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Inside The W with Michelle Smith: Offseason Preview

The WNBA Free Agency period opens February 1, giving teams the first opportunity to begin making roster moves ahead of April’s Draft.

Some franchises will look to secure key players. Others seek role players who can provide the missing piece to contention. The next three months could change the fortunes of several organizations around the league.

Team will secure key players, acquire key role players, and possibly change their fortunes. Every team in the league has priorities during the free-agency period.

Let’s look over the priorities for every team during the free agency period:

Player Movement Central: See Which Players Are Available

Atlanta. The Atlanta Dream, under new head coach Nikki Collen, have talent a plenty at the guard spots and two of the league’s best young posts in Elizabeth Williams and Imani Boyette. But another wing is what Collen needs, a player like a Jessica Breland, Monique Currie or Damiris Dantis. But there might also be room to add another scoring guard now that Bria Holmes will miss the season due to pregnancy — perhaps a veteran like Ivory Latta.

Chicago. The Sky, making their move to downtown Chicago, seem to have their backcourt nailed down with Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley. But from there, there is a lot to figure out. Jessica Breland (unrestricted) and Stefanie Dolson (restricted), mainstays on the floor for the Sky last year in the front court, are free agents. The team has two of the top 4 picks in the draft. Veteran guard Cappie Pondexter, whose production dropped off last season, is also an unrestricted free agent. This team, like many others, needs wings. Noelle Quinn or Shekinna Stricklen could be possibilities.

Connecticut. Looking to follow up their breakout season, the Sun can look forward to the return of Chiney Ogwumike to a young lineup that grabbed the attention of the entire league last summer. Morgan Tuck missed 12 games last season due to injury, but should be healthy and ready to contribute inside alongside Ogwumike and Jonquel Jones. What do they need? More time playing together as a unit. Alyssa Thomas, a restricted free agent, was a glue player for the Sun last season, and will likely return. The backcourt, led by breakout star Jasmine Thomas, looks to be set. Most of the Sun’s free agents are in the frontcourt, but with Ogwumike returning, standing pat with their main lineup looks like the way to go.

Dallas. The Wings’ next moves depend on whether Liz Cambage is actually returning, because if the Australian star is on the floor come May, the Wings are quickly a very interesting team with an opportunity to make a lot of noise in 2018. Dallas had seven players on last year’s roster with two years’ experience or less in the WNBA. There might be a need for a backup point guard for Skylar Diggins, a role that Latta or Renee Montgomery could play well.

Indiana. Injuries played a big part in ending the Fever’s WNBA-record playoff streak last season and good health will make a big difference for this team. But so will adding an impact player with the No. 2 pick in the draft and getting its young core of Tiffany Mitchell, Erica Wheeler, Erica McCall and Natalie Achonwa on the floor together for major minutes this season. The biggest question will be whether Indiana decides to make a run at keeping Shenise Johnson on the wing or if there’s someone out there who’s a better fit, someone who can generate some offense from beyond the three-point arc, perhaps?

Las Vegas. The Aces have many big decisions to make and potentially big moves as well. Who to choose at No. 1? How many guards to play with? Who will be their veteran leader on the floor? Is there a veteran leader who wants to come to Vegas to be the tone-setter in the debut season? The Aces need wings – a veteran like Noelle Quinn comes to mind – and depth in the frontcourt. If they draft South Carolina’s A’ja Wilson at No. 1, they will need to give her help inside as she settles into the pro game.

Los Angeles. The Sparks’ priorities will be to keep Alana Beard — one of the best defensive players in league history — and secure the services of Odyssey Sims, allowing Sims and Chelsea Gray to play together another season and meld into the league’s highest-powered backcourt. As for needs, LA could use another three-point shooter to space the floor.

Minnesota. Priorities: Secure Rebekkah Brunson for another title run. Convince Renee Montgomery to re-sign and prepare her to be the franchise’s next floor leader as Lindsay Whalen gets closer to the end of her career. Bring back Natasha Howard or secure a talented small forward to bring depth to that spot. The Lynx have a winning formula. Why mess with it too much?

New York. The Liberty have a new head coach in Katie Smith, an ownership situation in flux and they have designated Tina Charles as a core player so that she will continue to be the centerpiece of the franchise. Brittany Boyd will be back at point guard after missing most of last season with an Achilles injury, and Epiphanny Price and Sugar Rodgers are back as well, solidifying the backcourt. Shavonte Zellous could move out to the wing, but either way Charles needs help inside. Kia Vaughn is an unrestricted free agent. Kiah Stokes and Amanda Zahui B would need to step up their games to provide more support inside. And depth on the wing could also help unless Smith wants to play a three-guard lineup over long stretches.

Phoenix. The Mercury want back into the championship discussion in these sunset years of Diana Taurasi’s legendary career. It’s win-now mode for the three-time champions. DeWanna Bonner’s return to the lineup certainly helps to that end. Last year, Phoenix opened the season with 10 new players. This year, Phoenix is settled at guard with Leilani Mitchell and Danielle Robinson. The big question marks are the respective status of Camille Little and Monique Currie. Little started every game for the Mercury in 2017, Currie came in to play a major role at the midway point. But Bonner’s return means less minutes on the wing. Phoenix will be in the market for a dynamic two-way guard/forward through free agency, perhaps in the mold of a Shekinna Stricklen.

Seattle. Under new head coach Dan Hughes, the Storm don’t have much room for remaking a roster that still has to be viewed as one capable of making a playoff run. The biggest question for Seattle is who will anchor the Storm at center with Carolyn Swords an unrestricted free agent. In order to compete against some of the league’s top teams, the Storm need a dominant presence inside, someone who can rebound and play some good defensive minutes against the likes of Fowles, Griner and Charles. Courtney Paris is a reliable rebounder and a good finisher who might be able to help out.

Washington. The Mystics have two of the best frontcourt players in the league in Elena Delle Donne and Emma Meesseman. They have a veteran guard in Kristi Toliver and a great young backcourt talent in Tayler Hill. What Washington needs most is good health, with injuries plaguing the team for most of 2017. But they also need backcourt depth as Latta becomes an unrestricted free agent, and another scorer on the wing. Monique Currie or Tamera Young might be players to watch.

Longtime WNBA reporter Michelle Smith writes a weekly column on WNBA.com throughout the season. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the WNBA or its clubs.

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