Storm Adds Legend, Fills Needs with Thompson

Kevin Pelton, | Feb. 27, 2012

Tina Thompson's resume speaks for itself. The WNBA legend, who joined the Seattle Storm as a free agent on Monday, has been picked as one of the league's top players of all time. She's the WNBA's all-time leading scorer, an eight-time All-Star and has been selected to the All-WNBA Team eight times. That track record of succeeding at the highest level made it impossible for the Storm to pass on Thompson.

"Our philosophy is we want to sign really good players," said Storm Head Coach and General Manager Brian Agler. "There's no question she fits that bill. Tina has proven to be one of the best players ever in the league, has accomplished as much as anybody - not just individual accomplishments but from a team concept. She's played on championship teams. She's a winner."

Tina Thompson celebrates.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images

Tina Thompson, one of the most accomplished players in WNBA history, remained a key contributor during the last three seasons in Los Angeles.

Indeed, Thompson's performance has long translated into success at the team level. As the No. 1 pick of the first WNBA Draft in 1997, Thompson helped lead the Houston Comets to championships in the league's first four years of existence. She's also won internationally, earning gold medals as a member of the U.S. National Team in the 2004 and 2008 Olympics. So Thompson has experience at accomplishing the unprecedented task the Storm is trying to accomplish - a ninth consecutive playoff berth, which would extend a streak dating all the way back to 2004.

Thompson will be a big part of that. Especially during the first half of the season, when the Storm will be without three-time MVP Lauren Jackson, Thompson will be counted on to log heavy minutes at both forward positions. A natural power forward, Thompson can also step out to the perimeter and play small forward, where the Storm has an open spot in the starting lineup. Agler plans to be creative in how he uses Thompson.

"I want players to play to their strengths," he explained. "Then we will try to coordinate and develop and organize an offense around that. Tina has multiple strengths. Obviously, her true position is power forward. She can play with her back to the basket, she can rebound the basketball, but she can also extend the defense. She's a very versatile offensive player."

That versatility made Thompson an ideal fit for the Storm. Agler wanted to add size this offseason to match up with bigger teams like the Minnesota Lynx, but not at the cost of sacrificing outside shooting. That describes Thompson, who made 43 three-pointers last season and is a career 36.8 percent shooter from beyond the arc.

The ability to step outside has helped Thompson, who turned 37 earlier this month, extend her productive career. She's two seasons away from averaging 16.6 points per game for the Los Angeles Sparks in 2010, helping carry the team to the playoffs without the injured Candace Parker. For her efforts, Thompson was named Western Conference Player of the Month in August 2010 - the only month Jackson did not win the award during her MVP campaign. Thompson's numbers declined last season, but when she played at least 25 minutes, she averaged 12.3 points per game.

"I know that when we played them," said Agler, "she's very difficult to guard. She's a very difficult matchup for us and she's played well against us."

Signing Thompson is the Storm's last major move in free agency. Now, attention shifts to the April WNBA Draft - when the Storm will pick No. 2 overall after trading with Chicago - and signing what Agler expects to be somewhere between five to seven players to come to training camp. They will be battling for two to three spots on the end of the roster against holdover Allie Quigley as well as Ewelina Kobryn, who signed a training-camp contract as a reserved player on Friday.

As Agler and his staff have put together a roster, they have attempted to balance two goals that conflict at times: Adding young talent to the roster without sacrificing the ability to compete for a playoff spot and a championship this season and beyond. So it is that the Storm's newcomers will span a variety of ages.

"We've been vocal about acquiring younger talent knowing that we have a bigger picture of what to address here as well," explained Agler, "but we've never talked about not being competitive on the floor and being successful on the floor. As we acquire younger talent, it's going to be over a course of time. The second pick in the draft is going to turn into an individual here within the next couple of months. We're going to have some young talent come in through Victoria Dunlap, the no. 2 pick in the draft, possibly our second-round pick, possibly some younger free agents that will make our squad.

"I know what is expected in Seattle, and that is to put as competitive a team on the floor as we can and vie for championships. Now, that being said, I also know that that's tomorrow's goal. Well, the day after tomorrow, the day after that, we have to have a strategy, and that's why we're going out to get young players and young talent when we can obtain those people and when they're available."

More than anything, the Storm's focus remains on acquiring quality players. And they don't come much better than Thompson.

"Probably the most important thing she has is just the experience - big-game experience," Agler said. "She's been in thousands of battles on the basketball floor in our league, and obviously has been successful in most of those occasions."

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