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Dallas Wings showed signs of progress in 2022, but now need solid offseason to keep it going

The Dallas Wings entered the 2022 as one of the WNBA’s more enigmatic teams. They did well to answer many of those questions with a late-season playoff push, but will now need to take care of business in free agency to continue their positive trajectory.

2022 WNBA Playoffs - Connecticut Sun v Dallas Wings
The Wings earned their first playoff win since moving to Dallas in 2015.
Photo by Cooper Neill/NBAE via Getty Images

The 2022 Dallas Wings season came to an end Wednesday as they dropped Game 3 of their first-round playoff series to the Connecticut Sun, 73-58. Dallas was outscored 39-24 in the second half, and while neither team shot particularly well from the field (35.5 percent for the Sun and 36.4 percent for the Wings), Connecticut recorded a whopping 14 steals and also outrebounded Dallas 40-31.

It was, to say the least, a disappointing loss for the Wings, who had forced the winner-take-all elimination game days earlier with a shocking Game 2 upset. The Wings and Sun entered halftime of Game 3 tied at 34, but Connecticut’s physicality wore on Dallas as the game went on, with the Wings already playing at a disadvantage after forward Isabelle Harrison suffered an ankle injury that ended her night early. Two of the Wings’ biggest stars during the last month of the season, Marina Mabrey and Teaira McCowan, led the team in scoring (20) and rebounding (12), respectively, but also accounted for 13 of the team’s 19 turnovers.

Despite its sour ending, however, 2022 was an eventful season for the Wings, who entered the year with several questions about their roster that they were able to answer while making a somewhat surprising playoff run. Let’s revisit the positives for Dallas before looking at what the Wings will need to do to keep things rolling into next year.

Dallas showed progress in 2022

2022 WNBA Playoffs - Connecticut Sun v Dallas Wings
Wings guard Arike Ogunbowale had another strong season scoring the basketball, averaging 19.7 points per game.
Photo by Cooper Neill/NBAE via Getty Images

The Wings finished the 2022 regular season with a record of 18-18 and made the playoffs as the league’s No. 6 seed.

That may not sound overly impressive, but when considered within the context of the organization’s history, the 2022 Wings campaign was far from a failure. The franchise has been in a perpetual state of rebuilding since moving to Dallas in 2015 — numerous fallings-out between star-level players and the Wings front office have lowlighted this span — so any amount of on-court progress could have been considered a win. With their first non-losing record since relocating to Dallas and a second consecutive playoff appearance, the Wings accomplished that.

Seeing as how the Wings didn’t have a very active free agency period — the acquisitions of McCowan via trade and Veronica Burton via draft were their only significant moves — the franchise needed to see development from their core pieces in 2022. This was a mixed bag; 2021 lottery picks Charli Collier and Awak Kuier continued to struggle to assert themselves in head coach Vickie Johnson’s rotation, and third-year forward Satou Sabally had an up-and-down season marred by injury.

Several other Wings, however, took a much-needed next step. Mabrey, for example, was stellar, particularly after incumbent leading scorer and perennial All-Star Arike Ogunbowale went down with an abdominal injury at the end of the regular season. McCowan also finished strong, winning Player of the Month honors in August after a slow start with her new team. The ever-steady Allisha Gray had perhaps her best season to date, shooting better than 40 percent from 3-point range.

2022 WNBA Playoffs - Connecticut Sun v Dallas Wings
Teaira McCowan took over as the Wings’ starting center late in the 2022 season.
Photo by Cooper Neill/NBAE via Getty Images

These in-house improvements became more apparent as the season went on. The Wings, who were at one point battling with several other teams such as the Atlanta Dream, Phoenix Mercury, New York Liberty and Los Angeles Sparks for a playoff berth, won seven of their last 11 games — most of those wins coming without Ogunbowale or Sabally in the lineup.

It’s what ultimately set 2022 apart from previous Wings seasons: The most pivotal moments, both good and bad, were defined by more than just Ogunbowale’s scoring ability. Having signed Ogunbowale to a massive contract extension prior to the season, the Wings made it clear that she was the player they intend on building around; at the time, they were still waiting for a handful of other players to prove themselves worthy of a similar investment. 2022 went a long way in helping Dallas determine that.

What’s next for the Wings?

New York Liberty v Dallas Wings
Marina Mabrey played the best basketball of her WNBA career down the stretch for Dallas, which will earn her a nice new contract in 2023 — whether it be from the Wings or someone else.
Photo by Tim Heitman/NBAE via Getty Images

That’s not to say the Wings’ core of players is now set in stone, though. They’ll enter a pivotal offseason that, if handled poorly, could set them back to being a below-.500 team in 2023.

Most notably, Dallas will have some big decisions to make in free agency. Both Mabrey and McCowan will enter 2023 as restricted free agents; while this means the Wings will have the options to match any offer made to them, you can bet that both players will command significant raises from their rookie-scale salaries ($72,141 apiece). This means that the Wings may hit the salary cap before getting the chance to upgrade other areas of their roster.

Harrison will also be a free agent, but if the Wings want to retain Mabrey and McCowan, they’ll likely have to let her, unless she takes a pay cut to stay in Dallas. If Harrison leaves, the Wings will need at least one of Collier or Kuier to assume consistent, positive roles in their frontcourt (something neither player has done thus far in their young careers) and that’s not even considering Bella Alarie, whose status with the franchise is unknown after she sat out 2022 for personal reasons.

This type of logjam, of course, is a challenge frequently faced by WNBA teams during free agency, but it comes at an inopportune time for Dallas. The Wings are making progress as a franchise and are in a spot to continue doing so, but they could stagnate or even regress next season if they don’t make good decisions in free agency. As it stands, the Wings are set to clear the hurdle of mediocrity; what happens next will determine if they’re actually able to do that.