WNBA Free Agency Grades [Part 1]

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The most exciting WNBA Free Agency period in league history is crawling to a close. Most free agents have found home and most teams have complete rosters. You know what that means? It’s time to jump to conclusions and judge each team’s moves without seeing the teams!

I graded teams based only what they did in this free agency period. C is the average grade and teams who didn’t actively make detrimental decisions but didn’t get any closer to their goals. Teams who got better (or got closer to accomplishing whatever they want to do) graded above a C and teams who got worse got below a C.

NOTES:

  • Team salary and cap space figures are my own based on salaries reported by Winsidr and High Post Hoops. You can check out my complete cap sheets on Winsidr’s patreon for just $3 a month.
  • I also will be expanding on these grades for Patreon after the draft in April and after training camp.

Atlanta Dream: A-

  • Acquisitions/Retentions: Courtney Williams (acquired from CT); Kalani Brown (acquired from LA); Glory Johnson (signed one-year, $165k contract); Shekinna Stricklen (signed two-year, $350,500 contract); Alexis Jones (picked up off of waivers)
  • Departures: Angel McCoughtry (signed with Las Vegas); Brittney Sykes, Marie Gulich (traded to LA for Kalani Brown); Jessica Breland, Nia Coffey (traded to PHX in Courtney Williams deal)
  • Remaining free agents: Alex Bentley (not returning), Alaina Coates (reserved)
  • Training Camp contracts: Blake Dietrick, Elina Babkina

Atlanta had a dream of an offseason. (I’m so sorry.) The Dream acquired Courtney Williams from Connecticut in a three-team deal that sent Jessica Breland and Nia Coffey to Phoenix. Williams, a native of nearby Folkston, Georgia, was a sensation both on and off the court during Connecticut’s 2019 Finals run. Simply put, she’s a bucket and a star for a team desperate for both.

Williams will see a familiar face as former Sun sharpshooter Shekina Stricklen (say that five times fast) signed a two-year with Atlanta. Stricklen won the three-point contest last year and can really help the Dream’s abysmal outside shooting. They also signed Glory Johnson to a reasonable contract for one year. Johnson’s numbers have declined over the past few years. But she could be in for a career revitalization if she keeps shooting threes instead of mid-rangers.

The franchise’s relationship clearly soured with Angel McCoughtry in 2019 and they let her go to Vegas after not using the core designation on it. On one hand, they lost their franchise player for nothing. On the other, they accurately saw cap space, time, and change as assets and made a tough decision for the betterment of the franchise. That’s a plus for me and whatever missteps they made with McCoughtry happened before this free agency period.

That’s how the Dream earned an A. They got a minus for a couple small things. Getting Kalani Brown is a nice move, especially with her defensive upside. But I think they gave up too much to get her by sending Marie Gulich in addition to Brittney Sykes to LA. Losing Breland and Coffey hurts as well. Although, they likely had to give them up for Courtney Williams and that’s an easy decision.

Finally, this team still doesn’t quite fit yet. They lack depth, a true starting point guard, and have a lot of mouths to feed on offense for a true title contender. But still Atlanta improved much more than anyone predicted and they have the 4th overall pick in the draft.

Chicago Sky: B+

  • Acquisitions/Retentions: Courtney Vandersloot (re-signed two-year, $406k); Allie Quigley (re-signed two-year, $394k); Stefanie Dolson (re-signed two-year, $355,255); Kahleah Copper (signed two-year, $330k); Azura Stevens (acquired from Dallas)
  • Departures: Astou Ndour (signed-and-traded to Dallas); Jamierra Faulkner (injured, will miss 2020); Katie Lou Samuelson (traded to Dallas)
  • Remaining free agents: None
  • Training Camp Contracts: Sydney Colson, Alexis Prince

The Chicago Sky are running it back for the next two seasons. They re-signed the core of Courtney Vandersloot, Allie Quigley, and Stefanie Dolson to two year declining deals at less than their max salaries. That is nothing short of a massive win and sign of a great culture in Chicago. Vandersloot played at an MVP-level in 2019, Allie Quigley is the best shooter in the league, and Stef Dolson fits around them perfectly.

However, the two-year terms are a bit scary as the Sky have no one under contract after 2021. They may have to make tough decisions in the 2022 offseason when those three, Diamond DeShields, Gabby Williams, and newly acquired Azura Stevens will need new deals. But for now, it’s all good.

Astou Ndour became a cap casualty after signing a max offer sheet and getting traded to Dallas. Losing Ndour is tough, but she was not worth a three-year max deal to Chicago and they did well to get a 2021 first rounder for her. Sydney Colson brings a solid backup point guard and locker room presence.

