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2024 WNBA Free Agency: Can the New York Liberty run it back?

After making it to the WNBA Finals last season, the New York Liberty will be using this free agency period to retain their stars and add pieces to help them overcome the Aces.

2023 WNBA Finals - Game Four
Can the Liberty make the moves necessary to give them an edge in the 2024 title race?
Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

The 2023 New York Liberty achieved probably as much success as possible without actually winning a championship. They had the regular-season MVP on their team in Breanna Stewart, won the Commissioner’s Cup, made a strong showing at WNBA All-Star Weekend and reached the WNBA Finals. Yet, none of that was enough to beat the power of the Las Vegas Aces. With the Aces seemingly getting stronger, the Liberty’s efforts in free agency need to be focused on building a team with the potential to beat them.

Teams have already started rolling out qualifying offers to players; they can start speaking with players on Jan. 21, with deals able to be signed as early as Feb. 1. This being an Olympic year also throws a wrench in a few WNBA teams’ roster decisions, as there are many national team programs that limit their players’ availability.


Facts and figures*

Players under contract (contract status; 2024 salary)

  • Sabrina Ionescu (unprotected; $202,000)
  • Betnijah Laney (protected veteran; $180,000)
  • Nyara Sabally (unprotected; $72,727)
  • Kayla Thornton (protected veteran; $110,000)
  • Courtney Vandersloot (protected veteran; $194,670)

Free agent (type; 2023 salary)

  • Stefanie Dolson (unrestricted free agent; $160,000)
  • Marine Johannès (reserved free agent; $62,285) [QO extended 1/11]
  • Jonquel Jones (unrestricted free agent; $211,150)
  • Breanna Stewart (unrestricted free agent; $180,000) [cored 1/11]
  • Jocelyn Willoughby (restricted free agent; $79,690)
  • Han Xu (suspended-contract expired, $62,285)

Total salary of free agents: $755,410

Total team salary: $759,397

Cap space: $703,803

2024 WNBA Draft picks (2024 salary)

  • Round 1, No. 11 ($70,344)
  • Round 2, No. 17 ($67,249)
  • Round 2, No. 23 ($67,249)
  • Round 3, No. 35 ($64,154)

Analysis

2023 WNBA Finals - Game Four
The New York Liberty cored 2023 WNBA MVP Breanna Stewart.
Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Going into 2024, the New York Liberty have five players under contract: Sabrina Ionescu, Courtney Vandersloot, Betnijah Laney, Kayla Thornton and Nyara Sabally.

Vandersloot, Laney and Thornton’s salaries are all protected; if the Liberty were to waive them for whatever reason, they would still be paid. Further, their salaries would still count toward the hard salary cap. So, barring trades, those three are locked in for the coming season.

The two other contracts on the Liberty roster are unprotected, meaning the Liberty could waive these players and their salaries would be taken away from the salary cap. Now, Sabrina Ionescu isn’t going anywhere. Her unprotected status is a technicality and Liberty fans can rest assured she will be on the team in 2024. Nyara Sabally is the other unprotected contract. Her status will definitely depend on her health, as well as how free agency and training camp unfold for the Liberty.

Which Liberty players are free agents?

That leaves the free agents left on the Liberty’s roster. They have three unrestricted free agents: Breanna Stewart, Stef Dolson and Jonquel Jones.

Let’s get the biggest one out of the way first—Stewie isn’t going anywhere. The Liberty placed a core designation on Breanna Stewart earlier in January. This means they now have the exclusive negotiating rights with her. She will most likely sign a one-year deal with the team, as she has been doing in years’ past. With the WNBA’s CBA expiring soon, players won’t be signing big, years-long contracts.

Jonquel Jones also most likely will be staying with the team, seeing as she requested a trade to New York only last year and played incredibly well with the team. Stefanie Dolson, on the other hand, is not guaranteed to come back. The only restricted free agent on the team is Jocelyn Willoughby. This means the Liberty can match any offer she gets from other teams.

International complications and available free agents

The two remaining players from the 2023 Liberty roster are Marine Johannès and Han Xu. Both will not be joining the Liberty this season due to international duties.

With the upcoming Olympics, both players’ national teams have them staying home to prepare. That, plus the WNBA’s prioritization rules, mean that they won’t be coming to the US this season. The Liberty have reserved rights on Johannès for next season.

2023 WNBA Finals - New York Liberty v Las Vegas Aces
The Liberty extended a qualifying offer to reserved free agent Marine Johannès, but don’t expect her to suit up in the WNBA in 2024.
Photo by David Becker/NBAE via Getty Images

With both Dolson and Xu most likely not coming back this season, the Liberty need a strong backup big. Nyara Sabally is an option, but it will only be her second season. Brittney Griner is a free agent, but she is definitely staying with Phoenix. Elena Delle Donne or Alanna Smith would be fun options if the Liberty could afford them. Another backup guard to replace the position and minutes Johannes provided would also be helpful. The top ones on the market are Skylar Diggins-Smith, Courtney Williams, Jordin Canada and Natasha Cloud, but those are pricier gets.

Either way, the Liberty have some spots to fill and it will be interesting to see is they end up in the market for any of the big names in free agency next week.


*Thanks to Her Hoop Stats for all salary numbers.