The WNBA is on a break while the gold-medal-winning U.S. Women’s National Basketball Team defends its Olympic title in Rio. Two Seattle Storm players are on the roster: rookie Breanna Stewart and veteran Sue Bird.
Sports commentator Art Thiel talked with KPLU's Kirsten Kendrick about Team USA and the Storm’s season so far.
Thiel said the U.S. Women's National Basketball Team is expected to win gold again this year.
"They have been a stout force in the Olympics," he said. "I think with both Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird on the roster for the U.S., it's going to be fun to watch for Seattle fans.
"Bird has become, practically, an icon. She's sort of a Michael Phelps character, in terms of her frequency in appearance and the success that she's had.
"She's certainly been one of the premier figures in women's basketball history in this country. And it's been very cool to have her in Seattle.
Why The Losing Season?
The Storm is 9-15 this season, despite having made the No. 1 picks in the last two WNBA drafts, which added Jewell Loyd in 2015 and Stewart this year.
"I think it's a lot of transition," Thiel explained. "Sue Bird is not where she was when she partnered with Lauren Jackson in two championships in 2004 and 2010.
"Stewart is in her first year. She's going to get banged around a bit. And she's going to get double-teamed. And I think that's what happens a lot of the time.
"The Storm has been representative in most games. But they are now fourth in the six-team Western Conference and they've got two very good teams ahead of them in the Minnesota Lynx and the Los Angeles Sparks - 21-3 and 21-4.
"The Storm could still eek into the playoffs but this team is about next year and the year after.
"Stewart is going to mature into a very good player. She's already fifth in the league in points (19.2 per game) and she's also second in the league in rebounding at 9.3.
"So, it's not like she's been terrible but she's shooting 45 percent and that's largely due to the double teams. She can be pushed and she can be pressed into some mistakes.
"And Jewell Loyd still has some maturing to do as a leader and a scorer.
"I think this year is a transition year and I don't think there needs to be any particular panic about the quality of their two top picks," he said.
Thiel also noted the team has a new coach, Jenny Boucek.
"The team really needs to try to really bear down on getting some serious defense. That's always the thing that's toughest for a new coach to impart to a roster of relatively new players."
Black Lives Matter Controversy
Storm players recently showed solidarity with some other teams who’ve worn Black Lives Matter t-shirts in various forms. Sue Bird tweeted out a photo of her teammates dressed all in black with the quote from Martin Luther King, Junior: “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.”
"It was a cumulative pressure," Thiel said. "I think they saw their platform as an opportunity to voice their concerns.
"So they wore these T-shirts - in warm-ups, not in the game - and the WNBA fined each player $500 and fined the team.
"And that really drew attention because [people thought], 'Wait a minute, you're curbing free speech here.' And the league said, 'No, this is a uniform thing.'
"A few days later, the WNBA rescinded it because it looked really bad.
"I think it's really important for players - if they feel so moved and they understand the issue - to speak out," Thiel continued.
"The nation is convulsed by what's happening with the police shootings and shootings of police.
"These women got together and said, 'We think we need to make people feel uncomfortable.'
"Lots of [sponsor and advertising] dollars can go away from outspoken athletes or teams. On the other hand, I've never known comfortable people to do anything about injustice.
"So, anything the WNBA - or any athlete - does to use that platform, I say, 'You go for it.'"
You can find Art Thiel's work at Sportspress Northwest and Crosscut.com.