10 Players to Watch: WNBA Free Agency 2023

With the new year upon us, it is time to start counting down to the start of the 2023 WNBA season, which tips off on May 19. Over the next 130 days, teams will build their rosters for the upcoming season via free agency, trades, and the WNBA Draft in April.

 First up is free agency, which opens on Jan. 21, when teams and players can begin to negotiate contracts, and then finalize and officially sign those contracts and offer sheets starting Feb. 1.

 Key Dates to Know

  •       January 11-20: All qualifying offers and core player designations delivered
  •       January 21: 2023 Player Negotiating period begins
  •       February 1: Player Contracts may be signed

 Key Terms to Know

  •       UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: Players with five or more years of service will become Unrestricted Free Agents. An Unrestricted Free Agent can sign with any team, provided they are not designated as a Core Player by their prior team. Any players with fewer than five years of service who do not receive Qualifying Offers will also become Unrestricted Free Agents.
  •       RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: Players with four years of service can receive Qualifying Offers to become Restricted Free Agents. The restricted free agency gives the player’s prior team the right to sign the player by matching a contract offer from another team (Right of First Refusal). If the player signs an Offer Sheet with another team, the player’s prior team has four days from the date it receives the Offer Sheet to determine whether it wishes to match. The player will remain with their prior team if the offer is matched. Suppose the offer is not reached within the four-day period. In that case, the player will be under contract with the offering team.
  •       RESERVED PLAYERS: Players with three or fewer years of service can receive Qualifying Offers to become Reserved Players. The Reserved Player’s prior team has exclusive negotiating rights.
  •       CORE PLAYERS: The Core designation gives a team exclusive negotiating rights with a player. Since 2022, a player is not eligible to be given a Core designation if they have played pursuant to a Core player contract for two or more seasons.

 10 Players to Watch

 The WNBA will release the official list of free agents – unrestricted, restricted, reserved, and cored players. Still, by studying the contracts, we know which players will enter free agency in some capacity, and some elite players are set to become available. Here are ten that stand out the most, beginning with five former league MVPs.

 Breanna Stewart | Forward | Seattle Storm

 Resume:

  •       2-time WNBA champion and Finals MVP (2018, 2020)
  •        League MVP (2018), scoring champion (2022), Commissioner’s Cup champion and MVP (2021), and Rookie of the Year (2016)
  •       5-time All-WNBA selection (First Team: 2018, 2020, 2021, 2022; Second Team: 2016)
  •       4-time All-Star (2017, 2018, 2021, 2022) and All-Defensive selection (First Team: 2022; Second Team: 2016, 2020, 2021)
  •       Member of the W25 (2021) anniversary team

 2022 Stats:

  •   Regular Season: 21.8 points, 7.6 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.9 blocks, 2.0 3-pointers, 47.2% FG, 37.9% 3P, 83.7% FT, 34 games played, 30.9 minutes
  •   Playoffs: 27.0 points, 9.5 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.8 blocks, 2.2 3-pointers, 51.3% FG, 52.0% 3P, 89.2% FT, six games played, 38.9 minutes

 Look at that resume again, and then remember that Breanna Stewart is only 28 years old and has years remaining in the prime of her career. A year ago, Stewart was a free agent and took a meeting with the New York Liberty before returning to Seattle on a one-year deal in what ended up being Sue Bird’s final season. With Bird retiring and Stewie set to be an unrestricted free agent – the Storm used its core designation on Jewell Loyd last season – there’s a chance Seattle basketball could look much different in 2023.

 Nneka Ogwumike | Forward |Los Angeles Sparks

 Resume:

  •       1x WNBA champion, league MVP (2016); Rookie of the Year (2012)
  •       5-time All-WNBA selection (First Team: 2016; Second Team: 2014, 2017, 2019, 2022)
  •       7x All-Star (2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2022)
  •       5-time All-Defensive selection (First Team: 2015, 2016, 2017, 2019; Second Team 2018)
  •       Member of the W25 (2021) anniversary team

 2022 Stats:

  •       Regular Season: 18.1 points, 6.6 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.4 blocks, 0.6 3-pointers made, 54.4% FG, 36.8% 3P, 82.6% FT, 34 games played, 31.4 minutes
  •       Playoffs: Sparks did not qualify for playoffs

 Nneka Ogwumike is the final player remaining from Los Angeles’ 2016 championship team. The 11-year veteran has played her entire career with the Sparks but has watched former teammates win titles with other teams in each of the past two seasons (Candace Parker with Chicago in 2021, Chelsea Gray with Las Vegas in 2022). After receiving the core designation from the Sparks in 2021, Ogwumike resigned on a two-year deal allowing her to enter unrestricted free agency. The 32-year-old is coming off her highest scoring season since 2017 at 18.1 points per game, which ranked seventh in the league and helped her earn All-WNBA Second Team honors, her first selection in three seasons.

