Breaking Down Another Big Week of WNBA Free Agency
While not quite matching the record-setting pace of the first wave, WNBA Free Agency’s second week hasn’t lacked excitement.
That said, a few teams have been conspicuously quiet in comparison to the rest. The Indiana Fever, Minnesota Lynx and New York Liberty have largely sat out the proceedings while everyone else has loaded up or at least reshuffled their decks.
Are these teams exercising caution or are they getting outmaneuvered by the rest of the W? While none are 2020 contenders, the Dream and Wings have shown that you don’t need to be championship favorites to overhaul your roster. Let’s dive into where they might be headed while also checking in with the movers who are at least shaking.
And don’t forget, (as tracked and constantly updated by Across the Timeline), here are the first week’s biggest player movements:
- Angel McCoughtry from the Atlanta Dream to the Las Vegas Aces
- DeWanna Bonner from the Phoenix Mercury to the Connecticut Sun
- Kristi Toliver from the Washington Mystics to the Los Angeles Sparks
- Skylar-Diggins-Smith from the Dallas Wings to the Merc
Which I largely covered here:
First, let’s check in with some of the key moves this week.
It’s Always Sunny in… Atlanta?
At last writing, the Connecticut Sun hadn’t resolved two of their outstanding core players, free agent Shekinna Stricklen and restricted free agent Courtney Williams. As of Wednesday, they’re both members of the Atlanta Dream.
On Sunday, Stricklen signed a two-year deal. According to High Post Hoops, she’ll make $170,000 in 2020 and $175,100 in 2021. The eight-year vet is coming off a season in which she made a career-high 2.2 3-pointers per game. She ranked fourth in the W in both 3-point makes and attempts; her 38.2 percent shooting from deep was good for 12th.
Stricklen also edged out the Las Vegas Aces’ Kayla McBride in the finals during All-Star weekend to take home the 3-point shooting title.
Williams, coming off career highs of 13.8 points and 3.8 assists, heads back home to Georgia by way of a three-team deal between Atlanta, Connecticut and Phoenix. It nets Atlanta Williams and the number 17 pick in the draft while shipping Jessica Breland and Alex Bentley over to Phoenix.
In exchange for losing Williams, Connecticut will receive guard Briann January and the Mercury’s 2021 second-rounder.
The return for the talented mid-range scorer seems low, but based on comments by both Connecticut Coach Curt Miller and Williams, some behind-the-scenes conflict may have tanked her value.
“We realize Courtney was a fan-favorite and we wish her the best in Atlanta. Unfortunately, despite our best efforts and all the loyalty and support we've shown Courtney over the last four seasons, it became clear she no longer wanted to return to Connecticut,”
— David Siegel (@DishNSwish) February 19, 2020
View this post on Instagram
Mannn Connecticut I love y’all so much! Y’all showed me so much love, and honestly helped me step into the player I am today. This process was definitely not an easy one for me, and it truly showed me that it’s all about business, and that loyalty and emotion has no place in these type of negotiations. This was a hard pill for me to swallow, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t hurt throughout this process. It’s hard to detach your feelings when you’ve given a program so much of you and have grown 4 years with the same group of ppl. I know that’s how it goes though, I learned that the hard way. Connecticut traded for me, and gave me an opportunity coming out of college and I’m forever grateful. Don’t get caught up in all the rumors that you may hear about why I left. I never intended nor wanted to leave CT and I hope the Connecticut fans and my teammates really understand that.. Thank you to the fans and my teammates for really accepting a kid like me and my different ways of doing things. Y’all are really something special and I love y’all forever! Sidenote: the word loyalty is thrown around so loosely these days, and maybe I was raised differently, but genuine loyalty is shown through the good or the bad. At the bare minimum I could have gotten a “thank you” like every other player that decided not to rejoin the team, but like I said previously they continue to show me that business is business. SEE YOU SOON ATLANTA!
Some Key Re-Signings
With all of the crazy player movement happening around the league, retentions cannot be taken for granted. Phoenix brought back franchise ccenterpiece Brittney Griner to a three-year max deal.
The Chicago Sky also announced contracts for Kahleah Copper ($165k apiece for 2020 and 2021), Stef Dolson ($180,250 in 2020 and $175,000 in 2021), and Allie Quigley (contract details forthcoming). Courtney Vandersloot is still unsigned, though she’s committed to return, with Quigley’s salary dictating what Chicago has left to offer.
Finals MVP Emma Meesseman will be back with the Washington Mystics on a one-year max deal. While this is good news for the short-term, it may prove to be an issue for the W in the future if Meesseman opts to play out the balance of her career overseas rather than dealing with the new CBA’s rules that look to prohibit overseas play which cuts into the season (item 6 in this article by ESPN’s Michelle Voepel).
With Thursday’s news that Oregon junior Satou Sabally is entering the draft, Indiana’s third pick just got much more interesting. Sabally has potentially the most upside in the draft, so why could she drop to three?
The Liberty have been tied to Oregon guard Sabrina Ionescu since landing the first pick (more on that shortly). But the Wings, who will select five of the first 15 players off the board (2, 5, 7, 9 and 15), control so much of the draft that their player rankings will influence what everyone else is able to do.
After losing Liz Cambage to Las Vegas and Diggins-Smith to Phoenix in consecutive off-seasons, Dallas’ team culture has come into question. It might behoove them to take Texas native Lauren Cox out of Baylor in hopes that the homegrown talent would be more likely to stick around. After being healthy for much of her first three seasons, though, a knee injury in last year’s Final Four and a foot injury during her senior campaign might affect her draft prospect.
