Breanna Stewart: Offseason Opportunities
Discussing possible landing spots for Breanna Stewart in 2023
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There are many lingering questions for Seattle as it heads into the offseason, but the major one will be: where will Breanna Stewart end up? The two-time WNBA champion and 2018 MVP will be an unrestricted free agent this upcoming offseason. One possible hitch to Stewart’s 2023 plans involves the WNBA Prioritization which kicks in next year. It mandates that players with three or more years of WNBA experience who do not return from overseas commitments in time for the start of the regular season will be suspended without pay. If they only miss training camp days, they will be fined 1% of their base salary for each day missed. Starting in 2024 and beyond, the players will also be suspended without pay for the season if training camp is missed. Given that Stewart earned roughly $1.5 million overseas last year (and will likely earn close to that this year), she could look at prioritization and decide to pass on playing this season. In fact, she is on the record (per ESPN’s Kevin Pelton) expressing uncertainty that she will play next year due to WNBA Prioritization.
As it is not yet certain whether Stewart will opt out of 2023, let’s speculate on some potential landing spots for her next season.
Seattle is a team that some have overlooked as a “destination” for Stewart and for valid reasons:
Sue Bird and Briann January have now retired.
The Storm have seven free agents (Stewart, Gabby Williams, Epiphanny Prince, Jantel Lavender, Stephanie Talbot, Ezi Magbegor, and Tina Charles).
As of 2023, Jewell Loyd will only have one year left on her current deal.
However, there are some things that should excite Storm fans:
Cap Space: The Storm are projected to have $1,025,564 in cap space (effectively starting at $527,284 with cap holds to fill at least nine roster spots).
Restricted Qualifying Offer: Since Gabby Williams will have exactly four seasons played at the start of free agency, the Storm can extend the restricted qualifying offer to her and gain the right to match any other offers she receives.
Reserved Qualifying Offer: Ezi Magbegor will have only three seasons under her belt, which will allow Seattle to extend the reserved qualifying offer to Magbegor. The reserved qualifying offer allows the Storm to have exclusive negotiating rights.
Supermax: Breanna Stewart will be eligible to receive the supermax from Seattle, which no other team can offer, except in a sign-and-trade deal.
Draft Picks: The team has their own 2023 WNBA first-round draft pick, two second-round picks (their own and New York’s), and a third-round pick to use towards building a younger bench.
Seattle can also look for opportunities to bring in new players. One position to consider is the point guard position: a veteran point guard, who can step in and be a floor general for Seattle. Who is someone that can fit that mold? Chicago’s Courtney Vandersloot. She will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason. Vandersloot was born and raised in Washington state and played college hoops at Gonzaga. Also, by the time the 2023 season will commence, she will be seven years younger than Bird was in 2022. Vandersloot led the league in assist rate (the percentage of teammate field goals where she recorded an assist) and was second in assists per game with 6.5. Perhaps the Storm could entice Vandersloot to return home and take the point guard mantle from another legendary player at her position. According to Chicago Sun Times’ Annie Costabile, Vandersloot did entertain offers from Seattle in the previous offseason before determining there was unfinished business in Chicago. This offseason, the future of Chicago’s core players is up in the air. Most of them will be free agents, and some have had rumors of retirement follow them. The current situation in Chicago and the chance to be Seattle’s next dynamic point guard may just be enough to bring Vandersloot to Seattle.
Another player that the Storm could consider is Brionna Jones. Although the Sun are currently in the WNBA Finals, their cap space for 2023 is not ideal, which could lead to difficulties in bringing back Jones. This season’s Sixth Player of the Year, Jones put together an efficient season, leading the league in individual offensive rating and ranking sixth in league player efficiency rating (PER). Jones’ strength in the low-post could command double teams, giving Stewart and Loyd more space to operate on the perimeter. Jones was also seventh in the W in total free throw attempts and makes. Getting to the free throw line is something the Storm struggled with this season, finishing last in the league in total free throw trips. In acquiring Jones, the Seattle Storm would pick up a player who would provide a strong interior presence on offense. Jones displayed an ability to thrive in a backseat role behind Alyssa Thomas and Jonquel Jones, something the Storm would look to replicate under Stewart and Loyd.
Speaking of Loyd, if Stewart were to return, Williams were retained, and Magbegor re-signed for multiple years, it could be motivation for Loyd to extend her existing contract (which can be done starting February 1, 2023). Adding someone of Jones’ or Vandersloot’s talents would be a sweetener. Also, in her exit interview, Loyd had this to say about recruiting talent (per ESPN’s Kevin Pelton): "I think I'm at a place now where I think people want to play with me, play with Stewie, play here. Have a taste of what we've had…Obviously you do have to recruit a little bit the players you want…At the same time, I'm going to let things happen organically and naturally. I'm not a college recruiter. If people want to play with me, we'll talk about it, have a conversation about it and if it makes sense, then OK. If it doesn't make sense, all right." After reading the quote, it is evident that Loyd would have no problem trying to help bring stars to Seattle. If successful, that can be a sign to Stewart that the franchise is looking to go back to the Finals and compete.
