Free Agency Preview — Western Conference

Editor’s Note: All information is accurate as of 1/14. We cannot account for all the impending transaction chaos.

 

With free agency just around the corner (about to officially tip off with a bang, sending Jonquel Jones to NY), the WNBA offseason is heating up. Half a dozen coaches have traded team-branded polos and shuffled around, so there’s even more potential for chaos than even initially anticipated. Tantalizing talents twinkle atop mock draft boards, adding further intrigue as cap-strapped GMs attempt to piece together a roster that can compete with the defending champs in Las Vegas. It’s a twelve-way game of chess, where each team can only see their own board. 

In order to help keep track of it all, our Winsidr staff has previewed each franchise: where they stand, what decisions they’ve already made, and what they might do in the coming weeks. Part one, the Eastern Conference, was published yesterday; part two—the Western Conference—is below.

 

 

Dallas Wings – Jasmine Harper

Free agents: Isabelle Harrison (UFA), Marina Mabrey (RFA), Teaira McCowan (RFA)

The Dallas Wings’ offseason moves are pretty straightforward: define your team. Between losing grade-A talent like Liz Cambage and Skylar Diggins-Smith, and reoccuring openings at the head coaching position and an unorganized front office, it’s time for Dallas to sit down and solidify its identity as an overall franchise.

Going into free agency, the Wings have about six players locked in, including their centerpiece Arike Ogunbowale. If the team intends to continue building around her, their free agency moves are clear. First, retain Mabrey. She is a core member of the Wings playing style, versatile in her position, able to guard and play 1-3, and brings passion to the court. She and Ogunbowale—best friends and NCAA Championship teammates at Notre Dame—consistently feed off one another during games. “MaRike” is a duo that bolsters not only floor chemistry but pace as well.

Next, the Wings have to make a decision about their frontcourt. Choosing between six players at forward and center, Dallas needs to move on from at least two. Satou Sabally will be a restricted free agent in 2024. Should she remain healthy during the offseason, Sabally’s spot is secure, as a core member of Dallas’ playing style. To continue, the Wings should secure Harrison and McCowan, while moving on from Bella Alarie. Alarie has played well for her team, but Harrison and McCowan are more dominant and agile. In addition, when it comes to Awak Kuier and Charli Collier, the Wings need to decide which player to develop. Kuier is an ascending forward behind Sabally who can also comfortably switch to being  an effective post player. Collier has a lot of untapped potential as a center, but a lack of playing time has decreased her overall appeal; so, Dallas needs to play her if retained. The Wings could then use almost $80,000 in departing salary as cap space toward a trade.

Lastly, grabbing veteran talent for the Wings is key. Brittney Sykes would give Kayla Thornton a bit of rest while also being useful as a perimeter shooter or facilitator with the second unit. Sykes has the added bonus of having a strong relationship with new head coach Latricia Trammell, making her an easy pickup for Dallas. Alysha Clark could provide something similar, with her physical playing style and shooting beyond the arc. Plus, there’s no secret that guard Allisha Gray is in high demand for 2023 and beyond. Securing Sykes or Clark could make up for losing Gray, while also providing nice transition buckets and relief to a young squad who needs a veteran to keep them in the game when they look defeated. And, just as food for thought, if a viable trade package is created for Gray, the Wings could bring on both Sykes and Clark, should they move on from Alarie and either Kuier or Collier.

 

Las Vegas Aces – Owen Pence

Free Agents: Sydney Colson (UFA), JiSu Park (RFA), Theresa Plaisance (UFA), Kiah Stokes (UFA)

It’s hard to identify areas of potential improvement for a team fresh off winning the WNBA title (and with all of its core under contract for 2023). Still, the Aces will be looking to upgrade in a few margin areas this offseason. 

Area number one? The bench. Riquna Williams didn’t hit her stride until Game 4 of the Finals, and she was the only major bench contributor Las Vegas could rely on throughout 2022. Though the Aces will be hampered by a lack of cap space, there are ways the team can add a key rotation piece to come off the bench. Letting Stokes walk, and trying to find someone in her price range (Stokes made $115,000 in 2022) as a replacement, would be a reasonable and advisable avenue. 

Area number two? Defense. This is a broader concern, and a secondary one, given Vegas’ defense was good enough to win the championship in 2022. But the Aces could bump their defensive rating from sixth to the top third of the league with a key addition or two. 

What do the Aces do well? Just about everything else. They were first in offensive rating last season, and featured the best and deepest starting five in the league. A’ja Wilson is a two-time MVP. Chelsea Gray just completed the most impressive and efficient offensive run in WNBA Playoff history. Jackie Young and Kelsey Plum enjoyed career-best campaigns. 

Who should Las Vegas target this offseason? I’d aim high, trying to nab someone like Erica Wheeler or Isabelle Harrison. Wheeler would provide elite perimeter defense, and Harrison would provide frontcourt depth should Dearica Hamby struggle to reach her previous on-court highs. Don’t count out Tina Charles either—the former superstar could be willing to take a pay cut if it meant potentially winning a title. 

