Breanna Stewart or Jewell Loyd?
Perhaps the biggest offseason question for the Storm was who among its young stars would receive the team’s core designation — thus removing them from the free agent market — and who would remain an unrestricted free agent?
On Friday, several reports around the WNBA said Seattle will core Loyd, in a move that guarantees the 28-year-old, three-time WNBA All-Star a one-year deal for the league’s supermax salary of $228,094.
Still, this doesn’t necessarily guarantee Loyd will return to Seattle in 2022.
Last year, the Storm designated Natasha Howard a core player at the start of free agency and a month later, traded the All-Star forward to the New York Liberty for two first-round draft picks and a second-round pick.
At the very least, Seattle controls the rights to Loyd, who was considered one of the most sought-after free agents on a star-studded market that includes more than 15 former WNBA All-Stars.
Loyd, who was selected No. 1 overall by the Storm in the WNBA draft in 2015, helped Seattle win league championships in 2018 and 2020.
Last season, Loyd averaged career highs in scoring (17.9 points per game), assists (3.8) and steals (1.5). She was an early MVP candidate before falling off near the end of the season.
Without an injured Stewart, Loyd tallied a career-high 37 points to carry the Storm to a 94-85 win over the Phoenix Mercury in the regular-season finale and sure up a top-four playoff seed.
After an 85-80 loss to Phoenix in the second round of the WNBA playoffs that ended the Storm’s season, Loyd was noncommittal about returning to Seattle.
“I always have plans made to be prepared for any situation that happens,” she said during exit interviews in September. “This offseason is going to be to focus on myself and making sure that I’m good. It’s been a very long season. Trying to take a vacation and clear my head for a little bit.”
Friday’s move also indicates the Storm is confident Stewart, perhaps the biggest free agent on the market, will remain in Seattle.
The 2018 WNBA MVP and three-time WNBA All-Star had offseason surgery to repair a left Achilles tendon injury that caused her to miss the final two games of the regular season and the playoff loss.
Stewart, who averaged 20.3 points and 9.5 rebounds, also sat out two games midway during the season to rest following a stint in which she led the Storm to a Commissioner’s Cup title, won an Olympic gold medal with the U.S. women’s national team and witnessed the birth of her first child.
After the season, Stewart said she wanted to return to the Storm.
“It is kind of crazy that I’m a free agent that’s for sure,” she said. “But Seattle has always been my home. It’s where I’ve grown up. It’s where my career has continued to blossom. I plan on being back unless something crazy happens. We have more things to do here.”
The Storm will open free agency — official signings can’t be made until Feb. 1 — with $986,236 in cap room. Seattle has just five players under contract, a number that includes and no one has a guaranteed deal.
Veteran Sue Bird announced she’s returning next season and is expected to resign with the Storm.
Seattle’s other top free agents include backup guard Jordin Canada who is unrestricted and starting center Mercedes Russell who is restricted.