Those are “A” moves, in my opinion. The Sky lost points because of the Kahleah Copper and Azura Stevens deals. Copper is a good player with potential. But she got a very large deal for a player likely coming off the bench. The deal also hinders their ability to re-sign Jantel Lavender and Cheyenne Parker. But Copper has upside and they probably could not replace her directly so it’s only a slight negative.

The Azura Stevens trade is a bit of a head-scratcher. Not because Azura isn’t talented (she is very talented), but because the Sky had to give up Katie Lou Samuelson and a first rounder for a big coming off a foot injury. Samuelson didn’t fit in Chicago, but she also never got a chance to play. The team essentially devalued Samuelson and then traded her at her lowest point. The trade will look fine if Stevens is healthy and fits as well as the Sky imagine. But it looks like an overpay right now.

Connecticut Sun: B+

  • Acquisitions/Retentions: DeWanna Bonner (signed-and traded from Phoenix); Jonquel Jones (re-signed 2-year max); Briann January (acquired from Phoenix); Bria Holmes (re-signed 1-year, $130k); Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis (acquired from Seattle for 2021 second)
  • Departures: Courtney Williams (traded to Atlanta); Rachel Banham (traded to Minnesota for 2021 second round pick); Layshia Clarendon (signed with NYL); Shekinna Stricklen (signed with ATL); Morgan Tuck (signed-and-traded to Seattle)
  • Remaining free agents: None
  • Training Camp Contracts: Natisha Hiedeman, Jazmon Gwathmey, Valeriane Ayayi

Connecticut had the hardest free agency to grade. They did some great stuff. Acquiring DeWanna Bonner from Phoenix stunned the league. Her arrival puts Connecticut right back in the Title discussion for 2020 and beyond. Although, Bonner’s four-year supermax contract could get grisly at the end as she is already 32. They also had to send Morgan Tuck to Seattle to get a better first round pick to trade for Bonner. But that is the price of a superstar and Bonner is certainly that.

The Sun also re-signed Jonquel Jones to a two-year max deal. The term surprised me and others who expected Jones to sign for one year then get a supermax next offseason. So it’s a win for Connecticut to have Jones for an extra year. Bria Holmes also re-signed. The contract is a bit rich for a player who lacked consistency, but it’s for just one year.

If the offseason ended there, they would get an A on the spot. However, Connecticut also lost several contributors. Layshia Clarendon became dispensable with the rise of Natisha Heideman in 2019 (who re-signed a camp deal but will make the team). Trading Rachel Banham, who struggled mightily in 2019, for anything is a win. But losing Stricklen, one of the league’s best three point shooters, hurts a lot. The logic was that the Sun needed to let her go to re-sign Courtney Williams…

About that. Williams decided that she wanted to leave for her hometown team in Atlanta. The Sun recovered well by getting Briann January, who will help their outside shooting, from Phoenix in the trade. But Williams’s departure is a huge blow both on and off the court after her supernova performance in the 2019 playoffs.

So what do we do with this? The team obviously didn’t get worse or make any clearly bad decisions. However, the Sun acquired the best free agent and didn’t clearly improve. Like teachers have done since the dawn of time, I’m just going to give them a B+ and hope Connecticut’s parents don’t request a conference.

Dallas Wings: B-

  • Acquisitions/Retentions: Isabelle Harrison (re-signed 3-year, $463,365); Megan Gustafson (re-signed 3-year, $195,000); Moriah Jefferson (re-signed 3-year, $525,200); Astou Ndour (sign-and-trade from Chicago, 3-year max); Katie Lou Samuelson (acquired from Chicago); Marina Mabrey (acquired from LA for 2021 second round pick)
  • Departures: Skylar Diggins-Smith (signed-and-traded to Phoenix for 3 first round picks); Glory Johnson (signed with Atlanta); Azura Stevens (traded to Chicago)
  • Remaining free agents: None
  • Training Camp Contracts: Karlie Samuelson, Morgan Bertsch, Imani McGee-Stafford

The Wings gets their largest demerit for losing Skylar Diggins-Smith. But much like Atlanta, the missteps with Skylar happened long ago and I took that into consideration. They also did well to get three first rounders for Skylar, including the 5th pick in 2020. Glory Johnson left Dallas after 7 years with the franchise. Johnson’s numbers had slipped over the previous three years. But she’s still talented and useful. Over the past two seasons, the team has lost three franchise faces including Liz Cambage.

However, the Wings made it clear that Arike Ogunbowale is the new face of the franchise. They made moves to surround her with complimentary talent on three-year deals to match her own rookie deal. The biggest acquisitions came from Chicago. The Wings traded one of the firsts they acquired for Skylar to sign RFA Astou Ndour to a 3-year max deal. That is a huge price to pay for a player who played sparingly outside of 13 games at the end of 2019. However, those games were dope, Ndour should fit well with Arike, and her deal will end before Dallas has to pay Arike (and others).

