Welcome to the BBall Index WNBA free agency tracker, your go-to source covering every 2020 WNBA free agency transaction.
This page will grow as moves are announced with analysis of every signing and how the rosters for all 12 teams are shaping up with the salary cap and 2020 draft selections in mind.
The league recently released an official list of free agents. This free agent crop includes six 2019 All-WNBA honorees and 10 2019 All-Stars. Skylar Diggins-Smith, Brittney Griner and Tina Charles have already been cored by their respective teams. Diggins-Smith recently told the AP that she doesn’t plan on playing in Dallas this season.
A piece like this is made possible by Howard Megdal’s work over at High Post Hoops chasing down these contracts and compiling a salary database for anybody to access and utilize.
Let’s dive into each signing, including insights from Jacob Goldstein’s Player Impact Plus-Minus (PIPM). Team-by-team outlooks with cap space projections and predictions (released prior to Feb. 10) will follow. Signings will be listed in rough chronological order, grouped by date.
Jonquel Jones re-signs with the Connecticut Sun
2019 salary: $59,718
2019 stats (980 minutes): +4.24 PIPM (2nd), +1.88 O-PIPM, +2.36 D-PIPM, 5.37 wins added (2nd)
New deal: two-year, fully guaranteed max deal starting at $185,000 (Source: Natalie Heavren/High Post Hoops)
No surprises here. Easy decision to max Jones out and to offer any duration that keeps her happy. She has established herself as a top-10 player. Heading into her age-26 season, the best is yet to come for the 6’6″ center. Fellow restricted free agent Courtney Williams is the next big domino in Uncasville.
Kristi Toliver, Los Angeles Sparks
2019 salary: $115,000
2019 stats (678 minutes): +2.50 PIPM, +3.11 O-PIPM, -0.61 D-PIPM, 1.95 wins added
How’s this for a surprise on day one? Turns out the Mystics won’t get a chance to run it back with their starting unit intact. Ava Wallace of the Washington Post had more on what went into this decision with word from both Toliver and Mike Thibault.
Toliver is coming off a wonderfully efficient offensive season. Missed time due to a bone bruise in her knee was the only thing keeping her from an easy All-WNBA nod. She was dusting people on switches, comfortably getting into pull-up and stepback jumpers and converting at a ridiculous rate from all three zones inside the arc.
But we don’t know how much longer Toliver, entering her age-33 season, can sustain that level of play. Still, reasonable facsimiles of Toliver don’t exist in the league today. L.A. is going all-in on one year of this upcoming three-year run on some level. They get the last laugh if they win one more title with their current core.
Washington prioritized its depth. Several players will demand marginal (at minimum) raises in the coming years coming off rookie contracts and veteran extensions. Assuming Toliver did have a genuine interest in returning, they could have moved off a contract or two to make room for the $215,000 max that nobody else could offer. They had the means to core her.
Losing a star player for nothing ranks right up there among the biggest possible nightmares for a WNBA franchise. We can’t hammer them too hard, though. The Mystics still should have upwards of $180,000 in room to fill that Panda-sized hole at guard.
Angel McCoughtry, Las Vegas Aces
2019 salary: N/A (did not play—knee)
2018 stats (799 minutes): +1.30 PIPM, -0.7 O-PIPM, +2.0 D-PIPM, 32.88 career wins added
New deal: two-year, fully guaranteed max deal starting at $185,000 (Source: Winsidr)
I shared my early reaction to the signing over at High Post Hoops.
Layshia Clarendon, New York Liberty
2019 salary: $93,400
Career stats (only 138 minutes in 2019—ankle): -1.98 PIPM, -1.40 O-PIPM, – 0.58 D-PIPM, 1.97 wins added
New deal: two-year, fully guaranteed deal at $120,000 per season (Source: Howard Megdal/High Post Hoops)
Howard Megdal had this one in his sights in our free agency preview podcast. It’s a straightforward sell. Clarendon can back up and play alongside presumptive No. 1 overall pick Sabrina Ionescu. Getting Ionescu off-ball can help the Liberty tap even more into her versatile shooting and scoring ability. New York’s cast of shooters will make Clarendon look good, too, opening up driving lanes from the perimeter. Clarendon also comes with enough size to guard the more physical 1s and 2s. Walt Hopkins will have an easier time moving wing stopper Kia Nurse around as matchups dictate.
One can only wonder what this signing means for the futures of Brittany Boyd (under contract through 2020) and unrestricted free agent Bria Hartley. Two guaranteed seasons shouldn’t become too much of an obstacle; Nurse, Ionescu, Asia Durr and Marine Johannes are under team control through at least 2022.
Morgan Tuck, Seattle Storm (sign-and-trade)
2019 salary: $64,538
2019 stats (352 minutes): -2.21 PIPM, -1.70 O-PIPM, -0.51 D-PIPM, 0.32 wins added
New deal: two-year, fully guaranteed deal at $115,000 per season (Source: High Post Hoops
The UConn alum will be reunited with former teammates Breanna Stewart and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis in Seattle. This deal gives the Storm something they didn’t have—a stretch big that spends the majority of their time on the perimeter. To her credit, Crystal Langhorne shot 18-of-57 from deep last season with a previous career-high of eight 3-point attempts in one season.
Seattle and Connecticut also swapped first round picks in the deal. That’s a nice piece of business for the Sun to move up from No. 11 to No. 7 in sending out a player they were willing to live without. Connecticut also holds the No. 10 overall pick via Los Angeles and last season’s Chiney Ogwumike trade.
Connecticut has already lost two-thirds of a veteran bench trio I wrote about in the preview section below. Retaining restricted free agent Bria Holmes will be key for the Sun and their hopes of getting back to the WNBA Finals. This year’s first round picks also take on extra importance with Tuck and Clarendon out the door. They need to draft real rotation players or move them for a player they can count on in 2020. A healthy Theresa Plaisance can offset the loss of Tuck by giving Curt Miller some shooting from a backup big.
Beyond the familiarity with the 2018 league and Finals MVP, the Tuck acquisition is easy to like for Seattle. They’ve added a rotation piece that will plug in nicely to the excellent spacing they already had. Dan Hughes can get his team really close to playing 40 minutes of five-out offense if he opts to stagger Breanna Stewart and Natasha Howard. Mercedes Russell, a restricted free agent in 2022, gives them somebody to throw at the more ‘traditional’ 5s.
What does this move mean for Langhorne? The veteran is under contract through 2021, but because the deal is not guaranteed, the Storm could move on from her without taking a cap hit. Lock Langhorne in for opening night 2020 along with the 10 other players under contract and you’re down to one spot for that No. 11 overall pick or 2019 first rounder Ezi Magbegor, should she opt to come over to make her WNBA debut.
Brittney Sykes, Los Angeles Sparks (trade)
2019 salary: $53,563
2019 stats (880 minutes): -2.87 PIPM, -1.72 O-PIPM, -1.15 D-PIPM, 0.41 wins added
On rookie scale through 2020; restricted free agent in 2021
I want to be able to call this a challenge trade, but it amounts to much more than that if Atlanta manages to add a starting-caliber 3 via another trade or free agency. Atlanta got the more intriguing long-term piece. Sykes will be hunting a big offer sheet next offseason; the Dream have three more seasons to get a look at Kalani Brown on her rookie deal.
With McCoughtry out all season, 2019 was essentially an audition for Sykes as the 3 of the future. Her spaciness on defense outweighed the wildly impressive plays she can make with her athleticism around the basket. That’ll be one key area for improvement. The Sparks will need her to take on more of a wing stopper role; Sykes projects as a candidate to start at the 3 next to Toliver and Chelsea Gray.
Brittney Sykes was sitting on that lob to Syl. Not enough shooting or movement on the opposite side to keep her there. Not a lot of wings in the league that can make that play. pic.twitter.com/WOP4wt9Ior
— Ben Dull (@ben_dull) May 30, 2018
On a much simpler note, the Syracuse alum needs to see the ball go in the basket more often in 2020 and beyond. Per Synergy Sports, Sykes shot 28 percent on 242 catch-and-shoot jumpers and 34 percent on 202 jump shots off the dribble in her first three seasons.
Atlanta has been thirsty for shot creation in previous seasons. Sykes appears to be walking into a very different situation. She should be able to do most of her damage as a play finisher. Gray, Toliver and Candace Parker are brilliant passers. Sykes will get rewarded if she embraces the opportunity to rack up more points on the margins—cutting, swooping in on the offensive glass, making simple reads after beating closeouts and knocking down enough spot-up 3-pointers to keep teams honest.
Sykes averaged 5.4 and 5.9 free throw attempts per 36 minutes in her first two seasons. That number dipped to 3.7 last year. L.A. needs somebody that can take one or two hard dribbles and put some pressure on the rim.
