WNBA Free Agency 2022: Round-up Part 1 of ?
Breaking down all the moves from the opening couple of days of WNBA free agency
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The opening days of WNBA free agency have been a whirlwind of activity, with players finally able to put pen to paper on new contracts once the calendar flipped to February. Below are early thoughts and analysis of all the major moves (and a few minor ones) from the opening couple of days. More is constantly happening (there were already multiple rewrites) so further coverage will follow in the coming days. Check out both the Her Hoop Stats twitter and my personal account for contract details and regular updates, and subscribe to the newsletter to receive these articles directly into your inbox.
Breanna Stewart re-signs for one year, $228,094, fully protected
Jewell Loyd re-signs for two years, $228,094/$234,936, fully protected
Mercedes Russell re-signs for three years, $160,000/$160,000/$160,000, fully protected
Briann January signs for one year, $140,000, fully protected
As expected, Seattle has been one of the busier teams in the opening days of free agency, and generally speaking Storm fans will be happy. Sue Bird hasn't signed yet but that's considered a matter of time, with the wait potentially in case they need her to take a discount for cap reasons. Otherwise, the band is coming back together for another run. After reportedly at least talking to other teams - who knows how seriously they contemplated leaving - both Breanna Stewart and Jewell Loyd have re-signed. Both cost the supermax, but that's the price of doing business. Mercedes Russell re-signed as well, retaining the most successful partner that Stewart had in the post last season, and Briann January offers a veteran backup for Bird and someone who'll be comfortable playing off the ball alongside her.
For 2022, all of this is fine. With over $300,000 left in cap space even once you assume the No. 9 pick makes the team - and non-guaranteed deals for people like Epiphanny Prince, Kennedy Burke and Mikiah Herbert Harrigan that could be waived if they need more - they have space to both take care of Bird and add more. The slight nervousness that you can feel in the Seattle fan base is about the future. There's no real reason for Stewart to have only signed for one year, except to keep her options open. Loyd signing for two years in some ways is even worse than if she'd only signed for one, because she occupies the Storm's core designation for the length of the deal (unless traded away). That means the Storm can't core Stewart next year, so she'd once again be a true unrestricted free agent. Maybe she decides that Seattle's home and simply re-signs again next year, but there's a feeling that this is one final big hurrah for Bird's last year, and then there could be a changing of the guard. There's also the chance that the potential uncertainty could hang over the team in 2022, if everyone's anticipating the end.
Beyond the superstars, they've added good players, but you could quibble about the prices. Russell has proven herself a useful player and good fit alongside Stewart over four years in Seattle, but is still a primarily defensive center who averaged 7 points and 6 rebounds per game last season. Three fully guaranteed years at $160,000 is a lot of money for a player like that, especially when you already have Ezi Magbegor waiting in the wings to potentially step up into a great role (and looking for her own new contract during the middle of that Russell deal). We also saw Elizabeth Williams willing to take a $90,000 one-year deal in Washington, a similar defense-first post, which makes Russell's deal seem even more expensive. Russell was a restricted free agent, and this may have been the price of keeping her, but it was a reasonably high cost that could seem like an overpay in future years.
January's a nice addition, especially for those of us who weren't convinced that Jordin Canada has shown enough to be considered the heir apparent to Bird in Seattle. She should be a good fit as both a floor-spacer offensively, a defensive backcourt pest, and a backup option for Bird. Again, arguably the cost was a little high - especially when the news of her salary emerged alongside Angel McCoughtry signing for slightly less in Minnesota - but she should be a good fit. It's not good news for Canada, as January seems like a replacement. That remaining cap space could still be used to retain Canada (or match an offer-sheet from elsewhere, given that she's a restricted free agent), but it looks like the Storm are planning for life without her. Given January's age (and her mention of playing her final season back in her home state), the Storm would then begin the search for Bird's successor for approximately the millionth time in the last decade-plus.
