2023 WNBA Roster and Salary Cap situations heading into free agency
We break down where every WNBA team stands before the negotiations begin in January
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While it may seem like the champagne has barely had time to dry from the Las Vegas Aces' 2022 WNBA championship celebrations, we're now less than a month away from the opening stages of 2023 WNBA free agency. We already provided you with a comprehensive list of likely free agents and their various specific statuses, an article that also breaks down what all the terms mean and the specified dates for each stage in the WNBA's Collective Bargaining Agreement. There may have been some minor changes to those dates, but essentially everyone can start talking in January, and signing contracts in February.
As always, you can find all the contract details from around the league on our cap sheets, which also include specifics on open roster spots, cap space and draft picks, among other important numbers. But we know that you like things broken down for you. So here we go team-by-team, looking at which franchises have money to spend, which are already practically locked in, and which are counting the pennies to fit everyone they want under the cap. As is now tradition, we go in alphabetical order (the team name sub-headings are all links to the cap sheets for the relevant team).
As I mentioned several times last year, the Dream seemed to spend 2022 free agency planning for a rebuilding year, anticipating making a splash next time around. They made sure that the vast majority of their roster was only signed through the 2022 season, leaving acres of cap space and lots of possibilities for the future. They then proceeded to perform better than most people anticipated but ultimately missed the playoffs anyway. So now they have two picks in the top-eight of the 2023 draft, and all that space to go shopping.
Cheyenne Parker is the only contract of any meaningful size currently on the books in Atlanta. Four cheap rookie deals are the only others to take into account. Due to her late-season departure to represent Azerbaijan and the accompanying suspension, the Dream should retain Tiffany Hayes's exclusive rights and wouldn't technically have to offer any more than the veteran minimum (although we've seen in the past that players in that situation tend to end up compensated reasonably close to their true value). They may want to try to retain players like Hayes, Monique Billings, Erica Wheeler and Nia Coffey, who were all core rotation pieces when healthy last season, but they might target bigger fish from the outside pool first. Their $942,916 in cap space could hypothetically fit three players on max deals, plus another hefty contract, to add to their current five and the two first-rounders.
Of course, one of the potential pitfalls of having so much space is the possibility of overspending on the wrong players, so the Dream hierarchy will have to be a little careful with their decisions. But the world of 2023 WNBA free agency is their oyster if they can talk the right people into coming to Georgia.
When Candace Parker left Los Angeles for Chicago in 2021, Sky head coach/general manager James Wade knew he was setting his roster up for a two-year window. They came away with a banner in the rafters and another season where they almost made it back to the Finals, so it can only be considered a success. However, this upcoming offseason was always going to be where the chickens had the potential to come home to roost.
Kahleah Copper has another year to run on the deal she signed last year, and Rebekah Gardner's lack of WNBA experience means the Sky retain her exclusive rights. Gardner should remain relatively cheap, but nearly every other major piece from last season's 26-10 team could theoretically walk away for nothing. Parker has recently said she expects to continue playing, and presumably Chicago will be at the front of the queue for her services, but she could go elsewhere if she wants. Star point guard Courtney Vandersloot is an unrestricted free agent again, and if her wife Allie Quigley decides to retire - a distinct possibility given previous statements - then Vandersloot might be more likely to leave town this time. Quigley herself, while a diminishing force, was still a starter and consistent contributor for the Sky last year and would also be a meaningful loss. Emma Meesseman has talked in the past about moving on from the WNBA and only playing in Europe, and in a EuroBasket year might not even return to the US, never mind Chicago. Azurá Stevens, the primary backup for Parker or Meesseman last year, is also an unrestricted free agent and will have plenty of suitors. The Sky can't core any of these players, because Copper still counts as their core player due to the contract she signed last year after being cored herself.
Wade's first option will likely be to bring back as much of his core as possible. Vandersloot, Parker and Meesseman are star-level players, and Stevens would be a strong alternative to either of the posts if necessary. The money could get tight if everyone wants to return, or if they try to land high-level free agents from elsewhere as replacements. All the potential re-signing players would be eligible for the supermax, which is $234,936 rather than the standard max of $202,154. That means that while the Sky are starting with a cap space total similar to Atlanta, it might not go as far if the stars demanded every possible penny to stick around. Of course, after we saw the likes of Sue Bird and Tina Charles take heavy discounts last year to help build the rosters around them, we know that the maths doesn't always work out like that. Wade will be hoping that recent success in Chicago attracts his stars back, or at least some strong replacements if they prove necessary.