Every team would be in the right to bet on Sykes and her potential. Timing complicates things. Again, Atlanta probably only looks good in this deal if they find a way to add one more wing that really helps them. L.A.’s side of it was simple. They needed something different at the 3 coming off last season’s crash and burn in the semis. They dealt from a position of strength and landed a player with the upside to slide right in as a starter for the next five years.
Kalani Brown, Atlanta Dream (trade)
2019 salary: $49,539
2019 stats (377 minutes): -0.37 PIPM, -1.19 O-PIPM, +0.81 D-PIPM, 0.69 wins added
On rookie scale through 2022; restricted free agent in 2023
Atlanta had three seasons, two under the current regime, of Sykes to contemplate her place in their long-term plans. They’re going to have a ton of flexibility in 2021. Brown represents something they don’t have—a strong, physical presence at the 5 that can bang with the dominant centers and overwhelm the smaller ones.
Jessica Breland and Elizabeth Williams are entering contract years. Atlanta can get a look at Brown while mapping out the future of their frontcourt, barring a trade or extension involving those starters.
We’re about to find out how comfortable Brown is with her jump shot. Williams isn’t a threat more than five feet from the basket. Breland has always been a serviceable midrange shooter reluctant to fully embrace her 3-point stroke.
The Dream will already look much different without Sykes or McCoughtry in 2020. Shekinna Stricklen and DeWanna Bonner are still on the board as of 8:30 PM ET on Monday—ideal targets that could plug right in at the 3. Sykes had looked like the one young trade chip they could use in a sign-and-trade. If the team still sees Williams as the starter for at least one more contract, perhaps Brown was acquired for the same purpose.
Marie Gulich, Los Angeles Sparks (trade)
2019 salary: $44,273
2019 stats (349 minutes): -2.78 PIPM, -3.08 O-PIPM, +0.30 D-PIPM, 0.17 wins added
On rookie scale through 2021; restricted free agent in 2022
Gulich is a much smaller part of this trade. She’ll be reunited with Oregon State teammate Sydney Wiese in L.A.—for now, at least. L.A. already has Chiney Ogwumike and Maria Vadeeva behind Parker and Nneka Ogwumike. Gulich is a promising backup big if she can really up the volume as a 3-point threat. The Sparks don’t have their own first this year. They’re in a decent position to find out if she can get there.
Natisha Hiedeman re-signs with the Connecticut Sun
2019 salary: $31,862 (rest-of-season contract)
2019 stats: +0.07 PIPM, +0.37 O-PIPM, -0.30 D-PIPM, 0.31 wins added
New deal: one-year $57,000 minimum
Easy call for Connecticut. Hiedeman has substantial off-the-dribble shooting promise. Play hard, make enough of those shots and you’ve got a helpful rotation guard. She’ll be under team control for a few more years, too, further incentivizing the Sun to get this done quickly. They’ll be under more pressure to find value contracts as key players hit the open market. Knowing that Clarendon is gone, it will be interesting to see if Curt Miller signs somebody else to slide in as the backup 1, or if the team is already operating with full confidence that it’s Hiedeman’s gig.
Moriah Jefferson re-signs with the Dallas Wings
Did not play in 2019
2017 stats (514 minutes): +1.0 PIPM, +0.2 O-PIPM, +0.8 D-PIPM, 0.61 career wins added
New deal: three-year, fully guaranteed deal starting at $170,000 (Source: Bela Kirpalani/High Post Hoops)
Dallas is making a big bet on Jefferson with this fully guaranteed deal. The UConn alum played in all 34 games as a rookie. A knee injury sidelined her late in the 2017 season. She returned to play in 16 games for the Aces in 2018. The reasoning behind last season’s absence is unclear. An injury was never specified.
The vision for her role in Dallas is clear. She’s now more than a full year removed from the injury and is with a team that needs another reliable source of dribble penetration. Arike Ogunbowale is coming off an incredibly impressive rookie season, but it was clear that the Wings needed another ball-handler to balance out the offense. End to end or from a dead stop, Jefferson is one of the quickest guards in the league. She’ll make them better in transition and create easier looks for the rest of the roster.
A world in which Chennedy Carter and Satou Sabally declare early for the 2020 draft raises some interesting questions at No. 2 for the Wings now that they have Jefferson locked in for the long haul. Sabally and Lauren Cox would appear to have a leg up as players that will fill more pressing needs.
Imani McGee-Stafford re-signs with the Dallas Wings
2019 salary: $53,290
2019 stats (346 minutes): -0.86 PIPM, -2.12 O-PIPM, +1.26 D-PIPM, 0.56 wins added
New deal: one-year $68,000 minimum (Source: Bela Kirpalani/High Post Hoops)
The Wings acquired McGee-Stafford last year from Atlanta for a third round pick, making Dallas her third stop in her first four seasons. Life isn’t easy as a one-position backup in this league. She has 28 career starts with 16 of them coming in her rookie season in Chicago.
Simply put, 6’7″ centers are tough to come by. Dallas currently doesn’t have much size at the position. I’ve been hammering this for a while, but if the Wings end up with Cox at No. 2, I’d be fascinated to see a Cox-Azura Stevens 4-5 combo. There’s still plenty of room for a 5 that can play with either. McGee-Stafford, young enough to grow with this group over several years, fits that billing.
Megan Gustafson re-signs with the Dallas Wings
2019 salary: $34,194 (rest-of-season deal)
2019 stats (238 minutes): -0.78 PIPM, -0.78 O-PIPM, 0.00 D-PIPM, 0.34 wins added
New deal: three-year deal starting at $62,000 (Source: Bela Kirpalani/High Post Hoops)
Let’s get right to the chase. We’ve spent a lot of time talking about forwards the team might add at No. 2. The Wings also hold the No. 9 overall pick. Glory Johnson is still out there as an unrestricted free agent as of Tuesday morning, Isabelle Harrison is a reserved player, and Kristine Anigwe has three years left on her rookie deal.
There’s going to be some serious competition in this frontcourt. Gustafson may be able to carve out a place for herself in the league if she can become a Stef Dolson- or Tianna Hawkins-level threat from beyond the arc. Gustafson has earned her reputation as a tireless worker. It was clear in college that her midrange stroke was solid. She just rarely needed to unleash it. This is a case where I really think you can boil it down to that one swing skill.
Karlie Samuelson re-signs with the Dallas Wings
2019 salary: $4,274 (late-season addition)
2019 stats (84 minutes): +0.25 PIPM, +0.23 O-PIPM, +0.02 D-PIPM, 0.02 wins added
New deal: one-year $57,000 minimum (Source: Bela Kirpalani/High Post Hoops)
Obviously any stat for the elder WNBA Samuelson needs to be taken with a grain of salt. The Stanford alum has logged 168 minutes across two seasons. Most of it has been with Brian Agler, both in Los Angeles in 2018 and now in Dallas. Samuelson is a good shooter to have on the wing, and it’s clear that her time with Great Britain’s national team has helped her expand her offensive game at the pro level.
But Dallas also has plenty of competition on the perimeter behind Ogunbowale, Jefferson and Kayla Thornton. Kaela Davis, Allisha Gray and Tayler Hill are in contract years, and Hill’s deal is guaranteed.
Morgan Bertsch, Dallas Wings
Did not play in 2019
New deal: one-year $57,000 minimum (Source: Bela Kirpalani/High Post Hoops)
The Wings selected Bertsch with the No. 29 overall pick out of UC Davis. The 6’4″ forward dominated the Big West, highlighted by 56 percent shooting in her junior campaign. Her scoring average increased year over year (13.9, 15.8, 20.1, 23.6). She shot 23-for-48 from deep as a senior after attempting 11 triples in the prior three seasons. But her extremely slight frame presents significant challenges as a stretch 4 in the WNBA. She’ll need to become a big, big 3-point threat and really sharpen her lateral quickness to offset the size and strength disadvantages.
DeWanna Bonner, Connecticut Sun (sign-and-trade)
2019 salary: $127,500
2019 stats: +1.84 PIPM, +1.72 O-PIPM, +0.13 D-PIPM, 4.25 wins added (8th)
New deal: four-year, fully guaranteed max deal starting at $215,000 (Source: High Post Hoops)
Rachel Galligan reported this morning that it came down to Connecticut and Dallas. Restricted free agent Courtney Williams and unrestricted free agent Shekinna Stricklen are still unsigned at the moment, but a player of Bonner’s caliber undoubtedly improves their championship odds in 2020.
If a move like this is possible at all, you move swiftly to get it done. That’s even easier to say knowing what they gave up: two 2020 firsts (No. 7 and 10 overall) and their 2021 first.
