ESPN’s Kevin Pelton and Mechelle Voepel break down how all 12 WNBA teams are entering free agency. Click here for the original article on ESPN.com.
Which teams have the most ability to make moves when WNBA free agency opens later this week?
Last week, we projected the top 20 free agents available. Now, it’s time to consider the team side of things. Which teams have the most cap space to make big additions, like the Chicago Sky signing Candace Parker last year or the Phoenix Mercury making a sign-and-trade deal for Skylar Diggins-Smith in 2020?
We go team by team through the league, taking a look at available cap space (based on the cap sheets at HerHoopStats.com), as well as key players hitting free agency. We’ll also take a look at which teams still have decisions to make on whether to use the core designation by Friday, which would take a player out of unrestricted free agency but guarantee them a one-year deal for the WNBA’s supermax salary of $228,094.
Friday is also the deadline for teams to make qualifying offers to possible restricted free agents, allowing them to match any offer sheet from another team, as well as reserved players who can negotiate only with their current team.
With that in mind, let’s break down how teams enter free agency.
Cap space: $836,241
Key free agents: Courtney Williams, Tiffany Hayes, Odyssey Sims, Elizabeth Williams, Monique Billings (restricted)
The Dream are in reboot mode, with a new team president, general manager and coach hired this past September-October after new ownership came in February. Atlanta already has said it won’t bring back Courtney Williams after her YouTube video last fall making light of an altercation in May that she and teammate Crystal Bradford had been involved in. Courtney Williams led the Dream in points, rebounds and assists last season, so she’s not easily replaced.
Fellow guard Chennedy Carter played just 11 games of her second WNBA season and was on suspension the rest of the year, so her status is unclear. New GM Dan Padover was a two-time executive of the year while in Las Vegas and now will be at the heart of the rebuilding process for the Dream, who also have the No. 3 draft pick. — Voepel
Cap space: $908,215
Key free agents: Courtney Vandersloot, Kahleah Copper, Allie Quigley, Stefanie Dolson, Diamond DeShields (restricted)
Only Seattle has more cap space than the defending champion Sky. As Vandersloot, who has spent her entire 11-season WNBA career with the Sky said, “We have a lot of free agents and decisions that need to be made.” With just four players under contract — two as protected vets (Candace Parker and Azurá Stevens) — coach/GM James Wade has to decide how much of the band he wants to keep together.
On one hand, this group won the franchise’s first title. However, the Sky finished the regular season 16-16 and had to win it from the No. 6 seed. One would assume spouses Vandersloot and Quigley want to remain on the same team, and Copper was the breakout star of the postseason. Combined, they made $559,000 last season, so will the Sky keep all three and possibly look for a new face or two to bring in? Will Copper or Vandersloot get the core designation? It’s worth noting that by the start of the season, Parker will be 36, Quigley 35 and Vandersloot 33. — Voepel
Cap space: $505,484
Key free agents: Briann January
A big chunk of the cap is likely to go to post player Jonquel Jones, who on Monday got the core qualifying offer of $228,094. We’ll see if she accepts that or wants to negotiate a multiyear deal.
January made $121,500 last season; her 35th birthday is Jan. 11, but she has not seemed to slow down much in terms of her defensive capabilities. Part of coach/GM Curt Miller’s decision-making has to be determining whether something truly was missing in the postseason that caused the top-seeded Sun to fall in the semifinals, or if it was just a case of running into a team of destiny in the Chicago Sky.
Connecticut has come painfully close to a championship — getting to Game 5 of the 2019 WNBA Finals — and a very similar group to last year (with Alyssa Thomas healthy from the start of the season) could be the winning formula finally. — Voepel
Cap space: $78,146
Key free agents: None
The youthful Wings find themselves in an unusual spot this offseason: All 12 players from last year’s playoff team return, meaning Dallas had to waive 2020 second-round pick Luisa Geiselsoder just to have any meaningful cap space. With the Wings also holding a pair of picks in the top half of the first round (No. 4 and No. 6) of the WNBA draft, consolidation should be the goal. Combining players and picks for a veteran upgrade via trade (or possibly for a free agent in a sign-and-trade deal) would ease Dallas’ roster crunch — especially after the team picked up the 2023 options on contracts for Bella Alarie, Tyasha Harris and Satou Sabally, guaranteeing their salaries for that season. — Pelton
Cap space: $431,669
Key free agents: Jessica Breland, Lindsay Allen (restricted), Julie Allemand (suspended, expired contract), Victoria Vivians (reserved)
The Fever have gone from a franchise that was perpetually in the playoffs to one that doesn’t seem sure how it plans to move forward. Tamika Catchings as general manager is still trying to replace the impact of Tamika Catchings the player, who retired in 2016.
Breland has been a dependable veteran forward for a long time but will be 34 by the start of the season. With the No. 2 draft pick, the Fever might get a top college forward, although lottery picks the past couple of years haven’t worked out so well for Indiana.
If any franchise needs a pick-me-up free-agent signing and/or trade, it’s the Fever, but that’s going to take some front-office vitality that we haven’t seen in a while. — Voepel
Las Vegas Aces
Cap space: $724,968
Key free agents: A’ja Wilson (restricted), Liz Cambage, Riquna Williams, Angel McCoughtry
The roster that new Aces coach Becky Hammon inherits might not look the same as the one Bill Laimbeer led to a league-best 42-12 record over the past two seasons. As a restricted free agent, Wilson should be back, but her anticipated raise from making $70,040 in the final season of her rookie contract to a maximum of $196,267 will make it challenging for Las Vegas to bring back all of the team’s veteran free agents.
