WNBA Free Agency: Day 1 instant analysis

The day has finally arrived. WNBA free agents can officially sign with teams starting today. Winsidr will be bringing you all the breaking news over on twitter, on the free agency tracker, and all over the website. Here is where I will be breaking down my instant (or as close to instant as possible) reactions of each and every move. We expect a wild day of news today, so come with me and freak out about this stuff together!

The Biggest deals

Angel McCoughtry signs with the Las Vegas Aces

Angel McCoughtry is going to Las Vegas! McCoughtry will be signing for two years at the max ($185,000 in 2020, $190,500 in 2021) and her salary is fully protected, according to sources.

The decision came down to Los Angeles or Las Vegas as Winsidr’s Rachel Galligan reported earlier today. Sources told Winsidr that the Sparks did not feel strongly enough about bringing McCoughtry on to fully protect her salary. The Aces apparently did. Angel is coming off an ACL injury and missed all of last year, so the teams had to make a tough decision on the protection.

Angel keeps getting better and better on Team USA and Dynamo Kursk. She still needs time to get back to her old form, but she is showing signs of progress. We haven’t seen a ton of Angel in the past three years so I’d caution everyone to reserve judgement until we see her on the court.

But I am a bit concerned about the fit on the court. Bill Laimbeer loves his bigs and his points in the paint. Angel can certainly bring more points in the paint as one of the best slashers in WNBA history. However, spacing was already tight with Liz Cambage, A’ja Wilson, and Dearica Hamby banging heads in the post. Angel will find it hard to work down there.

It also worries me that Angel could take time away from Hamby or that Laimbeer will run them together with diminishing returns for both. But Bill figured it out last season when many brought up similar concerns. The Aces may not be done wheeling and dealing either. Also, this move likely cements Kelsey Plum as the starting point guard over Jackie Young because of Plum’s shooting which is a positive to me. But really these are all minor concerns when the headline is “we got one of the league’s best players ever.”

Kristi Toliver signs with the Los Angeles Sparks

It was all fun and games until this happened. Howard Megdal of High Post Hoops reported that Kristi Toliver signed a three-year deal to go to LA. Sources informed Winsidr that her salary is fully protected.

This really stings for the part of me that is still a Mystics fan. Kristi’s little stepback jumpers, fearlessness, leadership and (sometimes) recklessness made me love watching the Mystics and pushed my WNBA fandom to new heights. Obviously when you start covering the league, you shake off your fandom for the sake of objectiveness. But that didn’t change just how much I loved regularly watching Kristi play in person. I’ll miss her a lot. Alas, moving on.

WHAT A DAY FOR LA! The Sparks took a beating in the offseason for how their season ended, the way Penny Toler was fired, and the fact that they still have not named a full-time General Manager. Some of it from yours truly. But wow Michael Fischer, Derek Fisher and the whole organization did a great job getting Toliver and Brittney Sykes (see below). I’ll, at least, be eating a little crow tonight.

The team was already loaded with stars at every position. The two positions they needed to sure up were small forward and shooting guard. My assumption was that they would bring back Tierra Ruffin-Pratt to pair with the newly acquired Brittney Sykes, which would have worked fine. But adding Toliver’s shooting and smarts will be a huge boon for this team, especially when Chelsea Gray needs a breather. Toliver put up career highs for field goal percentage (49.4%) and assists (6 per game) at 33 years old in 2019, so she’s got plenty left in the tank. She can start, run backup units, and/or finish games.

She’s coming back to the place where she won the 2016 WNBA Championship. With the moves that LA made today, you’d have to think she has a pretty good shot of getting back there.

More Deals

The Dream trade Brittney Sykes and Marie Gulich to the Los Angeles Sparks for Kalani Brown

After not signing Angel McCoughtry, the Sparks still needed a small forward. They get that in Brittney Sykes. As Winsidr reported, Sykes is expected to start for LA. Sykes will be filling in the role vacated by the retiring Alana Beard. Obviously, Sykes (nor any player) can do what Beard did on defense. But she brings quick feet and sturdiness on that end. She can help guard smaller wings that are too quick for Candace Parker or Chiney Ogwumike. 

Sykes had the worst shooting season of her career in 2019 (44.5% true shooting). But she still produced as she put up 10.2 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 2.5 assists. I think she’ll be able to get back to an acceptable level of shooting in 2020. If anything, she’ll improve by getting out of Atlanta’s atrocious offense last season. She can provide some good cutting and off ball movement, which bodes well for the star-ladden Sparks. 

Kalani Brown is headed to Atlanta. Presumably, she will backup Elizabeth Williams and continue growing into the enforcer role she had in LA. I’m lower on Brown than most because she’s not a modern center and she may not have a huge role in the future landscape of the league. 

On the flip side, you can’t teach size and Brown certainly has that. The Dream may see her as a long term replacement for Williams or as a long-term backup. They also sent out Marie Gulich, who I have a personal affinity for due to her versatility.

From an asset perspective, I think Atlanta didn’t do great. Trading Sykes for Brown isn’t bad value, especially with Sykes expiring after this season. Sykes is a better player. But Atlanta probably figures that they won’t be competing this year and should get younger. Plus Atlanta may have been just looking for change after a terrible year with rumors of locker room instability. 

However, throwing Gulich for nothing is odd. Atlanta had the best asset in my opinion with Sykes and gave up more than LA. Gulich may not have been in their plans and isn’t that valuable, but they couldn’t have asked for a second round pick from LA? The Sparks probably won’t be keeping any draftees. It’s a minor complaint but in trade negotiations, teams have to get everything they can and Atlanta didn’t. 