Potentially losing Stricklen is a scary thought. Getting 30-plus minutes from one of the most versatile shooters in the league made the other four starters better with such a big threat filling a wing in transition, darting around screens or simply standing still and commanding the attention of the nearest defender.
Bonner’s career 30.1 3-point percentage is a funny number to wrestle with because teams absolutely respect the threat of that shot, and you almost have to price in a bump of a few percentage points—she’s easily the league’s most daring in terms of distance.
She regularly stands four or even five feet behind the line and has conditioned teams to believe she’ll take that shot every time. Her rank in attempts from 25-plus feet in recent seasons according to WNBA.com: 1st in 2019 (86), 5th in 2018 (69), 3rd in 2016 (48), 2nd in 2015 (31). Number two on that list in 2019 was Stricklen with 84 attempts. (This isn’t a perfect count; it doesn’t filter out heaves but still paints enough of an outline.)
We don’t know what’s happening yet with Williams and Stricklen or how this addition influences their thinking, if at all. But Bonner’s a top-10-ish player right now. At the cost they had to pay, you do the deal, jump for joy and figure out the rest later.
Phoenix was in a tough spot. If Dallas was the only other team Bonner was truly interested in, this kind of package is probably as good as it was going to get. Bonner presumably pushed for a sign-and-trade to get the $215,000 max over the $185,000 max she could have gotten with a new team. The Mercury did get something for playing ball.
Phoenix now holds the No. 5, 7 (via Seattle via yesterday’s Morgan Tuck sign-and-trade) and 10 overall picks in this draft along with two (their own and Connecticut’s) firsts in 2021. Everything but the No. 5 pick this year is far from a certainty. You’re getting a few more chances to land some rotation player and perhaps a starter or two. As many as three or four early entrants could push an impact player down to No. 5 this year.
The natural question, then, is whether Phoenix has another deal in mind. Can Phoenix flip some of those picks for a big name or at least an established starter that’ll be around for a while? Would that No. 5 pick grease the skids enough and top the existing competition in a sign-and-trade with the Wings for Skylar-Diggins Smith?
Bonner is going to unlock some really fun pick and roll combinations with Alyssa Thomas and Jonquel Jones. When teams resort to switching, Bonner is a tougher cover as a threat to get to the rim and the foul line, something Connecticut didn’t have last season at the same level. She shot 63 percent at the rim last year and has seasons under her belt averaging 7.7, 6.9 and 6.6 free throw attempts per 36 minutes.
When the music stops, we could be saying Washington got worse and that Phoenix, Minnesota and Atlanta are a clear step below the top contenders. Chicago probably has some serious maneuvering to do just to bring their whole team back. Meanwhile, L.A., Vegas and Connecticut stand out as big early winners acquiring players that will help them win games when it matters most.
Elena Delle Donne re-signs with the Washington Mystics
2019 salary: $115,000
2019 stats (892 minutes): +6.43 PIPM (1st), +5.64 O-PIPM (1st), +0.80 D-PIPM, 5.74 wins added (1st)
New deal: four-year, fully guaranteed max deal starting at $215,000 (Source: High Post Hoops)
Any form of back surgery sure sounds scary, but you aren’t squeezing the best player in the league coming off a championship run. This deal will take Delle Donne through her age-33 season.
Isabelle Harrison re-signs with the Dallas Wings
2019 salary: $53,290
2019 stats (794 minutes): -0.34 PIPM, -0.90 O-PIPM, +0.55 D-PIPM, 1.63 wins added
New deal: three-year deal starting at $150,000 (Source: High Post Hoops)
There’s just so much up in the air. We do know that Azura Stevens won’t be a part of Dallas’ frontcourt rotation moving forward after the team sent her to Chicago for Katie Lou Samuelson and a 2021 first rounder. But Astou Ndour will essentially be filling the rotation slot a healthy Stevens would have in 2019.
Whether the Samuelson move slides Kayla Thornton down to the 4 more often in 2020 and whatever the team selects or acquires with its heap of draft picks (No. 2, 5, 7 and 9 overall) will tell us more about what might be leftover for the remaining frontcourt contingent in 2020. It can’t be too unlikely that they end up with two intriguing forward prospects if they keep No. 2 and No. 5 to use themselves.
Harrison has a really solid skillset at 6’3”. She has good feet, can get up for some big-time blocks and can put it on the floor facing up or catching on the short roll. Over the last two seasons (2017 and ‘19), she shot 42.7 percent on 150 midrange attempts, a solid step above the 36.5 percent league average.
Tierra Ruffin-Pratt re-signs with the Los Angeles Sparks
2019 salary: $56,375
2019 stats (856 minutes): -0.52 PIPM, -1.09 O-PIPM, +0.56 D-PIPM, 1.81 wins added
New deal: two-year deal, $90,000 per season (Source: High Post Hoops)
TRP started all but one game last season in L.A. after six seasons with the Mystics. She stepped into an important wing stopper role for the Sparks as reigning two-time Defensive Player of the Year Alana Beard struggled to stay healthy in what turned out to be her final WNBA season. Projecting the newly acquired Brittney Sykes as the starter at the 3, Ruffin-Pratt figures to take a step back into reserve role in 2020.
Skylar Diggins-Smith, Phoenix Mercury (sign-and-trade)
2019 salary: $117,500
2018 stats: +2.4 PIPM, +3.4 O-PIPM, -0.9 D-PIPM, 13.07 career wins added
New deal: four-year deal, fully guaranteed deal starting at $215,000 (Source: High Post Hoops)
Not bad, Mercury faithful. This sure is a way to rebound after learning DeWanna Bonner would like to walk to play elsewhere.
Phoenix dearly missed the presence of a guard that could really break down a defense to go score at the rim, get to the line and create easy looks for others. Diggins-Smith is one of the best.
And even if Taurasi thinks she can return to her 2018 level, Phoenix shouldn’t be all that eager to find out, at least in the regular season. Let the all-time great spend more time off-ball and feeding Brittney Griner in the post. Diggins-Smith can take on a lot of that burden and do so well enough that they can reasonably expect to find a real rhythm while winning games right out of the gate.
Phoenix sent out its own 2020 first (No. 5), a first from the Bonner sign-and-trade (No. 7) and their own 2021 first. We haven’t heard any rumblings as to whether Diggins-Smith narrowed her list of preferred destinations to one or how close another team came to pushing a deal across the goal line.
The Mercury still hold one 2020 first (No. 10) and Connecticut’s 2021 first—both acquired in the Bonner deal. They can keep them to land more young, cost-controlled depth or send them out as part of a potential Tina Charles deal.
Perhaps the best part of this deal: Diggins-Smith gives Phoenix a second star more on Griner’s timeline than Taurasi’s. After sitting with the Bonner sign-and-trade for a few more days, the Mercury have emerged as clear winners here. That contract (same as Diggins-Smith’s) with Connecticut will take Bonner through her age-35 season at the max.
The haul of picks looks pretty good for Dallas in these circumstances. (Could they have gotten Alanna Smith as part of a package instead? As we found out, they had a different stretch big in their sights.) The No. 5 pick in this draft is a perfectly nice trade chip—it gets you somebody you’ll want to keep around and can plug into the rotation at some point even if every potential early entrant goes back to school. It becomes much more than that if two or three of the top juniors throw their hats in the ring.
Astou Ndour, Dallas Wings (sign-and-trade)
2019 salary: $65,000
2019 stats (368 minutes): +0.01 PIPM, -0.02 O-PIPM, +0.03 D-PIPM, 0.57 wins added
New deal: three-year, fully guaranteed max deal starting at $185,000 (Source: High Post Hoops)
Amazingly, this will only be Ndour’s age-25 season because she was able to enter the league at 19 as an international prospect. She really excelled in Chicago’s starting lineup last season for the injured Jantel Lavender. It’s easy to see why Atlanta whipped up a hefty offer sheet—who doesn’t need a young 6’5” stretch big with really long arms and solid rebounding ability on both ends?
Let’s start with Chicago’s side of this. No, they didn’t trade Ndour, Katie Lou Samuelson and a pick ‘for’ Azura Stevens. That isn’t how this works. The Sky recouped a first rounder by matching and workout out a sign-and-trade. James Wade then ended up with a Ndour replacement. Stevens has two years left on her rookie deal, providing some salary relief as the Sky re-sign three starters this offseason. Stevens is coming off season-ending foot surgery, but she’ll have time now to grow into what they’d hope for—a longtime starting-caliber forward that can contribute in every area of the game.
Their roster is already set up to accommodate that when you pencil Lavender back in as the starter at the 4 next to Stefanie Dolson and Cheyenne Parker off the bench. Lavender and Parker will be unrestricted in 2021. Chicago may already find themselves in a position to lean more on Stevens in 2021 should one or both get too pricey.