Technically, the Sun only have one more player currently under contract than the two teams already discussed above. However, they're in a wildly different situation. Four of their current six players are on big deals around the max, which leaves them with only $436,313 to fill out the rest of the roster. With three big pieces of their 2022 rotation out of contract, that's not a lot of room to work with.
If they retain the current six signed players, including the four big guaranteed deals for DeWanna Bonner, Alyssa Thomas, Jonquel Jones and Jasmine Thomas, they could theoretically add four players on the base minimum of $62,285 and then have $187,173 left for one player. So they could offer all of it to Brionna Jones, for example, and that would require letting Courtney Williams and Natisha Hiedeman walk away for nothing (unless they could craft some kind of sign-and-trade deal for restricted free agent Hiedeman). Even that 187,173 would be around $15,000 less than the max that other teams could offer Jones to tempt her away, and doesn't factor in that their first-round pick would require over $6,000 more than the minimum.
It's a tricky situation for the Sun, complicated further by Curt Miller's exit and the potential new direction under Stephanie White. Also their expensive veteran point guard is returning from a major injury and in a relationship with the player who filled in for her last year, who may now have the chance to get paid elsewhere. Connecticut might like to make trades to help reshape their roster, but would they get decent value for the players they'd like to move? Without clever deals or some surprise savings, it may be hard to keep this roster quite as strong as it has been in the last few years.
The good news for Dallas is that they're finally in a situation where they shouldn't be paying players hefty sums of money to not play for them. Astou Ndour-Fall and Moriah Jefferson both received a lot of money from the Wings in recent years while either sitting at home or representing other WNBA teams after Dallas cut them from expensive guaranteed deals. Barring something unexpected, Dallas's money should be going to players actually on their roster in 2023. However, now that all their youngsters are growing up, they're becoming more expensive and filling up the cap sheet on their own. That creates new and different complications.
Dallas have ten players under contract, although that includes four still in the non-guaranteed stages of their rookie-scale deals who could be cut for no cost if necessary. If you include all ten, they have $363,696 remaining in cap space. Between them, restricted free agents Marina Mabrey and Teaira McCowan might be popular enough on the open market that matching offers to both of them wouldn't fit. However, they could always cut or trade someone like Jasmine Dickey or Charli Collier to add extra space, and then they would have enough. Of course, that assumes that the Wings think Mabrey and McCowan are worth whatever kind of deal they can draw from another team. Both were big parts of the team last season, with McCowan contributing much more once she settled in, but it was still a team that only went .500. If they want to dip into the free agent market, the necessary space would require either letting one of them walk away or making trades.
This also assumes that they let unrestricted free agent Isabelle Harrison leave, as there'd be no room left for her and she will likely find offers at above the veteran minimum elsewhere. There were rumours that Allisha Gray might be heading for a trade, which could inject new blood and/or create extra cap space, but would also remove one of their most consistently productive players. However, if they want to make significant additions or changes, it's going to require moving on from a piece or two of the recent core.
After finally discovering some lottery luck, the Fever might be a little more appealing in free agency this time around. They have the money to spend, if the idea of playing with their cadre of youngsters from last year and (probably) Aliyah Boston is appealing enough to meaningful free agents. Of course, last time they tried to upgrade with outside vets it led to big deals for Danielle Robinson and Jantel Lavender which looked bad before the ink had even dried.
Lavender is still going to cost them $119,000 in 2023 after being bought out of that contract. However, with only Kelsey Mitchell and the final year of Robinson's contract as expensive deals on the books, they still have plenty of space. They could sign two free agents to max deals if there were players willing to sign who were worth it. Their various restricted free agents (Victoria Vivians, Emma Cannon), reserved players and suspended-contract expired players are all around the level where you might not mind bringing them to camp to compete for spots, but won't be going much beyond their respective minimums. Their only meaningful unrestricted free agent is Tiffany Mitchell, a Fever player for her entire seven-year WNBA career, who they might want to bring back but shouldn't overpay.
Hopefully the lessons from 2021 are still fresh in Indiana, and they'll only give up that cap space if there's someone worth spending it on. Otherwise it'll be another year of youth and hopefully growth, with a No. 1 overall pick finally part of the picture to attract pieces in future years.
Las Vegas Aces
This could end up as the dullest team around in the 2023 free agency period. Contract extensions for Jackie Young, Chelsea Gray, Dearica Hamby and Kelsey Plum were all inked during the 2022 season, so most of the work is done for now. The final deal for Plum was agreed for a low enough figure that they're in a position to keep reserve guard Riquna Williams, whose non-guaranteed deal always looked the likely casualty if they needed more cap space to retain their stars.