Also, the Wings replaced that 2021 first-rounder and received Katie Lou Samuelson in exchange for Azura Stevens. As I mentioned above, Stevens is coming off an injury and became dispensable when Ndour signed. Samuelson should be a great fit as a shooter around Arike and they got assets to take her on. Moriah Jefferson’s contract seems like a slight overpay considering they don’t know how she fits with Arike. But Jefferson is a very good young player when healthy. They also acquired Marina Mabrey, Ogunbowale’s college teammate, from LA to provide even more shooting.

However, they left themselves a lot to sort out in training camp. They have 12 players under regular contracts, 3 training camp players, and 6 draft picks with 4 picks in the first round. Only 15 players can come to camp and only 12 can make the team. I’m docking them points for two reasons: Figuring out who will make the team in camp means sacrificing precious preparation time for the core and they will lose assets they recently acquired for nothing. Still a positive offseason, but somewhat incomplete.

Indiana Fever: C

  • Acquisitions/Retentions: Benijah Laney (re-signed 2-year, $182,700); Tiffany Mitchell (re-signed 3-year, $432K)
  • Departures: None
  • Remaining free agents: None (yet)
  • Training Camp Contracts: Bernadett Hatar

The Fever were the only team that didn’t bring sign any other team’s free agents or lose any of their players from 2019. A true bastion of stability in a world of variability. A pint of plain vanilla ice cream among a freezer full of Ben and Jerry’s. A shade of beige in the rainbow.

Okay you get it. Indy didn’t do much. They matched Tiffany Mitchell’s offer sheet from Atlanta. Mitchell has steadily improved over her first four years in the league. She can handle the ball well and scores somewhat efficiently. Mitchell needs to improve defensively to be worth the contract. But the deal is unprotected so the Fever can get out of it if need be.

Betnijah Laney has the opposite issue. She is a solid defender on the wing, which every team needs. But Laney hurt the Fever’s offense in 2019. Her contract is a bargain and is unprotected, but she has to show offensive improvement to secure a role on the team. The Fever also brought in Hungarian giant Bernadett Hatar on a training camp deal. She’s a 6’10” modern center who can seemingly play inside and out. I don’t know much about Hatar and she may not make the team, but her size is tantalizing.

The Fever still have the 3rd overall pick in the draft and more moves to make. They have 14 players (including Hatar) under contract and three draft picks, so they’ll need to cut 5 players before the season. They get a C for not damaging their team, but not getting better.

Las Vegas Aces: C+

  • Acquisitions/Retentions: Angel McCoughtry (signed 2-year max); Sugar Rodgers (signed 1-year, $80k); Danielle Robinson (signed 1-year, $130K)
  • Departures: Sydney Colson (signed with Chicago); Epiphanny Prince (signed with Seattle); Carolyn Swords (retired)
  • Remaining free agents: Liz Cambage (RFA-will re-sign); Tamera Young (unlikely to return)
  • Training Camp Contracts: Raisa Musina, Lindsey Allen

While the Las Vegas Aces are busy dunking all over SBNation’s Matt Ellentuck, I think I’ll be able to slip this grade past them. The Aces’ biggest move was acquiring Angel McCoughtry, one of the league’s most recognizable faces. McCoughtry was one of the best players in WNBA from 2010-2016 when she averaged 20 points and 5 rebounds per game, made the WNBA All-Defensive team 7 straight years, won the scoring title twice, and led the Dream to the Final three times.

That’s a hell of a resume, so why did the Aces grade out so low? First, Angel has missed two of the previous three years and is coming off of a major knee injury at age 33. She seems healthy again, but we have yet to see the athleticism from her younger years. Second, McCoughtry could clog up the team’s spacing which I discussed here. Lastly, she needs the ball to be effective as a non-shooting scorer. It will be hard to get her enough touches with A’ja Wilson, Liz Cambage, Kelsey Plum, and maybe Kayla McBride ahead of her in the pecking order.

It’s a move that any team would make. But right now, it’s hard to see how Angel raises the team’s ceiling that much. Also her two-year max contract may make it difficult to re-sign both Kayla McBride and Kelsey Plum next year.

The Aces essentially swapped Sydney Colson for Danielle Robinson. Robinson is more talented, but she also can’t shoot from outside the paint and Colson played a huge role in the locker room. They are also allegedly letting Tamera Young go, which I think is a mistake as there are no clear ways to replace her.

The last complication here is that Liz Cambage has yet to officially re-sign. She is coming back, but likely on a one-year deal to get a supermax in 2021. The Aces made a big splash, but I’m just not sure that the team got much better yet. Of course, I may be eating these words come September.

 

 

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