Thursday, February 7, 2013
SEATTLE — When Lauren Jackson returned to her native Australia in November she was barely able to walk off the plane after a year playing for three teams in three countries, the last being the Storm.
Her mother, Maree, was blunt.
“You really need to consider what’s going to happen next year if you can’t go back 100 percent healthy,” she told her oldest child. “It’s (the WNBA) too good of a league.”
“Initially, I got really mad at her for even suggesting it,” Lauren Jackson said via phone from her home in Canberra. “But it is, and I’m too proud, as well.”
Jackson went through a three-month process with her medical team to figure out her exact ailment, believing she could honor upcoming contracts in the Australian WNBL and the WNBA. But she ultimately had to have right hamstring surgery in January.
Apprehensive about the recovery process, Jackson finally made the call Friday. She will not return for the 2013 WNBA season. The team, which opens training camp in May, made a formal announcement Wednesday and sent letters notifying its players.
Jackson’s contract will be suspended, forgoing the guaranteed $107,500 pay so it won’t count against the Storm’s $869,000 salary cap. She’s losing about $300,000 for not playing in the WNBL this season.
The Storm also announced Belgian center Ann Wauters will not return in 2013. She and her wife each gave birth to children in 2011. After traveling with them while Wauters played in Spain, America and Turkey, they opted to focus on their family.
Seattle waived Wauters, whose contract would have expired this year. The Storm roster stands at nine players.
“I lost so much confidence through the whole process — all the doctors and all the needles. I just ended up having the surgery,” said Jackson, the leading scorer in women’s Olympic competition and fourth all-time leader in points scored in the WNBA. “Now I feel better every day, but I don’t want to put Seattle through another season where they have to nurse me every single day.”
Jackson missed the majority of the 2012 season due to participation in the London Olympic Games and injuries upon return from winning a bronze medal for the Aussies. She averaged 10.2 points and 5.6 rebounds in nine regular-season games, yet the Storm still advanced to a WNBA-record ninth consecutive postseason appearance.
In a best-of-three playoff loss to Minnesota in the opening round, Jackson shot a career-low 27.8 percent from the field, including 20.7 percent from three-point range in three games. She missed a last-second shot to possibly win the series in Game 3 at the Lynx’s Target Center.
Jackson, who will be 32 in May, missed 20 WNBA games in 2011 due to left hip surgery. She suffered the hamstring injury before the 2012 Olympic Games and said she should have had that surgery immediately after the Olympics. Instead, she honored her commitment and said Australian and American doctors cleared her to play.
Storm coach and general manager Brian Agler said Jackson didn’t practice upon her return and was given extra rest. But her average minutes jumped from 18.6 during the regular season to 30.3 in the playoffs.
Agler and Karen Bryant, Storm CEO and president, were informed throughout Jackson’s process this winter. They and teammates Sue Bird, Tanisha Wright and Camille Little were supportive in the final decision.
“It became apparent her body and her mind needed some rest,” Bryant said. “And gearing up for an extremely competitive and demanding WNBA schedule just didn’t feel to all of us that it was going to be in anybody’s best interest.”
Jackson, who is 6 feet 6, has played in Seattle since 2001 and led the Storm to WNBA championships in 2004 and 2010. She’s a three-time league MVP and the 2007 defensive player of the year.
Agler said Wauters and Jackson’s decisions won’t drastically alter his situation. The Storm has the No. 6 pick in April’s WNBA draft and Agler has post players he’s evaluating to select. Veteran forward Tina Thompson is expected to return, and young Polish center Ewelina Kobryn is a reserved free agent, able to sign only with Seattle.
But experienced post player Jana Vesela, who won a 2010 WNBA and 2012 EuroLeague championship with Jackson, will not return in order to represent her native Czech Republic in the EuroBasket.
“I anticipate our roster this year having four or five young players on it, (2012 draft pick) Shekinna Stricklen one of them,” Agler said. “We’re sort of looking forward to the challenge.”
Seattle opens its 2013 season at Los Angeles and hosts Phoenix for the home opener June 2 at KeyArena. The Mercury has the No. 1 pick in the draft and is expected to select Baylor center Brittany Griner. At 6-8, Griner’s presence will immediately expose Seattle’s loss inside.
“I was a little bit scared. I didn’t want to disappoint people with this decision,” said Jackson of her sleepless eve of her announcement. “(But) I couldn’t wait any longer. It was the best decision to help the team find somebody else.”