2021 Post Free Agency WNBA Salary Cap and Roster Situations
Examining how all 12 teams look in regards to the cap now the major signings are complete
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Now that the bulk of 2021's WNBA free agency is over, it's time to take stock of where the 12 rosters stand heading into the draft on April 15. Thanks to our Her Hoop Stats cap sheets you can see the contract numbers for every player in the league and how they add up for each team, but below we try to break down and explain what all of that means. Links are provided below each team name to see their contracts and cap details in full.
Some rules and important elements to bear in mind in all of this:
Opening day rosters must have 11 or 12 players.
Teams must stay under the team salary cap (this year $1,339,000) at all times, but training camp contracts and first-year rookie contracts do not count on the cap until the opening day of the regular season. That's why you see a long list of players on some of the cap sheet pages, but only something like '8' or '9' next to Total Players. Anyone with 'TC' next to their name counts as $0 until they make the regular season roster. The first-year rookies also counting as zero means that teams don't have to make room to sign their draft picks. They can check them out in camp before having to worry about fitting them in under the cap.
The WNBA has two types of minimum salary, depending on Years of Service in the league. Players who've played 0-2 years in the WNBA have a minimum of $58,710 this year (sometimes referred to as the 'base minimum' in this article), while anyone with 3+ years must make at least $70,040 (sometimes called the 'veteran minimum'). A one-year contract for a player's applicable minimum is essentially the definition of a 'training camp contract', which as detailed above does not count on the cap unless and until the player makes the team.
The WNBA has two main types of suspension: 'temporary' and 'full season'. Temporary is most often used for players who arrive late, or those who leave for international tournaments during the season. That type opens up the roster spot, but even while the player is suspended (and therefore not being paid), their salary number continues to count against the cap. That's why you won't necessarily see the player being replaced - because the team doesn't gain any extra cap space, so if they were close to the limit already, there may not be any room to add anyone else. A Full Season suspension does remove the player's salary from the cap (and obviously also opens up a roster spot), but has the drawback of preventing the player from participating in the WNBA for the rest of that season (Maite Cazorla and Maria Conde have already been suspended for 2021 by Atlanta and Chicago respectively). A temporarily suspended player can be reactivated, but the full season variety means that player is done for the year.
PG: Chennedy Carter/Odyssey Sims
SG: Courtney Williams/Shatori Walker-Kimbrough
SF: Tiffany Hayes/Shekinna Stricklen
PF: Tianna Hawkins/Monique Billings
C: Cheyenne Parker/Elizabeth Williams
Plus the No. 3 overall pick
None of the 11 players above look likely to be cut. Parker, Hawkins, Walker-Kimbrough and Sims were all signed as free agents this offseason and given more than the veteran minimum. The others (besides the lottery pick) have all been central parts of the rotation in recent years and/or have guaranteed contracts (without that protected money Stricklen's spot might be doubtful). The problem with that group is that it only leaves $40,130 in cap space, which isn't enough to fit a 12th player. So they'd be cutting the likes of Yvonne Turner (acquired in trade this offseason) and Kalani Brown. If there's something approaching a normal training camp this year, a healthy Turner could beat out one of the backup guards, and if Brown turns up in shape she'll continue to be a tantalising prospect. But it's hard to find room for them on this roster.
PG: Courtney Vandersloot
SG: Allie Quigley/Kahleah Copper
SF: Diamond DeShields/Gabby Williams
PF: Azurá Stevens/Astou Ndour
C: Candace Parker/Stefanie Dolson/Ruthy Hebard
Plus the No. 8 pick in the draft
This isn't going to continue to be this straightforward, but as with Atlanta, none of the 11 listed above look likely to be cut. The 10 named players leave $68,285 of cap space, which is just enough for the No. 8 pick, who would earn $67,208 in the first year of her rookie-scale deal (and is very likely to be a point guard who can back up Vandersloot). That space isn't enough to keep a veteran like Brittany Boyd in the 11th spot because her veteran minimum salary would be $70,040, so she's almost certainly gone unless someone like Ndour is released and replaced by a cheaper, younger contract.
PG: Jasmine Thomas/Natisha Hiedeman
SG: Briann January
SF: Kaila Charles
PF: DeWanna Bonner
C: Jonquel Jones/Brionna Jones
Plus Alyssa Thomas in street clothes, and three very cheap contracts
At this point, it seems like a fairly safe assumption that the Sun will be carrying the injured Alyssa Thomas on their roster all season, rather than suspending her (an understandable move, considering she was a free agent and other teams would've been willing to do the same thing if Connecticut balked at the idea). The difficulty that creates is that they're very short on cap space. The seven above plus Thomas leaves only $180,844 in room, and they have to fit three players into that just to reach the required roster total of 11. They have the No. 20 and No. 21 picks in the draft but can't even keep both of them, because the difference between a first-year salary for a second-round pick ($61,543) and the base minimum ($58,710) is too much. It'll be at most one of those picks, plus a couple of players on the minimum. That’s why Connecticut has been collecting unheralded names like Beatrice Mompremier, Kamiah Smalls, Sydney Wallace and Morgan Bertsch during free agency - at least two of them are going to make the roster.
