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Inside The W With Michelle Smith: Free Agency Midterm Grades

For the second straight year, WNBA free agency has been a league-rocking affair, with high-profile player movement and at least one big surprise.

Each team looks a little different now than it did a few months ago, and with some big signings still to come – including Natasha Cloud (Washington) and cored players Liz Cambage (Vegas), Natasha Howard (Seattle), let’s assess the moves that have been made so far and hand out a few “midterm” grades, considering that there are still some players that need to sign on the dotted line.

Atlanta

The Big Move.

Signing Cheyenne Parker. Parker, who had her best season as a pro in 2020, gives the Dream another presence in the paint and a player who can stretch the defense with perimeter skills as well. Parker also brings playoff experience to a team that could use it.

Impact.

With dynamic guards such as Tiffany Hayes and Courtney Williams, the addition of forward Tianna Hawkins, and a centerpiece in Elizabeth Williams, the Dream suddenly look balanced and experienced in all the right ways. A return to the playoffs may be in their future.

Midterm Grade.

B+.

Chicago

The Big Move

Candace Parker’s homecoming is the biggest story of the free-agent season thus far. Parker, who signed a two-year deal, could finish her career with her hometown team. In the process, CP3 could turn the Sky into a team with a veteran “Big-Three”, including guards Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley.

Impact.

Parker moves into a lineup that has experienced guards, young players still approaching their peak in Diamond DeShields and Gabby Williams, and head coach James Wade, who signed a contract extension. Parker came to Chicago because she thinks this team could win a title. She could very well be right about that.

Midterm Grade.

A.

Connecticut

The Big Move.

Signing guard Jasmine Thomas to return for a seventh season in Uncasville. The big move would have been signing Alyssa Thomas to a new contract, which did also happened, but AT’s Achilles injury will keep her out this season. Thus making signing JT all the more important.

Impact.

This is a team that knows where it’s headed, with DeWanna Bonner as the go-to scorer and Jonquel Jones returning to the paint. A strong backcourt returns with Jasmine Thomas and Briann January. But Alyssa Thomas’ presence is going to be missed this season, and there isn’t a clear answer yet as to how the Sun will fill it. Signing Brionna Jones was also critical to the Sun’s continuity and title aspirations.

Midterm Grade.

B.

Dallas

Keeping Alisha Gray. Re-signing Gray to a new contract allows the Wings to hold on to its most-experienced player on what is still a very young team loaded with talent and upside.

Impact.

Gray steadies a lineup that is going to be more mature and more experienced under new head coach Vickie Johnson, with Arike Ogunbowale heading into her third season, Moriah Jefferson returning to the fold and Satou Sabally emerging as a star. But there was no big splash signing for the Wings, which means they are going to continue to be young and promising. Can Ogunbowale make them a title contender without another proven star?

Midterm Grade.

B-

Indiana

The Big Move.

Signing Jantel Lavender. Lavender, who had a foot injury that kept her out of the 2020 season, will bring experience and be a strong post mentor to a team with a pair of young posts in Lauren Cox and Teaira McCowan.

Impact.

Lavender said that she is excited to play with Kelsey Mitchell, Tiffany Mitchell and Victoria Vivians, not to mention close friend Danielle Robinson, who was also a key offseason signing. Lavender and Robinson will be a welcome veteran presence considering that Candice Dupree won’t be back on the roster.

Midterm Grade.

C.

Las Vegas

The Big Move.

The Aces, just days after announcing Las Vegas Raiders’ owner Mark Davis would be taking over ownership of the team, made one of the splashiest moves of free agency. Las Vegas signed All-Star guard Chelsea Gray, a player with a championship on her resume.

Impact.

Gray’s signing makes Vegas look like a title favorite, even without knowing for sure whether Liz Cambage will be coming back this season after sitting out in 2020. A potential lineup of Gray, Kelsey Plum (returning this season after missing 2020 with an Achilles injury), Angel McCoughtry, A’ja Wilson and Cambage with Dearica Hamby looks pretty formidable.

Midterm Grade.

A.

Los Angeles

The Big Move

Re-signing Nneka Ogwumike. In a free-agency season that will be more notable for who they lost, the Sparks hung on to one of the steadiest, most consistently elite players in the league by re-signing Nneka. Come summertime, the Ogwumike sisters will be back on the floor again together at the Staples Center.

Impact

Losing Parker and Gray means this is a new era in Los Angeles under newly minted general manager Derek Fisher. The Sparks signed spark guard Erica Wheeler to play alongside Kristi Toliver, both of whom missed the 2020 season. They have re-signed Te’a Cooper and Brittney Sykes, and will welcome Chiney back, likely for more minutes than she played in 2019. It will be interesting to see how such a big change is absorbed by the Sparks in 2021.

Midterm Grade.

B-.

Minnesota

The Big Move.

Signing guard Kayla McBride adds offensive punch to the Lynx lineup and the perimeter threat they have been missing since Maya Moore stepped away from the game. This will be the first time that McBride has played with a new franchise since she joined the WNBA.

Impact.

McBride becomes one of a couple of strong signings, including Natalie Achonwa, who will provide some needed help inside.

Midterm Grade:

A.

New York

The Big Move.

Signing Betnijah Laney, the most improved player in the WNBA in 2020, is a strong addition to this young team. Laney averaged 17.2 points, 4.9 rebounds and 4.0 assists a game, shooting 48 percent from the floor.

Impact.

The Liberty will be picking No. 1 in the 2021 Draft, leaving open the possibility of adding another young impact player to a roster that will be excited to see the return of Sabrina Ionescu. Not knowing whether Asia Durr will be able to return, and with the status of Amanda Zahui B still up in the air, New York has some more work to do.

Midterm Grade. B-.

Phoenix

The Big Move

Re-signing Diana Taurasi probably wasn’t a surprise, but it was no less incredibly important to the Mercury’s immediate designs on making another title run before the end of her legendary career.

Impact.

Last season’s signings of Skylar-Diggins Smith and Bria Hartley limit Phoenix’s ability to make any true big moves this offseason. Re-signing Kia Vaughn maintains the depth inside with emerging Brianna Turner and the anticipated return of Brittney Griner.

Midterm Grade.

B+

Seattle

The Big Move.

Signing Candice Dupree. The 15-year WNBA veteran, is the fifth all-time scorer (6728) and the sixth all-time rebounder (3071) in WNBA history.

Impact.

Candice Dupree, a productive veteran player at the 4, calls into some question whether they will be able to sign Natasha Howard, who was cored last month. In addition, Seattle lost Alysha Clark, a mainstay player to Washington and will have to fill a gap occupied by one of the league’s best defensive players. The Storm also re-signed Epipphany Prince and have a decision to make about shooter Sami Whitcomb.

Midterm Grade.

B.

Washington

The Big Move

Re-signing Tina Charles means that one of the best centers in the league will be on the floor for the Mystics this season after missing 2020. Having Charles inside to play alongside Myisha Hines-Allen, LaToya Sanders (signed last week) and Elena Delle Donne should be a scary thought for the rest of the league.

Impact.

The Mystics’ pick up of Alysha Clark is a very good one. Now the biggest unfinished business is signing 2019 Finals MVP Emma Meesseman, who may spend most of the season preparing for the Olympics with the Belgian National Team.

Midterm Grade.

A-.


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.