Sylvia Fowles re-signs for one year, $200,000, fully protected
Angel McCoughtry signs for one year, $130,000, fully protected
Layshia Clarendon reported to be re-signing
The moves here, and the prices, are perfectly reasonable. Fowles decided to return for one last year after flirting with retirement, which is certainly a good thing for Minnesota. After being underpaid the last couple of years on a contract signed under the previous CBA, it would've been reasonable for Fowles to ask for the full $228,094 supermax. So getting her for 200k instead is a positive. McCoughtry is a very worthwhile gamble, especially with Napheesa Collier expected to miss a significant chunk of the season (maybe all of it) due to pregnancy. McCoughtry was an elite player, albeit in limited minutes, when she last played in Las Vegas in 2020. Admittedly she's coming back from another major injury and she's 35 now, so there have to be questions about what she has left, but the $130,000 is a reasonable price to take the chance.
The question is how these pieces are all going to fit. They have around $102,000 left in cap space, which might be enough to sign Clarendon if she's in a generous mood. However, that would be a salary total that doesn't include Bridget Carleton (as she's on a training camp contract, that figure doesn't count on the cap until the opening day of the regular season), or the No. 8 pick the Lynx own in the upcoming draft. Or even the likes of Rachel Banham and Cecilia Zandalasini, both of whom have been reported as re-signing at different times in recent months. They could create an extra roster spot by moving Collier to the Pregnancy/Childbirth List, but her salary remains on the cap so it doesn't open up any extra room there. It feels like there's another shoe waiting to drop here, maybe a trade to move Natalie Achonwa's expensive contract, or even a smaller deal that would at least open a roster spot or two. It would be a surprise to see the Lynx simply bring all these people to camp and then cut whoever gets beaten out.
Jonquel Jones re-signs for two years, $205,000/$211,150, fully protected
Courtney Williams signs for one year, $103,000, fully protected
Taja Cole signs training camp contract ($60,471)
Connecticut has to be pretty happy with their business, which already looks largely complete. Their cap space always looked tight if Jonquel Jones was going to take the supermax, leading to the likelihood of losing Briann January and having to work out how to fill that hole on the perimeter for minimal cost. Then Courtney Williams fell back in their lap. Off-court issues in Atlanta led to the Dream allowing her to become a true unrestricted free agent, and potentially also to her market being weaker than it would've been otherwise. Her former teammates in Connecticut were keen enough on bringing her back that Jones herself led the push, and took over $20,000 less than the supermax to create some extra cap money for Williams. Given the drama in Atlanta some teams might've been hesitant to bring Williams in, but obviously Connecticut knows exactly what to expect. Williams has her flaws - still far too many mid-range jump shots, regardless of how you feel about her attitude - but she's a player teams were competing for the right to hand the max only two years ago. At $103,000 she's a steal.
However, paying Williams 103k is a little more than Connecticut could afford while keeping themselves free to retain whoever they choose. The six current guaranteed contracts, plus Natisha Hiedeman, Kaila Charles, DiJonai Carrington, the No. 12 pick in the draft and one minimum deal would leave them $1,434 over the cap. So one of those three players, or whoever the pick becomes, would have to be replaced by a cheaper option. The recently signed Taja Cole, darling of the Athletes Unlimited league, would be one of those cheaper options, as would Beatrice Mompremier, Joyner Holmes, Stephanie Jones or any other 0-2 years of service minimum contract. They might look to draft an international player who will stay abroad with that pick, or to trade it, and therefore remove the rookie from the equation.
A'ja Wilson re-signs for two years, $196,267/$202,154, fully protected
This was even better news for Las Vegas than they might've expected. As a restricted free agent, Wilson was obviously never going anywhere unless she demanded a trade. However, a likely move was to sign for one year in order to become an unrestricted free agent again in 12 months, when she would've been eligible for the supermax. With only four years of experience in the WNBA right now, she's currently only eligible for the lower max figure ($196,267) rather than the supermax ($228,094). By signing for two years Wilson locks in more guaranteed money but also guarantees nearly $33k in savings for Las Vegas next year, and locks her under contract for an extra season. It also puts off having to core her for an extra year, thereby likely keeping her under team control for a little longer.
