Two things are certain for the Seattle Storm entering this season: they still have arguably the most potent starting unit in the league and, as described in Thursday's SBN Feature, a coaching staff whose commitment to improvement is second-to-none.
And in a 34-game basketball season crammed into three months, having that continuity in coaching and on-court leadership is crucial.
At the beginning of last season when it was still unclear just how historic the Seattle Storm's season would become, 2010 WNBA Coach of the Year Brian Agler attributed their fast start to being one of the few teams to return their entire starting lineup that featured All-Stars Sue Bid, Swin Cash, and Lauren Jackson.
He maintained throughout the season that the rest of the league would eventually "catch up" and form the chemistry that the Storm began the season with.
He kept saying it, the players bought in, and for a time it just seemed reasonable - at some point, the rest of the league would have to catch up.
But it never happened.
It eventually got to a point that no matter who showed up at KeyArena or how much the Storm were down at KeyArena, you had no reason to assume they would lose.
So Agler's task was clear this off-season was clear, even as the Storm celebrated winning the 2010 WNBA championship: bringing back as much of that unit as possible for a shot at winning it all again.
Although the Storm did manage to re-sign Cash after some uncertainty about whether she might choose to head back east to be closer to family, they lost two key reserves Svetlana Abrosimova and Jana Vesela who did choose to stay closer to home overseas this summer in addition to two rookie reserves in Australians Abby Bishop and Alison Lacey.
With Ashley Robinson and Le'coe Willingham being the only returning reserves, the Storm faced a familiar challenge: rebuilding their bench rotation.
That's where the commitment of the staff became particularly relevant.
The Storm went out and signed another Australian in veteran Belinda Snell, who is not only a solid shooter but also a rather efficient passer from the wing. They got good value in the 2011 WNBA draft adding Arizona forward and Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year Ify Ibekwe with the last pick of the second round, who is learning fast in training camp. Most significantly, they added two-time WNBA champion Katie Smith along with a promising young shot blocker in Jacinta Monroe through a trade with the Washington Mystics.
If nothing else, the Storm have put together a much more experienced bench with the additions of Snell and Smith along with a defensive presence in Monroe.
However, one major question remains, as described on SBN's women's basketball site Swish Appeal: who will serve as the backup point guard to Sue Bird?
2011 WNBA Preview: Will The Seattle Storm Have A Good Enough Bench To Repeat? - Swish Appeal
Where there's a gaping hole on the bench is that they have no distributors to back up Sue Bird. Tanisha Wright helps in this regard - she's among the most efficient ball handlers in the league and the Storm were able to get by with her and Svetlana Abrosimova sharing responsibility for distributing the ball. But with Abrosimova gone and no other point guard on the roster, the Storm have a void in the rotation behind Bird.
But during their first pre-season game against the Los Angeles Sparks, Kevin Pelton of StormBasketball.com describes a less heralded free agent acquisition who might have established herself as another piece to complete the bench picture: 5'7" point guard Sharnee Zoll, who has been out of the league and working on her game since 2008.
STORM: Media Day Notebook
Since her brief stint with the Minnesota Lynx in 2008, Zoll has been playing overseas and working hard in the summer to address the weakest aspect of her game - perimeter shooting. The effort paid off with an excellent 2010-11 campaign for Zoll, who played for CCC Polkowice and led the Polish PLKK in assists. Now, Zoll hopes to show the Storm that she has improved as a player.
The obvious thing about the Storm is that their starters alone are more than capable of making them a playoff team and entering their third year together, they have a significant advantage over other teams in the league. But the experience of their bench - and whether they can come together to complement the starters, particularly in terms of their ball handling needs - might make be the difference between a very good playoff team and another championship.
With the deadline to reduce rosters to the 11 player limit coming up on June 2, how they will address the question about ball handling will probably figure significantly.