With Dallas, you’d figure they have the most reliable intel on that foot. They may have seen reasonable odds that she’ll never be the same, or that some kind of recurring injury is too great a risk. Ndour’s age may have simply made this a no-brainer. Tayler Hill’s guaranteed deal will free up a slot after this season. It isn’t like they acquired somebody in the twilight of their career, and they don’t need to worry too much about cap room at this point until at least 2022 as Thornton hits unrestricted free agency.
The cost for Dallas is modest. They hold six first rounders in the next two drafts as of Saturday. The Phoenix pick they sent out will probably fall in, what, the 7-to-9 range if not lower? Even if Diana Taurasi never gets all the way back, the 2020 Mercury will be too good to fall below a seven or eight seed. Dallas got this pick in the Skylar Diggins-Smith deal. Waiting to use that one instead of their own was a good call. I’d need a lot more happen to see Dallas as serious contenders next year. Their pick is likely to land above the one Chicago got.
This is just a bummer for Atlanta. Now that the details of the contract have been reported, we can confirm this attempt at the Dantas Maneuver! Chicago doesn’t look like they’ll end up in the same dire straits with six guaranteed contracts for 2020, but Ndour’s deal extends through 2022. Let’s say Chicago ends up with five if they guarantee RFA Kahleah Copper. Diamond DeShields, Gabby Williams and Azura Stevens will be restricted after the 2021 season.
Breanna Stewart re-signs with the Seattle Storm
2019 salary: $64,538
2018 stats (1074 minutes): +6.0 PIPM, +6.1 O-PIPM, -0.2 D-PIPM, 20.29 career wins added
New deal: two-year, fully guaranteed max deal starting at $185,000 (Source: High Post Hoops)
Welcome back to the MVP.
Not to make too big a deal out of this because both prior teams had the inside track to retain these players, but it sure would be nice if the league could muster together a complete list of its free agents. (Stewart and Moriah Jefferson were reserved players this offseason.) Are four months of lead time not enough?
I sincerely hope the league’s massive information and execution problem was properly emphasized to Cathy Engelbert during her 12-market tour. All of these ‘little’ things add up in a hurry and prevent the league from behaving like the big booming business so many of us hope it becomes. People can’t talk about your league properly if you don’t even know how to do it.
Bria Hartley, Phoenix Mercury
2019 salary: $102,000
2019 stats (545 minutes): -1.93 PIPM, -0.41 O-PIPM, -1.52 D-PIPM, 0.43 wins added
New deal: three-year, fully guaranteed max deal starting at $185,000 (Source: High Post Hoops)
So, that’s a big number.
But it came about with plenty of moving pieces around it.
Leilani Mitchell is now with the Mystics. The Mercury didn’t have much of a role to offer to any backup point guard with Diggins-Smith as the new starter. Hartley can help you a little more defensively. Any player in this role would need to guard most 1s and 2s.
This deal hits a low ceiling if the Mercury aren’t hunting chances to play Hartley, Diggins-Smith and Taurasi together. With that kind of closing trio, you can put any pair of opposing teammates in a pick and roll or off-ball action. That has a lot of value.
Hartley’s age, entering her age-27 season, also really matters here. She was the best free agent guard remaining and has some prime years left to play with Diggins-Smith and Griner. Given the choice, would you rather have Mitchell or another current UFA in a three-guard closing lineup? Who would it be?
The Mercury are doing two things at once that don’t tend to mesh. They needed another rotation player that can help them right now. Check. And at the same time, Diggins-Smith and Hartley have replaced two older cogs—that had reasons and the means to go sign elsewhere as UFAs—in the rotation to piece together a real threat to win it all in 2020.
Also, have people completely forgotten some of the comments Brittney Griner made last year? What the Mercury were able to sell Griner about 2022, 2023, etc. is probably getting a tad overlooked.
New York’s late-season run in 2017 is still the first thing I think of with Hartley’s game. Yes, the numbers from the past two seasons weren’t great. Who’s were? It was an objectively terrible situation with the move out to Westchester and team up for sale. And the team just wasn’t good! Phoenix isn’t paying Hartley this big contract to come be the same player she was in 2018 and 2019.
Hartley is a combo; she’s a little stretched as a nominal 1. Phoenix doesn’t need a starting 1. She shot 47 percent from 2 and 34 percent from 3 setting the table for the ‘17 Liberty as they ripped off 10-straight wins and finished with the league’s third-best defense. If we’re really parsing through her career to land on an extreme feeling about this signing, you’re looking for the wrong things to write off that season or think the previous two should outweigh it. (Her rookie season was the only other time she’s been a high-minutes player on a playoff team.)
Hartley is walking into the friendliest offensive situation she’s ever been in at this level. Griner is the league’s best post-up center and the game’s biggest roll target. Griner, Diggins-Smith and Taurasi each function as primary options that send defenses into scramble mode. New York only really had one of those.
Related: Hartley was good for 1.12 points per possession on 197 spot-up possessions in her three years in New York per Synergy Sports. Shekinna Stricklen was the seventh-most efficient spot-up player in 2019 (1.096 PPP, 136 possessions).
Don’t we also have to assume Phoenix was competing with at least one other team? (I’m also baking in the assumption that Taurasi OK’d this move.) And should the Mercury find a way to land Tina Charles, they’ll need to move off of Briann January, another key cog approaching her mid-30s, and her big guaranteed contract.
Maya Moore isn’t playing in 2020 and Angel McCoughtry might be in a very different stage of her career. Are there a ton of matchups where you’d be terrified without a bigger option at the 3? The path to starter’s minutes isn’t all that complicated.
Phoenix shipped out its two best 2020 draft assets in the Diggins-Smith deal. The 2020 No. 10 pick and Connecticut’s 2021 first aren’t slam dunks to land you somebody that can play right away. This also circles back to the all-in approach they’ve taken as a franchise to win (at least) one more with Taurasi.
There’s the obvious possibility that they’re missing out on the chance to make a pitch to a better player in future years. Future Flexibility will log exactly zero minutes for the 2020 Mercury, though. They needed to sign somebody they really believed in if they end up off-loading January.
The Mercury have become a guinea pig under this new CBA. People will be eager to look back on this offseason with a critical eye. Maybe Hartley doesn’t pan out. Assuming every team can find a neat, pretty, perfect path to accomplish all of its goals is one of the biggest pitfalls with all this stuff. Phoenix needed to take a swing. They’re betting their situation will make Hartley look much better. They did right by their franchise players, added a third and identified a player that can fit in around them.
Leilani Mitchell, Washington Mystics
2019 salary: $70,000
2019 stats (971 minutes): +0.49 PIPM, +1.55 O-PIPM, -1.06 D-PIPM, 2.59 wins added
New deal: two-year, fully guaranteed, declining deal starting at $127,000 (Source: High Post Hoops)
As an on-court fit, signing Mitchell was the best possible replacement they could have hoped for on the open market after Kristi Toliver returned to the Sparks. There are only so many proven off-the-dribble 3-point threats.
According to Synergy Sports, only four of the 10 most efficient players on all jumpshots off the dribble got up at least 35 attempts last season: Elena Delle Donne (53.1 eFG% on 98 attempts), Kia Nurse (41.5 eFG% on 65 attempts), Allie Quigley (51.1 eFG% on 87 attempts) and Mitchell (52.1 eFG% on 118 attempts).
Mitchell has been very durable in her 11 WNBA seasons to date but is two years older than Toliver. Washington is one of several teams likely to face some painful decisions next offseason. Assuming Emma Meesseman re-ups for multiple years this offseason, Mike Thibault still has Natasha Cloud, LaToya Sanders, Tianna Hawkins and Aerial Powers hitting unrestricted free agency at once. Shatori Walker-Kimbrough will also be restricted.
My initial Toliver reaction may have been a tad harsh on them, but that was while I had been assuming Mitchell was a lock to return to Phoenix. This comparable shooting presence wouldn’t have been available. Powers stepping into a starting spot, or simply playing more, will make it easier to keep an eye on Mitchell’s minutes.
Thibault probably deserves the benefit of the doubt on the Toliver decision if they manage to retain those top free agents next year. We’ll see how much the loss of Toliver truly hurts them deep in the playoffs.
Glory Johnson, Atlanta Dream
2019 salary: $117,500
2019 stats (676 minutes): +0.45 PIPM, -0.69 O-PIPM, +1.15 D-PIPM, 1.57 wins added
New deal: one-year, $165,000 deal (Source: High Post Hoops)
This domino fell next in Atlanta after Chicago matched the Astou Ndour offer sheet and sent her to Dallas for a 2021 first. Is Atlanta doing this with the idea that Jessica Breland, Elizabeth Williams, Kalani Brown and Johnson will all start the season on roster expecting to play real minutes? Is something bigger in the works for them?
