When the Seattle Storm gathers for training camp in April, Head Coach Brian Agler will have many questions to answer about a revamped roster. One spot he won't have to spend any time worrying about is his starting backcourt. Health permitting, Agler can pencil in Sue Bird and Tanisha Wright at guard for the foreseeable future. Over seven seasons playing together, and three with Wright as the full-time starter at shooting guard, Bird and Wright have developed into an elite duo. They've also built a bond that carries over off the court.
"If not the best backcourt in the WNBA," said Agler, "they're right there at the top. It's because of the intangible things. It won't be because of their size. It won't be because of their physical strength. It has a lot to do with their resilience and their tenacity and their competitiveness and just their ability to elevate the team that they're on."
The success Bird and Wright have enjoyed together starts with the way their skill sets match up. Together, Bird and Wright check all the boxes necessary for an elite backcourt: shooting, ballhandling, playmaking ability, stout defense. And their games complement each other. Wright, an All-Defensive First Team pick each of the last two seasons, can take on the toughest matchup on defense, while playing next to Bird keeps Wright in her preferred shooting guard spot.
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Sue Bird and Tanisha Wright have started together the last three seasons and will continue to do so after signing new contracts with the Storm Thursday.
Over time, the two players have found ways to trade off roles. So while Bird usually has the ball in her hands, Wright will often finish games running the pick-and-roll with Bird spotting up to take advantage of the respect defenses much play her as a shooter. That combination produced the most memorable play in the Storm's run to the 2010 WNBA championship - Bird's game-winning three-pointer during the playoffs at Phoenix, which came off a Wright assist.
Each expresses gratitude to the other for making their job easier.
"I love playing with somebody as smart as Sue - the wisdom and the insight she provides on the court each and every night is just amazing," said Wright. "It's little things. I really believe that her job is the toughest job - to be able to orchestrate the things she needs to orchestrate as a point guard, get everybody in the right position, think for everybody, make sure they're in the position that they can be most successful - it's a really tough job.
"To be able to play with a player with those smarts and that knowledge is amazing. I really enjoy playing with Sue. I love playing with her. She brings out the best in me each and every year."
"She gives me this confidence," said Bird. "When we're on the court together, I feel much more at ease. Just because of her presence, whether it's the way she plays the game or something vocal."
To the players themselves, the best part of playing together has nothing to do with their skills.
"Playing with T these last however many years it is, you can talk about chemistry and you can talk about the positions we play and the Xs and Os, but more than anything I just think we have a trust," said Bird. "There's a mutual trust there. I think that trust, it even goes beyond the basketball court. When you have that with a teammate, a good friend, good things happen. For T and I, when we go out there, we know what to expect from one another. We know each other's weaknesses. We know each other's strengths, and we can play off that."
"We know each other's games really well," adds Wright. "We complement each other, I think, perfectly. And we encourage one another a lot too, which is another amazing thing. We really encourage each other. We can tell when each other needs a little push. We have amazing chemistry. I really enjoy playing with Sue. She's a great player."
That starts with the amount of time Bird and Wright have played together. They're the league's longest tenured starting backcourt, having started 117 games together. Last year' season finale saw Bird and Wright pass Bird and predecessor Betty Lennox (116) for the most starts together of any duo of Storm guards. So much experience can't help but benefit them on the court.
"They're to the point," Agler said, "where eye contact and body language is just as important and easier than having conversations out on the floor."
The bond goes beyond basketball. It's also time spent together in the locker room, in practice and in road trips that makes the relationship between Bird and Wright special.
"Off the court, we're friends as well," said Wright. "It's nice to be able to spend more years getting to know one another and trying to figure out other things that make us click on and off the court."
Bird and Wright have appreciated the years they've spent playing together. And, after both signed multi-year contracts to stay with the Storm on Thursday, they're glad to continue their relationship.
"To be able to play with Sue, an amazing point guard, she's an Olympian, to be able to play with her for seven years and now the opportunity to do it for 10 years, it's amazing," said Wright. "Lucky for me to be able to gain wisdom and insight from a player of her caliber."
"It's been fun," Bird said. "You've seen her mature. She's always been a very mature person, but she's matured on the court and her mentality has changed. She's a great teammate and has always been that way, so it's nice to see some of the rewards she's gotten for her hard work. I truly enjoy playing with her."