If Las Vegas doesn’t have the financial mettle to sign any of those players, someone like Elizabeth Williams would make a lot of sense, easing the load on Wilson and giving head coach Becky Hammon another defense-first option in the rotation. 

 

Los Angeles Sparks – Adam Miller

Free agents:  Lexie Brown (UFA),  Jordin Canada (UFA), Chiney Ogwumike (UFA), Nneka Ogwumike (UFA), Kianna Smith (Reserved), Brittney Sykes (UFA), Kristi Toliver (UFA), Amanda Zahui B (Suspended/Expired Contract)

There’s been plenty of speculation around Nneka possibly leaving the Sparks to play with Candace Parker and the Chicago Sky (as well as the other way around), but neither possibility is likely to happen. At the end of last season, Nneka mentioned that she wants to be in Los Angeles long term, and there’s little reason to think that will change, even with new head coach Curt Miller. Not only is Nneka the leader regardless of who the Sparks sign in free agency, but she has an agreement with Chiney to play on the same team. 

Given Chiney’s deal with ESPN, the Ogwumike sisters have little reason to leave Los Angeles, where Chiney has the luxury of taking a team-friendly deal to preserve cap space for other free agent targets. Toliver is another candidate likely to return on a team-friendly deal, taking on more of a mentorship role as she enjoys the twilight of her career.

As far as the Parker rumors are concerned, given Fisher’s departure, it certainly isn’t out of the realm of possibilities; especially considering Parker’s daughter Leila is still enrolled at an LA county school. But all indications are Parker loves playing in her home town and is likely to sign a short-term deal with the Sky before retiring. 

So where does that leave the Sparks? This free agent class is certainly loaded, but don’t count on the Sparks taking many big swings despite their cap space. Instead, look for them to prioritize bringing back Sykes and try to build around Nneka’s talents. In particular, they will probably look for another center that can protect the basket while being skilled on the interior. The Sparks signed Liz Cambage last year to do just that but now have a void that never seemed filled following her departure. Olivia Nelson-Ododa, while showing impressive passing and shot blocking flashes of potential, doesn’t seem like the answer for a team aspiring to reach the playoffs again. In addition, Chiney looked more comfortable as a stretch four behind Nneka than she did playing in the post. Someone like Ezi Magbegor or Teaira McCowan would be an ideal fit for the starting role to give the Sparks the bigger look they sought last year.

Finally, Sparks brass will have some tough decisions to make surrounding Chennedy Carter. The guard showed flashes of success and is still under contract, but could be a compelling trade target if management believes they can get either a key rotational piece or draft capital. If the Sparks choose to keep her, Carter will need to prove—to the fourth head coach in her career—that she has the discipline to play within the team. 

 

Minnesota Lynx – Mitchell Hansen

Free Agents: Rachel Banham (UFA), Bridget Carleton (RFA), Anna Cruz (Reserved), Damiris Dantas (UFA), Moriah Jefferson (UFA), Nikolina Milić (UFA), Maya Moore (Suspended/Expired Contract), Cecilia Zandalasini (Suspended/Expired Contract)

After a disappointing season that resulted in missing the playoffs and entering the draft lottery for the first time since 2011, the Minnesota Lynx officially turn the page to a new era led by Naphessa Collier, following the retirement of Sylvia Fowles.

Heading into free agency and the draft, the Lynx have five players under contract accounting for roughly $882,000 of the overall $1.42 million salary cap, according to Her Hoop Stats: Collier, Kayla McBride, Aerial Powers, Natalie Achonwa (who is pregnant and will miss at least part of the season), and Jessica Shepard. That leaves Minnesota with about $540,000 in cap space to re-sign or acquire players in free agency, not accounting for what any drafted player(s) might require salary-wise.

With work to do reshaping the roster around Collier, it’s safe to say Minnesota has the ability to go out and make a splash this offseason. With the retirement of Fowles, Minnesota needs to find a replacement for the all-time great, which won’t be an easy task. At the guard spot, the Lynx have gone through a trial-and-error period ever since Lindsay Whalen retired in 2017, and will once again try and solidify that spot not only for this season but beyond. Minnesota’s roster is primarily made up of off-guard and wing players, so surrounding them with the appropriate guards and post players will be the main objective of the offseason.

 

See Also

Knowing the “win-now” mindset Cheryl Reeve and company have in Minnesota, I would expect the Lynx to swing big in free agency. Whether or not that results in a home run (look, a baseball reference while talking about basketball!) is another story.

 

It’s likely that players such as Banham, Carleton, and perhaps Dantas return to the team in 2023. If the Lynx aren’t able to do much in free agency, bringing back Jefferson could also become an option. As for external free agents, Minnesota—along with every other team—will test the waters on Breanna Stewart to gauge her interest in leaving Seattle. The Lynx could also try and target post players like Brionna Jones, Tina Charles, Emma Meesseman, and Nneka Ogwumike. As for guards, Courtney Vandersloot, Tiffany Hayes, Kristi Toliver, Tiffany Mitchell, Courtney Williams, and Jordin Canada could fit well as the next leader of Minnesota’s offense.

