Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Bird doubts Sun's chances of landing Jackson

The Connecticut Sun are making a push for former WNBA MVP Lauren Jackson. Sue Bird said she doesn’t think they have a chance.

Bird — the former UConn star and Jackson’s teammate the last seven years with the Seattle Storm — told reporters Tuesday in Storrs that she believes Phoenix and Seattle “are the frontrunners” for Jackson’s services.

An unrestricted free agent for the first time and largely considered the world’s best player, Jackson is being courted by several teams, telling The Daily Telegraph in Sydney, Australia, that Sun coach Mike Thibault is one of three coaches who have or will visit her in Russia, where she’s playing for powerhouse Spartak Moscow.

“There’s no way,” Bird said with a laugh when first asked about Connecticut’s intentions of wooing Jackson to Mohegan Sun.

“I don’t want to say yes or no either way,” she later added. “That’s Lauren’s decision. I know her pretty well. I’m not sure. I love Connecticut. I’m not sure she would like it.”

Bird was working out on the UConn campus, and added she plans to be at Saturday’s game against LSU at the XL Center.

WNBA teams were allowed to begin discussions with free agents on Dec. 15, and Jan. 5 is the first day players can sign a contract. It seems unlikely Jackson, 27, will decide on a destination by then, and she has said she’s unsure if she’ll play in the U.S. at all this summer.

After undergoing right ankle surgery following the Olympics — and missing the rest of the WNBA season — Jackson told The Daily Telegraph, “I think at the moment I have to decide on both (options) ... whether to play in the WNBA and if so, with which team.

“I have to make a decision and it’s going to be a big one,” she added, according to the newspaper’s Wednesday edition. “It could impact the rest of my career.”

Jackson told the paper that Seattle coach Brian Agler and Thibault were among those to come see her in Moscow, and that Phoenix coach Corey Gaines is coming in January. In total, Jackson said she’s spoken to “seven to eight” teams thus far.

“Look, I love Seattle and I love my coach there,” Jackson told the Telegraph. “He’s great. And so are my teammates obviously, so it’s a pretty big decision, something I’m not taking lightly at all. ... It’s not a financial decision. Not at all.”

In eight WNBA seasons, Jackson averaged 19.4 points, 8.0 rebounds and 2.0 blocks. In 2007, the same year she earned her second MVP honor, she was also named the league’s top defensive player. In 2004, she helped lead the Storm to the WNBA championship.

Thibault spoke in November at a media luncheon about going after the league’s top free agents.

“The top players are going to make their decisions based upon their own personal goals,” the coach said. “If their goal is winning championships, they’re going to pick a team or narrow it to a couple teams that they feel like they can compete for championships every year. I think that’s something that we have to offer to a lot of free agents. ... I think in many cases the player has to have a pretty compelling reason to leave if they already play for a winning franchise.”

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