Inside the W with Michelle Smith: What To Know Heading Into Free Agency

It’s a new decade in the WNBA.

A new collective bargaining agreement led to a new salary cap, which leads to many new scenarios for the league’s 12 teams as they prepare for the 2020 season. Let’s take a team-by-team look at the decision points that will make for a compelling couple of weeks. Teams began negotiating with players on January 28, but no contracts can officially be signed until February 10.


The biggest story for the Dream during free agency will be what appears, right now, to be an amicable break-up with Angel McCoughtry, the player that has most defined this franchise. McCoughtry will be testing the free agent market for the first time in her WNBA career, which began in 2009, and where she lands could be one of the most interesting stories of the offseason. The 33-year-old, who has twice been the WNBA scoring champion, has missed two of the last three WNBA seasons.


The Sky, under now second-year head coach James Wade, have a lot of work to do and a lot of decisions to make with seven players hitting free agency this season, including the veteran backcourt duo of Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley, who are both unrestricted free agents. Center Stefanie Dolson (unrestricted) is unsigned, along with Jamierra Faulkner (restricted), Kayla Alexander (unrestricted), Kahleah Copper (restricted) and Astou Ndour (restricted). Dolson will be the biggest decision of the group, considering that experienced posts in the WNBA are coveted.


The Sun undoubtedly believe they can make a run at the Finals again in 2020. But in order to do it, they are likely looking to lock up a majority of their 2019 roster. Veterans Layshia Clarendon and Shekinna Stricklen are both unrestricted free agents. Then there’s the group of restricted free agents, which includes Jonquel Jones, Courtney Williams, Morgan Tuck, Rachel Banham and Bria Holmes. Keeping this core group together, which has helped the Sun turn into one of the WNBA’s elite teams over the past three seasons, is going to be much harder heading into a new season.


It appears that Skylar Diggins-Smith may not be playing for the Dallas Wings when the 2020 season tips off. Diggins-Smith, despite being “cored” by the Wings after missing last season following the birth of her son, would like an opportunity to start fresh somewhere else. Giving Diggins-Smith the “core” designation gives Dallas the opportunity to make a sign-and-trade deal that would help the Wings build in a different direction, something that Dallas Wings President and CEO Greg Bibb told the AP is an option. In addition, it would allow Dallas to focus their backcourt efforts on rising star Arike Ogunbowale, who had a fantastic rookie season while Diggins-Smith sat out on maternity leave. Not only do the Wings need to find a replacement for Diggins-Smith, they would likely want to re-sign forward Glory Johnson, who will be the foundation of their inside game.


New head coach Marianne Stanley and GM Tamika Catchings want to end a run of four seasons in which the Fever have failed to finish with a winning record. Stanley and Catchings have a stockpile of young talent that leaves them with a full roster, therefore little room for player movement, and the No. 3 pick in April’s draft. Guard Tiffany Mitchell is a restricted free agent and the most prominent player that isn’t under contract to start the season.

Las Vegas:

Bringing Liz Cambage back to Sin City is Bill Laimbeer’s No. 1 priority. Cambage is a restricted free agent, which means the Aces can match any offer and it’s hard to imagine that they won’t considering the impact she made for them last season alongside A’ja Wilson. With only half of its roster signed, the Aces might have a chance to make a free-agent splash and add depth inside and out. Another key free agent is Tamera Young, who was a versatile key to the Aces’ playoff run last year.

Los Angeles:

The retirement of Alana Beard means that the Sparks need to replace a stalwart defender and on-court leader. But the top priority is securing the services of restricted free agent and three-time All-Star Chelsea Gray. Gray has reportedly already received an offer from the Sparks so expect little drama there. Among the players who contributed big to the Sparks last season, Tierra Ruffin-Pratt is in the best position to replace the defensive presence of Beard on the floor. The Sparks are considered a potential destination for Diggins-Smith.


Before free agency began, the Lynx learned that Maya Moore will sit out a second straight season. On the bright side, Sylvia Fowles is signed, as is 2019 Rookie of the Year Napheesa Collier. Seimone Augustus is an unrestricted free agent and she indicated last season that the 2020 season would be her last as a professional basketball player. It’s hard to imagine her finishing her career anywhere other than Minnesota. Guard Danielle Robinson, the Lynx’s most dependable ball distributor last year, is also an unrestricted free agent.

New York:

The Liberty, under new head coach Walt Hopkins, have cored seven-time All-Star Tina Charles, who will be waiting patiently to find out who New York will pick with the No. 1 WNBA draft pick in April. New York has six players under contract for the season, including Asia Durr, last year’s No. 2 pick, and Kia Nurse, who is emerging as a star. The Liberty, however, have decisions to make about guard and unrestricted free agent Bria Hartley.


After coring Brittney Griner for the first time in her career, the Mercury now turn their attention to the major matter of signing DeWanna Bonner, who is an unrestricted free agent and has already been cored the maximum four times in her 10-year career with the Mercury. Bonner moving on at least feels like a possibility, but Diana Taurasi’s health may have a lot to do with that decision. The Mercury, who were the oldest team in the WNBA last year, also need to make decisions about Essence Carson, who brought valuable versatility to the floor last season, and point guard Leilani Mitchell, who filled in for Diana Taurasi last season. Phoenix could also be in the running for a chance to trade for Diggins-Smith, who would complement Diana Taurasi in the backcourt.


Last season, the Storm missed two key players; Breanna Stewart due to an Achilles injury and Sue Bird due to knee surgery. The Storm have exclusive negotiating rights to Stewart while Bird is an unrestricted free agent. Bird, who will turn 40 in the fall, has settled into a life in Seattle with girlfriend Megan Rapinoe. It’s hard to imagine that Bird plays out the end of her career anywhere other than the Emerald City, particularly with Stewart back on the floor. The Storm also have decisions to make about veterans Courtney Paris and Shavonte Zellous, who played key roles in the Storm’s injury-plagued 2019 season.


Mystics head coach Mike Thibault confirmed that the team has a verbal agreement to re-sign both Elena Delle Donne and Emma Meesseman, who are unrestricted free agents. Delle Donne, the 2019 MVP, had a small surgical procedure on her back late in January but is expected to be back in time for the start of the WNBA season. Aerial Powers, who has blossomed so nicely under Thibault, is back with the Mystics in 2020 thanks to an extension. Washington has more work to do assembling its roster a handful of free agents. Guard Kristi Toliver is one of those free agents, and it’s unclear whether they’ll be able to keep her.

Longtime WNBA reporter Michelle Smith writes columns on throughout the season and offseason. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the WNBA or its clubs.