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Tuesday, May 16, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Is Sue Bird all-decade? It's a pointed debate

Seattle Times staff reporter

There was scoffing and a small kick at an imaginary object.

Clearly this was not a topic Storm coach Anne Donovan wanted to discuss.

"But I know I need to talk about it," she said reluctantly.

The WNBA kicked of its 10th anniversary season with controversy, announcing it would select 10 players to be its inaugural all-decade team. On the list of 30 retired and current players are Storm all-stars Lauren Jackson and Sue Bird. But while many in Seattle, Australia and Connecticut — where the players have strong ties — believe Jackson and Bird are no-brainers to be part of the elite grouping, fans debate on the Internet whether Bird is worthy.

In fact, some who have already submitted votes have made their "teams" without a point guard, believing none of the true points on the list are of the caliber to be titled All-Decade.

Fans, players, coaches and media, including The Seattle Times, are selecting the team. Online voting at the league's site concludes May 31, and the WNBA will announce leading vote-getters Wednesday and again on May 24. The final team will be announced during an ESPN2 broadcast June 13. The players will be honored at the All-Star Game in New York on July 12.

"[Bird] and Lauren have proven what great players they are in this league," said Donovan, who believes picking just 10 players is difficult. "You look for the best point guard in this league, and Sue is in that category for sure."

So what's the problem?

Statistically, Bird's scoring numbers aren't gaudy. She led the league in assists for the first time last season, averaging 5.9, down from her career-high 6.5 in 2003. But she does have a championship ring, and has been a first-team All-WNBA selection all four years in the league.

Yet, seemingly as the Storm grew more competitive, adding perimeter scorers like Betty Lennox and Iziane Castro Marques to counter a balanced interior (when healthy) with Janell Burse and Jackson, Bird has drifted further into the background. Every summer she attempts fewer shots and averages fewer points, posting a career-low 12.1 last season.

Bird is a true point guard, however, and numbers shouldn't justify her worth. Like Steve Nash in Phoenix, players perform better when Bird is setting them up offensively. And her three-point shooting — 43.7 percent last season — is lethal.

"Some people say, 'Oh, it's the people who started the league, that's who deserves to be on it,' " said Bird, who said she felt like a politician when discussing her credentials. "Other people are like, 'What about a Lauren Jackson? People who came in and changed what that type of player does?' Some people just look at who averaged the most points and they're done. I don't think that's fair to somebody like myself; I do way more than just what I score. So, that's an argument.

"I see that you can't leave all these great [posts and shooting guards] off it, but point guards are pretty important, too."

Longevity could play a part in Bird's selection. Veterans Shannon Johnson (San Antonio), Ticha Penicheiro (Sacramento), Dawn Staley (Houston) and Becky Hammon (New York) — the other point guards nominated — have been around longer to accumulate stats.

Johnson never won a title in her seven seasons, but ranks among the league's top 25 in seven statistical categories. Penicheiro's flashy game has led her to be the league's all-time assist leader (1,591) in her eight seasons. Staley, a seven-year vet, has better Olympic stats and is a sound floor leader. And Hammon is one of the league's most popular players who leads in career free-throw percentage (90.1) after seven seasons.

"Sue is the best point guard America has ever [produced]," said Jackson. "[Dawn and Ticha] both have their attributes, but Sue is the whole package. She can play defense, she can play offense, she's unstoppable. People would be stupid not to put her on that team."

Bird, who was voted an All-Star starter by fans last season, isn't concerned about the voting.

"I'll let my mom do it," she said.

Notes

• Center Janell Burse remains listed as "week to week" regarding her upper left arm injury. She's doubtful for the Storm's season opener against Los Angeles on Sunday.

• Guard Tanisha Wright had an excused absence from practice Monday after attending her graduation commencement at Penn State last weekend.

• Forward Wendy Palmer was rushed to have her jaw evaluated after a male practice player hit her in the face, busting her lip, which immediately swelled and needed stitches. The Storm will know more about her condition today.

WNBA All-Decade Team nominees

The names of 30 nominees for the 10 spots on the WNBA All-Decade Team. The list was selected by a panel of national media, coaches, former players and WNBA personnel. The final team will be voted on fans, players, coaches and media announced in June.

Janeth Arcain, F, Houston (97-03,05); SUE BIRD, G, Seattle (02-Present); Ruthie Bolton, G, Sacramento (97-04); Swin Cash, F, Detroit (02-Present); Tamika Catchings, F, Indiana (01-Present); Cynthia Cooper, G, Houston (97-00,03); Tamecka Dixon, G, Los Angeles (97-05) and Houston (06); Jennifer Gillom, F/C, Phoenix (97-02) and Los Angeles (03); Yolanda Griffith, F/C, Sacramento (99-Present); Becky Hammon, G, New York (99-Present); Chamique Holdsclaw, F, Washington (99-04) and Los Angeles (05-Present); LAUREN JACKSON, F, Seattle (01-Present); Shannon Johnson, G, Orlando (99-02), Connecticut (03), and San Antonio (04-Present.); Vickie Johnson, G/F, New York (97-05) and San Antonio (06); Lisa Leslie, C, Los Angeles (97-Present); Rebecca Lobo, C, New York (97-01), Houston (02), and Connecticut (03); Mwadi Mabika, F, Los Angeles (97-Present); Taj McWilliams-Franklin, F/C, Orlando (99-02) and Connecticut (03-Present); DeLisha Milton-Jones, F, Los Angeles (97-04) and Washington (05-Present); Deanna Nolan, G/F, Detroit (01-Present); Ticha Penicheiro, G, Sacramento (98-Present); Nykesha Sales, G/F, Orlando (99-02) and Connecticut (03-Present); Katie Smith, G, Minnesota (99-05) and Detroit (05-Present); Dawn Staley, G, Charlotte (99-05) and Houston (05-Present); Andrea Stinson, G, Charlotte (97-05) and Detroit (05); Sheryl Swoopes, F, Houston (97-Present); Diana Taurasi, G, Phoenix (04-Present); Tina Thompson, F, Houston (97-Present); Teresa Weatherspoon, G, New York (97-03) and Los Angeles (04); Natalie Williams, F, Utah (97-02) and Indiana (03-05)

Source: WNBA.com

Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or jevans@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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