2021 WNBA Opening-Day Rosters: Details and Explanations
Breaking down who made it and who didn't heading into the 2021 WNBA season
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It's finally here. All the furor over free agency, the drama of the draft and the tension of training camp is over, and we've hit opening day of the 2021 WNBA season. Which means we have opening-day rosters. Or at least something close to them. Officially, teams had to be down to 11 or 12 players and under the salary cap as of 5 p.m. ET last night. However, thanks to late arrivals due to overseas commitments (and the six days of Covid-19 protocols players have had to go through after arriving), some injuries, and some players who aren't expected to show up until much later in the year, things are a little more complicated than that. Below, we present the official opening day rosters, detail who narrowly missed out, and explain how teams are managing and maneuvering the players now on their roster.
One topic that's going to come up a lot is suspensions. 'Suspended' is a word that causes a lot of gnashing of teeth among fans, because they're used to it happening in other sports when someone does something wrong. In the WNBA it's almost always more of a tool to manage the roster and players who aren't going to be available. Essentially, there are two types. Full Season suspension means that player cannot play in the WNBA at all that year, and the player is removed from the team's roster and cap sheet. It's most commonly used on international players who have other commitments that they're prioritizing over the WNBA, although you also see it for players who were injured playing basketball for other teams overseas. The second type is a Temporary suspension (you may also see it referred to as 'Partial Season'). That opens up the player's roster spot, and they don't get paid while suspended. These players can be activated whenever they become available, but the drawback is that their salary figure remains on the team's cap even while suspended. So you need enough cap space for an extra player in order to replace them. Player in parentheses on the rosters below are currently temporarily suspended.
We're also going to talk about Hardship Exceptions when it comes to teams with under 10 available players - a way to add players even if you have no cap room and/or roster space - but we'll get to that with the teams where it's relevant. On to the rosters!
PG: Chennedy Carter/Odyssey Sims/Aari McDonald
SG: Courtney Williams/Crystal Bradford
SF: Tiffany Hayes/Shekinna Stricklen
PF: Tianna Hawkins/Monique Billings
C: Cheyenne Parker/Elizabeth Williams/Kalani Brown
A certain amount of confusion surrounded the Dream's final cuts yesterday when Kalani Brown was reported to have appeared on the waiver wire and then been removed from it. Ultimately, Brown stuck and the last players released were Shatori Walker-Kimbrough and Mikayla Cowling. Walker-Kimbrough's $85,000 contract worked against her, because the expense would've forced the Dream to only keep 11 players. Going with cheaper options allowed them to keep 12, including surprise inclusion Crystal Bradford.
PG: Courtney Vandersloot(/Shyla Heal)
SG: Allie Quigley/Stephanie Watts
SF: Diamond DeShields/Kahleah Copper
PF: Azurá Stevens/Astou Ndour
C: Candace Parker/Stefanie Dolson/Ruthy Hebard
Chicago realistically made their final choice nearly a week ago, when they traded Gabby Williams to Los Angeles for rookie Stephanie Watts and the rights to German youngster Leonie Fiebich. Having already suspended Williams for the year there was no reason to rush to trade her unless Sky head coach/GM James Wade liked Watts enough to keep her on the opening-day roster. That closed up the spot that initially seemed to have opened when Williams was suspended, leaving Lexie Brown, Natasha Mack, Alexis Prince and Kobi Thornton on the outside looking in. With rookie backup point guard Shyla Heal a late arrival, Azurá Stevens an injury doubt and Stefanie Dolson leaving imminently to represent Team USA in the 3x3 Olympic Qualifier, the Sky may quickly be using the Emergency Hardship exception which opens up when a team drops below 10 available players. Brittany Boyd-Jones, released by the Sky earlier this week, may well return temporarily as Vandersloot's backup.
PG: (Jasmine Thomas/)Natisha Hiedeman
SG: Briann January/DiJonai Carrington
SF: DeWanna Bonner/Kaila Charles
PF: Brionna Jones/Stephanie Jones
C: Jonquel Jones/Beatrice Mompremier
Plus Alyssa Thomas
Once they'd re-signed their veteran core, Connecticut had very little room to maneuver. In fact, they were so tight to the salary cap that they couldn't keep both of their second-round picks, so DiJonai Carrington sticking meant Micaela Kelly was doomed. Stephanie Jones was the slight surprise for the final roster spot, and looks the most likely player to be released if the Sun try to find an upgrade among cuts elsewhere (although any player coming in would also have to be on the base minimum salary). Jasmine Thomas arrived late due to her season in Turkey, which combined with Alyssa Thomas's long-term injury makes Connecticut eligible for an Emergency Hardship exception. So there may well be an additional signing to help out temporarily.