PG: Moriah Jefferson/Tyasha Harris
SG: Arike Ogunbowale/Marina Mabrey
SF: Allisha Gray
PF: Satou Sabally/Kayla Thornton
C: Isabelle Harrison/Bella Alarie
Plus copious draft picks
The question here is how much roster space Dallas can find for yet more rookies (and there could well be more trades to come). The Wings hold the No. 1, 2, 5, 7 and 13 picks in the upcoming draft. The roster above already assumes that the Megan Gustafson Experiment would be brought to an end, leaving only three open spots. Jefferson, Harrison, Thornton and Gray all have guaranteed contracts, while everyone else is a recently-drafted player that the Wings would likely want to hold on to. Mabrey could be under threat if they use all those picks on players who want to show up and participate in the WNBA in 2021, but it seems likely that they'll either draft an international player who won't want to play immediately, or try to move one or more of the picks for future assets.
PG: Danielle Robinson/Lindsay Allen
SG: Kelsey Mitchell/Tiffany Mitchell
SF: Kennedy Burke/Victoria Vivians
PF: Jessica Breland/Lauren Cox
C: Jantel Lavender/Teaira McCowan
Plus the No. 4 pick, and a 12th player
Even after the bizarre Odyssey Sims saga where the Fever traded for her and instantly waived her (rather than negotiating a cheaper buyout which Sims surely would've accepted), Indiana has no real cap issues. Adding two point guards over the offseason suggests they're not expecting Julie Allemand to show up for the start of the season, but they have room to temporarily suspend her if she intends to arrive at some point during the year. Temi Fagbenle, whose rights were also acquired in the Sims trade with Minnesota, remains unsigned but they could make room for her as well if she wants to play in the WNBA in 2021.
Las Vegas Aces
PG: Chelsea Gray
SG: Kelsey Plum/Riquna Williams
SF: Angel McCoughtry/Jackie Young
PF: A'ja Wilson/Dearica Hamby
C: Liz Cambage
plus some backups
Likely the final big new contract of the offseason was inked last week when Liz Cambage re-signed with Las Vegas for the supermax. The eight players included above would leave the Aces $187,791 under the salary cap, which means they need three cheap backups, but they don’t have to be at the absolute minimum. They have the No. 12 and 14 picks in the draft, both of whom would cost a little more than the base minimum, but they have the room to keep both and then a final player (like Emma Cannon or JiSu Park, both currently under contract) on that lowest possible figure. Alternatively, if they add a player on the veteran minimum ($70,040), the final two spots would have to go to base minimum players - there would no longer be enough room for either of those draft picks.
Los Angeles Sparks
PG: Kristi Toliver/Te'a Cooper
SG: Erica Wheeler/Sydney Wiese
SF: Brittney Sykes
PF: Nneka Ogwumike
C: Chiney Ogwumike/Amanda Zahui B
Plus... three or four more players, identities unclear
This one's a little complicated, and partly due to problems of the Sparks’ own making. If we assume the eight listed above are in (although neither Wiese or Cooper are necessarily 100%), then LA would have $281,190 left for three or four players. Which seems like plenty. However, Tierra Ruffin-Pratt is signed for $90,000, and Seimone Augustus, Bria Holmes or Nia Coffey would all cost $70,040 each. Keep Ruffin-Pratt plus two of that group and they'd be done, an 11-player roster without the room for a 12th on opening day (they’d only have $51,110 in cap space remaining). However, there's also Kristine Anigwe and Maria Vadeeva as options on the lower minimum ($58,710) and the No. 10 pick in the draft who would cost $64,375, with the caveat that Vadeeva might not be available until after EuroBasket Women in June. Keeping Ruffin-Pratt, one of the Augustus/Holmes/Coffey group, and the first-round pick would leave them $56,775 in space, $1,935 short of allowing them to keep a 12th player. So Ruffin-Pratt's spot in LA may be tenuous, because the difference between her 90k salary and the 70k for the next group could well be the block between keeping 12 players rather than 11 (cutting Wiese's $80,000 would also fix that problem, by the way). Of course, if they'd signed any of their various free agents this offseason for just $2,000 less, this wouldn't be an issue.
