Coming into the 2023 offseason, Breanna Stewart topped the list of unrestricted free agents. How often does a former MVP hit the open market in her prime? The 28-year-old forward is one of a handful of players in the W that can elevate any playoff-level roster to an immediate contender.
Last year, the MVP runner-up paced the league in scoring with 21.8 points per game (PPG) and notched first nods to both the All-WNBA and All-Defensive teams. To this point of her career, per Across the Timeline, Stewart averages 20.3 PPG, second all-time to just Cynthia Cooper-Dyke (21.0 PPG).
Stewart had spent the entirety of her seven-year career thus far with the Seattle Storm, but she threw WNBA Twitter into momentary chaos when she briefly flirted with New York Liberty ownership last offseason before ultimately returning to the Emerald City for the final year of Sue Bird’s career. That “Stew York” idea lingered throughout 2022, especially because Stewart signed just a one-year pact. With the Storm unable to core her after using the designation on Jewell Loyd last offseason, Stewart entered the 2023 offseason as a truly unrestricted free agent.
After weeks of tantalizing emoji engagement, Stewart announced her decision with just one more: a Statue of Liberty.
— Breanna Stewart (@breannastewart) February 1, 2023
Stewie’s list of accolades is long, stretching back to college where she won four straight championships at UConn, including a complete sweep as the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player during her college tenure. She hasn’t slowed down as a pro. She won Rookie of the Year in 2016 and MVP in 2018. She is a two-time WNBA champ (and Finals MVP), first in 2018 and then in the strenuous and ultra-compressed 2020 bubble season (a year after she tore her Achilles). All-W four times. All-Defense four times. All-Star four times. Basically, if it can be done on a basketball court, she’s done it.
Stewart’s skill set cannot be contained in the continental U.S. She’s won a pair of Olympic gold medals (2016, 2020) and three FIBA World Cups (2014, 2018, 2022), and she has spent time abroad in China, Russia, and Turkey. Stewie’s experience overseas has also made her a vocal detractor of the collective bargaining agreement’s prioritization clause, which will—beginning in 2024—require all WNBA players to report by the start of training camp.
“For me, the biggest thing with the one-year deal was in regards to prioritization,” Stewart said after re-signing with Seattle last offseason. “It’s something that, if I’m quite honest, I’m not happiest about in our CBA because it’s just really limiting what professional women’s basketball players can do in their offseason and their ability to make money overseas. With the one-year deal, I have a little bit more flexibility in technically what I can do in 2023 as we try and figure out this prioritization.”
As a face of the league and an unequivocal superstar, Stewart has more leverage than nearly anyone in the WNBA to debate the league’s policies, and she has championed the cause for younger players that cannot risk their domestic paycheck by arguing about their need for the other overseas.
While contract details have yet to be announced, it would not be surprising to see Stewart agree to just a one-year deal with the full prioritization clause limitations looming starting next year.
“Stewie’s free agency is the story of the WNBA at an inflection point: Players understand their value, the potential of the WNBA, and are eager partners in growing a business that has incredible momentum,” Stewart’s agent, Lindsay Kagawa-Colas of Wasserman, told ESPN.
— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) February 1, 2023
In each free agent class, there’s a major domino that needs to fall to trigger all the corresponding movement. Stewart is that domino this year. Even Candace Parker signing with the Las Vegas Aces seems like a preemptive response to Stewart forming a title contender this offseason. Any teams that had Stewart on their wish list wanted to ensure they had the required cap space to accommodate her, should she decide to suit up there. With Stewart now headed to Brooklyn and free agency officially underway, expect teams to be a lot more aggressive with their pursuits in coming days. Rumors of a team-up with free agent guard Courtney Vandersloot have been floating around, though more recent word is that their connection may be overstated. Still, it’s worth keeping an eye on.
In the end, Stewart’s move to Brooklyn was delayed but not denied. She slots in perfectly to a roster that needed a versatile stretch-four, and there’s arguably nobody better for that position. A potential starting five alongside Sabrina Ionescu, Jonquel Jones, Betnijah Laney, and Marine Johannès provides a nightmare matchup at all five spots on the floor for opponents. For the first time in a long time, the New York Liberty have the pieces to make a legitimate run at their first WNBA title.