Johnson would’ve made for an interesting fit on a similar one-year deal in New York if Tina Charles gets traded. Johnson could be their defensive 4 but more of a 5 on offense rolling to the rim with Amanda Zahui B spotting up from deep. Other than that, I don’t see a huge role out there for Johnson elsewhere at this point.
Tiffany Mitchell back with the Indiana Fever (matched offer sheet)
2019 salary: $53,290
2019 stats (831 minutes): -2.07 PIPM, -0.63 O-PIPM, -1.44 D-PIPM, 0.82 wins added
New deal: three-year deal starting at $140,000 (Source: High Post Hoops)
Another Atlanta offer sheet foiled!
No real risk in matching here for Indiana. Indy probably can’t keep five guards/wings behind Erica Wheeler, Kelsey Mitchell and Victoria Vivians; they kept five bigs last season. Mitchell, Betnijah Laney and Kennedy Burke make for an interesting rotation/roster spot battle.
Sydney Colson, Chicago Sky
2019 salary: $56,375
2019 stats (379 minutes): +0.49 PIPM, -0.76 O-PIPM, +1.24 D-PIPM, 1.04 wins added
New deal: TBD
The Sky have landed the Aces’ 2019 backup point guard via unrestricted free agency. Related: Jamierra Faulkner announced she’ll be sidelined by another knee injury. Colson is an excellent on-ball defender, and her quickness should pop even more in Chicago where she’ll be surrounded by one or two stretch bigs at a time. Stay tuned to see how this plays out on the floor for Gabby Williams, who served as the primary backup last season and may shift back to more of an off-ball role.
Team-by-team preview, predictions [published before Feb. 10]
2019 record: 8-26, missed playoffs
2020 draft picks: Round 1 Pick 4, Round 3 Pick 1, Round 3 Pick 3 via Dallas (McGee-Stafford trade)
Outgoing picks: Round 2 Pick 1 to New York (Coffey-Rodgers trade)
Projected cap space: $348,480
- Pricing in nine players under contract for 2020, the No. 4 overall pick and two minimum slots
Free agency outlook: Take a big swing, if you can
- Atlanta made the most notable non-move to date by not coring Angel McCoughtry. One can understand why a team wouldn’t be fired up to lock her in at that $215,000 max for her age-33 season coming off an ACL tear.
- Now, did the Dream make that decision in part because they already have something up their sleeve?
- Their 2021 cap sheet will look much different. Three starters (Renee Montgomery, Elizabeth Williams, Jessica Breland) have one year remaining at or near the ‘old max’. Brittney Sykes is also set to hit restricted free agency. Making a big splash using cap space next year while more-less keeping the band together would get tricky.
- Finding a team-friendly number for Alex Bentley shouldn’t be difficult. The seven-year pro doesn’t seem likely to have much leverage coming off a dreadful shooting season (30.7 FG%, 38.4 TS%).
- While the new CBA will help stars get to true unrestricted free agency much quicker, reserves/low-end starters will become tougher to retain. Other teams can step in offering bigger paydays and different roles. Sykes’ 2021 free agency might not be the best example coming off a blah 2019 campaign, but another team would have an easier time luring her away with a big offer sheet.
- Free agency occurring before the draft hangs over so much of every free agency period. There will always be some teams that benefit from that order and others pining for the opposite. I’m inclined to think Atlanta ends up with a big at No. 4 regardless, which could spell trouble for Monique Billings, Marie Gulich and Alaina Coates.
- No team stands to benefit more from multiple early entrants throwing their hat in the ring than Atlanta. If Dallas takes Lauren Cox at No. 2, there’s a world in which Atlanta ends up with one of the two spoonerism-proof lottery talents—Satou Sabally or Chennedy Carter. That’s the dream scenario for a team that ranked dead-last in offensive efficiency last season.
Wish list: Shooting at any position, every notable early entrant declaring for the 2020 draft
- DeWanna Bonner’s true unrestricted free agency is a rare sight. The 2019 All-Star can look to sign elsewhere; the Mercury couldn’t core her this offseason. My list of ‘Please take our money DeWanna, here’s a blank check for whatever duration you’d like’ teams almost became a Magic Johnson tweet. Atlanta, Dallas, Indiana, Las Vegas, L.A., Minnesota and New York could all take that approach quite easily. A player as versatile and good as Bonner can fit anywhere without blocking the younger players on some of those teams still on the rise.
- Pursuing Bonner makes sense for the Dream. They have no reason to even consider bottoming out. Playing next to two traditional bigs all the time may even appeal to Bonner to avoid banging with bigger, stronger players at the 4 as she ages. Sykes did little with a big opportunity last season to cement her status as the starting 3 of the future.
- Restating the obvious, Atlanta desperately needs some shooting around Tiffany Hayes, especially with McCoughtry’s shot creation all but out the door. Would the Dream consider offering up that starting spot on the wing and look to pry Shekinna Stricklen out of Connecticut?
- Morgan Tuck would probably be a more attainable Sun free agent. Some consistent shooting from the third big would also be immensely helpful. Atlanta may get that internally, though, from Gulich or Princeton’s Bella Alarie at No. 4.
- One idea I’d love to see a team execute: Throw a big one-year deal at a player because you have the space to do so right now. Let’s assume that number is the $185,000 max for now. Do that with two thoughts in mind: 1) the current team can’t/won’t pay that much and 2) make some kind of wink-wink deal that because you did the player this solid, they’ll pay you back by re-upping next offseason more in that $80,000 range, maybe even on a multi-year deal.
- Numerous UFAs would be worthy targets with this approach. Offer sheets for RFAs must be for at least two seasons, but the same general approach can apply there, too. The Sun are one of three contenders (Chicago, Washington) I’m projecting to come dangerously close to the cap just by more-less running it back.
- Atlanta could also look to pull off what I’ll call the Dantas Maneuver after being on the wrong end of some savvy GM-ing by Cheryl Reeve last offseason. The Lynx inked Dream restricted free agent Damiris Dantas to a fully guaranteed offer sheet. Atlanta already had six guaranteed deals, meaning they had to shed one of them to match it. They didn’t, and the Lynx made out like bandits coming away with a stretch 4 that fit in beautifully with Sylvia Fowles and Napheesa Collier in that Minnesota front line.
- Even if they wanted one, I’m not sure there’s a path to make a significant upgrade with their guard depth. Atlanta’s maneuvers this month may tell us how much they trust Maite Cazorla as a surefire part of the 2020 rotation.
2019 record: 20-14, eliminated in round two by The Hamby Heave
2020 draft picks: Round 1 Pick 8, Round 3 Pick 6 via Minnesota (Coates trade), Round 3 Pick 8
Outgoing picks: Round 2 Pick 8 to Los Angeles (Lavender trade)
Projected cap space: $9,794
- Pricing in five players under contract for 2020, the No. 8 overall pick, five players re-signing and one veteran minimum slot
- How I got within 10K of the cap: Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley at the 215 max, Stefanie Dolson at the 185 max and Kahleah Copper and Astou Ndour at 70K each. Those are just some arbitrary numbers to give an idea of how tough it might get for James Wade to bring everyone back.
Free agency outlook: Run it back
- I thought this would be more interesting to predict some re-signings. Saying Chicago is starting with 700-some thousand in room is pointless.
- I’m assuming Chicago’s ‘Plan A’ is to retain all of their rotation players. Jantel Lavender’s deal is guaranteed through 2020. Cheyenne Parker is also set to hit unrestricted free agency next offseason. It’d be nice to see this group in a playoff series this year before having to move on from somebody that can really help them.
- Dolson has six years of service; her proposed number is just a placeholder. Copper and Ndour are worth more than that. Multiple players may need to sacrifice to truly make this work.
- Good news for Chicago: It’s tough to imagine a team that’d be motivated enough to lure Dolson away with a big offer. She’d be an upgrade in New York but they already have two shooting 5s under contract. In theory, Dallas needs shooting anywhere they can get it and could offer a starting role. That’s the best I could muster.
- With Ndour likely to compete with Spain in the Olympics, finding a way to keep both Lavender and Parker has its merits. Could Ndour possibly opt to sit out the first portion of the season? Having Parker and Lavender insulates them from any frontcourt injury.
- I think another team would need to view Copper as a starter to draft an offer sheet Chicago would need to pass on, or somebody could try that balloon two-year deal I mentioned earlier hoping to ink a long term deal down the line.
- I’m interested to see if 2019 third-round pick Maria Conde comes over to compete for one of those final spots. (I had Jamierra Faulkner in mind with that veteran minimum slot for now.)