 Candace Parker | Forward |Chicago Sky 

 Resume:

  •       2-time WNBA champion (2016 with LA, 2021 with CHI) and league MVP (2008, 2013)
  •       Finals MVP (2016), Defensive Player of the Year (2020, take the surprise out your voice, Shaq), Rookie of the Year (2008)
  •       10-time All-WNBA selection (First Team: 2008, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2017, 2020, 2022; Second Team: 2009, 2015, 2018)
  •       7-time All-Star (2011, 2013, 2014, 2017, 2018, 2021, 2022)
  •       3-time league rebounding leader (2008, 2009, 2020)
  •       2-time All-Defensive selection (Second Team: 2009, 2012)
  •       3rd all-time in rebounds (2,765), 5th in blocks (603), 8th in assists (1,578), 9th in field goals made (2,411), 10th in scoring (6,412)
  •       Member of the Top 20@20 (2016) and W25 (2021) anniversary teams

 2022 Stats:

  •       Regular Season: 13.2 points, 8.6 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.0 blocks, 1.3 3-pointers made, 45.8% FG, 31.1% 3P, 81.6% FT, 32 games played, 28.2 minutes
  •       Playoffs: 14.8 points, 10.8 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.4 steals, 2.6 blocks, 1.5 3-pointers made, 43.8% FG, 33.3% 3P, 75.9% FT, eight games played, 29.4 minutes

 In 2021, Parker signed with her hometown team – the Chicago Sky – after spending the first 13 seasons of her WNBA career in Los Angeles. She led the Sky to its first title in franchise history in her first season and a franchise-best regular season record (26-10) in her second season. However, the Sky fell short of their ultimate goal as Connecticut eliminated them in the semifinals in five games. An unrestricted free agent again, will Parker bring her all-around brilliance back to Chicago or once again test the waters with a new team? At 36, Parker may not have many seasons left, but her game has shown little signs of slowing down.

 Diana Taurasi | Guard |Phoenix Mercury

 Resume:

  •       3-time WNBA champion (2007, 2009, 2014) and 2-time Finals MVP (2009, 2014)
  •       WNBA all-time leader in points (9,693), field goals made (3,041), 3-pointers made (1,297), and free throws made (2,314)
  •       2nd all-time in games played (503), fifth in assists (2,152)
  •       5-time scoring champion (2006, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011)
  •       1-time league MVP (2009), Rookie of the Year (2004) and assist leader (2014)
  •       14-time All-WNBA selection (First Team: 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2018; Second Team: 2005, 2016, 2017, 2020)
  •       10-time All-Star
  •       Member of the Top 15 Players of All-Time (2011), Top 20@20 (2016) and W25 (2021) anniversary teams

 2022 Stats:

  •       Regular Season: 16.7 points, 3.4 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.6 blocks, 3.0 3-pointers made, 37.3% FG, 33.7% 3P, 89.4% FT, 31 games played, 31.0 minutes
  •       Playoffs: Did not play in the postseason due to injury

 After spending the first 18 years of her WNBA career in Phoenix, it is tough to imagine seeing Diana Taurasi in any jersey other than the Mercury No. 3. But as an unrestricted free agent, the WNBA’s all-time leading scorer will be the one to make that decision ultimately. Taurasi appeared in 31 of 36 games last season – the most she’s played since 2018. While durability may be a question for the 40-year-old, her ability to score the ball is not. Taurasi finished second in the league in 3-pointers made last season and is quickly approaching being the first player in league history to reach the 10,000 points milestone.

 Tina Charles | Forward | Seattle Storm

 Resume:

  •       1-time WNBA MVP (2012) and Rookie of the Year (2010)
  •       9-time All-WNBA selection (First Team: 2011, 2012, 2015, 2016, 2017; Second Team: 2010, 2013, 2014, 2021)
  •       8-time All-Star (2011, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2021)
  •       4-time All-Defensive team selection (First Team: 2017; Second Team: 2011, 2012, 2015)
  •       4-time rebounding champion (2010, 2011, 2012, 2016)
  •       2-time scoring champion (2016, 2021)
  •       2nd all-time in rebounds (3,640) and field goals made (2,861), 4th all-time in scoring (7,115)
  •       Member of the W25 (2021) anniversary team

 2022 Stats:

  •       Regular Season: 14.8 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.7 blocks, 1.1 3-pointers made, 45.7% FG, 35.5% 3P, 82.7% FT, 34 games played, 28.9 minutes
  •       Playoffs: 11.5 points, 8.8 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.5 blocks, 0.5 3-pointers made, 43.1% FG, 23.1% 3P, 28.6% FT, six games played, 26.1 minutes

 Tina Charles’ WNBA resume is among the strongest in the field, but there is one thing that separates her from the other four former MVPs on this list – she is the only one that is still seeking her first WNBA championship. Charles has been willing to move as she searches for the right team and the right opportunity to fill that void. She spent the 2021 season in Washington when she led the league in scoring with a career-best 23.4 points per game for a shorthanded Mystics squad hit by injuries, most notably to Elena Delle Donne. She began the 2022 season in Phoenix, and following a midseason split with the Mercury, she joined the Seattle Storm. Charles’ ability to score from inside and out and rebound among the leagues best will have plenty of teams interested in adding her to their roster. Whether those teams end up as title contenders remains to be seen.