Jonquel Jones re-signing with the Connecticut Sun

The first official news of free agency came from Connecticut as they retain their franchise player. Jonquel Jones was a restricted free agent, so she was definitely coming back to Connecticut.

Obviously, just getting Jonquel into the fold officially is great news for Connecticut. But the bigger news for me is the deal is multiple years. I figured that Jonquel would like to get back out on the market next year to get the supermax contract. But she has decided that the stability in Connecticut is more important apparently.

The initial reporting of this deal indicated that Jonquel Jones signed a four-year deal, which I quickly criticized because she gave up so much flexibility. HOWEVER, High Post Hoops corrected their reporting to say that JJ took a two-year deal at the max. That means she will make $185,000 in 2020 and $190,550 in 2021.

The two-year term makes much more sense than the four years originally reported. Two years actually give JJ more flexibility than a one year deal. She now has stability in Connecticut and two large paydays guaranteed. She will have much more information on where the Sun will be after the 2020 season and could get an extension up to the supermax (I’m 85% sure). She could also test free agency in 2021 if she isn’t happy or even force a trade after 2020. So it turns out the Jonquel Jones did a great job in this negotiation.

For Curt Miller and company, they get to keep their superstar and retain flexibility to keep the team together. Next year, the Sun’s books will be completely clean outside of Jonquel (and likely Courtney Williams). They can reassess their situation then, sign the rest of their core, and extend their two stars. It’s a great signing for both parties.

Connecticut signs-and-trades Morgan Tuck and the 11th overall pick in the 2019 draft to Seattle for the 7th overall pick

Morgan Tuck was a restricted free agent so the Sun could have matched the offer sheet she signed with Seattle. For whatever reason (either it was too expensive, too long, or they are hunting bigger fish), the Sun decided to let Tuck go. They extracted four draft slots in exchange for not matching the offer sheet, which is a nice piece of business for Curt Miller and his staff. They got something out of nothing.

See Also

For Seattle, the move likely spells the end of UFA Courtney Paris’s time with the Storm. Tuck will slot into the Storm’s rotation of bigs behind her college teammate Breanna Stewart, Natasha Howard, Mercedes Russell, and Crystal Langhorne. She’ll probably get similar minutes (10.7 a game) to what she got in Connecticut, but perhaps she could take some minutes from Langhorne.

Tuck brings another versatile big to the Seattle frontcourt. She can bang with the bigs down low to get boards and willingly (if not efficiently) spaces the floor on offense. The real benefit of Tuck may be that she can keep this team fresh going into the playoffs.

Layshia Clarendon signs with the New York Liberty

Clarendon signed a fully protected two-year contract for $240k total ($120k flat each year), according to Howard Megdal of High Post Hoops. She missed all but 9 games of the 2019 season after getting surgery on her right ankle.

Clarendon’s best year was in 2017 when she put up 10 and 6 for the Atlanta Dream and made the All-Star team. While she’s unlikely to make another All-Star team, she’s a very good bench piece and will bring tremendous leadership to the locker room. The Libs are very young (outside of Tina Charles) and likely getting younger after they draft Sabrina Ionescu with the first overall pick. Clarendon is old enough to lead this group and young enough to be there for a few years.

The New York backcourt is very packed though. I think they will have to make another move, even if they let Bria Hartley go. Brittany Boyd could be traded for some wing depth as her contract is expiring next year.  But they could also just go small and try to run teams off the court.

The contract terms also give me pause. No doubt that Clarendon is valuable not on and off the court. But $120k each year with full protection just seems a bit rich to me. Her 2017 season seems more like an aberration than a indicator of future performance and she’s coming off an injury. Although, this is the first deal with a free agent in the mid-tier group so maybe that is just the going rate for a player like Clarendon.

Dallas signs a bunch of their young players

The Wings did some house keeping as we await the Skylar Diggins-Smith trade. The team announced that they re-signed Moriah Jefferson (who was under contract but could be extended, still working to get the exact situation) and Megan Gustafson to multiple-year deals. The team also signed RFA Imani McGee-Stafford to a one-year deal (or perhaps she accepted her qualifying offer). Dallas also signed Karlie Samuelson and Morgan Bertsch to training camp contracts, according to league sources.

The Wings clearly see Moriah Jefferson as a part of their future. It will be interesting to see where she slots into the guard rotation. Based on talent, she’d probably be the first guard off the bench to replace Arike Ogunbowale and Allisha Gray. But the Wings could also start MoJeff to stagger Gray and Ogunbowale. It would give them a chance to see what the pairing looks like and boost their bench production.

Megan Gustafson continues her whirlwind WNBA career. She got drafted by Wings, then cut, then the entire state of Iowa got mad at the Wings, then she came back to Dallas, and now she is there to stay. She played well in her 9 minutes per game and showed that she can adapt to the WNBA game. Her signing could mean that Isabelle Harrison is on the way out. But with Azura Stevens’s health questions and Gustafson ability to play power forward, the Wings could fit her and Harrison in a rotation (although it’d be less than optimal in my opinion).

Imani McGee-Stafford also is back. She’ll provide an option to handle bigger centers, who Dallas’s other bigs will struggle guard. I hope she can grow her offensive game and stay on the court more. I also hope that this doesn’t mean the end of Isabelle Harrison’s time in Dallas.

As far as the other two players, I’m not going to project their roles because it seems that they are on training camp contracts and could be let go at any time. With the Skylar trade impending, it’s hard to know if those players will make it on the regular season roster. I will update this page (or somewhere) when we know more.

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