How Tina Charles can bolster the Seattle Storm's WNBA title hopes -- or disrupt the team's chemistry

How Tina Charles can bolster the Seattle Storm’s WNBA title hopes — or disrupt the team’s chemistry

The Seattle Storm officially announced Tuesday what everyone anticipated since center Tina Charles’ “divorce” from the Phoenix Mercury was announced three days earlier: She is headed to the Pacific Northwest.

Charles has signed a rest of the season contract with the Storm, who are currently 11-7 and in fourth place in the WNBA standings.

Guard Sue Bird, part of all four Storm championship teams, will retire after this season. Charles now will be part of the quest to send Bird out with another WNBA title — while also trying to win the first in her own career.

Charles averaged 17.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.1 assists playing 16 games for the Mercury, with whom she signed as a free agent in February. Charles reportedly was unhappy with her role in Phoenix (8-12), which has won two games in a row since she left.

Charles, 33, has had a Hall of Fame-worthy career dating to her two NCAA championships at UConn, but a WNBA title has eluded her. Seattle will be her fifth stop in the WNBA, following time with the Connecticut Sun, New York Liberty, Washington Mystics and Phoenix.

How will Charles, the 2012 WNBA MVP, fit with the Storm? Does her addition greatly strengthen Seattle’s championship hopes? ESPN’s Kevin Pelton, Alexa Philippou and Mechelle Voepel look at Seattle’s big mid-season move.

Having played half of its 36-game regular-season schedule, and with two 2022 All-Stars already in the starting lineup, why do the Storm want to add Charles?

Things haven’t gone to plan in Seattle this summer as center Mercedes Russell — who signed a three-year deal with the Storm this past offseason — has been limited to five games and is currently being treated for a recurrent, atypical headache syndrome.

Ezi Magbegor has emerged as a budding star in the league, helping Russell’s absence feel less acute, but the Storm have problems elsewhere: In particular, they’ve massively struggled to get their reserves going, or really to get much consistent offense from anyone outside of Breanna Stewart, Jewell Loyd and Magbegor. While Seattle’s starters sport a 19.1 net rating, the Storm’s next two most frequent lineups — Briann January, Jantel Lavender, Loyd, Stewart and Gabby Williams, followed by January, Epiphanny Prince, Lavender, Stephanie Talbot and Magbegor — come in at -19.4 and -9.6, respectively. Even with a strong season from Magbegor, Seattle is tied for last in the league in rebounding percentage (46.4%) and 11th in points in the paint (29.1).

With Bird making it official that 2022 is her final season in the WNBA — and the looming possibility Stewart finds a new home in free agency next season — the Storm want to put all their chips in toward winning the WNBA title this season. Bringing in Charles to shore up their frontcourt depth, especially while Russell is sidelined, and to add a sure-fire offensive weapon makes them, on paper, a much more dangerous team capable of winning a championship. — Philippou

How might Seattle use Charles in its lineup?

That might depend on what the Storm told Charles in the process of re-recruiting her after she chose the Mercury over Seattle as a free agent in February. A source told ESPN’s Josh Weinfuss that decision stemmed from a disagreement over how the Storm would use Charles.

From a basketball standpoint, Charles would most optimally come off the bench at both frontcourt spots behind Stewart and Magbegor, the role veteran Jantel Lavender has played this season in Russell’s absence. But Charles has never come off the bench in her career and can justifiably point to leading the WNBA in scoring just last year to consider it unthinkable at this point.

If Charles must start, Seattle coach Noelle Quinn has an interesting decision to make. Magbegor has played far too well to justify losing her starting job, so could the Storm start a giant frontcourt with Stewart at small forward alongside both Charles and Magbegor? There’s probably just enough shooting to make it work on offense, but that would mean Loyd would have to defend the opposition’s top wing scorer — a role Seattle acquired current starting small forward Gabby Williams to fill, as she has capably done on defense.

Sliding Stewart to small forward could also create some more minutes at center for Russell when she’s back in the lineup. The Storm committed to Russell with a three-year deal this offseason worth $160,000 per year, according to HerHoopStats.com, so they’ll want to find a role for her when healthy. — Pelton

Reports indicate Charles was unhappy with her role in the Mercury offense and her number of shot attempts. Can those numbers improve in a Seattle offense that already has another MVP post player?

I’m not sure how much more Charles expects the offense to run through her than it did in Phoenix, where she averaged 14.8 shots per game. Loyd is averaging that many now, with Stewart at 16.3.

Stewart is 27 and in the running for her second MVP, having previously won in 2018 when the Storm won the championship. There was no other post player close to Stewart’s caliber at Phoenix with Griner detained in Russia, so Charles’ situation there was different. Charles might see the Storm as allowing her to be at least as impactful on court as she was for the Mercury, but with a potentially much greater payoff. — Voepel

How does Charles’ addition change the Storm’s 2022 championship hopes?

It changes it for better — or for worse. The better has been spelled out in what Charles brings in terms of immediate and significant impact. The worse? If chemistry is disrupted, it could be hard to get it back. A hallmark of the Bird-Loyd-Stewart championship teams is that they have shared the glory and had each other’s backs. The biggest disruptor for Seattle has simply been injuries, particularly to Stewart, who was out all of 2019 and the end of the regular season/playoffs last year. If Charles comes in committed to be part of that cohesion, it definitely will make the Storm a greater threat. — Voepel

What’s the single biggest pro and con to Charles joining the Storm at this point of the season?

The biggest pro is simply that Charles from a talent perspective is a great player, someone who gets a lot of attention from opposing defenses and is a strong defender on her own. It would seem on paper like the best possible scenario for Seattle, which needs post help and just got it at the expense of a rival.

The biggest con, frankly, is that Charles can be difficult to play with if things aren’t going the way she wants them to go. The benefit for the Storm is they already have three players who have been USA Basketball teammates and know Charles well in Bird, Loyd and Stewart. Charles clearly didn’t believe the Mercury were going to help her get a championship, so it would make sense that she is going to be all-in now with Seattle. To that extent, her attitude might be completely different than it seemed like it became in her short stay in Phoenix. — Voepel

How does the Storm roster look next season?

As I wrote when Bird announced this will be her final season, there are more questions than answers about the 2023 Storm at this point with Stewart headed toward unrestricted free agency and the team’s core designation already used on Loyd.

If Stewart ends up leaving and Charles enjoys her time in Seattle this year, she could step into a larger offensive role as a focal point alongside Loyd and Magbegor (who will be reserved next season and able to negotiate a new contract only with the Storm). Given Charles will turn 34 in December, that wouldn’t necessarily be a long-term solution if Seattle does lose the two-time Finals MVP, but it could soften the impact in 2023. — Pelton


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