 

Phoenix Mercury – Kevin Forch

Free Agents: Sophie Cunningham (RFA), Reshanda Gray (UFA), Brittney Griner (UFA), Megan Gustafson (RFA), Kia Nurse (UFA), Shey Peddy (RFA), Diana Taurasi (UFA), Sam Thomas (Reserved)

It would be deeply cruel for Mercury fans to experience such a distressing and drama-filled 2022 season only to watch Griner and Taurasi sign with other teams—so let me say at the outset that I’m not even going to consider it. Assuming those two players sign for a max contract around $200,000, Phoenix will enter 2023 needing to fill at least six roster spots with $481,000 of cap room (according to Her Hoops Stats).

With urgency, the team will have to address how to replace Skylar Diggins-Smith, who ended last season on the suspended list before announcing her pregnancy. Her 19.7 points, 5.5 assists, and 1.5 steals per game probably can’t be replicated with the team’s salary constrictions. However, there are a handful of capable point guards on the market who could fit what this team needs, including Moriah Jefferson, Jordin Canada, or Erica Wheeler.

Bringing back the Mercury’s current crop of restricted free agents, however, is also a factor. Peddy and Gustafson will likely come at a price that Phoenix could be willing to match, but after the improvements Cunningham showed in the second half of the 2022 season, offers from other teams may be more than what the Mercury can afford.

 

Seattle Storm – Hunter Hames 

Free Agents: Sue Bird (Retired), Tina Charles (UFA), Briann January (Retired), Jantel Lavender (UFA), Ezi Magbegor (Reserved), Epiphanny Prince (UFA), Breanna Stewart (UFA), Stephanie Talbot (UFA), Gabby Williams (RFA) 

When the Storm’s season ended in a semifinals loss at home to the Aces, the reality of inevitable change swept over the Seattle landscape. Gone would be the G.O.A.T. of Seattle sports, and their point guard of two decades, Sue Bird. As if that sting wasn’t enough, the Storm also said goodbye to backup point guard January, who retired and recently became an assistant coach with the Connecticut Sun. In fact, Seattle has just two players on guaranteed deals heading into the 2023 season, Jewell Loyd and Mercedes Russell, the latter missing most of last season due to recurrent low pressure headaches. The Storm will try their best to lure several players back to the green and yellow, none more important, however, than perennial All-Star Breanna Stewart.

With an immense void left at point guard, the puzzle that is the Storm will quickly search for pieces in free agency. Seattle ranked second in assists per game last season with 22.6, but lost over a third of that productivity when Bird and January retired. Seattle also ranked third in Defensive Rating (97.4), led by All-WNBA Defensive First Teamer Stewart, alongside Williams and Magbegor, who were awarded All-WNBA Defensive Second Team. All three players will need to be signed this offseason, highlighting the urgency for the Storm to begin cementing their pieces in order to fill out a championship caliber team. 

Making All-WNBA First Team in 2022, Stewart put up arguably the best season of her career, but now the Storm must put all their chips on the table in order to keep the former MVP in Seattle. After reportedly flirting with the New York Liberty during last year’s free agency, could Stewart decide to return closer to home in New York, or stay and continue building her legacy in Seattle? That decision will be the catalyst for the Storm’s offseason plans, as any roster building would revolve around her. How will Seattle choose to fill out the remainder of their roster, and how drastically different might this team look if Stewie decides to leave?

Looking for another on-court maestro, the Storm might go after Courtney Vandersloot to cement their backcourt. Vandersloot is revered around the league as one the best point guards and facilitators in the game and has either led the league or been runner-up in assists per game every season since 2016. Vandersloot hails from Washington, where she was an All- American at Gonzaga, setting several school records. After playing close to her wife’s hometown of Chicago, could Seattle pitch a deal to bring both Vandersloot and Allie Quigley to Seattle? The Storm don’t have a pick in the upcoming draft until the ninth spot. Could a player like Syracuse’s Dyaisha Fair (as mentioned in Matt Cohen’s 2023 Mock Draft 1.0) develop into their point guard of the future, or will Seattle trade their selection to pick up a veteran with WNBA experience (perhaps someone like Jordin Canada)?

Make no mistake, though: Seattle’s number one priority will be bringing Breanna Stewart back to the Storm.

View Comment (1)
  • It is time for the Lynx to move on from Rachel Banham. Banham’s game is not going to get any better, and there are a number of rookies who can certainly fill that spot on the bench with better shooting and better defense. Dantas is also a big gamble given her injury history and last year’s disappearance. Now that Brionna Jones is likely to be cored by Connecticut, it may also be time to look to the future as opposed to a quick immediate fix. Historically those choices don’t work out very well. Courting Stewart is a nice thought, but if the choice is between Minneapolis and New York, that’s a no-brainer. Again, is the goal to build a team for the long run or a quick fix? If it is the latter, then it will have to be done every year, which eliminates building chemistry. That takes time, and more than a few months. Look to the future, not the past.

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