SEATTLE — The prospects of Sue Bird returning from arthroscopic left knee surgery and leading the slumping Storm on a late playoff push are fading and virtually nonexistent at this point.
The defending WNBA champions haven’t made any official or definitive decisions, but with just three weeks and seven games remaining in the regular season it’s unlikely the 11-time All-Star will play in 2019.
“I haven’t even entertained that,” coach Dan Hughes said. “I think you just got to let life unfold in this situation. I’d like nothing better to coach Sue Bird soon, but I don’t know the answer and I think life will play out in the right way.
“She’s a veteran and knows her body. What I learned in coaching, if that happens I’ll think about it then. But right now I need to think about the players I got.”
Out of necessity, the Storm coalesced around second-year point guard Jordin Canada, who is having a breakout year while averaging 9.7 points, 5.0 assists, 2.2 steals and 29.1 minutes.
Still, the Storm’s depth in the backcourt is lacking and Hughes has been unsure who would be available during this injury-riddled season in which Seattle has been without reigning MVP Breanna Stewart, who is recovering from an Achilles injury suffered overseas in April.
When Bird underwent knee surgery on May 30, the 38-year-old point guard speculated that she could skip the season to recover just as she did in 2013 after she had a cyst surgically removed from her left knee.
“What makes the WNBA so great and what makes it challenging sometimes is that it’s a short season,” Bird said earlier this year. “So when you have something come up that might keep you out for weeks, months or whatever the case, unfortunately you end up missing what could be the entire season.”
Disclaimer alert: No knee surgeries and subsequent rehabilitations are exactly the same.
With that being said, Bird and Minnesota’s Seimone Augustus draw interesting parallels considering their similar age, position, stature and injuries.
On the same day Bird had her knee surgery in Hartford, Conn., the 35-year-old Augustus underwent arthroscopic right knee surgery on at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota to address “significant symptoms she’s been experiencing,” the team announced at the time.
The 6-foot, 172-pound Lynx guard missed 21 games before making her season debut on Aug. 6. Her return coincided with an 85-69 victory over Atlanta that snapped a four-game Minnesota losing streak.
The eight-time All-Star is averaging just 4.2 points, which is 12 fewer than her career average, and 13.2 minutes while shooting a career-low 28.1 percent from the field in five games with the Lynx.
Still, Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve describes Augustus as an extra coach on the court and plans to limit her playing time to fewer than 20 minutes for the rest of the season.
“She’s finally showing ’em, after all these games,” Reeve told the Minnesota Star-Tribune. “We’ve been talking to our players about what we’re trying to get, what we’re trying to do. And then Seimone just goes out and does it.”
Augustus, who is the Lynx franchise career leader in games played and started (363) points (5,857), is expected to make her sixth start of the season Sunday when the Storm (14-13) hosts Minnesota (13-13) at Alaska Airlines Arena.
“I want this team to do what it needs to do to play Lynx basketball,” Augustus told the Star-Tribune. “Now I’m back out there, I’m able to set a tone, get us going in the right direction.”
Sunday’s game carries playoff implications considering Seattle, who have lost three straight games, are No. 6 in the WNBA standings and Minnesota is No. 7. The Storm lead the regular-season series 2-1.
The top eight teams in the 12-team league advance to the postseason.
Seattle hopes Canada is able to return to the lineup after sitting out Friday’s 79-78 defeat at Connecticut due to a shoulder injury.
Bird, who wasn’t with the team during is previous two games, is also expected to be back on the sidelines Sunday.
However, Bird has not practiced with the Storm this season and there are no plans to involve her in workouts in the foreseeable future.
“She’s rehabbing and doing things there and she’s very diligent about it,” Hughes said. “She’s very good at being a part of us. Her mind is still a part of this team.
“Physically she’s working everyday. I see her every day doing all the rehab things, but she’s not playing basketball with us at this point. … She’s going to play basketball again, I just don’t know when.”