Assuming the nine players currently under contract are retained, the Aces would have $138,804 to fill out the last two spots on an 11-player roster. That's just barely enough for one player on the veteran minimum ($74,305, the minimum cost for players with three or more years of WNBA experience) and one on the base minimum ($62,285, the price for players with 0-2 years in the league). Given she was starting and playing heavy minutes for them in the playoffs, that vet minimum spot will likely be offered to Kiah Stokes, but she might have more money available elsewhere. It would then be up to the Aces hierarchy whether it's worth sacrificing someone like Williams in order to offer Stokes more to stick around, or to look elsewhere for post cover. Hamby's announcement that she's pregnant again might lead Las Vegas to think Williams's money could be better used for interior help. She could always be traded for something, of course, rather than just cut to create extra cap space.
Beyond that, they'll probably offer A'ja Wilson a contract extension if she wants it, and it'll be up to Wilson whether she extends or allows her current deal to expire, likely forcing the Aces to core her in a year's time. Most of their primary roster building beyond Wilson appears to be done already for both 2023 and 2024.
Los Angeles Sparks
The cupboard is looking pretty bare in Los Angeles, at least in terms of locked in talent. Katie Lou Samuelson plus four players still on their rookie-scale deals, including the eternal question mark that is Chennedy Carter, and that's about it. They hold Amanda Zahui B's suspended rights, but everyone else from last year's roster is an unrestricted free agent. Of course, after a messy season featuring multiple coaches and a lot of losing, maybe that's a good thing.
The positive side of all those free agents is a huge amount of cap space to rebuild. $996,101 is available to splash in free agency and/or to bring back the pieces they liked from last year's roster. Nneka Ogwumike has reached the core limit so they can't place the core designation on her this time, so she'll be a true unrestricted free agent. But they'll presumably be hoping she sticks around to lead their new era under Curt Miller. With the sunshine and glamor of Los Angeles to tempt players and enough room to hand the max to as many as four of them, they'll probably go star-hunting. But that can be difficult unless you can realistically promise wins as well.
The Lynx got lucky in the recent lottery draw, jumping up to No. 2, which could be useful considering they have rebuilding to do and not a lot of cap space to work with. Technically, they have $539,278 in space, but that's with only five players under contract. So they'd need to add at least six more. If you assume their two first-round picks make the roster and add three more on the base minimum, they'd have $209,823 left for the final spot - just slightly more than the max salary of $202,154.
So they could make one big-money addition. However, they'll be looking to replace star center Sylvia Fowles, re-sign or replace stalwart post Damiris Dantas, fill their point guard spot either via Moriah Jefferson or someone else, and ideally retain restricted free agent wing Bridget Carleton. The recent news of Natalie Achonwa's pregnancy also creates greater uncertainty among their existing players, although at this point they're used to being unsure of Achonwa's availability.
One advantage that the Lynx do have is that both Napheesa Collier and Jessica Shepard signed non-guaranteed extensions during last season, which means the Lynx still have three of their protected veteran slots available. That could give them an advantage in the chase for certain mid-level free agents that other teams might not be willing or able to give guaranteed money. Of course, Minnesota are one of the teams who've created problems for themselves in the past by handing protected deals to players that they eventually regretted. The Lynx will have to be careful with their cash this year.
New York Liberty
We could've written this section 11 months ago. After Breanna Stewart talked to the Liberty when she was a free agent last time around, then returned to Seattle on a one-year deal for Sue Bird's final season, speculation inevitably turned to the prospect of Stewart heading to New York once Bird was gone. Now that time has swung around, and we all know who New York general manager Jonathan Kolb will be calling at 12.01 a.m. on the day free agency opens.
They have the cap space to do it, but without extra moves they don't have the space to do a lot else. If the eight players currently under contract were joined by this year's No. 6 overall pick and Nyara Sabally - last year's first-rounder who didn't play in 2022 due to injury - the Liberty would have $240,315 left in space for the final spot on an 11-player roster. That's enough for a max for Stewart, or even enough for the supermax if she demanded a sign-and-trade with Seattle to get her the higher figure. However, that's without considering Sami Whitcomb, who's an unrestricted free agent, or any of their reserved players. Crystal Dangerfield, Marine Johannès and Han Xu are all reserved, as they're out of contract but with fewer than four years of WNBA experience. So the Liberty have exclusive negotiating rights to all three and are under no obligation to offer them more than their applicable minimum salaries. However, being in a position to offer a little more - as an encouragement to actually show up, or just to show them what you think they're worth - can be valuable. If Stewart signs for the max, there's not going to be much left over unless they make deals to shed other significant salaries.
Of course, if they don't get Stewart, all the cash earmarked for her would be available to spend elsewhere. They'd then have a lot more options, but Stewart would be a prize well worth restricting your possibilities elsewhere.