PG: Moriah Jefferson/Tyasha Harris/Dana Evans
SG: Arike Ogunbowale/Chelsea Dungee/Marina Mabrey
SF: Allisha Gray/Kayla Thornton
PF: (Satou Sabally/)Isabelle Harrison/Bella Alarie
C: Charli Collier(/Awak Kuier)
Megan Gustafson was the final cut in Dallas, much to the distress of her diehard fans. You'll see 13 names above because Satou Sabally and Awak Kuier have both been temporarily suspended. Sabally's season in Turkey ended late and she's now off to represent Germany in the 3x3 Olympic Qualifier in Austria on May 26-30. If she heads straight to Dallas after that, hopefully she'll only miss around seven Wings games. Finnish rookie Kuier was still waiting on her work visa as of reports earlier this week. The Wings have just enough cap room to add a 14th player if they wish, and it could even be Gustafson, assuming she clears waivers (although in her case they'd have to wait until the 10th day of the season, due to rules about re-signing players a team previously released).
PG: Danielle Robinson/Lindsay Allen
SG: Kelsey Mitchell/Kysre Gondrezick/Tiffany Mitchell
SF: Victoria Vivians/Aaliyah Wilson
PF: Jessica Breland/Lauren Cox/Chelsea Perry
C: Jantel Lavender/Teaira McCowan(/Bernadett Hatar)
Indiana kept things simple on the final day, completing their roster without actually cutting anyone. They switched Belgian point guard Julie Allemand's status from temporarily suspended to full-season suspended, meaning she can't play at any point in the 2021 WNBA season but her salary figure is no longer on the books for this year. That brought them down to 13 players and under the salary cap, and temporarily suspending Hungarian center Bernadett Hatar took them under the roster limit. Hatar is in Indiana already, waiting to pass all the Covid-19 protocols, and the Fever will have to cut someone once she becomes available. Meanwhile, rookies Chelsea Perry and Aaliyah Wilson will try to impress and make sure they're not the one released to make room.
Las Vegas Aces
PG: Chelsea Gray/Destiny Slocum
SG: Kelsey Plum/Riquna Williams
SF: Jackie Young
PF: A'ja Wilson/Dearica Hamby
C: Liz Cambage/JiSu Park/Emma Cannon
plus Angel McCoughtry
Not a huge amount of intrigue here as the Aces made the cuts most were expecting, with camp invites Shakayla Thomas and Lauren Manis beaten out by Destiny Slocum and Emma Cannon for the final two spots. The serious knee injury to Angel McCoughtry in training camp was a painful blow and leaves them looking thin on the wing, and it won't be a surprise if Bill Laimbeer tinkers with those final spots on his roster during the season. Also, any injury would immediately drop them below 10 available players and make them eligible for a hardship exception to add someone extra, despite being close to the salary cap.
Los Angeles Sparks
PG: Kristi Toliver/Te'a Cooper
SG: Erica Wheeler/Arella Guirantes
SF: Brittney Sykes/Bria Holmes/Nia Coffey
PF: Nneka Ogwumike/Jasmine Walker
C: Chiney Ogwumike/Amanda Zahui B(/Maria Vadeeva)
The Sparks were the final team to confirm their opening day roster and had the most complicated series of moves to work their way down to the eventual 12. Having traded first-round pick Stephanie Watts to Chicago last week for the rights to Gabby Williams - who doesn't take up any roster or cap room this year - they cut center Kristine Anigwe, traded guard Sydney Wiese to Washington for a 2022 second-round pick, and then Seimone Augustus retired and switched to an assistant coach role to finish things off. That means that free agent pickups Bria Holmes and Nia Coffey both managed to hang on to spots, as did No. 22 overall pick Arella Guirantes, who slid a lot further in the draft than expected and then missed most of training camp. Russian center Maria Vadeeva isn't expected to arrive until after EuroBasket Women (which doesn't end until June 27), so was temporarily suspended, but the Sparks don't have the cap space to replace her. Therefore they'll be working with 11 players until she shows up.
PG: Crystal Dangerfield/Rachel Banham
SG: Aerial Powers
SF: Kayla McBride/Bridget Carleton/Rennia Davis
PF: (Napheesa Collier/)Damiris Dantas/Jessica Shepard
C: Sylvia Fowles/Natalie Achonwa
No surprises here, with yesterday's cuts of Mikayla Pivec and Selena Lott bringing the roster down to the 11 players that always looked likely to make up the Lynx roster. However, they'll be short to start the season because of the stress fracture in Rennia Davis's foot discovered during camp and Napheesa Collier's late arrival (her season in France doesn't end until tomorrow's playoff final). Kayla McBride's season in Turkey also finished late, meaning she'll likely miss some time as well, so the Lynx will be one of the many teams utilizing an emergency hardship exception to add a player. In fact it was already announced that they'd be signing guard Linnae Harper, who they waived on Tuesday - likely to make sure that she'd clear waivers in time to be re-signed for opening day.
