WNBA free agency opened Jan. 15 for discussion of team negotiations. Feb. 1 was the first day teams could agree to new contracts. Three days into the month of February, several teams—the Lynx, the Sky, the Mystics and the Aces—have made moves to compete for a championship now. Other teams retained players in hopes of getting top-notch picks in this year's WNBA draft.
So which teams made a leap and which teams regressed over the last week? Check out the free-agency grades below.
This post may be updated as new deals come to light.
Minnesota Lynx: A
The league's eventual champion Storm's sweep of Minnesota in the semifinals of the 2020 playoffs in the Wubble revealed the need for some additions to the Lynx's roster to shore up scoring, rebounding and defending.
In an offense that is partially built around setting screens for shooters, Kayla McBride should fit perfectly. McBride (12.5 ppg with the Aces) recorded a career low in points per game last season as well as her third-lowest three-point field goal percentage. However, during the 2018 and 2019 seasons, McBride combined to shoot an average of 41% from beyond the arc. The Lynx finished the 2020 regular season fifth in three-pointers made (182) and third in three-point shooting percentage (38.5%).
McBride will elevate a Minnesota backcourt that features Crystal Dangerfield, Odyssey Sims—a 2019 All-Star—Rachel Banham and Lexie Brown. Aerial Powers, who served as a valuable asset for the Mystics in their 2019 title run, played only six games last season due to a hamstring injury. In that span, she averaged 16.3 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.5 assists. Powers is versatile, playing both guard positions as well as the forward position, something that should benefit Minnesota as it builds around Napheesa Collier as its star player.
Natalie Achonwa will provide the Lynx with another reliable post player to go along with the WNBA's career-leading rebounder, Sylvia Fowles, and power forward Damiris Dantas. Achonwa (7.8 ppg, 5.5 rebounds per game last season) adds depth and will serve as a solid backup to Fowles and Dantas.
Connecticut Sun: B+
Sun head coach Curt Miller signed a four-year contract extension through 2024 during the offseason. After his team finished one game shy of advancing to the 2020 WNBA Finals, this offseason will be an interesting one. With four players—DeWanna Bonner, Kaila Charles, Briann January and Jonquel Jones—taking up more than 40% of the team's salary cap, Miller has to decide which players to invest in.
The Sun re-signed 2017 All-Star Jasmine Thomas and Brionna Jones to multiyear deals. Thomas, who has been with the team since 2015, was the team's third-leading scorer (14.7 ppg) in the playoffs while also leading the team in assists (4.4 per game).
Jones will provide the Sun with a pivotal force in the paint. In the Wubble, she averaged 11.2 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.7 steals while shooting 61% from the field. She also finished the 2020 season third in the league in offensive rebounds and in the top 10 in steals, steal percentage, field goal percentage, true shooting percentage and effective field goal percentage. Securing Thomas and Jones were key pieces for Connecticut.
With the re-signing of Alyssa Thomas to a four-year deal—despite her suffering an Achilles tendon injury that will likely cause her to miss the entire 2021 season—it shows that the franchise is loyal to her. However, if she does not play this season, it will be interesting to see how cap space affects who can step into her role and contribute solid production in her absence.
Washington Mystics: A
The 2019 WNBA champs were poised to make another championship run in the 2020 campaign. When the coronavirus pandemic hit, things changed. Former MVPs Tina Charles and Elena Delle Donne did not play. Natasha Cloud and LaToya Sanders opted out of the final year of their contracts.
With star players unavailable for medical reasons and social justice reform, the Mystics were eliminated in the first round. In addition, Powers went to the Lynx in free agency. With Powers gone, the Mystics gained two-time WNBA champion Alysha Clark, a player who provides talent on both sides of the ball. Clark—who was named first-team all-defense in 2020—averaged career highs in points (10), assists (2.7) and steals (1.5) last season while shooting above 50% from three-point range. Clark is not as big of a scoring threat as Powers, but she may not have to be.
The Mystics are expected to re-sign Natasha Cloud and LaToya Sanders for nearly the same salaries as last season. 2019 Finals MVP Emma Meesseman—who averaged 19.3 points and 5.6 rebounds per game in the 2019 postseason—should be back after her overseas obligations. Charles resigned with the team on a one-year contract worth $175,000 protected, according to Her Hoop Stats. Charles in combination with the runner-up for WNBA's Most Improved Player in 2020, Myisha Hines-Allen; Leilani Mitchell; Ariel Atkins; and Tianna Hawkins, the Mystics could be a force again in the Eastern Conference in 2021.
Indiana Fever: C+
Fever general manager Tamika Catchings stressed that Indiana needed a star player and strong veteran leadership. The Fever re-signed 2015 All-Star and 2016 Sixth Woman of the Year Jantel Lavender to a three-year deal. While Lavender is coming off a season-ending foot injury, she provides veteran leadership on a young team that has not made the playoffs since 2016.
Danielle Robinson, another veteran star player, is expected to sign with the Fever. Of the four unrestricted free agents—Candice Dupree, Achonwa, Lavender and Erica Wheeler—the Fever lost Achonwa to the Lynx and Wheeler (averaging 8.9 points, 3.7 assists) for her career to the Sparks. Fever will most likely have to find its star player in the WNBA draft.