PG: Crystal Dangerfield/Rachel Banham
SG: Kayla McBride/Lexie Brown
SF: Napheesa Collier/Aerial Powers
PF: Damiris Dantas/Jessica Shepard
C: Sylvia Fowles/Natalie Achonwa
Plus only one more
Navigating the offseason was tricky for Minnesota, because WNBA teams are only allowed six protected contracts and they already had six before adding Aerial Powers. That forced the trade of Odyssey Sims to make room, and the complications aren’t entirely over for the Lynx. The ten players listed on the roster above would leave $92,100 in cap space, which is only enough for one more player. That could be Bridget Carleton, who was impressive last season when she stepped in as a starter on the wing, or the No. 9 pick in the draft - but not both. Lexie Brown and Rachel Banham also might not be entirely secure, and Carleton could beat one of them out in camp. If they released Banham, removing her $103,000 unprotected contract would also then allow the Lynx to keep 12 players (and the 12th could even be Banham herself on the veteran minimum, if she cleared waivers and wanted to re-sign). There's also the chance that they select an international player who won't play in 2021 with the draft pick, and are then simply happy with Carleton as the 11th and final player on their opening-day roster.
New York Liberty
PG: Sabrina Ionescu/Layshia Clarendon
SG: Sami Whitcomb/Jazmine Jones
SF: Betnijah Laney/Leaonna Odom
PF: Natasha Howard/Jocelyn Willoughby
C: Kiah Stokes/Kylee Shook
Plus the No. 6 pick and whoever else might show up
The Liberty are in the unusual situation of having very little cap space but only because of the number of people they have under contract. You see, the salary cap applies all year round. You're not allowed to go over it at any time. However, during the offseason, there's no roster limit - you can sign as many people as you like. It's rare that teams approach the cap due to this because training camp contracts and first-year rookies don't count against the cap until they make the roster, but the Liberty drafted so many people last year and then spent heavily in free agency, which has brought them close to the limit. So there's no problem in terms of any forced cuts due to cost - they can essentially keep any 12 they like - but there is a squeeze in terms of roster space. In an Olympic year, Han Xu and Marine Johannès are inevitably question marks to show up, and due to the long-term effects of Covid-19 Asia Durr's status is also unknown (but for now all three count on the salary cap, as none have been officially suspended). They also still have Rebecca Allen's exclusive rights but right now she couldn't sign anything more than a one-year minimum deal, due to that lack of cap space.
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
And that's it
As it stands, the Mercury's opening-day roster looks like it will be the 11 above. They have no one else under contract, they don't have a draft pick until the third round, and they'd only have $5,469 left. That means that there's not even any point bringing in anyone who'd be on the veteran minimum ($70,040) unless they think that player could beat out either Vaughn or Nurse in training camp, because they don't have the space to keep that theoretical player instead of someone like Cunningham or Peddy. They might add someone younger on the 0-2 Years of Service minimum ($58,710) to compete for those spots on the end of the bench during camp, but that's about it.
PG: Sue Bird/Jordin Canada
SG: Jewell Loyd/Epiphanny Prince
SF: Katie Lou Samuelson/Mikiah Herbert Harrigan
PF: Breanna Stewart/Candice Dupree
C: Mercedes Russell/Ezi Magbegor
Plus two more
The Storm came into this offseason with a complicated cap situation, but after the departures of Natasha Howard, Alysha Clark and Sami Whitcomb (and retirements of Crystal Langhorne and Morgan Tuck) it's now much more straightforward. They can keep any 12 they like of the players currently under contract (especially considering Samuelson and Magbegor, two of the cheapest, definitely aren't getting cut). Mikiah Herbert Harrigan is listed on the roster above because they traded a 2022 first-round pick for her, so it seems unlikely they'd give up on her in training camp even if someone like Stephanie Talbot or Tamera Young looked better. They also have the No. 11 pick in the upcoming draft and last year's first-rounder Kitija Laksa in the fight for those last couple of spots. Tuck’s recent retirement even left the Storm with enough cap space that they have room to temporarily suspend Magbegor and replace her with a 13th player, should the Australian skip the first half of the season to prepare for the Olympics - although the extra player would likely need to be on the base minimum ($58,710) rather than the veteran minimum ($70,040).
PG: Natasha Cloud/Leilani Mitchell
SG: Ariel Atkins/Kiara Leslie
SF: Alysha Clark
PF: Elena Delle Donne/Myisha Hines-Allen
C: Tina Charles
Plus three or maybe four more
If we assume that the eight players listed above are going to make the opening day Mystics roster, they'd have $247,260 left in space. That's just enough for one veteran minimum ($70,040, the amount they recently signed Theresa Plaisance for) and three base minimums ($58,710 each). However, it's not quite enough to fit 12 players if they keep Erica McCall, because they signed her for $72,000 after acquiring her from Minnesota. So if McCall sticks, they'll only have 11 on opening day. The wildcard element is Emma Meesseman, who has said that if she plays in the WNBA this year, it won't be until after the Olympics. Assuming she has no interest in signing for another WNBA team, it's fortunate for Washington that Meesseman isn't under contract. That means they don't have to suspend her or worry about her taking up cap space, because they won't sign her until she's ready to play. For that reason they may also want to go with 11 players, because it will preserve additional cap space for later in the season and therefore allow them to give Meesseman more money when and if she arrives.