Minnesota’s Big Phee-nancial Move
Analyzing Napheesa Collier’s extension with the Minnesota Lynx
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On May 2, news broke that Minnesota Lynx standout, Napheesa Collier, had inked an extension with the team. Her Hoop Stats’ Richard Cohen reported the figures behind that deal: a three-year deal starting in 2023 at $202,154 (2023) / $208,219 (2024) / $214,284 (2025). Per our CBA FAQ, extensions on a rookie-scale contract can be for no more than three seasons from the date the extended contract begins. In Collier’s case, 2022 is the last year of her rookie-scale contract, and she would have been a restricted free agent in 2023.
There was one caveat; however, that started some chatter on social media: no protected years in the contract.
Due to a rule in the current collective bargaining agreement (CBA), teams can have no more than six protected/guaranteed contracts. For Minnesota, these slots are currently filled by Sylvia Fowles, Kayla McBride, Aerial Powers, Natalie Achonwa, Angel McCoughtry, and Damiris Dantas. Thus, the Lynx were unable to offer any protection on Collier’s deal if she wanted to sign an extension. So, the Lynx got away with having a max contract player whose deal is unprotected.
So now that we have the terms of the deal, let’s look at how it plays out on both sides (Collier and the Lynx):
At the end of the day, if Collier is healthy and playing at her All-Star-caliber level, she will be making upper-echelon money in the WNBA. She is currently slated to be the highest-paid player on her team in 2023 and tied for eleventh-highest paid in the league with A’ja Wilson.
Collier’s value to the Lynx is immense. In every season since debuting in 2019 (when she won the Rookie of the Year award), Collier has ranked in the top 10 in win shares and defensive win shares. She has led the league in minutes per game in each of her first three seasons, including in 2019 and 2020 when she also topped the league in minutes played.
Napheesa is currently expected to miss time during the 2022 season due to pregnancy, however it isn’t clear how much. If she is able to make it back in time to join the Lynx this year, she will return to a team that features one of the greatest players of all-time in Sylvia Fowles (but only for 2022 as Fowles intends to retire after this season). For 2022, the Lynx will also have offensive threats in Kayla McBride and Aerial Powers, who made their debuts with the team in 2021. The Lynx also made a move to acquire another all-time great in Angel McCoughtry. Thus, Collier should be returning to a team where she wouldn’t necessarily need to carry a huge burden on either side of the ball. The general idea is that without the burden, it should minimize or reduce the likelihood of potential injuries (and the possibility of being cut - more on that later). If she misses out on the 2022 season completely, that is where things can get dicey in terms of not having to shoulder the load on both ends of the floor. As previously mentioned, Sylvia Fowles intends to retire after this season. Additionally, Angel McCoughtry will become an unrestricted free agent in 2023 (with no guarantee as of right now that she will re-sign with the Lynx). Missing the season could allow Collier to fully get back into basketball shape and come back refreshed for 2023, but she would be missing out on an opportunity to play with some of the Lynx’s key pieces for this year. Although she will be making good money regardless, timing is something that Collier’s camp has to consider.
Lynx Front Office
Cheryl Reeve and the rest of Minnesota’s front office put on a masterclass with this extension. Not only were the Lynx able to secure their young star for the long-term, but they also hold a great deal of leverage moving forward.
Providing the Lynx with a ‘bail-out’ button for salary cap liquidity - As mentioned in the “Napheesa’s Camp” section, the current makeup of the Lynx roster should lessen the load for Collier upon her return and hopefully put her in a situation to avoid injury. However, we do not know what the future may hold. If Collier becomes injured and the injury significantly affects her future production on the floor (upon her return from injury), the Lynx would then have the option to waive her and free up cap space. If she was injured in the course of playing WNBA basketball and had to sit out, the Lynx would still have to pay her until she was fit to return or until the end of the season in which the injury took place. Since Collier and the Lynx appear to have a good rapport, it is highly unlikely that the team would go to such lengths. But, franchises will do what they believe will put them in the best situation moving forward (as seen by the Lynx’s decision to waive a former Rookie of the Year in Crystal Dangerfield and fan favorite in Layshia Clarendon). If the Lynx ended up deciding to waive Collier upon her return from injury, they would be able to clear up over $200,000 in cap space instantly. Having that potential option to clear that much space without having to move or lose multiple players is something that most front offices can only dream of.
