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Originally published September 26, 2009 at 5:19 PM | Page modified September 26, 2009 at 7:31 PM

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Attendance has declined, but Storm's optimism hasn't

Unlike past years where franchise relocation, player contracts and ownership sales made the Storm's offseason more uncertain than Pacific Northwest weather, where to practice in 2010 is the only major issue. Storm forward Lauren Jackson, an unrestricted free agent, agreed to a two-year deal she'll sign Jan. 5 when WNBA free agency opens. Coach Brian Agler and teammate Sue Bird already signed extensions that'll carry them through 2011.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Dawn Trudeau looked down at the Storm's practice court and frowned. As co-owner of the WNBA franchise, she has to decide what to do with all that shiny maple.

Seattle's season ended in a fifth straight first-round playoff exit last Sunday, giving the Storm about 30 days to vacate the Furtado Center, the practice facility at Mercer Street and Fifth Avenue that it once shared with the Sonics. It will become Building No. 3 at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's sprawling headquarters.

"They're not going to bulldoze while we're standing in the driveway," said Trudeau, chair for the Force 10 Hoops ownership group. "But, on the other hand, they do expect us to be out as quickly as feasibly possible."

Unlike past years where franchise relocation, player contracts and ownership sales made the Storm's offseason more uncertain than Pacific Northwest weather, where to practice in 2010 is the only major issue. Storm forward Lauren Jackson, an unrestricted free agent, agreed to a two-year deal she'll sign Jan. 5 when WNBA free agency opens. Coach Brian Agler and teammate Sue Bird already signed extensions that'll carry them through 2011.

But where to practice? And what to do with all that maple wood?

The Storm could cut up the two courts — one with the old Sonic logo and another with the Storm's — and sell it to fans.

Pilates balls, weightlifting equipment and basketball rims can be relocated with the Storm. Trudeau, whose front office moved to Interbay last spring, said the team hasn't finalized its contract for a practice facility, but should have an announcement regarding its new facility by November.

"The floor is probably the toughest part because it's permanent. If you had magic, you'd just pick it up and move it," she said. "But we're very close to finishing our deal. The next step is to understand what we're going to reuse and how we're going to go about our deconstruction process."

After another first-round playoff exit with Sunday's home loss to the Los Angeles Sparks, the Storm held a farewell karaoke party Monday at the old facility it used to share with the Sonics. Trudeau sang a duet with forward Swin Cash to the tune of "Get Here" by Brenda Russell. Agler was the only one to escape from singing.

"When you lose that last game, it's a very abrupt ending that doesn't feel real positive," Trudeau said. "We had a chance to celebrate the good of the year."

The Storm had a 5 percent drop in attendance, averaging 7,874 fans. Storm CEO Karen Bryant said the decline was partly due to the poor economy and the Storm not having a group-sales staff in place to push packages.

Spending what Bryant valued at $800,000 on advertising, however, Seattle witnessed strong numbers for heavily pitched games. The team retains a season-ticket holder base of about 3,000, which ranks among the WNBA's top three.

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"I don't buy into the notion that the Storm and losers are any way synonymous," said Bryant, whose team has a 29-5 home record under Agler but hasn't advanced past the first round since winning a WNBA title in 2004. "Our fans have gotten spoiled. We've made the playoffs for six straight years. That is no small accomplishment. Sure, when you get there, anything less than a WNBA championship is a disappointment, but we have had a team that has competed every year."

The ownership group wants more people to see that product, instructing Bryant to find television/radio packages with more games. It could end the relationship with FSN because of FSN's extensive Mariners coverage.

The Storm also has interest from sponsors wanting to buy the rights to advertise on the front of player jerseys, similar to deals made this year by Farmers Insurance (Los Angeles) and LifeLock (Phoenix). The three-year deals were worth about $3 million.

"We're in investment-mode," said Trudeau, whose group purchased the Storm in 2008. "We really feel we have a bright outlook."

There's more to the Storm than dollars and profit margin.

"There's something incredibly fulfilling in bringing other people happiness," Trudeau said. "This team brings other people happiness, and it's real."

Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or jevans@seattletimes.com

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UPDATE - 7:10 PM
Storm re-signs Swin Cash to multiyear deal

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