A Powerful yet Unfulfilled Storm: Breanna Stewart’s Time in Seattle

Breanna Stewart is no longer a member of the Seattle Storm. She is now with the New York Liberty and looks to add to her legacy by winning championships for the team in her home state.

How was Stewart’s time with the Storm? In 2016, she joined a franchise that had two other notable players: Jewell Loyd and an already-certified Storm legend in Sue Bird. Over the course of seven years, Stewart and the Storm won two championships (in 2018 and 2020). Plus, Stewart won both regular season and Finals MVP awards in 2018 and earned Finals MVP again in 2020.

The other five seasons were filled with lost chances, which can be attributed to a lack of stability, injuries, and a changing of the guard. With a superstar like Stewart, along with All-Stars in Bird and Loyd and other key rotational players, the Storm missed out on what could have been a dynasty on par with the 1997-2000 Houston Comets and 2010s Minnesota Lynx.

From a team perspective, Stewart’s first two seasons in Seattle were seasons to forget. In each season, the Storm failed to win a postseason game. According to Her Hoop Stats, during Stewart’s tenure, 2016 and 2017 were the Storm’s two worst seasons for defensive rating (DRTG), carrying a 100.9 DRTG in 2016 and a 102.3 DRTG in 2017. Stewart won Rookie of the Year in her inaugural WNBA season and proved she was already an outstanding player, but her team didn’t share that success, and Seattle relieved head coach Jenny Boucek of her duties in 2017.

But in 2018, Dan Hughes entered as the Storm’s new head coach, and the team turned into an immediate championship contender. Per Her Hoop Stats, the Storm led the league in offensive rating (ORTG; 107.2) and net rating (NET RTG; 9.5) during the 2018 season, and they had a 97.8 DRTG that was an improvement over the previous two years. The team finished with the best record in the league at 26-8, en route to winning the title. Stewart and the Storm finally reached the summit of the mountain and looked ready to stay there for a while.

Unfortunately, Stewart missed the 2019 season due to rupturing her right Achilles while playing overseas. Bird also missed the season because of knee surgery, and Hughes missed multiple games due to surgery for a cancerous tumor. The Storm had very little chance of successfully defending their title, and they lost in the second round of the postseason. Per Her Hoop Stats, during Stewart’s seven-year tenure with the Storm, 2019 was the season in which the Storm had the lowest ORTG (94.0), and it was the only season with a negative NET RTG (-0.4). It was a lost year, and the league missed out on the chance for not only a Finals rematch between the Storm and a much-improved Mystics team (who ultimately won the 2019 title) but also the formation of the next championship-level rivalry to succeed the one between the Lynx and Los Angeles Sparks.

Both Stewart and Bird returned in 2020, but Hughes sat out the COVID-shortened season. However, with two of the most important players back in the fold, Hughes’ absence was not detrimental. The Storm finished the regular season tied with the Aces for the best record (18-4) and went undefeated in the postseason (6-0) on the way to winning their second championship in three seasons. Despite unprecedented and emotionally straining circumstances, the Storm were back as the top team in the league and had a great chance to win again the following season.

However, six games into the 2021 season, Hughes decided to retire and hand over the reins to Noelle Quinn. The Storm were still a top team in the league, but they clearly weren’t the best team. Even though they finished with only the fourth best record at 21-11, the Storm still had their superstar available to push them toward another title—until she wasn’t. Stewart missed the team’s first playoff game due to injury, and the Storm lost the single-elimination matchup, cutting their postseason short after just one game.

Following the 2021 campaign, Bird was close to retirement, and both Stewart and Loyd’s futures in Seattle were up in the air. For Stewart, rumors about her departing to join the Liberty began to grow.

Before the 2022 season, Stewart signed a one-year deal to return to the Storm, which momentarily quelled the Liberty rumors. Loyd re-signed with the Storm as well, and Bird decided to return for what was ultimately her final season.

Seattle finished 2022 tied with the Mystics for the fourth-best record (22-14) but failed to reach the Finals again. The Storm lost 3-1 to the Aces, the eventual champions, in the semifinals. The series against the Aces was competitive but also showed that Seattle was no longer the best team when healthy. Seattle’s Big Three played the entire series. Stewart even tied the record for most points in a playoff game with 42 in Game 4, but that was not enough. The Aces were the superior team and the better team in the series. For the first time since 2017, the Storm were knocked out of the postseason with Stewart on the court.

After losing Game 4 in Seattle, Bird said goodbye to the city and the team. As for Stewart, chatter about playing for the Liberty started up again. With fading championship odds and no more Bird, what was next for Stewart and the Storm?

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During this offseason, Stewart had fun on social media with cryptic posts with emojis. But on Feb. 1, she created a post with just one emoji that screamed the loudest: the Statue of Liberty. She was going home to play for the Liberty in 2023.

Now the Storm have very little chance of winning and are looking up at far superior teams, including the two new superteams in the Liberty and Aces. The Storm signed Kia Nurse and brought back Sami Whitcomb and will easily compete for a playoff spot. However, they are devoid of a superstar who can significantly and consistently alleviate the pressure off Loyd in the scoring department.

Meanwhile, with the Liberty, Stewart has the opportunity to win even more championships than she did in Seattle.

Stewart’s time with the Storm was successful despite coaching changes, injuries, and unexpected circumstances. She lived up to expectations coming out of college and allowed Bird and the Storm to play championship-contending basketball again. Championship seasons are celebrated and remembered more than non-championship seasons. It just feels like a lot was left on the table in Seattle, some of which was outside of the team’s control. Stewart’s run with the Storm feels somewhat unfulfilled, even though it provided plenty of riches. With a top-five player on the roster, the 2019, 2021, and 2022 seasons were all notable missed opportunities for additional championships.

A future jersey retirement in Seattle is waiting for Stewart. While appreciating the greatness that Stewart provided as an individual and the Storm cultivated as a team during her years there, it is still okay to ask, “What if?”

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