A discount deal relative to her peers - Although Collier’s contract is stacked, one can make an argument that the Lynx could have offered her even more money. One of the main reasons why someone on a rookie-scale contract would be inclined to seek an extension, is that extended years on a rookie-scale contract could be for up to the supermax amount. The supermax option isn’t available when signing as a restricted free agent. Collier’s production since her debut could definitely warrant supermax-level money, but her extension is for the regular maximum. Another area that highlights how the Lynx could have offered more money is that the extension starts in 2023 and the Lynx are projected to have $659,278 in cap space for that year (inclusive of Collier’s current extension), so cap space would not have been an excuse to not offer a supermax extension. The players who are projected to make more money than Collier in 2023 are: Arike Ogunbowale ($234,936), Jewell Loyd ($234,936), Elena Delle Donne ($234,350), DeWanna Bonner ($234,350), Skylar Diggins-Smith ($234,350), Natasha Howard ($227,900), Alyssa Thomas ($212,000), Jonquel Jones ($211,150), Kelsey Mitchell ($206,000), and Kahleah Copper ($205,000). Collier’s resume is comparable to the names on this list. The one thing that might separate Collier and some of the players making more than her is a WNBA Championship or MVP. Nonetheless, when you compare who is making top-tier money and where the Lynx would stand financially, Collier’s deal looks a bit more salary cap-friendly to Minnesota.
Avoiding the possibility of having to extend the core qualifying offer to Collier in 2024 - Collier was originally slated to become a restricted free agent in 2023. Some may have expected her and the Lynx to agree to a similar three-year deal at that point in time, one in which the contract would have been protected (especially since Dantas and McCoughtry’s current deals would have expired by this point, opening up more protected slots). This would be a quick and easy win-win, in which the Lynx retain their star and Collier gets to lock in a protected long-term hefty contract. But, with restricted free agents there is always a possibility (although extremely small) of them either accepting the one-year qualifying offer (which is usually 105% of the previous year’s value, plus $10,000 for achieving certain incentives) or requesting a one-year deal of substantially greater value. By doing this, the restricted free agent can become fully unrestricted after the one-year contract.
If Collier’s camp wanted to try and put some pressure on the Lynx (especially if she had a good 2022 campaign) they could have had her sign a one-year deal in 2023 allowing her to become an unrestricted free agent in 2024. The pressure that would create for the Lynx is a situation in 2024 in which McBride, Powers, Achonwa, and Collier would be unrestricted free agents. Based on what we have seen from each player, the Lynx would most likely look to extend the core qualifying offer to Collier, ensuring that no other team could try to sign her. However, only one player can receive the core offer, and that core designation sticks to the player for the duration of any contract signed. Since Collier extended her contract through 2025, it gives the Lynx more flexibility on what they could do with the core qualifying offer in 2024 or later.
Building blocks for a contender in 2023 - With the extension, the team will still have Collier, McBride, and Powers under contract in 2023. As stated, the Lynx are projected to have $659,278 in cap space for that year. If Minnesota could entice a superstar free agent to join the team for that year’s maximum ($202,154), it would leave the Lynx with an average of just over $76,000 per player to fill out the rest of the roster up to 11 players. That should be feasible for the Lynx if they effectively use their 2023 draft picks, use training camp contracts on quality rotation players, and re-sign role players to minimum contracts. As previously mentioned, in 2024 McBride, Powers, and Achonwa will be unrestricted free agents, and that will create some cap space for the team. If the franchise were to acquire another star to pair with Collier in 2023, the Lynx would find themselves with a better recruiting pitch in free agency: two stars, cap space, and young, developing talent (that would not be cut this time). The “icing on the blue and green cake” is the talent pool that could be on the open market in 2024: Jonquel Jones, Kahleah Copper, Betnijah Laney, Jewell Loyd, Skylar Diggins-Smith, and more (think of the Lynx with Napheesa Collier, another star, Jonquel Jones, and Jewell Loyd).
After analyzing the Collier extension, it is evident that the Lynx “won” in negotiations. With the flexibility and leverage that the extended contract provides, Minnesota can work towards building another contender centered around Napheesa. Collier will look at this as an opportunity to work towards getting the franchise back to the WNBA Finals and be compensated pretty well.
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Wondering how the player's association feels about this being somewhat below market