 Courtney Vandersloot | Guard |Chicago Sky

 Resume:

  •       1-time WNBA champion (2021)
  •       5-time All-WNBA selection (First Team: 2019, 2020; Second Team: 2015, 2018, 2021)
  •       4-time All-Star (2011, 2019, 2021, 2022)
  •       6-time assists leader (2014, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021)
  •       3rd all-time in assists (2,387)

 2022 Stats:

  •       Regular Season: 11.8 points, 3.9 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.5 blocks, 0.9 3-pointers made, 48.1% FG, 36.7% 3P, 76.5% FT, 32 games played, 26.5 minutes
  •       Playoffs: 11.5 points, 3.9 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.5 blocks, 0.8 3-pointers made, 48.1% FG, 26.1% 3P, 80% FT, eight games played, 28.2 minutes

 Vandersloot became a free agent following Chicago’s 2021 title run and decided to run it back with the Sky on a one-year deal. Last season saw her five-year run of leading the WNBA in assists come to an end as she finished as the runner-up to Washington’s Natasha Cloud. The Sky still led the league in assists, but the playmaking load was shared as Chicago had a league-high four players averaging over three assists per game. Vandersloot’s career 6.7 assists per game average is an all-time best in league history, and she could pass Ticha Penicheiro (2,599) for second in total assists this season. Will she stay in Chicago, where she has spent her entire 12-year career since being drafted third overall in 2011, or become the floor general for a new team?

 Brionna Jones | Center |Connecticut Sun

 Resume:

  •       1-time Sixth Player of the Year (2022) and Most Improved Player (2021)
  •       1-time All-Defensive Team selection (Second Team: 2021)
  •       2-time All-Star (2021, 2022)

 2022 Stats:

  •       Regular Season: 13.8 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.4 blocks, 0.0 3-pointers made, 56.9% FG, 0% 3P, 84.4% FT, 36 games played, 25.1 minutes
  •       Playoffs: 10.3 points, 4.0 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.3 blocks, 0.0 3-pointers made, 52.2% FG, 0% 3P, 71.1% FT, 12 games played, 21.3 minutes

 After playing limited minutes off the bench in each of her first three seasons, Brionna Jones had her breakout season in the bubble in 2020. With Jonquel Jones missing the season for the Sun, Brionna Jones saw her minutes triple as she entered the starting lineup and thrived. The following season, it was Alyssa Thomas sidelined due to injury for most of the season, and again Jones was ready, averaging career highs of 14.7 points and 7.3 rebounds and was named the league’s Most Improved Player. She returned to a reserve role in 2022 and was named Sixth Player of the Year after averaging 13.2 points and 5.1 rebounds in 25 minutes off the bench. Brionna has proven to be ready for a full-time starting role, and with Jonquel Jones and Thomas in place, it may have to come outside of Connecticut.

 Emma Meesseman | Forward | Chicago Sky

 Resume:

  •       1-time WNBA champion and Finals MVP (2019)
  •       2-time All-Star (2015, 2022)
  •       6th all-time in field goals percentage (52.2%)

 2022 Stats:

  •       Regular Season: 12.4 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.8 blocks, 0.4 3-pointers made, 57.1% FG, 34.2% 3P, 88.7% FT, 36 games played, 28.6 minutes
  •       Playoffs: 11.1 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.9 blocks, 0.8 3-pointers made, 47% FG, 30% 3P, 83.3% FT, eight games played, 29.6 minutes

 This list started with a group of former MVPs and now has moved to the Chicago Sky section as Meesseman joins Parker, Vandersloot, and (spoiler alert) another to come among the top free agents available later this month. Meesseman spent her first seven seasons in Washington, helping the Mystics win their first title in 2019 as “Playoff Emma” was named Finals MVP. She joined the Sky in 2022 – after missing the entire 2021 season due to the Olympics – and her unselfish all-around game fit in perfectly. She was one of just four players (along with teammate Parker, Alyssa Thomas, and Sabrina Ionescu) to tally at least 400 points, 200 rebounds, and 100 assists last season.