The first decision for the Aces is whether to again use the core designation on Cambage, who played last season on that contract. Another supermax salary for Cambage would swallow up much of Las Vegas’ remaining cap space. Assuming the Aces want to roster their first-round pick, they’d be able to offer a maximum of about $113,000 to retain either McCoughtry or Williams — and not both. Could that cause Las Vegas to prioritize depth over Cambage? We’ll find out soon. — Pelton
Los Angeles Sparks
Cap space: $157,417
Key free agents: Nia Coffey, Te’a Cooper (reserved), Maria Vadeeva (suspended — contract expired)
Forward Gabby Williams, acquired last year from Chicago, is the key newcomer for the Sparks. Although Williams was ineligible to play for the Sparks, she inked a one-year extension to her rookie contract, giving Los Angeles nine players under contract and limited cap space to add to that group. Barring a trade, the Sparks will likely be looking to bring back Coffey after she averaged a career-high 8.3 PPG last season in her first year with Los Angeles. Because the Sparks can offer a maximum of about $97,000 barring a trade, Vadeeva returning to the Sparks for the first time since 2019 seems improbable. — Pelton
Cap space: $432,198
Key free agents: Layshia Clarendon, Sylvia Fowles
After last year’s additions of Natalie Achonwa, Kayla McBride and Aerial Powers, the Lynx are likely in for a quieter offseason. Fowles’ future is the biggest question mark in Minnesota, as she could either decide to retire at age 36 or head elsewhere as an unrestricted free agent. (Fowles has already played three years on core contracts, meaning that’s no longer an option for the Lynx.)
Assuming the reigning Defensive Player of the Year returns at a supermax salary, Minnesota would have about $135,000 available to re-sign Clarendon while rostering this year’s first-round pick. Any leftover cap space would determine how quickly the Lynx could add a 12th player to the mix. — Pelton
New York Liberty
Cap space: $196,560
Key free agents: Rebecca Allen
GM Jonathan Kolb and new coach Sandy Brondello talked recently about how they like the players the mostly very young Liberty have. But that doesn’t mean New York won’t be active despite limited cap space. Bringing back Allen, who is so familiar to Brondello from their Australian national team experience, could be a good move.
New York was involved in one of the biggest days of the offseason last year on Feb. 10 when it dealt the 2021 No. 1 pick and obtained forward Natasha Howard, and also got guard Sami Whitcomb in another deal, plus traded Kia Nurse and Megan Walker to Phoenix for draft picks. New York also signed free-agent wing Betnijah Laney last February.
The Liberty ended up with a 2021 playoff spot and had the rookie of the year in Michaela Onyenwere, but they aren’t a championship-caliber roster yet. — Voepel
Cap space: $246,938
Key free agents: Sophie Cunningham, Kia Nurse (restricted), Shey Peddy (reserved)
On paper, Phoenix has some space to maneuver this offseason, but that’s before considering cap holds for the team’s four open roster spots. Those swallow up nearly the entire remaining amount, which means the Mercury would have to waive a player with a non-guaranteed salary (most likely backup center Kia Vaughn, currently due $110,000) just to be able to make Nurse a qualifying offer and maintain her restricted rights.
How Phoenix handles Nurse’s free agency will be interesting to watch. After suffering an ACL tear during the team’s playoff run, she’s unlikely to play during the regular season. The Mercury would probably prefer Nurse sit out next season to get healthy and re-sign her when available rather than keep her on the roster, counting against the cap. But another team could force the issue by offering Nurse a multiyear contract with an eye toward 2023 and beyond. — Pelton
Cap space: $986,236
Key free agents: Sue Bird, Jordin Canada (restricted), Jewell Loyd, Mercedes Russell (restricted), Breanna Stewart, Stephanie Talbot (restricted)
With six rotation players out of contract, the Storm enter free agency as the team to watch. On the one hand, that creates question marks, particularly because Seattle can use only the core designation on one of Loyd and Stewart — leaving the other one unrestricted. However, it also gives the Storm the ability to upgrade the roster with other contenders more hamstrung by the salary cap.
The first domino for Seattle was Bird’s announcement last week that she’s returning for a 19th WNBA season. If the Storm can get quick commitments from Loyd and Stewart, and Bird is again willing to take less than the supermax, as Mechelle reported last year, Seattle could seek veterans looking to win a championship. At the same time, the Storm must also manage restricted free agency for starting center Russell and key reserves Canada and Talbot. Expect a busy few weeks in Seattle. — Pelton
Cap space: $456,900
Key free agents: Tina Charles, Leilani Mitchell, Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, Myisha Hines-Allen (restricted)
Charles at age 32 last year had another MVP-caliber season, but the Mystics fell short of the playoffs for the first time since 2016. Two-time MVP Elena Delle Donne returned after missing all of the 2020 season, but played just three games before lingering back issues sidelined her again.
Emma Meesseman, the 2019 WNBA Finals MVP for the Mystics, was a free agent last season but didn’t play in the WNBA, and it’s uncertain if she will play in 2022. The FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup starts in September, and Meesseman’s commitment to Belgium might make this WNBA season a no-go.
Is there a chance we will ever see Charles, Delle