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Originally published February 16, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified February 16, 2007 at 1:12 PM

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Bird ready to sign new contract with Storm

It was supposed to be a swanky trip filled with launch parties, autograph sessions and maybe a little gambling. Instead, Storm guard Sue...

Seattle Times staff reporter

It was supposed to be a swanky trip filled with launch parties, autograph sessions and maybe a little gambling. Instead, Storm guard Sue Bird was stuck for eight hours at the airport.

Bird had flown from Moscow, where she plays in the WNBA offseason, into New York's JFK Airport on the way to the NBA's All-Star Weekend in Las Vegas. But she was stranded there by a snowstorm.

"I love my mom and all, but I'm definitely bummed," said Bird, a native New Yorker who spent time with her family before her return to Moscow today. "There was a lot I had planned."

Those plans included Bird re-signing with the Storm. Terms of the contract were not disclosed, but she is expected to make the league maximum of $93,000 this season. Her deal could be a one-year term, which would open her up to unrestricted free agency next season. It would also protect her should the Storm end up in Oklahoma City, and she decided against moving.

Yet Bird, who owns property in Seattle, didn't say she wouldn't move with the organization, as teammate Lauren Jackson has said repeatedly.

"To me, Seattle is a home now," said Bird, the Storm's No. 1 overall draft pick in 2002. "I've talked to Lauren about it a lot and we're really excited for this year."

Bird was to represent the WNBA in Las Vegas, headlining a party for the latest NBA Street Homecourt video game that included six women in its three-on-three format. Houston forward Sheryl Swoopes was flown in on Thursday to compete in the tournament in Bird's place.

Women have been featured in video games for golf, tennis and volleyball, but Bird, Jackson and Swoopes, along with Phoenix's Diana Taurasi, Los Angeles' Lisa Leslie and Indiana's Tamika Catchings, are believed to be the first female players in a basketball game. Bird described her image as the "master passer."

"It'll give them more publicity," said Sonics forward Rashard Lewis, an avid gamer who is attending All-Star Weekend. "I would pick either Sue Bird or Lauren Jackson because if I win the game with a female, I could talk more trash."

Bird welcomed the idea.

"In that case, he's smart," she said with a laugh.

With Bird expected to return and Jackson and guard Betty Lennox already under contract with max deals, the Storm opted to name unrestricted free-agent center Janell Burse a core player, making her unable to test the market.

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"Money isn't the biggest driving factor," said Burse via e-mail. "I think the most important thing for me is to be in a good playing situation with people I'm comfortable with, and Seattle is definitely a priority. I'm really loyal to the organization and its fans."

Burse is in Prague recovering from a foot injury, but her agent has made the trip overseas with a Storm contract. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

"I'm expecting a signed contract any day," said Karen Bryant, the Storm's chief operating officer. "It's just a formality."

The Storm also is in early discussions with forward Iziane Castro Marques, whom Bryant said wants to return to Seattle despite hints she wanted to play in New York. If Castro Marques returns, the Storm would return the majority of the roster that advanced to the playoffs in 2006.

Allen talks WNBA

Sonics guard Ray Allen would have made an appearance this week in Las Vegas even if he hadn't been a late injury replacement for the All-Star Game. Allen will appear with his daughter, Tierra, in a new WNBA promo. The commercial will air during the game on Sunday.

For a preview, go to www.seattletimes.com/sports/storm.

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

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