You’d be forgiven for feeling whiplash during the opening of WNBA free agency last week. It seemed like every time you picked up your phone, another major player was on the move or sending out cryptic messages for us to decode.
But now that the dust has mostly settled, we have an emerging picture of the best teams in the league. The New York Liberty inserted themselves into the early championship conversation by acquiring a couple of former MVPs, and the Las Vegas Aces will look to repeat as champions after adding Candace Parker to their already-impressive roster. Meanwhile, in the other direction, some teams blew up their rosters, and others opted for a softer rebuild. Here are the winners and losers so far from WNBA free agency.
Winner: The New York Liberty
It’s hard to be considered anything other than a winner when you convince three of the best basketball players in the world to come play for your team in one offseason. The Liberty signed forward Breanna Stewart and point GOAT Courtney Vandersloot during free agency after trading for Jonquel Jones in January.
It will be nearly impossible for opponents to effectively guard the Libs. Sabrina Ionescu and Vandersloot are spellbinding passers who can find any angle—which is dangerous enough on any team, let alone one that contains scorers like Stewart and Jones, who are just as comfortable pulling up from deep as they are in the post. Add a 3-point flamethrower like Marine Johannes and a Swiss Army knife like Betnijah Laney to the equation, and, frankly, this team doesn’t have many offensive holes.
There are questions about chemistry and making sure everybody gets enough touches, but championship-winning head coach Sandy Brondello should help ease any growing pains. There may be stumbles along the way, but the only concern Libs fans should have is getting a “Stew York City” shirt before the Liberty shop sells out.
Loser: The Seattle Storm
On the opposite coast, we have the Storm, who in one offseason have seen their legendary franchise point guard retire and their young generational talent leave for New York.
This might be tough to swallow for a team that won the championship as recently as 2020, but Seattle still has some promising players. Ezi Magbegor is an exciting, young big who is already a major plus on the defensive end and may now get the opportunity to expand her role on offense. Plus, after bringing back deadeye shooter Sami Whitcomb and signing versatile guard Kia Nurse, Seattle should stay near the top of the league in 3-point percentage and makes.
Storm brass also have a tough decision to make: Will they keep Jewell Loyd, who will become a free agent after the 2023 season, or will they trade her and lean even deeper into a rebuild? Either way, it might be a long, rainy summer in Seattle.
Winner: Las Vegas Aces
What do you get the person in your life who has everything? How about a 6-foot-4 dynamo who eschewed retirement and left her hometown team for the desert? The Aces look hilariously stacked, with a potential starting lineup of Chelsea Gray, Kelsey Plum, Jackie Young, Candace Parker, and A’ja Wilson. For those counting at home, that would be four no. 1 overall picks, four combined MVP trophies, two Defensive Player of the Year awards, and a truly silly number of potential lineup combinations.
Vegas wasn’t exactly a slouch on defense last season, but adding Parker to a lineup that includes the 2022 DPOY and a tenacious defender like Gray will turn this team into a puzzle that few offenses can solve.
The details surrounding Dearica Hamby’s departure have cast a cloud over the Aces organization—especially with Candace spotlighting her family as a reason she chose Vegas—and we still need to learn more about that situation. Yet among the other significantly less serious concerns, it doesn’t seem like much can derail this team. Becky Hammon is an excellent coach who took the Aces from yearly disappointments to world-beating champions in her first season. Now that she has Parker and the newly acquired Alysha Clark to plug in, the Aces could be one of the best teams we’ve ever seen.
Loser: Chicago Sky and Connecticut Sun
Surely, Kahleah Copper must have felt like Will Smith standing all alone in that meme from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. The news that Allie Quigley will sit out the season likely sent a shiver down the spines of Sky fans. On top of that, the departures of Candace Parker, Courtney Vandersloot, and, finally, Azurá Stevens completed the demolition of the Sky. Even the news that Courtney Williams is coming to Chicago from Connecticut couldn’t improve the vibes.
Speaking of Connecticut—man, it’s been a tough offseason for the Sun. They lost their coach and one of their best players to the Sparks, their former MVP to the Liberty, and another one of their better players to the Sky. Not great! Change seemed likely after the Sun lost in four games in the Finals last year, but going from the cusp of a championship to a minor dismantling is a harsh reality check.
But let’s be clear: The Sun still have DeWanna Bonner and Alyssa Thomas to run their offense, though it will be interesting to see how they fare without Jasmine Thomas and Williams. Those guard minutes will likely go to Natisha Hiedeman and DiJonai Carrington, who will step into bigger roles, and the acquisition of a sharpshooter like Rebecca Allen should help stabilize the offense as well. This team will be tough as hell and grind out wins; even after all they gave up, they still have the fifth-best title odds.
There’s less reason for short-term optimism for the Sky, but watching Copper and Williams figure out how to play together will be fun. Both are fighters who refuse to give up, and watching them will the Sky to a few extra wins should give fans a reason to tune in.
Neutral: Joe Tsai and Kevin Durant
I could not resist including Joe Tsai and Kevin Durant here, but I can’t decide whether they are winners or losers after the past week. Tsai is the owner of the Liberty, the Brooklyn Nets, and Barclays Center, while Durant is the Nets’ biggest star who spent weeks sending out public messages trying to convince Stewie to come to Brooklyn. Now that the Liberty have become title contenders overnight, it seems that both their wishes were granted.
That said, this was before Kyrie—Bye-rie? I’ll keep workshopping—Irving requested a trade from the Nets and was ultimately sent to the Dallas Mavericks in exchange for Spencer Dinwiddie, Dorian Finney-Smith, and future picks.
So, on the one hand, one occupant of Barclays Center just became the favorite to win a championship. On the other hand, another occupant just ejected one of its premier players, who was once touted as a symbol of a supposed hierarchy shift in the NBA. Only time will tell what happens with KD and the Nets (the NBA trade deadline is Thursday afternoon, and there’s no shortage of teams lining up to trade for Durant’s services), but it’s been a confounding week for the folks at 620 Atlantic Avenue.
Loser: Competitive Balance
My personal apologies to all who like competitive balance because that’s all but out the window for this season. Whether you think superteams are good or bad, it’s undeniable that seeing two absolutely stacked teams fight it out like two kaijus over a despairing city will make for some incredible basketball.
Is it disappointing that a perennial contender and the 2021 champion in the Sun and the Sky, respectively, were deconstructed and that their best players are now on superteams? Sure. But we’ve lived through superteam eras before, the clearest examples being the Houston Comets dynasty that won the first four WNBA championships and the Minnesota Lynx teams that dominated much of the 2010s.
But we’ve experienced a great deal of parity since the Lynx dynasty started to rust around the edges. In fact, we haven’t had a team go back-to-back since the L.A. Sparks in 2001 and ’02 (though there are numerous examples of teams that won two championships in three years). But the WNBA is unpredictable. It’s cliché to say, but rosters on paper don’t win championships. So even though it may seem clear which two teams have the best chance to win it all this year, there are likely still plenty of surprises awaiting us when the season kicks off in May.