The Fever own the 14th, 21st and 26th picks. The rookies Catchings and coach Marianne Stanley choose will be worked into the rotation with Kelsey Mitchell (17.9 ppg), Tiffany Mitchell (12.7 ppg), Dupree (12.5 ppg) (if she is re-signs), Teaira McCowan (10.9 ppg) and Julie Allemand (8.5 ppg).
Atlanta Dream: B
The Dream missed the playoffs and lost their top free agent and second leading scorer in Betnijah Laney to the Liberty. However, Atlanta acquired Sky forward Cheyenne Parker after Candace Parker signed with the Sky.
Parker is a good acquisition for Atlanta as she brings her ability to score (13.4 ppg) and rebound the basketball (6.4 rpg). Nicki Collen's team has four players returning in Courtney Williams, Shekinna Stricklen, Tiffany Hayes and Elizabeth Williams.
Signing Tianna Hawkins to a two-year contract worth $140,000 this season and $144,000 in 2022 gives some the Dream some additional help from wing players. The 29-year-old veteran averaged 8.5 points per game and 3.5 rebounds per game in 2020. However, what is most notable is that she come from a championship pedigree having spent seven seasons with the Mystics and part of Washington's championship team in 2019.
The franchise will most likely incorporate these players around leading scorer Chennedy Carter and Parker.
The question for this team will be which free agents Collen will be able to keep, with regard to the salary cap. Atlanta only has $33,663 in cap room remaining. Glory Johnson, Renee Montgomery, Blake Dietrick, Jaylyn Agnew, Kaela Davis and Alexis Jones are all free agents. Atlanta struggled with ball movement and assists production last season, something that may put guard play with keeping Montgomery as a priority over Johnson at forward. The Dream own the No. 3, 15 and 27 picks in the upcoming draft, presenting a chance for the franchise to get a top-notch guard for the upcoming season.
Chicago Sky: A+
The Sky were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs against the Sun. Since then, general manager and coach James Wade has spoken of needing an MVP-type player for his team. He got one in five-time All-Star, six-time All-WNBA selection Candace Parker on a two-year contract.
In what was the Sky's biggest free-agent acquisition in franchise history, Parker makes the team an early favorite to compete for a WNBA championship. The 2016 Finals MVP averaged 14.7 points, 9.7 rebounds and 4.6 assists in 22 games last season. She was crowned the league’s Defensive Player of the Year and finished third in MVP voting, two spots above Sky point guard Courtney Vandersloot.
In a franchise where players typically leave to play for other teams and win championships, the Sky—on paper—look like they may be shaping up to be a championship contender. Adding another point guard to help Vandersloot and Gabby Williams (16.0 ppg) would not hurt.
While Cheyenne Parker's departure to the Dream and Candace Parker coming in, the core of the Sky from last year—Allie Quigley (19.0 ppg), Kahleah Copper (17.0 ppg), Williams and Vandersloot—is a solid roster to compete for a title. However, Parker will need to elevate the Sky's defense to help the franchise earn a spot in the Finals. The Sky finished eighth in defensive rating in 2020. Since 2014, every team to play in the Finals has been in the top half of the league in defensive rating.
Los Angeles Sparks: B+
The Sparks are in a very interesting situation. Star player Candace Parker took her talents to the Sky. L.A. also lost Chelsea Gray to the Aces. Parker and Gray combined for an average of 28.7 points and 13.4 rebounds per game last season.
Parker and Gray were up for supermax contract deals. Now that they have departed, Nneka Ogwumike—who re-signed with the team on a multiyear deal—could potentially see more money in her new contract depending on what new general manager Derek Fisher does with the roster.
Ogwumike averaged 13.3 points and 4.8 rebounds per game as the team's third-leading scorer. 2019 All-Star MVP Erica Wheeler's and 2020 All-Defensive Second Team Brittney Sykes's re-signing with the Sparks gives the team a talented set of guards to replace Gray. Wheeler became the first player in league history to go from undrafted free agent to All-Star Game MVP when she scored 25 points with seven three-pointers and seven assists.
As for the remainder of the roster, Chiney Ogwumike's contract expired, but the Sparks maintain exclusive negotiating rights. Veterans Riquna Williams, Seimone Augustus and Reshanda Gray are all unrestricted free agents. Expect Fisher to make some changes with his unrestricted free agents as well as those remaining on the roster to leave his mark on the team moving forward.
Phoenix Mercury: B
Diana Taurasi's signing a supermax deal to return to the franchise she has spent all 16 years of her career was easy for her. The 38-year-old called it a "serious relationship." Taurasi, who battled a back injury that cost her most of 2019, averaged 18.7 points, 4.5 assists and 4.2 rebounds per game in 2020.
Taurasi's return will give the Mercury a huge shot at competing deep into the playoffs in 2021. The Mercury big three—Taurasi, Skylar Diggins-Smith and Brittney Griner—did not get to play with each other when it mattered most in the Wubble. Griner left the Wubble early for personal reasons. However, with Smith and Griner expected to return, the Mercury could be on target to compete for a championship.
