The 2010 Seattle Storm is one of the best teams in the history of the WNBA. They finished the regular season with a league best 28-6 record, they were undefeated at home and they swept the playoffs to win their second WNBA championship.
Whenever a team is that good, broadcasters and sports writers begin hyperbolic discussions about a "repeat," and then the pressure is on.
Repeating as champions is one of the most difficult things to do in all of sports because of the many pitfalls teams face while attempting this feat. The biggest obstacles teams face when they try to repeat are:
1. Letting down emotionally: Players tend to relax after reaching the pinnacle of their careers, and it is difficult to regain that championship intensity.
2. Folding under the pressure: The champions have a big bulls-eye on their backs, and all the other teams will bring their A-game every night.
3. Keeping the team together in spite of free agency: Sports are big business and sometimes business gets in the way of winning.
A let down seems unlikely under the veteran leadership of Seattle's big three, Swin Cash, Sue Bird and three-time MVP Lauren Jackson. As for being a target, Swin Cash is a three-time WNBA champion, Bird and Jackson have each won two. They know teams will be bringing their best every night, and they'll be ready.
Unfortunately for the Storm, free agency is the most difficult of the three obstacles. Fan favorite Ashley Robinson, veteran forward Svetlana Abrosimova and Swin Cash are unrestricted free agents. Starting center Camille Little is a restricted free agent.
Restricted free agent means teams can talk to the player and make an offer. If the player's original team, in this case the Storm, matches the offer they retain that player services for the price and the length of the offer.
The Storm can afford to lose Ashley Robinson. She played only eight minutes per game in the regular season, she was hardly used at all in the playoffs, and Robinson has difficulty making shots at point blank range. Robinson is adored by Storm fans who would be sad to see her go, but she is not essential to the success of the franchise.
Abrosimova and Little are quality role players who must either be re-signed, or their productive minutes must be replaced with quality players. Cash is another matter because she increased her production in nearly every meaningful category during the playoffs.
Cash's playoff totals include 16.1 ppg 4.9 rpg, 3.0 apg and a shooting percentage of .506 including 50 percent from three-point range. If they can sign another great player, they might be able to replace Cash's playoff production. Replacing the veteran leadership of a perennial champion that has three years experience with the team is much more difficult.
There is no way to replace that Bird-Cash chemistry that was built by winning the NCAA Division 1 title, an Olympic Gold Medal, a WNBA Championship and a FIBA World Championship together.
The free agent negotiation period begins in January, but teams can't actually sign free agents until February. If the Storm can re-sign Cash, they can repeat. If not, it's unlikely.