Analysis: Three questions the Storm must answer in free agency as the WNBA offseason begins
The WNBA’s offseason started in earnest on Saturday, which began a two-week period in which teams negotiate with free agents.
However, the agreements cannot be officially signed before February 1.
The Storm have had several months to dissect what went right and what went wrong in a 2022 season that brought a Commissioners Cup championship and ended earlier than expected with an upset second-round loss in the WNBA playoffs.
Despite a coaching change – Noelle Quinn replaced Dan Hughes after his abrupt retirement – and the loss of prominent starters Natasha Howard and Alysha Clark from the previous season, Seattle was in a prime position to defend its 2021 WNBA title.
The Storm were 16-5 in the league with 11 games remaining before going 5-6 over the past six weeks to slip to fourth in the standings.
The season-ending drop coincided with the loss of star forward Breanna Stewart, who suffered a left Achilles tendon injury that forced her to miss the final two games of the regular season and the playoffs.
Even if the Storm just wanted to revive him, general manager Talisa Rhea would have to rebuild a roster that currently has five players under contract.
“We have a lot of free agents,” Rhea said last month. “We are delighted to speak to our players from January. We move into the era of Noelle Quinn and hope to build the (team) identity that matches hers. We worked a lot with her to try to identify players who fit her vision to take us forward.
“It’s a really exciting time for her and for us to be heading into this new era with Noelle.”
Here are three questions the Storm need to answer in free agency.
1. Is the Breanna Stewart-Jewell Loyd relationship sustainable?
Stewart, 27, and Loyd, 28, are the youngest and most dynamic duo in the WNBA. No other team had two players under the age of 30 ranked among the league’s top 15 scorers. In their six years on the pitch – Stewart sat out in 2019 – the Storm are 93-55 in the regular season and 11-4 in the playoffs, including the WNBA titles in 2018 and 2020.
Loyd was vague about her long-term plans after the season, which could have played a role in Seattle’s decision to name her as a lead player, which removes her from free agency and gives Seattle exclusive negotiating rights. .
Loyd is guaranteed a one-year supermax contract of $228,094, which is a huge increase from the $121,500 she made last year.
Still, Loyd could be looking for a long-term deal or a fresh start with a new team, which could trigger a trade that would have been inconceivable a few months ago.
Even though Stewart is an unrestricted free agent for the first time in her career, she has made it clear she plans to quit with the Storm.
“It’s kind of crazy that I’m a free agent, that’s for sure,” Stewart said in September. “But Seattle has always been my home. That’s where I grew up. This is where my career continued to flourish. I plan to be back unless something crazy happens. We have more things to do here.
Stewart could sign the richest contract in WNBA history if the two sides agree to a four-year, $912,376 deal.
2. What’s up with Bird?
The bird is back. At least that’s what Storm said in the short-lived tweet last week that angered the WNBA and was deleted. The Associated Press reported that the league issued Seattle an undisclosed fine for making a free agent announcement.
According to the league’s collective agreement, fines for tampering can reach $300,000 for a first offense.
Bird, who also announced her return for a 19th season on Instagram, was Seattle’s highest-paid player last year at $221,450. She is eligible for a supermax deal of $228,094, which would be justified given her value on and off the court.
Still, this may be the year the Storms invest in a succession plan for their 41-year-old star.
3. Is there money for anyone else?
The 2022 WNBA salary cap is set at $1,379,200, which is a slight increase from last year’s cap of $1,330,000.
If Seattle retains its big three with supermax deals, they would collectively eat up nearly half the salary cap. The trio would earn $684,282 and leave $645,718 to complete the roster of 12 players.
The Phoenix Mercury was the only WNBA team with three players on supermax contracts and could only keep 11 players due to financial constraints.
Still, Seattle has considerable financial flexibility in free agency, as it’s the only WNBA team without a guaranteed contract heading into the new season.
Essentially, the Storm have $1.3 million they could split between free agents Jordin Canada, Mercedes Russell and Stephanie Talbot who each received qualifying offers from the team last week.
Seattle could also strategically shop for bargain free agents in the market, including Tina Charles, Rebecca Allen, Sylvia Fowles and Angel McCoughtry.
“Obviously last year we didn’t finish the way we wanted, but we feel like we got a lot of good plays,” Rhea said. “We’re excited to talk to our players to figure out what things we can add to help us go back to being on top.”
The Storm also has five picks (Nos. 9, 17, 18, 21 and 33) in the 2022 WNBA Draft to be held in April.