Having Wilson under contract for 2023 is especially important because virtually every other meaningful player the Aces have is on a contract that expires after this year. Chelsea Gray, Kelsey Plum, Dearica Hamby and Jackie Young are all on expiring deals. So at least the cupboard won't be completely bare heading into free agency next year, and if nothing else they'll have Wilson as a superstar building block to attract free agents (and encourage those expiring players to stay).
Tiffany Hayes re-signs for one year, $215,000, fully protected
Nia Coffey signs for one year, $130,000, fully protected
Traded a 2023 third-round pick to Phoenix for Kia Vaughn
Atlanta came into free agency with an absurd amount of cap space, and they still have plenty left. It doesn't look like they'll be making much of a splash in free agency this year, but signing Hayes and Coffey to one-year deals means that they can jump back in again in 2023 - potentially with the addition of another high draft pick - and see whether they can land any big fish.
$215,000 is a lot for Hayes, who's a useful scoring guard but is 32 now and showed some signs of breaking down last season. However, with all that cap space it makes sense to reward a player who's been in Atlanta a long time and served the franchise impressively. For Hayes herself, other teams undoubtedly enquired but presumably she didn't find any other offers that piqued her interest enough to draw her away. Coffey is a worthwhile gamble to see whether she can continue her useful play in Los Angeles last year, after four years of doing nothing much for a variety of franchises. If she has another successful season then maybe Atlanta will be at the front of the queue to re-sign her when she's a free agent again in 12 months.
The Vaughn trade was fine, albeit seemingly rather unnecessary for Atlanta. Adding a solid veteran post fills a hole, but Phoenix was always going to shed her contract one way or another. Which raises the question of why you trade a third-round pick for a player that the Mercury probably would've waived if this deal hadn't happened. A third-rounder is practically nothing, but it's not actually nothing. They can sometimes be useful to facilitate trades, so there's no need to just throw them away.
Atlanta trades a 2023 third-round pick to Phoenix for Kia Vaughn
Phoenix removing Vaughn from their books was a move many of us had been expecting for a while. Her $110,000 is non-guaranteed, and they're so tight to the salary cap that the difference between that 110k and a minimum salary was a meaningful gap in allowing them to do anything in free agency. The only real question was why it took so long. Maybe it was because they thought Vaughn still had trade value on that contract, which I suppose technically this deal supports. They did manage to trade her for something. It's just that a 2023 third-round pick is nearly as close to nothing as you can get (it could've been the right to swap 2023 third-rounders, which would've been very slightly less). Some have suggested that it was a nice thing to do for Vaughn, because it maintains the $110,000 contract and means she wasn't waived, just traded. But is it nice? If she'd been waived, someone could've claimed the contract anyway - like Atlanta, for example - but if she cleared then she'd have been an unrestricted free agent, able to pick her own destination. She might've had to settle for the vet minimum, but almost anywhere in the league would've offered a greater shot at a title than Atlanta. There's also no particular security that the 110k will survive, considering it's just as non-guaranteed in Atlanta as it was in Phoenix. The Dream are unlikely to need to waive her for the room, but she could lose her spot to a younger player considering they're likely to be rebuilding. Then the whole situation would be back to the beginning, only with teams around the league more settled and with fewer roster spots available for a backup big.
That’s it for now. News is emerging all the time this week - including a couple of interesting trades in the last 24 hours - so look for my next roundup and commentary soon. Don’t forget to follow me and Her Hoop Stats on Twitter and check out our continuously updated cap sheets for details on where the teams stand.
Thanks for reading the Her Hoop Stats Newsletter. If you like our work, be sure to check out our stats site, our podcast, and our social media accounts on Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram.