WNBA players are on the move, drafts picks are flying around the league, and we’re over here collectively trying to catch our breath. This can only mean one thing—WNBA free agency has begun.
This time period has typically been a dry one in previous years, but now teams are making a push to construct playoff-ready rosters. The WNBA came into 2020 with an upgraded collective bargaining agreement that gives players more leverage in free agency, more room on flights, and more money. The near 83 percent raise in cash compensation allows top players to sign max deals worth up to $215,000 annually compared to the previous high of $117,500. In short, the 74 unrestricted and restricted free agents who hit the market Monday were ready to get paid.
Some organizations are blowing up their rosters to make room for big names, and some … are not. Here are the winners and losers from the first week of WNBA free agency.
Winner: Las Vegas Aces
Remember the excitement last year when the Aces announced that they’d signed Liz Cambage? Well, this offseason Vegas’s front office said, “Hold my beer” and acquired Angel McCoughtry from the Atlanta Dream on a two-year deal. This move gives the Aces a fourth no. 1 overall pick on their already-stacked roster. McCoughtry, who missed the 2019 season rehabbing a knee injury, is an elite scorer and has averaged just shy of 20 points per game (fifth in league history). Now she’ll be playing next to Cambage, A’ja Wilson, and Kayla McBride. It doesn’t seem fair, right? After their semifinals playoff exit in September, the Aces are ready for another go, and I don’t see anyone stopping this squad at full force.
What’s next? The Aces still have to re-sign Cambage, who is a restricted free agent. But something tells me that with McCoughtry as her new team member, she won’t be going anywhere.
Winner: Los Angeles Sparks
The Sparks’ 2019 season was … weird, to say the least. A fumbled playoff run, a disgruntled locker room, and the firing of their longtime GM raised questions about whether the franchise could ever get back to a championship level of play. But L.A. came into free agency ready to put those questions to rest. The Sparks made two major deals: shipping center Kalani Brown to the Atlanta Dream for Brittney Sykes and Marie Gülich, and bringing Kristi Toliver back to Los Angeles. Toliver is coming over from a Washington Mystics team that made a historic championship run last season helmed by MVP Elena Delle Donne. Toliver’s leadership is needed back at Staples Center; she could be the missing link to help the Sparks power through the league’s superteams (see above and below). This trade also shows that the Sparks recognize the urgency of their timeline—who knows how many years Candace Parker has left in her career?—and that the franchise wants to win now.
What’s next? Chelsea Gray is a restricted free agent, and someone the Sparks should attempt to re-sign if they want to get back in the Finals conversation. The last time the Sparks won a title was 2016, and that roster included Parker, Nneka Ogwumike, Toliver, and Gray. They need their full squad back if they want a shot at hanging another purple-and-gold banner.
Winner: Connecticut Sun
The Sun did the right thing in re-signing Jonquel Jones, the franchise’s best player, at the start of free agency. The walking double-double nicknamed the “Bahamian Beast” led her squad to the Finals last year, and this season, she’ll have help to get them there again. Connecticut sent three first-round picks to the Phoenix Mercury this week in a sign-and-trade deal for DeWanna Bonner, and she’s totally worth it. The three-time All-Star and three-time Sixth Woman of the Year is a long, lean shooter and a creative interior scorer who knows how to win. She brings two championship rings to an organization that’s chasing its first. “I’m excited to play with this talented group and do whatever I can to help this organization hang its first championship banner,” Bonner said in the statement on Tuesday. “Nothing is more important to me than winning.”
The two-person game between Jones and Bonner will be a nightmare matchup defensively. And don’t forget that the Sun also have point-forward Alyssa Thomas, who’s a consistent inside presence and a tremendous defender. But Bonner will be this team’s X factor and give Connecticut a good chance at not only getting to the Finals, but winning them.
What’s next? Courtney Williams (and her dad) have yet to re-sign. Williams’s scrappy play created timely momentum swings in the Suns’ deep 2019 playoff run. They’re going to need her in order to run it back.
Loser: Indiana Fever Fans
It’s been a rough four years, but try to stay strong, OK? You have a new head coach and the no. 3 draft pick—things are looking up! Keep your loved ones close and, you know, try to remember the glory days.
Hello @IndianaFever,— ✨Quentin✨ (@Trackstar27806) February 12, 2020
It’s your #1 fan once again. I just wanna make sure everything’s ok. Haven’t heard from y’all this #WNBAFreeAgency period yet. Hoping to hear from you soon though.
Your loyal fan,
Winner: Phoenix Mercury
The Mercury are giving Skylar Diggins-Smith a new home in the Western Conference as Phoenix traded Dallas three first-round picks in exchange for the guard. Diggins-Smith was vocal about not wanting to play for the Wings in 2020 season, so now she will join forces with Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner in the desert. Forget about the LeBron, D-Wade, and Bosh Big Three in Miami; from this day on, this will be the only Big Three you need to know. Diggins-Smith can drive the lane and either kick it outside to Taurasi for 3 or dish to Griner inside for the lob. And if both of those options fall through, she can pull up for a midrange jumper and create a play for herself. How do you stop that?
To make matters even scarier for the rest of the league, this group has been working on that exact scenario for the past four months as members of the USA Women’s National Team. Diggins-Smith sat out all of last season due to the birth of her son and played the entire season pregnant the year before that. She’s overdue for another big season, and through the 12 games she’s played with Team USA, she’s shooting the 3-ball at a 51 percent clip. Expect her to keep that same energy come May.
What’s next? Brittney Griner (who has the “core” tag, giving Phoenix exclusive negotiating rights) is an asterisk here. Also, sources have said that Phoenix is also targeting seven-time All-Star Tina Charles of the New York Liberty. If they land her, well, this will be every opponent this season as soon as the Mercury take the court.
Loser: Minnesota Lynx
The Lynx somehow clawed their way to the first round of the 2019 playoffs while missing some key contributors, and they’ll be without some important players once again this season. Maya Moore announced last month that she will forfeit the 2020 season and the Tokyo Olympics to continue her criminal justice endeavors. Minnesota’s standout point guard, Odyssey Sims, will miss the majority of the season due to pregnancy. The Lynx will be bringing back Napheesa Collier, the reigning Rookie of the Year, but that’s not enough. Minnesota is rebuilding, and as disheartening as it is to admit, they should start planning as if Moore won’t be coming back anytime soon.
On the bright side, the Lynx did add five-time champion and former Minnesota star Rebekkah Brunson to the staff as an assistant coach, following her retirement announcement on Tuesday. Rounding out the team’s all-female coaching staff will be former New York Liberty head coach and two-time champion Katie Smith, who will serve as another assistant to Cheryl Reeve.
What’s next? It was rumored that the Lynx attempted to put together a trade for Diggins-Smith but couldn’t come up with a deal that competed with the Mercury’s. Now, they’re left to pick up the pieces with guards who carry much less star power.
Loser … for now: Dallas Wings
The Wings have lost two of their superstars in the last two years. Cambage demanded a trade in 2019, and Diggins-Smith wanted out this year. Both also left with some choice words for the Wings’ front office. Without their elite talent last season, Dallas tied for the second-worst record in the league at 10-24. But the future can be bright. Not only do the Wings have 2019 Rookie of the Year runner-up Arike Ogunbowale, they’re also loaded with six picks in the 2020 draft, including four in the first round. Young, hungry rookies could turn this question mark of a team into an exclamation point in years to come. #TrustTheProcess.
What’s next? The Wings control one-third (!) of the first round of the draft, so it’s safe to say April 17 is circled on GM Greg Bibbs’s calendar.
Winner: WNBA Twitter
This free agency period is packing so much heat that it’s become a trending topic on Twitter. Notable names like Ja Morant and Steve Kerr even chimed in to break down the blockbuster moves happening over the past week. Winsidr’s Rachel Galligan has earned the hashtag #RachBomb due to her informative free agency tweets. “We’ve never seen two days of free agency ever look like this in the history of the WNBA,” Gilligan said on espnW’s Around the Rim podcast Wednesday. “It’s a game changer.” That said ...
Loser (for all eternity): Women’s basketball trolls
Don’t worry, Dallas Wings center Imani McGee-Stafford gave the ultimate clapback to one during free agency. That should hush them for a little bit.