New York Liberty
PG: Sabrina Ionescu/Layshia Clarendon
SG: Sami Whitcomb/Jazmine Jones/DiDi Richards
SF: Betnijah Laney/Michaela Onyenwere/Leaonna Odom
PF: (Natasha Howard/Rebecca Allen/)
C: (Kiah Stokes/)Kylee Shook
plus Jocelyn Willoughby
The Liberty had a lot of work to do in training camp because of the number of injuries, late arrivals and international players they were dealing with. Asia Durr was suspended for the full season (something she must have agreed to) because she's still suffering from the long-term effects of Covid-19; Marine Johannès was also full-season suspended, as she was expected to miss most of the season representing France; Natasha Howard, Kiah Stokes and Rebecca Allen were all temporarily suspended as they're not yet available (Stokes and Allen are at least in the US - Howard's Italian season doesn't end until Sunday); and then Janelle Bailey and Asia Taylor were waived. That brought the Liberty roster total down to 13 and under the salary cap, although with the temporarily suspended players added to Jocelyn Willoughby's torn Achilles they'll at most have nine of those players available tonight. So expect the Liberty to be yet another team making use of an emergency hardship exception to open the season (especially as they're desperately short on post players).
PG: Skylar Diggins-Smith/Bria Hartley
SG: Diana Taurasi/Shey Peddy
SF: Kia Nurse/Megan Walker/Sophie Cunningham
PF: Brianna Turner/Alanna Smith
C: Brittney Griner(/Kia Vaughn)
Everything went largely as anticipated in Phoenix during camp. They invited a lot of players, none of whom managed to steal a roster spot away from Shey Peddy (who wasn't even there for most of it). The Mercury have Bria Hartley still recovering from the torn ACL she suffered last year and Kia Vaughn a late arrival following her season in Turkey, so will be utilizing an Emergency Hardship exception to start the year. As with the Lynx and Linnae Harper, Phoenix already announced their addition, and are re-signing Cierra Burdick (released by the Mercury earlier this week so that she'd clear waivers in time for this exact move).
PG: Sue Bird/Jordin Canada/Kiana Williams
SG: Jewell Loyd(/Epiphanny Prince)
SF: Katie Lou Samuelson/Kennedy Burke/Stephanie Talbot
PF: Breanna Stewart/Candice Dupree/Mikiah Herbert Harrigan
C: (Mercedes Russell/)Ezi Magbegor
While there was a lot of competition in camp in Seattle, ultimately they made the moves that most were expecting. The final cuts were guards Kitija Laksa and Haley Gorecki and post N'dea Jones, enabling rookie point guard Kiana Williams and backup wing Stephanie Talbot to stick. The cuts brought the roster down to 13 players, but the total is still under the salary cap and with Epiphanny Prince and Mercedes Russell temporarily suspended due to arriving late following their overseas seasons, they can keep all 13. Typically they'd have to cut someone once Russell and Prince were ready to play, but by then Katie Lou Samuelson will probably have left for the 3x3 Olympic Qualifier. So it probably won't be until early June that the Storm have to make a decision on who to release.
PG: Natasha Cloud/Leilani Mitchell
SG: Ariel Atkins/Sydney Wiese/Stella Johnson
SF: Kiara Leslie/Shavonte Zellous
PF: Elena Delle Donne(/Myisha Hines-Allen)/Erica McCall
C: Tina Charles/Theresa Plaisance/Jillian Alleyne
Due to the number of free agents that chose not to return and the injury to addition Alysha Clark, Washington had a surprising amount of both roster spots and cap space available heading into camp. Ultimately veterans Shavonte Zellous and Theresa Plaisance held on to spots, as did guard Stella Johnson and post Jillian Alleyne. It looked like Sug Sutton had also held on, until the late addition of Sydney Wiese via a trade with Los Angeles for a 2022 second-round pick. Myisha Hines-Allen was temporarily suspended and is actually still playing in France (their playoff final is tomorrow). Once she's available someone will need to be released to make room, with Alleyne or Johnson perhaps the leading candidates. Washington also looked like one of the most likely teams to fish in the pool of players recently released by other teams, but Wiese may have been their primary move in that regard.