When the ball finally tips on May 24 for the start of the 2019 WNBA season, a handful of familiar faces, big names and league superstars will be sitting courtside or missing from the bench altogether. Lindsay Whalen retired at the end of last season. Maya Moore is taking the year (maybe longer) off. Breanna Stewart ruptured her Achilles while playing overseas and Skylar Diggins-Smith is expected to miss this season due to personal reasons. Diana Taurasi—one of the best ballers to ever play the game—is expected to miss half of the season as she recovers from back surgery.
Not having the likes of Moore, Stewart and Taurasi in the mix as the WNBA heads into its 23rdseason with both a fresh new logo and brand image is less than ideal, especially when the league is looking to expand its fanbase, hoping to attract a wider demographic based on diversity, inclusion and equality. Starting the season off with multiple All-Stars out of the fold wasn’t exactly a part of the league’s marketing strategy.
But—as they say—the show must go on. And there are plenty of enticing storylines, seasoned veterans, and fresh-faced rookies to keep us all entertained for the entire season.
Let’s start with A’Ja Wilson and the Las Vegas Aces. This young and up-and-coming team missed the playoffs last year by an inch, impacted in part by a flight delay and cancelation that resulted in the forfeit of a key game against the Washington Mystics late in the season. With number one draft pick Jackie Young (Notre Dame) now on the roster, the Aces are “all in” and ready to build on the momentum.
Then, there’s Liz Cambage. The prolific and outspoken Dallas Wings center and last season’s MVP-runner-up asked for a trade in the offseason after the release of Wings head coach, Fred Williams. There’s been a bevy of rumors and speculation that Cambage is interested in playing for the Los Angeles Sparks, where Williams is now an assistant. At this point, no trades or deals have been made to send Cambage to LA or anywhere else in the league. Whether or not she shows up to play for the Wings this season remains to be seen.
Speaking of LA—the Sparks recently traded their first round 2020 pick to the Connecticut Sun in exchange for Chiney Ogumike, which means she’ll be reunited with her older sister and former league MVP, Nneka. According to our own Rachel Galligan, Ogumike forced her way off the Sun’s roster by threatening to walk away from basketball in order to focus on her broadcasting career with ESPN. The best option for the league and the Sun was to send Ogumike to the Sparks and get something in return, keeping her on the court. How it all plays out from here is anyone’s guess.
There’s also a whole new class of talented rookies ready to jump in the fray and show what they can do. I’ve already mention Young. But what about Asia Durr, Teaira McCowan, Katie Lou Samuelson, Arike Ogunbowale, Napheesa Collier, Kalani Brown and Megan Gustafson? These and other 2019 draftees are ushering in a new wave of talent and swag that will not only help keep the league’s competition at a high level but will also appeal to the ever-growing WNBA fanbase. And don’t forget—there’s still Sue Bird, Seimone Augustus, Elena Delle Donne, Brittney Griner, Tina Charles, Allie Quigley, Jewell Lloyd, Diamond DeShields and far too many more names to mention here in one paragraph.
The point is, the WNBA is so stacked with talent that the parity between teams is one of the best and most competitive in all professional sports. That isn’t going to change, even without some big names. The 2019 WNBA season will be just as competitive, just as thrilling and just as enticing as it has been.
But don’t take my word for it. Watch and see for yourself.