Wish list: No hostile offer sheets
- It isn’t tough to read the tea leaves here. Not coring Vandersloot or Quigley is good news for Sky fans.
- Chicago is in a pretty good spot to move on should they lose a player of Copper’s caliber by simply getting Katie Lou Samuelson more run.
2019 record: 23-11, eliminated in the Finals (3-2) by Washington
2020 draft picks: Round 1 Pick 10 via L.A. (C. Ogwumike trade), Round 1 Pick 11, Round 2 Pick 11, Round 3 Pick 11
Outgoing picks: NA
Projected cap space: $14,500
- Pricing in four players under contract for 2020, the No. 10 and 11 overall picks and six players re-signing
- Another team coming dangerously close to that $1.3m hard cap. How we got there: Full 185 maxes for Jonquel Jones and Courtney Williams, a 185 ‘max’ for Shekinna Stricklen in solidarity with those other two starters, Natisha Hiedeman at the minimum and two of Bria Holmes/Morgan Tuck/Layshia Clarendon at 70K.
Free agency outlook: Run it back
- Again, that 70K figure is probably wishful thinking. But that illustrates the dilemma teams will be facing. Every top-seven-ish player in a rotation won’t make more-less the same amount anymore.
- Stricklen taking something closer to the ‘old max’ could go so far as to allow Curt Miller to keep all three veteran reserves.
- That brings us to another interesting dilemma. How can the Sun extract maximum value out of those two late firsts? Saying you have two firsts sounds awesome before you know where they’ve landed. Their value will drop if early entrant candidates stay in school. One or two free agents getting offers too big for the Sun to match would certainly make it easier to operate now as if they need to select players that can make their opening night roster.
- Hiedeman really showed something late last season. Regardless of what happens with Clarendon, I’d be interested to know if they’re confident in Hiedeman as the official backup point guard heading into next season.
- Holmes would be my clear No. 1 priority of those three veterans and worth matching at all costs. She has a really solid season off the bench. Replacing her defense, size and slashing would be extremely difficult. Tuck-Clarendon felt like a coin flip. At least the former is restricted—Connecticut gets a final say.
- Related to the Tuck-Clarendon question: Theresa Plaisance needs to stay healthy in 2020. A productive season could offset the potential loss of Tuck, and we know Plaisance isn’t going anywhere with that contract guaranteed for 2020.
Wish list: No hostile offer sheets
- Star players can really fast track their path to unrestricted free agency if they’re willing to bet on themselves, while leaving some money on the table, and sign a qualifying offer. Williams and Jones are case studies worth following. It’s probably safe to assume that either could also go get a max offer sheet elsewhere.
- Multi-year deals in any form would be very pro-Sun. Both players are entering their age-26 seasons and have performed to that level already. The Sun as constructed are set up to stay in contention with both players featured prominently.
- Long-term deals keep both players out of unrestricted free agency for a longer period of time. A nightmare scenario for any team: Two high-impact players in their prime becoming UFAs in the same offseason, leaving you susceptible to seeing one of them walk for nothing.
- Does a trade exist for Connecticut to turn those picks into a player? The receiving team would likely run into the same issue. Most of these teams just aren’t in a position to keep two players selected in that range.
- Somebody could try to pull the Dantas Maneuver with Holmes, Clarendon or Tuck if Stricklen, Williams and Jones all get their new deals fully protected. (The current deals of Jasmine Thomas, Alyssa Thomas and Plaisance are already guaranteed.)
2019 record: 10-24, missed playoffs
2020 draft picks: Round 1 Pick 2, Round 1 Pick 9 via Las Vegas (Cambage trade), Round 2 Pick 3, Round 2 Pick 9 (Cambage trade)
Outgoing picks: Round 3 Pick 3 to Atlanta (McGee-Stafford trade)
Projected cap space: $478,550
- Pricing in eight players under contract for 2020, the No. 2 and 9 overall picks and two minimum slots
Free agency outlook: Explore every opportunity, find a sign-and-trade partner
- Dallas can’t know what’s going to be available to them on draft night at No. 2, which has to affect their four free agent bigs and Anigwe. Now might be a good time for Glory Johnson to seek a role with a contender. Keeping Isabelle Harrison would be relatively easy because of her status as a reserved player.
- Like Connecticut, it’s probably tough for Dallas to get too excited about their late-first rounder. Could that pick tip the scales in a Diggins-Smith deal to make sure they get a player they like in return?
- This will be a huge, huge season for pending RFAs Davis, Gray and Jefferson. Between Jefferson’s expected return and Dallas possibly ending up with Sabally or Carter, Gray and Davis probably won’t get as much run. The Wings may not necessarily like that logjam. This season is a key time to get one more extended look at both players and determine their long term worth to the franchise.
- Hill could be yet another player soaking up minutes on the perimeter. Knee injuries have now torpedoed three consecutive seasons. One could only hope she gets a chance to play out this contract year.
- That Thornton contract was already an incredible bargain under the old CBA. Dallas has her under contract for two more seasons at less than 90K!
Wish list: A rock-solid, high-volume 3-point shooter, somewhere
- Time for some Diggins-Smith trade proposals. Option one: Diggins-Smith to Indiana for Victoria Vivians. There’s your big-time shooter. Won’t take long for that to fall apart, though. The Fever already have Erica Wheeler and Kelsey Mitchell under contract. Is there enough here to convince either side to swap a point guard for a point guard?
- Option two: Diggins-Smith to Minnesota or Phoenix for their 2020 and 2021 firsts. I see these teams as the two that should be most eager to pursue a deal. Lexie Brown and Alanna Smith would be intriguing young players for Dallas to ask for, but you’d want to keep them around as Phoenix or Minny to contribute to the hopeful title contender that you’ve suddenly established.
- Option three: Diggins-Smith to L.A. for Kalani Brown or Maria Vadeeva. L.A. could really use a steadier hand at backup point guard to take some pressure off of Chelsea Gray and Candace Parker in the regular season, but I can’t quite sell myself on L.A. as a landing spot. The Sparks need a 3.
- How about we turn option three into a three-teamer: Minnesota gets Diggins-Smith; L.A. gets Steph Talbot, Minny’s second (14th overall—not bad when you don’t have a first) and the No. 9 overall pick from Dallas; Dallas gets one of L.A.’s bigs and a first from Minny. There’s an outline of something appealing to all sides there. L.A. gets a 3 that can shoot and some draft capital for this year, Minny makes a big splash and Dallas adds a young building block at the 5 while moving up a few slots with their other first rounder.
- Option four: Diggins-Smith to Atlanta for Brittney Sykes. Dallas would need to be really high on Sykes already having a pretty crowded wing rotation. Next.
- Option five: I’d bet Vegas has become a popular fake trade destination. I just don’t see it; I wouldn’t want to put Kelsey Plum or Jackie Young in a deal. Maybe the 2020 version of Diggins-Smith would prove to be an upgrade, but a deal feels too NBA2K-y to actually happen. Teams need time to grow together. Vegas’ youth can still be a big team-building asset over these next couple of years. This kind of move, which would accelerate their timetable, wouldn’t quite seem worth the risk. But while you’re on the line, Dallas, would you like our 2021 first rounder?
- Five-ish options. Only felt good about two of them. (That should be a no-brainer for Phoenix if they can get it done with picks and/or young players.) Trades are tough to construct in a 12-team league with a hard cap.
- I mentioned Dallas as a team that could stand to throw a bag of money at Bonner. Arike Ogunbowale’s ability to shoulder the load of a lead creator could really help the All-Star forward settle into more of an off-ball role, and what Bonner can do on ball would be a big upgrade on the team’s secondary ball-handlers last season.
- Dolson’s shooting and passing would really elevate this offense as I alluded to earlier. Does the idea of drafting Cox and getting an immediate look at the Stevens-Cox pairing get in the way of a theoretical offer to Dolson?
- Maybe this is the year for McGee-Stafford to get a shot playing 20-some minutes per game somewhere. That kind of role could exist in Dallas even with Cox in tow. McGee-Stafford could match minutes with the bigger centers while Dallas still makes time to play Cox (or Sabally?) and Stevens together.
2019 record: 13-21, missed playoffs
2020 draft picks: Round 1 Pick 3, Round 2 Pick 4, Round 3 Pick 4
Outgoing picks: NA
Projected cap space: $738,422
- Pricing in 11 players under contract for 2020 and the No. 3 overall pick
Free agency outlook: Streamlining the perimeter rotation
- Betnijah Laney and Tiffany Mitchell are restricted free agents. Shenise Johnson is under contract through 2020. Victoria Vivians is set to return from a knee injury. Kennedy Burke was a smart waiver pickup last season. Indiana has a crowd on the wing.