Indiana also might be interested in Texas A&M’s Chennedy Carter, if she declares for the draft. Like Arike Ogunbowale last year, Carter is a shoot-first guard (with a heavy emphasis on the shoot), currently averaging 22.5 points on 19.4 shots per game, though she’s hitting at 46.3 percent clip.
In terms of what they’ve already done in free agency, Indiana re-signed Tiffany Mitchell—matching an Atlanta offer sheet—for three seasons, with an escalating contract of $140,000, 144,200 and $148,526. They also re-signed Betnijah Laney, who averaged career-highs while playing 25.8 minutes per game last season, second to only Candace Dupree. On Wednesday, they signed 6’10” Hungarian center Bernadett Határ to a training camp contract, worth $57,000 if she makes the team, according to High Post Hoops.
With everyone back next season under new coach Marianne Stanley, the Fever look to build on their young core and make a playoff push through experience and continuity.
It’s easy to say Minnesota surprised last season by making the playoffs and mirroring their 18-16 record from 2018 despite losing Maya Moore, Lindsay Whalen, Rebekkah Brunson and (mostly) Seimone Augustus. The additions of Napheesa Collier and Odyssey Sims to an always-stable Sylvia Fowles helped smooth the transition for Coach Cheryl Reeve.
This season will be another tough test.
Augustus spent the entirety of her 14-year career with Minnesota left as a free agent on Thursday night to sign with Minnesota’s long-standing rival Los Angeles Sparks. Even with last year’s post-injury struggles, she was primed for a bounce-back season. Augustus’ 5,881 points puts her 11th all-time in WNBA history.
With Odyssey Sims out for most, if not all, of 2020 due to her pregnancy, and back-up point guard Danielle Robinson signed away to Las Vegas, the franchise is spending its second straight offseason looking at roster overhaul. As of now, they haven’t made any significant signings to offset the departures.
So I know I wished for chaos before this WNBA free agency started..but I think we’ve had enough and I’d like for it to stop now.
Thank you. https://t.co/rN11qJvcWR
— Meredith Minkow (@murrminks) February 20, 2020
Does Reeve have an ace up her sleeve, a deal in the works? Who’s going to play point for Minnesota this season? Would it make sense to try and flip Fowles and embrace a rebuild or try to find another star to complement her?
How about another big she’s played with for Team USA: Tina Charles?
New York Liberty
The biggest offseason rumor that has yet to come to fruition is Tina Charles leaving the Liberty. She’s the face of the franchise and, after seeing her be such a strong advocate for the move to Brooklyn, it would be truly upsetting to see her moved before getting to play a full season there.
Charles is coming the worst season of her career, however.
Her 16.9 points were the lowest since her rookie year in Connecticut, and her 38.9 percent shooting was her worst-ever. The 7.5 rebounds she pulled down only topped the season before, and the 18.6 percent she shot from three ended a run of three straight seasons of over 30 percent.
That being said, she’s been the low-post scorer and leader New York has needed, particularly in these last few rough seasons. Her 29.6 percent usage rate topped the W, and her 31.1 minutes per game ranked ninth in the league.
Coach Walt Hopkins has talked about spreading the floor, which would get Tina more space to operate with, freed from some of the lane-clogging double teams she’s dealt with in recent years. Unlike Fowles, Charles has never won a championship, which could be her impetus for moving on.
Career TOV%, @Layshiac: 18.4%.
Season TOV%, @sabrina_i20: 16.8%
TOV% for two primary @nyliberty PGs last season: 28.4%, 29.4% (1-2 in the WNBA among all qualified players)
That is all. #WNBA
— Howard Megdal (@howardmegdal) February 10, 2020
Improved point guard play is also imperative to New York’s offensive success. After being third in the league in turnover percentage in 2017 (and holding the third-best record), the Liberty have fallen to 11th and 10th in consecutive years.
It’s a huge reason why they’re picking first in April.
Signing Layshia Clarendon will replace the minutes vacated by the retired Tanisha Wright. Drafting Ionescu is still the right call, even with the tantalizing upside Sabally brings to the table.
The team is guard-heavy now: Rebecca Allen, Brittany Boyd, Clarendon, Asia Durr, Marine Johannès (still unsigned) and Kia Nurse, but Ionescu is the primary ballhandler needed for offensive stability and is hopefully a franchise cornerstone for a decade to come.
Already Looking to 2021?
With under three months to opening tip, are Indiana, Minnesota and New York punting 2020 for a chance to keep cap flexibility for 2021?
Some 2021 Unrestricted Free Agents:
Amanda Zahui B
— Snap Wilson (@snapwilson) February 21, 2020
Fowles and Charles might not want to spend their later years on rebuilds. With all the money flying around in free agency, many teams are pushing towards the cap ceiling and the returns will not be as strong as they would have been a week-and-a-half ago.
These three franchises made the active choice to largely sit out 2020 free agency, letting the others toss around picks and players with video game frequency.
This season and next summer will tell us whether they were smart to do so.
Myles Ehrlich is a TBW staff writer from Brooklyn, NY. He has been writing since childhood when it passed the time better than rolling scenery and folk CDs on family road trips. He legitimized his passion at New York University and The Writer’s Foundry MFA. His work has been published with Castings, MASH Stories, and flashfictionmagazine.com. When not writing, Myles is usually playing, watching or reading about sports. His east coast WNBA fandom resides with the New York Liberty; his west coast with the Las Vegas Aces.