Sue Bird rounding into shape but not quite in time for Storm’s playoff run
Veteran Storm point guard Sue Bird is back on the court, preparing to play in Russia this winter and return to the WNBA next season. She won’t be able to help Seattle in the playoffs, other than in her role as a mentor from the bench.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Storm @ Minnesota Lynx, 6 p.m., NBA TV
If it were August, and her repaired knee felt like it does now, you’d see a different Sue Bird.
You’d see Bird trying to coax Storm coach Brian Agler into letting her practice in hopes of making a return to the lineup for the postseason.
But as the Storm prepares for its league-record 10th consecutive WNBA playoff appearance, Bird is content to concentrate on her injury rehab.
Bird, a seven-time All-Star, had offseason knee surgery. She joined the team this month in shooting drills and can do everything on the court, “anything where nobody is going to touch me, essentially,” she said.
Bird opted to undergo knee surgery in May to repair a cyst in her left knee. Bone was removed from her hip to fill a hole where the cyst was located. Theoretically, she could rush to return to play this season; instead she’s working with team trainer Susan Borchardt to make a gradual comeback.
Bird, a 5-foot-9 point guard, is still being paid her WNBA salary and is the 11th player on the Storm’s roster. She expects to play in Russia this winter before rejoining the Storm for the 2014 WNBA season.
“ ‘Push’ is a bad word when it comes to coming back from a surgery,” Bird said. “When we’re approaching the playoffs and they’re playing so well, do you want to throw somebody in there who’s not 100 percent? I don’t even know if I’d help. I don’t think it’s a risk worth me taking health-wise or the team chemistry-wise. Maybe if it were early August, it’d be totally different.”
Not that any team wouldn’t take Bird back. Even though she was bothered by injuries in 2012, Bird averaged 12.2 points and 5.3 assists. Bird has been the team’s point guard since being the No. 1 overall pick in the 2002 draft and has led Seattle to two WNBA titles.
And across the WNBA, teams are welcoming the return of their stars in time for postseason play. Indiana guard Katie Douglas returned from a back injury; Phoenix forward Penny Taylor rehabbed a knee injury.
In Seattle, the core of the roster has been together since Day 1 of training camp, not suffering any major injuries. Agler, the Storm’s coach and general manager, signed veteran point guard Temeka Johnson to replace Bird. Johnson has blended in well, running the team with her own personality that still works within Agler’s system.
Bird’s best assist this season has actually been on the sideline as a fourth coach. It’s a role she’ll continue when Seattle plays Minnesota in a best-of-three playoff series that begins Friday.
“There are moments when we (were) struggling where Sue would say certain things that, especially for our younger players, simplify the game a little bit,” Storm forward Tina Thompson said. “And because she’s not in the heat of the battle, her tone is different. When you’re out there fighting and competing, your delivery is different. In those moments, Sue brings a calm perspective so, for sure, having her around helps.”
Bird, 32, is part of the tight chemistry Thompson repeatedly says she’s never experienced on a team in her 17-year WNBA career. The group has regular outings, and Bird helps fans get to know her teammates as a social-media liaison.
Bird signed up for a Twitter account (@S10Bird) to communicate with fans, especially during away games, and she is often the face of community events.
“This is a group that genuinely cares about each other and they play for each other and you can feel it,” Bird said. “It’s a lot of fun to be around.”
Away from basketball, Bird is part of an investment group that opened a second pub in Boston. However, Bird’s main focus is the grueling workouts with Borchardt, targeting a 2014 WNBA return.
“It wasn’t like I got injured and a season was taken away from me,” Bird said, explaining why she’s not particularly antsy with the playoffs about to start. “I came into this season knowing this was going to happen. This surgery was more preventive so I could play another three, hopefully five years.
“And the good thing is I’ve done it (knee rehab) before. Those surgeries have helped me stay grounded through this process.”
Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or firstname.lastname@example.org