- And that’s being said without knowing how much, if at all, Kelsey Mitchell and Erica Wheeler will play together in 2020. A two-PG starting group may only leave them with about 50 minutes to shell out to that group of wings.
- Vivians tops the list. This boils down to 1) who plugs in best with one of the point guards and 2) who can be a bench cog you couldn’t stand to lose.
- Johnson is probably the best player of the remaining four. But entering her age 29 season, she’s coming off a knee surgery that ended her 2019 season. She suffered a torn ACL in the same knee back in 2017.
- Johnson’s contract is guaranteed, meaning any trade would require a big bet on that knee. A healthy Johnson deal could bolster a playoff rotation while helping Indiana clear the way for a younger player more likely to be around as they inch closer toward contention.
- This may come down to a pick ‘em between Laney and Tiffany Mitchell. The latter has more size to matchup with 3s, but Mitchell’s ability to get to the line is extremely valuable. Both are iffy spot-up shooters. The Fever won’t be running out of cap room anytime soon, but Burke’s three years remaining on that rookie scale deal are much more appealing than giving both vets a raise (unless the team is committing to one as a starter).
- The position of Indiana’s selection at No. 3 will determine the fate of at least one current reserve. Bigs Erica McCall and Stephanie Mavunga have played sparingly. Highlights of Mavunga knocking down 3-pointers and splashing face-up jumpers overseas have been worthy of an eyebrow raise. That would be an intriguing development if it carries over into the summer.
Wish list: their 4 of the future
- Cox or Sabally with this group would be fascinating. Candice Dupree and Natalie Achonwa have one year remaining on their current deals. I think the Dupree-Teaira McCowan connection can take a big step forward in 2020. Dupree’s skill level and McCowan’s ability to carve out deep post position make for an exciting pairing.
- It’d obviously be wonderful to draft a 4 you could lock in next to McCowan for the next decade. All things considered, I like where the Fever are at with their frontcourt for 2020. Achonwa getting more comfortable with her 3-point stroke would be an important development.
- Do the Fever enter the season with Paris Kea as the third PG? They could really alter the backup point guard market by pursuing one of the best available veterans while also telegraphing their intentions with Wheeler and Kelsey Mitchell.
- Is it too late to petition for a rollover cap space clause for the new CBA?
Las Vegas Aces
2019 record: 21-13, eliminated in semifinals by Washington
2020 draft picks: Round 3 Pick 9
Outgoing picks: Round 1 Pick 9 and Round 2 Pick 9 to Dallas (Cambage trade)
Projected cap space: $355,022
- Pricing in six players under contract for 2020, Liz Cambage re-signing at the 185 max and five minimum slots
Free agency outlook: Bolster the bench
- Vegas already has five of its six best players under contract, matching rights on Cambage and a serviceable backup big in JiSu Park with two more years left on her rookie deal.
- One way to think of that cap space: The Aces could (operative word) offer about 120K to five different players to come to Vegas and compete for minutes on a contender. Not bad!
- I’m viewing Tamera Young as the free agent they should prioritize after Cambage.
- Lindsay Allen missed the 2019 campaign after undergoing knee surgery. Could a possible Allen return spell trouble for Sydney Colson? Would they consider making room for both? A re-signed and healthy Epiphanny Prince is probably getting consistent run.
- Kelsey Plum and Kayla McBride are due for raises next offseason. Two more seasons of Dearica Hamby on an ‘old max’-type deal will go a long way in helping them spend on the bench.
Wish list: Upgrade if you can; no iffy long term deals
- One-year deals are their friend. Vegas can probably make big one-year offers to at least one or two top reserves that’ll be tough to match elsewhere.
- Meanwhile, a guaranteed multi-year deal that sours down the line could really box them in as A’ja Wilson and Jackie Young prep for their first big paydays.
- This is starting to look like another season that will be really rough for second- and third-round picks. Using the roster counts I’m presenting with my projected cap space totals, we’re only looking at about 12 ‘open’ roster spots right now league-wide. Free agents and first-round picks may fill all of them.
- Vegas looks like the friendliest landing spot for a pick in the 13-18 range simply because they have the most flexibility with the back half of their roster at the start of February. Only problem? The Aces won’t be on the clock until No. 33 barring a trade.
- Now, does Vegas get aggressive going after a bigger name? Bill Laimbeer could certainly make an appealing pitch to DeWanna Bonner.
- Angel McCoughtry should be a separate conversation, not to say it still might be worth exploring. How much info would a new team have on the status of her knee? Would she expect a starting gig? Self-creation ranks very low among the Aces’ list of team needs. Even lower: somebody that can attack mismatches in the post.
- The Aces could also offer that big 2020 payday I mentioned earlier with the idea that it might help you re-sign that player in 2021 to a multi-year deal at a more team-friendly number. One target that comes to mind: Bria Hartley.
- Three more vets that’d be interesting targets: Essence Carson, Glory Johnson, Alex Bentley.
- Hartley played for Laimbeer in New York and her skillset is the most desirable—good size for a combo guard that can plug in with different groups playing on and off ball.
- Carson is one of a select few true 3-and-D free agents. Vegas may want to talk themselves into a bounce-back year for Bentley—they need guards that can do most of their damage as pull-up shooters.
- Making a real push for Johnson works if she essentially becomes the backup 5 while Hamby continues to get some run at the 3. Johnson’s ability to rim run and rebound fits right in, and the Aces could roll out some massive lineups that can also do a lot of switching against the likes of Seattle and Washington.
Los Angeles Sparks
2019 record: 22-12, eliminated in semifinals by Connecticut
2020 draft picks: Round 2 Pick 8 via Chicago (Lavender trade), Round 2 Pick 10, Round 3 Pick 10
Outgoing picks: Round 1 Pick 10 to Connecticut (C. Ogwumike trade)
Projected cap space: $213,000
- Pricing in nine players under contract for 2020, Chelsea Gray re-signing at the 185 max, Tierra Ruffin-Pratt at $70,000 and Alina Iagupova/one minimum slot
Free agency outlook: Backup point guard? Something different at the 3?
- Adding a reliable backup 1 would be nice. Their three young reserve guards profile more as 2s. And because they have the space now to pay a vet or two, this offseason would be a better time to move on from one of them if an upgrade is available.
- Next offseason will be interesting. Candace Parker, Nneka Ogwumike, Chiney Ogwumike, Riquna Williams and Gray (if she signs a one-year deal now) will be unrestricted free agents.
- It’s very odd that the Sparks still haven’t moved in naming a new general manager.
- Where does Tierra Ruffin-Pratt stand? As good as she is on defense, Connecticut preyed on her questionable shooting in the semis. It became too easy to take the ball out of Gray’s hands.
- Iagupova coming over would be a game-changer. Future playoff opponents wouldn’t be able to get away with Connecticut’s approach.
- The No. 22 overall pick is quite late in the game to expect a rotation player. They need to be aggressive in free agency.
- A multi-year deal for Gray right now would be ideal. She’s an All-WNBA guard in her prime. That’d give them one less big deal to worry about next offseason.
Wish list: Iagupova’s debut
- Make a run at Bonner! Why not?
- Maybe they’re the team to make a big bet on Copper. We might be in a brief window where you don’t have to worry that she’s too slight to match up with the 3s of your likely playoff opponents. Her cutting would be a wonderful fit next to Gray and Parker.
- There’s no shortage of potential backup PGs. Hartley, Clarendon, Bentley, Colson and Danielle Robinson are UFAs. Even if they all love their current situations and are asked to return, L.A. has the money and opportunity with a playoff team to offer.
2019 record: 18-16, eliminated in first round by Seattle
2020 draft picks: Round 1 Pick 6, Round 2 Pick 2 via New York (Wright trade)
Projected cap space: $247,123
- Pricing in eight players under contract for 2020, the No. 6 overall pick, three players re-signing and one minimum slot
- How we got there: Cecilia Zandalasini and Seimone Augustus re-signing at 90K plus Temi Fagbenle at 70K.
Free agency outlook: Big-game hunting?
- Sylvia Fowles did them a huge favor signing an extension at the end of the regular season. The money she’s losing out on will be worth it if they can add one more big name.
- Maya Moore recently told the New York Times that she will not play in 2020.
- We’ll be able to infer more about Fagbenle’s summer plans if Great Britain fails to qualify for the Olympics. This team would be in a good place with Fagbenle and Jessica Shepard (coming off last season’s ACL tear) as their backup bigs.
- They have plenty of wing depth when you pencil Karima Christmas-Kelly in for 20-plus minutes coming off a bit of a lost year (knee). Bridget Carleton, a reserved player for now and worth a flier for a bunch of teams, could get left out in the cold.
