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SEATTLE — A terrible start to the season just got exponentially worse for the Storm, who have lost star point guard Sue Bird for significant time due to a knee injury.

Bird, an 11-time WNBA All-Star and the league's oldest player at 38, will undergo arthroscopic surgery to remove a loose body in her left knee, the Storm announced Tuesday.

Dr. Michael Joyce will perform the surgery in Connecticut at an unspecified date.

The Storm did not specify a timetable on Bird's return, but in similar cases recovery typically takes 8-10 weeks.

An early return would bring her back in late July after about 20 games in the 34-game season. Or she may not return until early August while missing roughly 23 games.

There's also growing speculation around the league that Bird could sit out the season for the second time in her career. She didn't play in 2013 after having a cyst removed from her left knee.

"The most important thing to us is that Sue is healthy and strong," CEO and general manager Alisha Valavanis said in a statement released by the team. "Based on her feedback and evaluation from her longtime surgeon and our medical team, it was determined the best course of action was a scope. We have confidence this will support Sue's full recovery and we look forward to her return to the court."

Losing Bird is another devastating blow to the 2018 WNBA champions, who are still coming to grips with the absence of reigning league MVP Breanna Stewart, who is out for the season after tearing her right Achilles tendon.

Additionally, coach Dan Hughes' availability for Saturday's season opener against Phoenix is uncertain after he underwent surgery to remove a cancerous tumor last week.

"I'm super disappointed to have to miss time with the team this season," Bird said in a statement. "There's nothing I want more than to be on court with my teammates defending our title.

"I've been down this road before, so now I just have to focus on getting better so I can continue to represent the Storm, the city of Seattle and the 'Storm Crazies' in the future."

Despite playing her 16th season, Bird was at the top of her game in 2018 while averaging a career-high 7.1 assists. She also had her best year shooting from the field (46.6 percent) and 3-pointers (44.8).

Bird averaged 10.1 points, which ranked third on the team, and 1.1 steals while starting in 31 games as the Storm compiled a league-best 26-8 record and captured the No. 1 playoff seed.

Bird was at her best during the postseason, including a spellbinding performance in Game 5 of the WNBA semifinals. Two days after breaking her nose in an 86-84 loss at Phoenix, Bird donned a face mask and led a late-game comeback while scoring 14 of her 22 points in the fourth quarter of a series-clinching 94-84 win.

"Fortunately, I've played in a lot big games in my career, but I can say with a fair amount of certainty that when it's all said and done, that (Game 5 against Phoenix) will probably rank up there at the top in terms of my best games," said Bird, a four-time Olympic gold medalist and two-time NCAA champion. "Normally, I'm getting other people the ball so they can make shots, and that time I got a few to go down.

"When you consider the circumstances, who we were playing against, it was Dee (Diana Taurasi) and Phoenix. Great crowd. At home. We were down for most of that game. And it being a loser-go-home game, yeah it doesn't get better than that if you're able to pull it out and go the Finals."

Bird and the Storm won their third WNBA championship following a 3-0 sweep over the Washington Mystics. She tallied 10 points and 10 assists in the 98-82 clincher.

Before Bird's injury, the Storm was a long shot to win a second consecutive title. Las Vegas oddsmakers gave Seattle 14-to-1 odds, which ranked seventh in the 12-team league.

Without Stewart and Bird, the Storm might be hard-pressed to finish among the top eight teams that advance to the playoffs.

Fifth-year veteran guard Jewell Loyd, a first-time All-Star last year and the team's leading returning scorer (15.5 points per game), becomes the No. 1 scoring option. She has a team-high 16.0 scoring average in the preseason for the Storm, which was 0-2 in exhibitions.

Seattle will also lean heavily on forwards Natasha Howard, who had a breakout season in 2018, two-time All-Star Crystal Langhorne, defensive ace Alysha Clark and second-year veteran Jordin Canada, who replaces Bird at point guard.

"Our franchise is built to be resilient," Storm co-owner Lisa Brummel said. "We have a team that brought the city of Seattle a WNBA championship in 2018 and we will not diminish our expectation for the future."

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