Seattle sports dodged major bullets in the last week when the Seahawks re-signed linebacker Leroy Hill and the Storm resigned Lauren Jackson.
The Seahawks removed the franchise tag from Leroy Hill after drafting Aaron Curry with the 4th pick in the NFL draft. Immediately the talking heads wondered what the heck Tim Ruskell was doing. Curry was initially thought to be replacing Julian Peterson whom the Seahawks exiled to Detroit after he refused to renegotiate his contract. Was Curry supposed to replace Hill? Who would play on the other side of Lofa Tatupu? I, along with Seahawks fans everywhere, held our breath knowing that Hill could now go anywhere for any price.
Sports radio started throwing up comparisons with the Steve Hutchinson situation. Hutchinson was a different case though. For some reason, he felt like the team had disrespected him. Pardon me, but that’s bull. How many other teams’ offensive guards get their picture on one of the season ticket packages or features in one of the team commercials? How many other guards get mentioned as one of the stars of the team, in the same breath as Walter Jones, Matt Hasselbeck and Shaun Alexander? In 2005, Hutchinson was all that and more for the Seahawks. The team knew how good he was and thought they were doing him a favor by letting him get offers from other teams so they could pay him what he was worth. They never dreamed he would allow Minnesota to put that poison pill clause in the contract. Even with that, Walter Jones offered to renegotiate his contract to allow Seattle to match the offer for Hutchinson. Does that sound like disrespect to you because it doesn’t to me?
With Hill, Ruskell had learned his lesson. He called Hill and his agent, Todd France, to tell them the team’s plans ahead of time. Removing the franchise tag allowed the Seahawks more flexibility under the salary cap, sign Hill to a long term deal, and pick up former Seahawk Ken Lucas from the free agent market. By keeping the player informed, Ruskell was able to head off any miscommunication that might have cropped up. It paid off when Hill signed a six -year deal worth up to $38 million. It was a very ballsy move that shows Ruskell isn’t afraid to take risks.
Turnign to basketball, Lauren Jackson, along with Sue Bird, is the key to the Storm’s success. She is an all-world player that is, simply put, the best in the WNBA. That is why the Storm funnel their offense through her. Although the team drafted and brought in a lot of bodies to fill her shoes, Coach Brian Agler knew that for the team to win another banner, LJ would need to be in a Seattle uniform.
The Storm offered a multi-year deal but Jackson only agreed to a one-year deal citing year round playing and injuries for reasons. Makes sense to me that she might want to have an option to reevaluate her priorities on a yearly basis. She had to have ankle surgery after the Beijing Olympics. That knocked her out of the WNBA season last year. Jackson also plays in a professional league in Russia. Add in international duties with her home Australian team and she is on the court all year. That’s enough to burn out any athlete.
The risk is that she decides to take her game elsewhere next year. It’s another ballsy decision but I think it is worth the risk with her. Give her the support and space she needs to feel comfortable, make sure she knows how needed she is by the team and the city, and then let her play. Jackson seems mature enough to remember that positive support and treatment when the contract renewal time comes up next year.
After all, Lauren was selected No. 1 overall in 2001 by the Storm. Not only has she played her entire career in the WNBA with Seattle, she is the all-time leader for the Storm in points (4,602), rebounds (1,887), blocked shots (485) and games played (237) while averaging 19.4 points and 8.0 rebounds. Jackson has been named the league and finals MVP as well as winning the Defensive Player of the Year award in 2007.