Photo: Rob Carr (Getty)

The defending champion Seattle Storm are going to have an awful hard time repeating in 2019. Not only is reigning MVP Breanna Stewart going to miss this year after tearing her Achilles, but now, veteran leader Sue Bird will be out for most, if not all, of this upcoming season, as the team announced today that she’ll undergo surgery on her left knee.

Stewart’s injury, which she picked up playing for her Russian team, was already going to be a massive blow for the Storm squad that went 26-8 last year. At 38 years old, Bird was clearly in the final act of her career already, and the loss of the point guard may not be as impactful as losing literally the league’s most valuable player. But there was a feeling of unlimited potential around Bird’s resurgent 2018, and the fact that Bird possibly won’t get an opportunity for an encore performance is a tough blow for both Seattle and the WNBA as a whole.

Running the offense for the Storm as they won not just the title, but also their first playoff games overall since 2012, Bird put up a career high of 7.1 assists per game last season, topping her old high of 6.6 from the season before. And while her 10.1 points per game were a career low, Bird was still the Storm’s scariest long-range shooter by far, as she showed in the deciding game of the Conference Finals against Phoenix. Bird’s run of late daggers in that Game 5 was undeniably the most thrilling moment of Seattle’s season.

When their season starts on Saturday with a playoff rematch against the Mercury, the Storm will also be down their head coach, Dan Hughes, who had surgery to remove a cancerous tumor earlier in this month and doesn’t have a timetable to return. To stay competitive on the court, Seattle will have to rely on secondary scorers like Natasha Howard (who did make a big leap forward after being traded to Seattle last year) and Jewell Loyd to carry their offense. But in a Western Conference that’s already been shaken up by the Aces’ ascent into contendership, they no longer stack up as the season’s biggest threat.