 Azurá Stevens | Forward | Chicago Sky

 Resume:

  •       1-time WNBA champion (2021)
  •       1-time All-Rookie Team (2018)

 2022 Stats:

  •       Regular Season: 10.6 points, 3.9 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.5 steals, 1.1 blocks, 1.2 3-pointers made, 47.2% FG, 36.2% 3P, 74.4% FT, 35 games played, 21.9 minutes
  •       Playoffs: 7.4 points, 3.8 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.9 blocks, 0.4 3-pointers made, 47.2% FG, 18.8% 3P, 66.7% FT, eight games played, 18.8 minutes

 Stevens is in a similar position as Brionna Jones, limited in minutes due to being part of a deep and talented frontline. In Chicago, Stevens is playing behind a pair of former Finals MVPs in Parker and Meesseman Stevens will be 27 entering the 2023 season, just entering the prime of her career, and ready for a larger role for Chicago or another team that signs her. We got a taste of Stevens’ game with an increased minutes load in the bubble in 2020. In 13 games, Stevens’ averaged 27.3 minutes and posted career-best numbers in points (11.5), rebounds (5.9), blocks (1.8), and effective field goal percentage (56.4%).

 Teaira McCowan | Center | Dallas Wings (Restricted)

 Resume:

  •       1-time All-Rookie Team (2019)
  •       1-time Western Conference Player of the Week (Aug. 8)

 2022 Stats:

  •       Regular Season: 11.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.3 steals, 0.7 blocks, 0 3-pointers made, 60.2% FG, 0% 3P, 60.0% FT, 33 games played, 18.9 minutes
  •       Regular Season (pre-All-Star): 7.1 points, 4.8 rebounds. 0.3 assists, 0.2 steals, 0.5 blocks, 0 3-pointers made, 63.8% FG, 0% 3P, 58.2% FT, 19 games played, 13.2 minutes
  •       Regular Season (post-All-Star): 16.3 points, 10.0 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.6 steals, 0.9 blocks, 0 3-pointers made, 58.3% FG, 0% 3P, 61.2% FT, 14 games played, 26.5 minutes
  •       Playoffs: 10.7 points, 9.3 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.3 steals, 1.7 blocks, 0.0 3-pointers made, 48.0% FG, 0% 3P, 53.3% FT, three games played, 24.6 minutes

 We added two additional lines to McCowan’s 2022 stats because the difference between her first two months and her final two months in her first season in Dallas was staggering. Once she became a full-time starter with the Wings, McCowan’s game flourished as she averaged 16.3 points (tied for 12th in the league post-All-Star) on 58.3% shooting (3rd), 10.0 rebounds (2nd), 0.9 blocks (12th) and seven double-doubles (tied-1st). Just four years into her WNBA career, the former No. 3 overall pick is a restricted free agent, which means the Wings can match any offer that McCowan receives.

 

Five More Players to Keep an Eye On

 Brittney Griner: In her first public comments since her return from detainment in Russia, Griner indicated her intentions to resume her WNBA with the Mercury this season: “I also want to make one thing very clear, I intend to play basketball for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury this season, and in doing so, I look forward to being able to say ‘thank you’ to those of you who advocated, wrote, and posted for me in person soon.” Griner is an unrestricted free agent, so she could sign elsewhere, but it’s hard to see her in anything other than a Mercury jersey when she returns to the court.

 Tiffany Hayes: Hayes ended last season on the suspended list, which will give Atlanta exclusive negotiating rights on a new contract. Hayes has spent her entire 10-year career in Atlanta and posted strong numbers (16.2 points per game, career-best 62.0 effective field goal percentage) in her 11 games in 2022.

 Marina Mabrey: McCowan isn’t the only restricted free agent that closed the season strong for the Dallas Wings. With Arike Ogunbowale sidelined, Mabrey took on more of the scoring load for the Wings, averaging 19.1 points, four rebounds, and four assists while shooting 46.8% from the field and 42.3 from 3-point range.

 Brittney Sykes: Every team looking to boost its perimeter defense will be interested in bringing Skyes into the fold. The six-year pro has led the WNBA in steals per game in the past two seasons, has been named to the All-Defensive Teams in the past three seasons (all in Los Angeles), and was runner-up for the 2021 Defensive Player of the Year. She also added 12.7 points per game in 2022, her highest scoring season since her rookie year in 2017 with Atlanta.

 Alysha Clark spent the first nine seasons of her career in Seattle, establishing herself as a top two-way player in the game, highlighted by strong perimeter defense and excellent 3-point shooting. She signed with Washington as a free agent in 2021 but missed the entire 2021 season due to a Lisfranc injury in her right foot. She returned in 2022 but shot just 30.3% from the 3-point range, her lowest mark since 2014. Will her shot return to form in 2023, and will it be back in Washington or with another team?

 

Longtime WNBA reporter Brian Martin writes articles on WNBA.com throughout the season. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the WNBA or its clubs.