Seattle Storm season preview: Katie Smith raises toughness quotient

Opponents aspiring to knock defending WNBA champion Seattle off the throne must have been galled by the apparent greed of the Storm.

Adding Katie Smith to the lineup has to appear like such a gaudy redundancy.

What more do they want, after all? Wasn’t it enough to have a roster that included such All-Stars as Lauren Jackson, Sue Bird and Swin Cash?

Wasn’t it enough to win all 21 home games last season on the way to a 28-6 regular-season record and three playoff series sweeps?

What could this team do to get better?

Well, the Storm went out and added the third-highest scorer in the history of the league. And as talented and competitive as is the returning core of the Storm, Smith could be the one player who makes certain nobody even thinks about getting complacent.

Smith turns 37 today as the Storm opens its title defense at KeyArena against Phoenix (ring ceremony at 11:30 a.m., tipoff at noon).

She brings three Olympic gold medals, championship experience and a reputation that causes every coach, teammate and analyst to begin an assessment of her with the word “tough.”

“Toughness? Yeah, I like to think I have a certain toughness to me,” Smith said. “My career speaks for that, I guess. You obviously don’t play this long without having that type of toughness to be able to withstand what we go through.”

A 5-foot-11 guard, Smith can play any position on the perimeter. And, having played in the ABL and WNBA for Storm coach Brian Agler, she’s already familiar with the demands of his intricate defensive schemes.

Plus, she’s familiar with other key players, having been Bird’s teammate on two USA Olympic teams and playing with Cash for a title in Detroit.

“She’s a proven winner,” Cash said. “She’ll get down and dirty; she just brings veteran leadership and an aggressive style of play that’s going to fit well with our team and also with our fans.”

Jackson knows all about toughness, having been the target of defenses around the world for more than a decade. And even she believes Smith “definitely brings a lot more toughness she doesn’t back down from anyone.”

Smith was offered more money to stick with the Washington Mystics but chose to rejoin Agler in Seattle. “He’s somebody I respect, and he’s a friend,” Smith said. “He’s got a toughness to him, too; he competes and he wants to win. I enjoy playing for him and am excited to do it again.”

Agler had no worries about adverse chemical reactions adding Smith to a roster already blessed with veteran leadership.

“Knowing her and her experience, she is going to be easily integrated,” Agler said. “She’s such a versatile player. She has a toughness to her – physically and mentally – that we like, and she has a good history with a lot of people in our organization.”

A prime factor in easing Smith’s assimilation is that an enlarged ego is not one of her characteristics.

“I have a strong personality, but I fit in,” she said. “I’m not somebody who is going to cause any problems. You come and do your job. You bring what you can to the table and sit back and figure out how to play and get into the system they obviously have established.”

“It’s not that difficult; it’s just basketball,” she said. “It’s about playing together and playing hard. You do that and it’s really an easy deal.”

Smith saw limited duty in the preseason, nursing Achilles’ tendinitis. When asked how she expected to be used by the Storm – starter or reserve – she shrugged. Doesn’t matter.

Her expected role? “I’m going to be used however it works best for the team,” she said. “It’s about being as efficient as I possibly can be when I’m on the floor.”

In short: “Just doing whatever it takes to win a game.”

The 2010 Storm already did a lot of that. But Smith will have an important role in reminding the 2011 crew how to get it done.

Dave Boling: 253-597-8440