A year ago Lynx coach and General Manager Cheryl Reeve’s WNBA offseason was her busiest in nearly a decade.
Faced with losing Lindsay Whalen, Rebekkah Brunson and Maya Moore, Reeve traded little-used Alexis Jones to Los Angeles for Odyssey Sims, who became an all-star. She traded one of three second-round picks in the draft to Connecticut for Lexie Brown, who became a regular rotation player. She drafted Napheesa Collier with the sixth overall pick, and she became rookie of the year. Then Reeve took Jessica Shepard, who looked like the steal of the second round before a knee injury ended her season.
Reeve also signed free agent forward Karima Christmas-Kelly, whose season was also cut short by a knee injury, and signed restricted free agent Damiris Dantas, a former Lynx center, to an offer sheet Atlanta didn’t match.
WNBA free agency begins today. And while Reeve didn’t promise pyrotechnics on the order of 2019, she didn’t rule it out, either.
“We’re well-positioned from a cap standpoint to be aggressive,” she said. “What we’re weighing right now is how aggressive to be. We want to balance both being aggressive and retooling the roster as well as have an eye for the future.”
The new collective bargaining agreement (CBA), just signed, has thrown both a monkey wrench and some extra cash into the equation.
Salary caps have grown from $996,100 to $1.3 million. And there are two new levels of maximum contracts. The much-publicized $500,000 max can only be given by a team to one current player. And that includes $200,000 that counts against the cap, with the rest coming from a cut of leaguewide and team marketing deals. A lower max of $185,000 has similar parameters.
Reeve won basketball executive of the year after remaking her roster, going 18-16 and making the playoffs for a ninth straight season.
Four starters from that team — center Sylvia Fowles, Collier, Sims and Dantas — are under contract. Also signed for 2020 are top reserves Christmas-Kelly and Shepard, who may not be ready by the May 15 opener but will play this season, and Brown. Backup center Temi Fagbenle and Cecilia Zandalasini — an Italian sharpshooter who played for her national team last summer — have been given qualifying offers and will be on the roster.
Longtime Lynx star Seimone Augustus is a free agent. Reeve would like her back as both a mentor and a player. Danielle Robinson is also a free agent, with her return uncertain.
Moore won’t be back as well, announcing last week she is taking another season off to continue her work on criminal justice reform.
The Lynx have so much cap room because Collier and Shepard are on rookie deals while Fagbenle and Zandalasini eventually will sign affordable contracts. That plus the growing cap gives Reeve both room and pause. If her young players improve the way she expects, they eventually will earn bigger contracts. She doesn’t want to overspend now and be caught in a bind later.
“Everybody in the league has the same decision to make,” Reeve said. “We think we’re well-positioned. We have the opportunity, the flexibility to be a player in free agency. That’s about as good a place as you can be.”
So where to look?
To take a step up in the standings, an upgrade likely is needed at point guard.
When it comes to restricted or unrestricted free agents, there are a lot of guards out there. Chicago’s backcourt of Allie Quigley and Courtney Vandersloot, for example. L.A.’s Chelsea Gray, Washington’s Kristi Toliver, Dallas’ Skylar Diggins-Smith. Even Sue Bird of Seattle.
Many of them likely will stay with their current teams. Still, one might be available. One free agent forward who would help is Phoenix’s DeWanna Bonner.
It all starts today. But, Reeve said, things might not heat up right away.
“It will be an interesting process,” Reeve said.