When looking beyond the big three, it remains to be seen how contracts will be restructured for Jessica Breland (medically excused from 2020 season), Kia Vaughn (2011 Most Improved Player) and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough (2019 WNBA champion with the Mystics). Rebounding was an issue for Phoenix last season in part due to Griner's absence. The Mercury have the No. 9 pick in the draft. Adding another shooter or rebounder—if Griner does not return—would help the team next season.
Las Vegas: A
It is no secret that the reigning MVP A'ja Wilson is the star player for the Aces. But every star player needs a supporting cast to win a championship. The Aces managed to get to the Finals without Liz Cambage (received medical exemption and core designation) and Kelsey Plum (suffered left Achilles injury and missed 2020 season) in the starting lineup. With both expected to return in the 2021 season, the Aces could be set to make another Finals appearance.
Las Vegas's signing three-time All-Star Chelsea Gray is also a great addition. She averaged 14.1 points, 5.0 assists and 3.5 rebounds over the past four seasons. She and the Mercury’s Diggins-Smith are the only players to average at least 14 points and five assists in that span. In addition to Gray, Las Vegas re-signed two-time Sixth Woman of the Year Dearica Hamby (averaged 12 points, seven rebounds the past two seasons) on a contract extension.
Despite the departure of McBride, the Aces could still potentially have one of the best starting lineups and offensive teams in the league with Gray, Plum, Angel McCoughtry and Wilson, with Hamby, Jackie Young and (possibly) Cambage coming off the bench. However, it remains to be seen how the talent will work collectively as a unit.
Seattle Storm: B
The biggest questions surrounding free agency for the reigning WNBA champs were the status of Sue Bird and Natasha Howard.
Bird, the league’s oldest player at 40 and its all-time assists leader, is reportedly expected to come back for her 18th season. The Storm gave Natasha Howard (9.5 points, 5.2 rebounds in the 2020 playoffs ) the core designation to keep her off the market.
In addition to Bird and Howard, two-time All-Star and reserve point guard Epiphanny Prince (5.0 points, 2.2 assists and 1.0 steals per game in the playoffs) re-signed with the Storm on a two-year contract worth $230,000, according to HerHoopStats.com.
Depending on Bird's new contract in conjunction with paying Prince, the Storm may not be able to keep restricted free agent Sami Whitcomb.
New York Liberty: C
Liberty general manager Jonathan Kolb made it known that he was ready for the franchise to embark on a hybrid rebuild. New York has the salary cap to bring in new additions while keeping some familiar faces on the roster.
In addition to having the No. 1 draft pick in the 2021 WNBA draft, the Liberty will have Kia Stokes back with the team. She signed a one-year contract extension before the team's season finale. Joyner Holmes signed a training camp contract. The biggest move for the Liberty has been signing 2020 Most Improved Player Betnijah Laney from the Dream on a three-year deal. Laney recorded career-high totals in points (17.2), rebounds (4.9) and assists (4.0) in 22 games last season. She will fit well in the Liberty's five-out offense.
All-Star Kia Nurse, Jazmine Jones and Layshia Clarendon led the team in double-figure points production last season. However, the Liberty were without Sabrina Ionescu (coming back from ankle injury) and veteran players Rebecca Allen, Asia Durr and Marine Johannes. With most of the veteran players set to return, some of the younger players may not be back.
Restricted free agent Paris Kea under went knee surgery, but her 2021 status is not certain. Amanda Zahui B. set career highs in nearly every major category in the 2020 season, including averages of 9.0 points and 8.5 rebounds. With Stokes’s returning and Texas center Charli Collier's potentially being the top pick in the draft, things could get interesting.
Dallas Wings: C
The Wings missed out on the eighth seed of the WNBA playoffs as a result of a tiebreaker favoring the Mystics. But despite not making the postseason, Dallas made strides above expectations with a fairly young group of players.
Arike Ogunbowale stepped up during the 2020 season, earning All-WNBA first-team honors and leading the team in scoring (22.8 points, 2.8 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game). The Wings will want to build around Ogunbowale and second-year player Satou Sabally, who finished third in Rookie of the Year voting. Sabally averaged 13.9 points and 7.8 rebounds per game.
Dallas's re-signing Allisha Gray was a good move, as she was also one of the key players who had a big impact last season for the Wings, averaging 13.1 points per game (third-leading scorer on the team). Combining Ogunbowale, Sabally and sharp shooting Marina Mabrey gives a solid nucleus for first-year coach Vickie Johnson to build on this season. Mabrey's ability to shoot the ball and set up plays for Ogunbowale will be key next season.
Three-point shooting was an issue for Dallas last season, something that will need to improve. However, the team finished seventh in scoring offense behind the play of their elite young scorers. With the most of the Wings' contributions coming from guards and small forwards, it will be interesting to see what the team does in the draft and how it relates to players like Megan Gustafson and Katie Lou Samuelson staying with the team.
While post players Isabelle Harrison and Astou Ndour are guaranteed to return, the Wings' getting another post player in free agency or in the draft might not be a bad option going forward.