Wish list: having enough at PG
- Now’s the time to pounce if someone else has serious interest in Danielle Robinson. Minny has to at least consider a world in which they end up with a point guard at No. 6. If they see, say, UConn’s Crystal Dangerfield as somebody that would play for them right away, there might be a ‘walk away’ number on Robinson for another team to leverage.
- Rachel Galligan recently reported that Odyssey Sims is unlikely to play in 2020. I threw out a fake trade that sends Skylar Diggins-Smith to Minnesota in the Dallas section.
- Minny’s offense would lose some of its bite without at least one of those two names in its 2020 plans. They really relied on Sims’ as a source of dribble penetration, both to score and compromise a defense to set up their capable cast of 3-point shooters.
- Last year’s team needed one more big threat on the perimeter. Poaching Bonner sure would re-ignite the Phoenix-Minnesota rivalry. The Lynx would be huge on the wing with Bonner and Napheesa Collier.
- All of these wings (Collier, Talbot, Zandalasini, Christmas-Kelly, Augustus, Lexie Brown) can’t get actual minutes. They’re a fake trade hotbed if you can find another 1 or a big to send back.
New York Liberty
2019 record: 10-24, missed playoffs
2020 draft picks: Round 1 Pick 1, Round 2 Pick 1 via Atlanta (Coffey-Rodgers trade), Round 3 Pick 2
Outgoing picks: Round 2 Pick 2 to Minnesota (Wright trade)
Projected cap space: $288,800
- Pricing in seven players under contract for 2020, the No. 1 overall pick, two players re-signing and two veteran minimum slots
- How we got to $288,800: core player Tina Charles at the $215,000 max and Marine Johannes at the minimum.
Free agency outlook: restoring balance
- Will this first season under new head coach Walt Hopkins commence with both Brittany Boyd (under contract through 2020) and Bria Hartley (UFA) on the roster behind presumed No. 1 pick Sabrina Ionescu?
- Ionescu can balance out a strong collection of guards by giving them a lead guard that can run plenty of pick and roll, set the table for others and loom as a big off-ball threat. The 2019 group lacked a player that could do all three.
Wish list: good health in this hectic Olympic year
- Let it sink in that this team could have as many as eight (or nine if Team USA took Ionescu) players competing in Tokyo.
- EuroBasket and injuries really limited last year’s group—something that must be far more than a footnote for anyone looking back on Katie Smith’s two seasons and the organization’s decision to move on from her.
- I’d be eager just to see them keep the band together. They’re set on the perimeter. Kiah Stokes’ expected return will help their defense. Rebecca Allen can handle some spot minutes as a backup 4 if Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe or Reshanda Gray aren’t re-signed.
- They’ll have more chances to take some big swings in free agency. With plenty of interesting players in house that need to play, it’s more important right now to avoid signing somebody to a deal that they’ll regret as they (hopefully) get back into playoff contention.
2019 record: 15-19, eliminated in first round by Chicago
2020 draft picks: Round 1 Pick 5, Round 2 Pick 5, Round 2 Pick 6 via Minnesota (Talbot trade), Round 3 Pick 5
Outgoing picks: NA
Projected cap space: $98,750
- Pricing in five players under contract for 2020, the No. 5 overall pick, five players re-signing and one veteran minimum slot
- How we got to $98,750: Brittney Griner (cored) and Bonner at the $215,000 max, Essence Carson and Leilani Mitchell at $80,000 apiece and Yvonne Turner at the veteran’s minimum.
Free agency outlook: One last dance?
- The Mercury were seen as major ‘19 title contenders after pushing Seattle to the brink in that exhilarating semifinal series in 2018. It was a lost year for Diana Taurasi due to back and hamstring issues. Will she be healthy enough to drive one more deep playoff run in Phoenix?
- We can haggle over last season’s record. A sub-.500 record is a disappointment, but they weren’t sniffing the top tier without Taurasi.
- Re-signing Griner (cored) and Bonner (UFA) are the top priorities. It’s tough to imagine Mitchell signing elsewhere considering her relationship with Sandy Brondello, head coach of the Australian national team.
- Essence Carson (UFA) and Yvonne Turner (RP) are helpful players worth retaining on the wing. Bonner, Brianna Turner and Alanna Smith can fill the 40 minutes at the 4. Sophie Cunningham could become a bigger part of the rotation if one or both of those free agents gets too expensive.
- Having the draft before free agency would probably be preferable here with the idea that they’ll add a guard and a big with that No. 5 pick and that vague (for now) 12th roster spot.
Wish list: A chance to pick up where they left off in 2018!
- With this estimate in mind, money shouldn’t become much of an obstacle if they hope to retain Carson.
- I mentioned the idea of Phoenix throwing their hat in the ring for Diggins-Smith with some combination of firsts and young players. With so much uncertainty around Taurasi’s health, any path to add another star that would be a reasonable on-court fit has to be considered.
- What their cap number might look like: You’re approaching $1.2m with Griner, Bonner and Diggins-Smith each getting the max. Filling every empty roster spot with a minimum hold, you’d still have about $130,000 to work with. It wouldn’t be easy, but it’s possible!
- This is where a GM could really earn their keep. Nail one minimum signing that nets you a rotation player and this version of the Mercury would be in really good shape.
2019 record: 18-16, eliminated in second round by Los Angeles
2020 draft picks: Round 1 Pick 7, Round 2 Pick 7, Round 3 Pick 7
Outgoing picks: NA
Projected cap space: $212,050
- Pricing in nine players under contract for 2020, the No. 7 overall pick, Ezi Magbegor and one player re-signing
- How we got to $212,050: Sue Bird at the $215,000 max and 2019 first round pick Ezi Magbegor coming over
Free agency outlook: Best available?
- Penciling Bird, Magbegor and that pick in, Seattle would have 12 players under contract. If we assume for a moment that Magbegor isn’t ready yet, the Storm can get pretty aggressive looking to sing somebody that they see as a difference-maker off the bench. They can make an appealing pitch with cap space right now and unquestioned status as a title contender with a healthy Breanna Stewart (Achilles)…
- …but buyer beware. Next offseason is going to be a doozy. Stewart, Jewell Loyd, Natasha Howard, Alysha Clark and Sami Whitcomb will hit free agency. Each would be in the right to expect a raise. Any player they add on a multi-year deal now had better be a lock for 2021.
Wish list: more depth at the 3/4?
- It really is tough to find this theoretical bench contributor. If Dan Hughes really wanted somebody that could stretch the defense out from the 4 spot over playing Mercedes Russell and Crystal Langhorne together, he could simply stagger Stewart and Howard.
- How many minutes could they really find for one of the top 3-and-D-types behind Clark? Whitcomb and Jordin Canada are locks at the 1 and the 2.
- How about Seattle for McCoughtry? Wanna come off the bench, attack mismatches surrounded by our awesome spacing and come compete for a championship?
- Maybe this means Seattle will become the sneaky destination for a late-round pick—either their own or one that gets cut by somebody else. Not needing that player to soak up minutes right away can be used to their advantage.
- That’s exactly how they wound up with Russell. Using that roster spot more as a flier on a younger player (if Magbegor doesn’t come over and the club moves on from Shavonte Zellous and Courtney Paris) would help the cause in 2021.
2019 record: 26-8, defeated Connecticut (3-2) in the Finals
2020 draft picks: Round 1 Pick 12, Round 2 Pick 12, Round 3 Pick 12
Outgoing picks: NA
Projected cap space: $3,100
- Pricing in eight players under contract for 2020, the No. 12 overall pick and three players re-signing
- How we got to $3,100: two of Elena Delle Donne, Emma Meesseman and Kristi Toliver at the $215,000 max and $180,000 for the third.
Free agency outlook: Run it back, again
- No matter how you slice it, those three stars can’t each get the 215 max after you pencil in the No. 12 overall pick.
- Mike Thibault recently told the Winsidr show that the team already has verbal agreements in place with Delle Donne and Meesseman. Regardless of how they divy that space up, the Mystics will be able to get all three stars close to that number.
- Extensions will become even more important to front offices under this new CBA. Washington having Aerial Powers and Tianna Hawkins in the $80,000 range is huge. Locking in a fringe starter/top reserve near that mark will help great teams retain their core rotation players.
- The league listed Kim Mestdagh as an unrestricted free agent, meaning the Mystics declined to submit a qualifying offer to make her a reserved player.
- Meesseman will look to lead Belgium to the Olympics. They’re in a group with Japan, Canada and Sweden in this month’s qualifying tournament. Japan automatically qualifies as the host, so the top two of those three remaining teams will qualify for the summer games.
Wish list: EDD at full strength in May
- Delle Donne underwent back surgery last month. The team expects her to be ready to go at the start of the season.
- This group doesn’t need fixing. The bench is stocked with valuable contributors. They’re your 2020 title favorites with a healthy Delle Donne.