One more thing to consider is that Stewart may just love where she is right now. She has played for Seattle since 2016 and has started a family in the city. The state of Washington having no state income tax doesn’t hurt either. Also, playing for the Storm means playing in a stadium with one of the largest crowds in the W. These are some of the factors that would play a significant part in Stewart’s decision to stay in Seattle.
Heading into this offseason there are some things to like about the New York Liberty:
Cap Space: New York is projected to have $382,915 in cap space (effectively starting at $258,345 with cap holds) to sign at least three players.
2023 Players Under Contract: New York’s 2022 roster is under contract for 2023 with the exception of Sami Whitcomb, Han Xu, Marine Johannès, and Crystal Dangerfield
Assets, Assets, Assets: New York has the sixth overall pick and a third-round pick for 2023, its own draft picks for 2024, and the player rights to Nyara Sabally, Sika Koné, Marine Fauthoux, and Raquel Carrera. New York could look to package these in a trade for a talented player.
Ever since the fateful day news broke of Stewart meeting with the Liberty, this scenario has been on the minds of New York fans 24/7.
Stewart signing with the New York Liberty was possible last offseason as New York had the cap space. However, Sue Bird’s announcement that she was returning for one more year likely influenced Stewart’s decision to re-sign with Seattle for one more year as well.
The Liberty are currently in a position to sign Stewart without needing to make any moves. As mentioned, New York is currently projected to have $382,915 in cap space, and with the cap holds, they still have more than enough to sign Stewart to the maximum. As Stewart would be signing with another team in this instance, she would not be able to do so for the supermax unless she demands/requires a sign-and-trade. The Storm may see this as a desired option rather than losing Stewart for nothing, but for New York, such a move could lead to gutting key pieces of their rotation. In signing Stewart straight up, the Liberty can keep most of their roster intact; however, this most likely means parting with Whitcomb.
If the Liberty were looking to engage in a sign-and-trade this offseason, the logical option would be to look for another star free agent to pair with Stewart. In a previous article breaking down potential lottery teams for 2023, I discussed how the Sparks could have made a trade deadline deal involving Nneka Ogwumike. She will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason, and although Ogwumike has hinted at staying in Los Angeles, perhaps the opportunity to play with a barrage of talent could change her mind. Also, Ogwumike provides the Liberty with things that they need: the ability to force turnovers and scoring within the three-point arc. Last season, New York was last in the W in steals per game and total steals at 6.1 and 219, respectively, and ranked 11th at forcing turnovers. The Liberty’s offense was last in total two-pointers made and attempted at 687 and 1,407, respectively (opting for a three-point heavy offense that saw them first in three-point makes and attempts). Ogwumike was third in the league in steals per game and total steals and finished second in two-pointers made and attempted. Despite the Liberty’s offense being geared towards shooting the three, the team could use Nneka within the arc to help draw the defense away from shooters. If they also acquire Stewart, that would leave her, Ionescu, and possibly Johannès on the perimeter (creating a matchup nightmare for opponents).
The Sparks are a team that desperately needs assets for the future. The trade package I previously proposed for Nneka (after signing an extension) involved: Natasha Howard, New York’s 2023 first-round pick, and the rights to Nyara Sabally, Sika Kone, Raquel Carrera, and Marine Fauthoux. Since this would occur in 2023, New York would be able to add their 2024 first-round pick to that package if needed. Upon completion of this deal, New York would land a former MVP and four-time WNBA All-Defensive First Team member. A benefit for New York in trading Howard would be the relatively small discrepancy between her current deal and a 2023 deal at the supermax (if Ogwumike signed for that). New York would still have the cap space to sign Stewart, which could give the Liberty a 2023 starting lineup of Ionescu, Johannès, Betnijah Laney, Stewart, Ogwumike, with Stefanie Dolson, Rebecca Allen, and Han or Dangerfield (possibly both) as their primary members off the bench.
By adding Stewart along with Ogwumike, the New York Liberty would be thrust into the championship contender conversation. In fact, this would arguably be a significantly upgraded version of Seattle’s 2022 lineup (from Bird to Ionescu, Charles to Ogwumike, Williams to Laney, Talbot to Allen). One caveat is that Laney, Dolson, and Allen are slated to be unrestricted free agents in 2024, whereas Ionescu and Jocelyn Willoughby are scheduled to be restricted free agents. The Liberty would be inclined to extend Ionescu’s rookie contract, which they can do between February 1 and May 15, 2023, and then later determine what to do with Laney and Dolson in 2024. Nonetheless, by signing Stewart and making moves to support that, the Liberty would be looking at a dominant squad that could give New York its first WNBA championship.
