This WNBA offseason has been eventful, to say the least! Countless trades and free agency decisions have resulted in the creation of two superteams and the decimation of other cities that only last year held a strong shot at the title. With everything moving at breakneck speed (and simultaneously not fast enough), it’s difficult to stay on top of what all these moves mean for the teams that we love. Will the Indiana Fever actually have a winning record? Could the Aces repeat? Who will be getting the #1 pick in next years overwhelmingly stacked draft?
As an avid list-maker and follower of all things WNBA, I have decided to break down all the biggest stories, and share my thoughts on what is going to happen to each team. If you’re looking to stay up to date on all things sports, subscribe to The Gist! The Gist is a website and newsletter all about sports, written by and for women. It’s completely free, but use my referral code so that I can reap the rewards.
Note: This piece was written on the afternoon of February 8th. I’m sure by the time it publishes there will be at least one dramatic change to the landscape of the W
The biggest story coming out of this year’s free agency is undoubtedly the creation of the dueling superteams located on either coast. The Las Vegas Aces are looking to defend their title, and to do so they signed Candace Parker, the all-star Chicago native who helped the Sky win their own in 2021. Obviously, with A’ja Wilson, Riquana Williams and Chelsea Gray already on the roster, they didn’t need Parker’s help at all to be competitive. Adding her to the roster makes the team look practically unbeatable.
If there’s one team that has what it takes to take down this superpower, it’s the New York Liberty. Headed by former Phoenix Mercury coach Sandy Brondello, the Liberty’s offseason moves have been nothing short of impressive. The fact that playing for the Liberty means you get to live in the biggest city in the US and play for a team owned by a billionaire who actually cares about women’s basketball was most definitely a key factor in getting these free agents to move. The addition of Breanna Stewart, Jonquel Jones, and Courtney Vandersloot in free agency take this relatively average team over the edge. Joined by returners Sabrina Ionescu and Betnijah Laney, I have my money on them to win it all.
The fact that the Liberty signed 2 former MVPs in one year, and the Aces added Parker on top of already having A’ja means that it’s unlikely another team can keep up. If you are betting, your money should most likely be on one of these two teams.
The Aces Allegations
I would be remiss if I didn’t point out the dark shadow hanging over the Aces’ organization as they head into what on the surface looks like another very successful year. Former 6th-player of the year award winner Dearica Hamby was traded to the Los Angeles Sparks. Upon the announcement of that trade, she shared on her Instagram that she was treated poorly by members of the Aces front office because of her pregnancy, despite the fact that she planned (and was on track) to be back before the start of the season. It is unclear who she was talking about— if the allegations were against head coach Becky Hammond, former Spurs assistant— this would be a notable dent on her legacy. I’m hopeful that the WNBPA will investigate, because people should be allowed to have children in all jobs, including sports, as long as they are able to recover well enough to do their jobs well.
Not only that, but it was announced earlier this week that the Aces are also under investigation for circumventing the salary cap. It is unclear at this stage what the extent of the damage will be on their 2023 season. However, sources have stated that the organization may be paying players under the table to get around the salary cap. This would make sense given that Candace Parker apparently settled to be paid just $100,000 despite being one of the best vets in the league. It remains to be seen whether or not there is any truth to the rumors.
Bottom of the Barrel
Three teams in the running for top seed last year have already had their hopes squandered this offseason. The Seattle Storm retired one of the best point guards of all time in Sue Bird, and lost Breanna Stewart to free agency. What remains is Jewell Lloyd, Ezi Magbegor, and Mercedes Russell. Although these players are all talented, losing their two best players is sure to stunt their aspirations, at least for the time being.
They don’t have to worry too much though, because lots of other teams are also going to struggle this year. The Connecticut Sun lost former MVP Jonquel Jones to the liberty after a couple of years of clear discontent under (former) head coach Curt Miller. Not only that, but they lost Jasmine Thomas to the Sparks and Courtney Williams to the Chicago Sky. While Thomas was hurt for much of last year, she was the starting point guard when healthy, meaning that 3/5 members of CT’s ideal starting lineup have fled the state for elsewhere. Power couple Alyssa Thomas and DeWanna Bonner (along with post player Brionna Jones and off-the-bench guard Natisha Hiedeman) are still there, but it remains to be seen whether this team can scrounge up enough backcourt talent to handle the ball.
And, finally, that brings us to the Sky. Champions in 2021, they were in competition to repeat last year but ultimately fell short. With the loss of all-star point guard Courtney Vandersloot to the Liberty, and her wife three-point knock out Allie Quigley taking the year off, it looks like it’s going to be a rebuilding year. The bright point is the acquisitions of both Elizabeth Williams and Courtney Williams, both of whom should increase the style and athletic abilities of the team.
It is impossible to overestimate the impact that this 2023 draft class could have on the league this year. It’s one of the most talented in recent memory, but due to Covid giving everyone an extra year of NCAA eligibility and the NIL meaning that athletes stand to make more money in college than they ever will professionally, who knows who will end up declaring! Top prospects at this point are Aliyah Boston, Haley Jones, and Diamond Miller. Caitlyn Clark and Paige Beukers could also declare, although that seems less certain. If they do, they’re sure to break into the top 5 (if not top 3) draft picks and significantly shake up the league. It’s possible, if they don’t declare, that some of the teams mentioned above are intentionally throwing their seasons to scoop up the next generation of top talent.
It looks like Boston will almost certainly go to the Indiana Fever, who struggled last year but, with a young team, could just be missing that one last piece. I have high hopes for this scrappy team; Emily Engstler, Destanni Henderson, NaLyssa Smith, and Lexie Hull all won my heart last year and I’m excited to see them back for another season.
What in the
It’s well known that the Mercury bench was filled with more tension than wins last year. With Brittney Griner wrongfully imprisoned in Russia, the team’s other stars Diana Taurasi and Skylar Diggins-Smith could not get along. There are videos of them screaming at each other, throwing towels, and giving up on the court seemingly to spite the other. While Taurasi has indicated wanting to stay in Phoenix— likely at least partially inspired by her close personal friendship with Griner— Diggins-Smith has made it pretty clear she wants to leave.
Unfortunately for everyone involved, Diggins-Smith is still on contract and neither Taurasi nor BG have signed on for the season. They need to make some hard decisions in upper management, otherwise it’s going to be another nightmare season for Mercury fans.
That’s not even mentioning the fact that they have once again signed (and continue to promote) notable transphobe Sophie Cunningham. Do better!
Other Noteable Noteables
Two point guards who don’t get their fair share of credit, Layshia Clarendon and Crystal Dangerfield, were both picked up on training camp contracts to start the season, which is utterly delightful for me as a big fan of them both. They can bring so much to a team, and I truly hope that they find the right fit for them.
The Lynx are returning much of its core roster, including the return of Napheesa Collier, which should mean that they’ll do well in the regular season and likely have a shot at 3rd come playoffs time.
And that’s all, folks! Let me know in the commends what teams you’re most excited to watch this season!