Just to note, the limit of six protected salaries mentioned in the Minnesota section applies only to protected veteran contracts. That rule is precisely why you see a little green 'V' shield distinct from the little green 'R' shield on our salary sheets. The fourth-year team options on rookie-scale contracts are protected these days if teams exercise them but do not count against the six. So even though you can see six green salaries on New York's cap sheet, the Liberty only currently have four protected veterans. So they can still guarantee a theoretical Stewart contract.
The Mercury are heading into this offseason surrounded by question marks. They currently have three players signed for 2023, and one of them finished last season suspended before announcing her pregnancy. They have a lot of work to do in order to put a coherent team on the floor, never mind making them competitive.
Diana Taurasi has stated that she intends to continue playing in 2023. Considering her entire WNBA career to this point has been played in Phoenix, you have to imagine that she's likely to remain in a Mercury uniform. If they gave her the max - just regular kind, not the supermax, so actually a pay cut from what she was on last year - and then added five players on the rock-bottom minimum, they'd have $368,071 left for the final two (or three) spots on the roster. That's one max and one mid-range free agent. All of that is without taking into account free agents Sophie Cunningham, Kia Nurse and Shey Peddy, among others, or leaving any kind of optimistic space for Brittney Griner.
We saw last year when Tina Charles signed with the Mercury, or with Taurasi's good friend Sue Bird in Seattle, that veteran players may take discounts if it helps their team add talent around them or gets them where they want to be. So maybe Taurasi re-signs for less to help out, or maybe free agents take a discount to join what could be her last dance. But with Skylar Diggins-Smith pregnant and Griner out of the picture for now, the Mercury might not be as immediately appealing as a destination as they were 12 months ago. Quickly building a roster to give Taurasi a chance to add another ring before riding off into the sunset looks like it could be difficult.
After Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles and Phoenix, this is becoming a bit of a theme for 2023: the Storm have very few players under contract, acres of cap space, and a lot of question marks. The biggest of those is superstar Breanna Stewart, who's an unrestricted free agent again after playing out her one-year deal. The Storm can't core her because Jewell Loyd counts as their core player under the two-year deal she signed last offseason. Technically, if they traded Loyd away in early January, their core spot would be opened up to use on Stewart, but that doesn't seem likely. They'll simply be hoping that Stewart chooses to stay (or even, as a distant second choice, demands the supermax from her new team which would require a sign-and-trade that would get Seattle some value in return).
However, with only Loyd and Mercedes Russell under contract, Stewart is far from Seattle's only issue. With Sue Bird and Briann January both retiring, there's a big hole at point guard (leading to inevitable links to Courtney Vandersloot, given she grew up in the area). Rotation players like Stephanie Talbot and Epiphanny Prince are unrestricted free agents, as is midseason addition Tina Charles. Even their one restricted free agent, Gabby Williams, is a complicated situation because she's playing in France and could be virtually the only meaningful player ruled out of the 2023 WNBA season by the new prioritization rules.
One positive is that as Ezi Magbegor only played three of the four years of her rookie-scale contract, she becomes reserved rather than a restricted free agent. Seattle could therefore only offer her the vet minimum if they want to, and push off paying her a big salary until next year. Alternatively, especially if they end up with a lot of unspent cap space this year, they might try to lock her up for multiple years at a lower price than she could draw as a free agent in future years.
The Storm always knew that the post-Bird era would have to begin eventually. They'll just be hoping that the rebuild begins with the Stewart/Loyd core rather than losing their superstar in the same offseason as their veteran icon.
Washington are in a somewhat similar position to Connecticut, in that the Mystics have their expensive core locked up for at least another season and the cost of that group puts some limits on what they can do around them. After the five players under contract, they have $572,466 in cap space. If you hypothetically added their first-round pick and four base minimum contracts, they'd have $249,021 left for the final spot (or two). So they can spend big on one free agent and then a little on another, or spread out that space on multiple pieces if there isn't anyone worth handing the max.
The most obvious spot to look to fill with that cash would be on the wing, where Alysha Clark is an unrestricted free agent. They may well look to bring Clark back, but at 35 years old and after her injury issues, maybe not for as much as the $183,000 she was on last year. The rest of their roster from last year are probably players they wouldn't mind bringing back, as long as it's at a relatively low price. Elizabeth Williams and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough were both useful backups last year but can be replaced if necessary.
As long as Elena Delle Donne is reasonably healthy, the Mystics will expect their core to be good enough to make them competitive again. When you only have the space to make one or two significant moves, you just have to make sure they’re the right ones.
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