This destination is one most fans won’t immediately think of. The Lynx currently have multiple things to focus on, but if all works out in their favor, we could see the new iteration of the Lynx dynasty.
Here are the things for Minnesota’s front office to focus on/sort out:
Coach/GM Situation: Cheryl Reeve’s contract will be up, and it would be in the Lynx’s favor to retain her.
Cap Space: Minnesota’s cap status is not favorable, projected to have $539,278 in cap space (effectively starting at $227,853 with cap holds) to sign at least six players.
Free Agents: Damiris Dantas, Rachel Banham, and Moriah Jefferson will be unrestricted free agents, and Bridget Carleton restricted. Jefferson has had a career resurgence with the Lynx, and Minnesota should look to retain her.
Draft Picks: Minnesota will have a lottery pick in the 2023 WNBA Draft. Although the team with the worst win-loss percentage over the past two seasons has the highest odds of a first overall pick, the Lynx still have a chance at snagging it. All current signs point towards South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston being the number one pick next year. If Minnesota can be in a position to draft her, the Lynx would acquire a center with tremendous potential and a great player to fill some of the void created with the retirement of Sylvia Fowles. Aside from their lottery pick, Minnesota has Las Vegas’ first and second-round picks for 2023, which they will look to help fill out the bench.
Reeve has been at the helm for Minnesota since 2010. Prior to her arrival, the franchise had only seen two winning seasons. Since then, Reeve has brought four WNBA championships to Minneapolis while picking up three Coach of the Year awards. She has been instrumental in making the Minnesota Lynx a household name, and keeping her should be a priority for the franchise.
Regarding cap space, Minnesota has enough to sign Stewart to the max. But if they do, a large portion of their roster would have to come via rookie-scale contracts and minimum deals, making the 2023 draft even more important for Minnesota. If the Lynx secure the first overall pick, then selecting Aliyah Boston would give Minnesota a quality player on a discount courtesy of the rookie scale. If their pick is not Boston, the Lynx could still land another player who could make an immediate impact (such as Haley Jones, Diamond Miller, or Elizabeth Kitley). After their lottery pick, all Minnesota would need to do with their remaining picks is to draft players who can produce in the rotation. However, this is easier said than done. Since her promotion to general manager in 2017, Reeve has had major hits and major misses involving draft picks:
2019: Napheesa Collier as the sixth overall pick and Jessica Shepard as the 16th pick
2020: Crystal Dangerfield as the 16th overall pick
2019: Natisha Hiedeman as the 18th pick and immediately trading her for Lexie Brown (miss is trading Hiedeman)
2021: Rennia Davis as the ninth overall pick over Iliana Rupert (12th) and Dana Evans (13th)
Among the trio of unrestricted free agents, Jefferson should take priority. This season, she averaged the most points since her rookie year and most assists since her sophomore campaign. Considering the cash crunch Minnesota is facing, one move to heavily consider is trading Natalie Achonwa to open up cap space. The general idea here is to get Jefferson to re-sign for roughly what Achonwa will make in 2023. Retaining Jefferson is also key for another reason: a UConn reunion in Minnesota. Jefferson, Collier, and Stewart all played for the 2015-16 UConn Huskies who went 38-0 en route to the school’s 11th national championship. All three are familiar with each other and playing on the big stage. Perhaps reuniting in Minnesota under Coach Reeve and playing with Kayla McBride (Stewart’s Fenerbahçe teammate), Aerial Powers, and Jessica Shepard could make the Lynx a competitive franchise again.
If Stewart joined Minnesota, the Lynx would also be thinking of 2024 when Powers and McBride are free agents. Still, Minnesota would have the ability to core one of them. But the more important reason the Lynx would look towards 2024 is the prospective talent pool for that offseason: names such as Jewell Loyd, Jonquel Jones, Betnijah Laney, Skylar Diggins-Smith, Elena Delle Donne, Natasha Cloud, and Allisha Gray. A team with Breanna Stewart and Napheesa Collier would definitely be appealing to those free agents.
While there are some details to iron out, Minnesota should be in play as a potential destination for Stewart.
Many had penciled Chicago into the Finals, but, much to WNBA Twitter’s shock and awe, the Sky were eliminated by the Connecticut Sun in Game 5 Thursday night.
