as much five-out motion. Get tougher on defense—which having a big in there will help. Let Bird pick teams apart.”
When asked about Swords’ playing time, Valvanis said, “I wouldn’t distill that down to minutes played. I would say I’m actively trying to understand her contributions, whether it is the time available to her or her contributions.”
Valvanis did not shy away from the clear moment of evaluation that’s arrived for the Storm franchise, who hired Boucek for the 2015 season after longtime head coach Brian Agler left for the Los Angeles Sparks.
“At the end of the day, where we are right now, we’re not satisfied with where we are,” Valvanis said. “As ownership group, from my end and from the team perspective, we are not satisfied with where we are. So we’re continuing to look at it and evaluate the progress of the year.”
Whether that progress includes Jenny Boucek or not is still to be determined. And the Storm do have until the July 31 trade deadline to make a player move. But while Valvanis made it clear that missing the playoffs will be considered a failure, simply making the postseason again, but failing to advance—precisely what the Storm did last year—might not be enough, either.
“I think that’s a fair question,” Valvanis said. “I think the metric of success right now is making it to the playoffs. I think it’s very clear that anything short of that would not be a successful season. You’re asking fair questions, and I hope you’re sensing respect for the process here, and the coach, and the whole team. There’s still a lot of basketball to be played. And we’re doing everything we can to support Jenny and support this team.”