The dust has settled on the Chicago Sky’s unprecedented run to the championship, and the WNBA’s 25th anniversary season has come to an end.
Now it’s time to look at Year 26. There are a lot of questions heading into the long offseason before games resume in May. Some of the league’s best are closing in on retirement – whether forced or by choice – while free agencies have taken on increased buzz under the new collective agreement.
Player movement will impact Sky’s repeat chances and those aging Superstars’ chances at one last ring. There are five former MVPs in the free agency market and questions remain regarding the 2022 timeline and expansion.
Can the Chicago Sky repeat?
Sky will be the team to beat in 2022, but can they go on? There are a few reasons for concern even though head coach James Wade has told parade spectators to take note of their seats as they will be back in 2022.
The last team to repeat was the Los Angeles Sparks in 2001-02. This followed the Houston Comets’ four titles in the league’s first four years. These are the only two teams to face each other, although four franchises have won with a split season.
Sky will have to deal with free agency first. Candace Parker, 36, and Azurá Stevens are the only players with guaranteed contracts totaling $ 335,000 of the cap of around $ 1.3 million, according to Her Hoop Stats. That leaves a lot of decisions.
Courtney Vandersloot, Allie Quigley, Stefanie Dolson, Kahleah Copper and Astou Ndour-Fall are all unrestricted free agents. Vandersloot has the highest contract ($ 200,000), and she could get a little closer to supermax if she wanted to after a record-breaking performance in the final. The 27-year-old Copper ($ 165,000) will see the biggest boost after her Final MVP.
Diamond DeShields and Lexie Brown are restricted free agents, while Ruthy Hebard and Dana Evans are on unprotected rookie deals.
But finally, and less importantly, Sky’s title proved yet again just how deep this league is and how uncertain a title race can be even as a No.1 or No.2 seed. a repetition is difficult.
Will we see Elena Delle Donne again on a court?
Delle Donne’s health will again be a big factor for another offseason, as she is yet to fully recover from two back surgeries in less than a year. The 2019 WNBA MVP played 52 minutes in three games, and while she looked good in the first, she again injured her back in the third. Delle Donne, 32, has been largely absent from professional basketball since winning the 2019 title in October.
She and Mystics head coach Mike Thibault, based on her doctors’ analysis, appeared optimistic in the team’s exit talks about her health, believing the issue was “resolved.” The star striker suffered from nerve pain after the first surgery, which ended up being his last game of the season.
But it’s not a small injury. Delle Donne has treated herniated discs and back surgery is no small feat. Definitely not for a professional athlete, who, it should be noted, also suffers from Lyme disease and takes 64 pills a day.
Was this the last Bird-Taurasi match?
All eyes are on Seattle Storm point guard Sue Bird, 41, and Phoenix Mercury goalie Diana Taurasi, 39, as their careers come to an end.
Bird, who recently played on one-year contracts, is seriously considering retiring for the first time in her career, said the 18-year-old veteran after the second-round loss to the Mercury. She’s been with the Storm since they drafted her No. 1 in 2002 ahead of the club’s third season and led them to four championships.
Taurasi said before and after Game 4 of the WNBA Finals that she intends to return next season and complete her current contract which expires after 2022. But she added: “You never know.”
The Mercury returns their core to Taurasi, Brittney Griner and Skylar Diggins-Smith. A big concern for Taurasi appears to be health as she recovers from an ankle and foot injury she played during these playoffs. The 17-year-old veteran has missed games in each of the past three seasons.
Taurasi, Phoenix’s No. 1 overall pick in 2004, played six games in 2019 with a back injury and only 16 of 32 games this season with a broken sternum and ankle injury.
Official end of the Lynx kernel?
Minnesota Lynx center Sylvia Fowles is the only player left from their four-title dynasty in seven years. Former teammates Seimone Augustus, Lindsay Whalen and Rebekkah Brunson have all retired, and Maya Moore has stepped away from basketball for reasons of social and family justice.
The 6-foot-6 free agent will consider walking away for similar reasons. She said in her exit interview that she wanted to start a family and that she was considering doing so. There are also stabbing wounds.
“My future is not yet bright at the moment. We still have things to say to each other, [coach] Cheryl [Reeve] and me. I’m not sure at the moment, ”said Fowles, who turned 36 this month. “We’ll see. I’ll keep you posted in the coming months.
Fowles is a two-time WNBA champion, each earning the MVP of the Finals and taking home her fourth Defensive Player of the Year award in 2021. In league history, she ranks first in rebounds (3,712 ), first in field goal percentage (59.7%), first in real shots percentage (63.6%), third in win share (69.8), fourth in blocks (685) and seventh in player efficiency (25.4).
When she retires, she has a interesting second act awaiting him.
Will we see more on the expansion front?
Expansion is near, and while Commissioner Cathy Engelbert is “data mining” for more details next summer, conversations are taking place at the city level.
Axios noted last week that the ad hoc committee for women’s professional sports in Nashville met again to hear an update from the city consultant. CAA ICON, the consulting firm on the project, expects to have a full report by the end of the year.
Three entities are looking to bring a team to the Bay Area, and Toronto has always been designated as the landing point for a Canadian presence. It’s unlikely anything will be announced this offseason, but decisions may be made now that lead to an official word.
Programming issues, impact on national broadcasting
The WNBA will have to work around another international championship next year with the 2022 FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup scheduled for September 22 through October 22. 1 in Australia. This will force the league to advance to the finals, rather than taking a break for the Olympics. Several teams also have to contend with sharing an arena with NBA teams and this league begins in mid-October.
The league is set to move to a 36-game season, down from 32 this year, which makes things more difficult. Players always go abroad for games and often arrive late, which means that a season increase may not be an option.
There should also be questions about national television programming. The WNBA has a high profile TV issue that is well documented and will not be addressed this offseason as the multiplatform deal with ESPN will run until 2025.
Few of the games air on more widely available “clean” channels such as ABC or ESPN, even though they are typically the most watched of the season. When we looked back, the company released fewer and fewer games, and Google had to buy eight more games to “make sure ESPN is streaming at least 25 regular season games in the 25th anniversary season.” , according to ESPN’s own article.
What will happen in 2022? Will ESPN cut the number of televised games to around 15 even as the league adds games to its schedule? Audience numbers can’t stand it, but history does.
Biggest free agents in 2022
It will be a wild free agency period with five former league MVPs in the mix. (All free agency information via Her Hoop Stats.) The salary cap will increase to $ 1,379,200 (from $ 1,339,000) and the salary cap will increase from approximately $ 6,000 to $ 196,267.
Jonquel Jones (2021, Connecticut Sun), A’ja Wilson (’20, Las Vegas Aces), Breanna Stewart (’18, Seattle Storm), Sylvia Fowles (’17, Minnesota Lynx) and Tina Charles (’12, Washington Mystics ) could all change places this offseason.
Stewart and Fowles each have multiple championships, while Jones, Wilson and Charles all go after their first titles.
Only Wilson is a restricted free agent, giving Aces the “right of first refusal”. She will have a big pay rise thanks to her rookie contract of $ 70,040. Las Vegas also has center Liz Cambage, goalie Angel McCoughtry and defensive might Riquna Williams as unrestricted free agents.
In Connecticut, Most Improved Player Briann January is also an unrestricted free agent. In Minnesota, Fowles is joined by the addition of mid-season Layshia Clarendon to point guard.
Seattle joins Chicago as the team with the most question marks for their key players. In addition to Bird and Stewart, Jewell Loyd is also an unrestricted free agent and three players are restricted free agents.
As for a brand new roster coming up, this could belong to the Atlanta Dream after a chaotic 2021.