Looking at their roster and cap space, there are many things to like here:
Cap Space: The Sky are projected to have $931,801 in cap space (effectively starting at $620,376 with cap holds to fill at least six roster spots)
Reserved Qualifying Offer: Rebekah Gardner will meet the criteria for Chicago to extend the reserved qualifying offer to her and have exclusive negotiating rights (since she played her first season on a one-year deal).
One More Year: Kahleah Copper is under contract through the end of 2023. However, if certain moves are made, they can appeal to Copper to extend her current deal.
Draft Picks: Chicago has the Phoenix Mercury’s 2023 first-round pick, which will be fifth overall. The Sky’s options are to trade the pick alone, package it with other assets, or use it to draft a quality player.
Coach/GM under Contract: In August, head coach and GM James Wade signed a contract extension to stay in Skytown through 2025
The manner in which Chicago lost to Connecticut may work to its advantage this offseason. Candace Parker had a tremendous season breaking numerous records, but the Sky lost in the semifinals at home, in Game 5, after being up late in the game. Per ESPN’s win probability tracker, the Sky had a 97.2% win probability at one point in the game. Based on how their season ended, there is a feeling of “leaving something on the table”, especially for Parker. Now, think for a second. Isn’t there another player who had a tremendous playoff campaign, but ultimately lost in the semifinals? Yes, her name is Breanna Stewart.
If both players were to pair up in Chicago, the opportunity is there for Parker and Stewart to win their third WNBA championship and make up for playoff losses in the previous season. Also, Parker has publicly stated how fond she is of Breanna Stewart. In 2020, Parker was a guest on NFL quarterback Russell Wilson’s podcast. The topic of Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird came up, and, per Chris Burkhardt of NBC Sports, Parker had this to say: "Breanna Stewart is one of my favorite people…It's been fun to watch the way that she plays the game of basketball. It's so smooth. Honestly, a player at her size being able to do the things that she does, being able to step outside and hit the three, put the ball on the floor and attack the rim...".
One important benefit of a possible Parker-Stewart pairing would be that it lessens the burden on Candace Parker. If she decides to play in 2023, it would be her 16th season in the W. It would be in Chicago’s best interest that Parker doesn’t shoulder a significant part of the load. However, Parker’s uncertainty about her future plans could throw a wrench into this proposed idea. Parker has gone as far as stating that: “I'm gonna go back and reevaluate whether I'm able to continue to play at the level I hold myself to." This means Parker will try to determine if she is capable of being the player she wants to be and not “hanging on.” But, if she decides she can still play at her expected level, then the Parker-Stewart pairing is still a possibility.
Statistically, Stewart can fill in the gaps for the Sky. This past season, Chicago was 10th in the W in free throw trips and attempts and last in opponent field goal attempts. Stewart led the league in total free throws made and attempts and was seventh in player defensive rating, allowing an estimated 93.8 points per 100 individual possessions. Thus, aside from the other proficiencies Stewart has shown (such as leading the league in scoring), there are other elements to her game that would help elevate Chicago.
If you are Stewart’s camp, Chicago has more positives set in place than Minnesota. The Sky are similar to the Storm in the sense that they have cap space, a star guard under contract for another season (also under the core designation), a pathway to keeping a premier defender, and a first-round draft pick. One thing to consider is if the veterans would be willing to take another pay cut to accommodate Stewart. In 2022, Copper was the only player on the Sky roster under contract for an amount more than the regular maximum. Signing very team-friendly deals could help bring back the current core while adding Stewart on top of that. But, if Chicago is looking to go in a different direction (such as parting with Meesseman), they still have the cap space to at least have the tandem of Copper-Parker-Stewart-Vandersloot. Nonetheless, if members of Chicago’s core are willing to take a pay cut, they could create something special.
Ultimately, the teams mentioned above are ones that I believe have the best situation for Stewart at this juncture. Other teams have cap space to sign Stewart, but they either have problems in-house that need to be fixed or their direction doesn’t fit what Stewart could be looking for:
Los Angeles: They currently have no head coach, no general manager, and key members of their rotation are slated to be free agents.
Indiana: Their direction has and should be a focus on their recently drafted rookies and building for the future.
Atlanta: They are in a similar boat to Indiana but have to determine if they want to build through youth or trade their assets to make a splash for proven veterans.
Dallas: The Wings are likely focused on trying to build and keep their soon-to-be restricted free agents.
Phoenix: There is a great deal of uncertainty regarding the entire organization from players to the coach.
If Stewart is looking to move, one would think she would want to go where there are some things set in place to keep her competing for championships. But, there is the possibility of her staying in Seattle for the long haul. Nonetheless, if everything checks out overseas (and prioritization doesn’t get in the way of Stewart playing in 2023), we should be in for an exciting free agency period knowing the opportunities that exist for Breanna Stewart.