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2024 WNBA Free Agency: Williams, Smith and Hiedeman acquisitions highlight flurry of Minnesota Lynx activity

The Minnesota Lynx made several splashes early in free agency, adding guards Courtney Williams and Natisha Hiedeman and forward Alanna Smith. There’s still more work to be done, however.

2023 WNBA Playoffs - Chicago Sky v Las Vegas Aces
Courtney Williams, who averaged a career-high 6.3 assists per game in 2023, signed with the Minnesota Lynx as a free agent.
Photo by David Becker/NBAE via Getty Images

The Minnesota Lynx had a busy start to the 2024 WNBA free agency period, using their cap space to sign several free agents while also making a trade to shake up their backcourt.

Minnesota announced the signings of forward Alanna Smith and guard Courtney Williams, both of whom played for the Chicago Sky in 2023, to two-year contracts. The Lynx also brought back forward Bridget Carleton, who was expected to return to the team, according to Kent Youngblood of the Star Tribune.

Elsewhere, the Lynx traded guard Tiffany Mitchell and the No. 19 overall pick in the 2024 WNBA Draft to the Connecticut Sun for guard Natisha Hiedeman. Hiedeman, who was originally drafted by Minnesota in 2019, likely will be playing heavy minutes at point guard for the Lynx in 2024; she’ll be replacing Lindsay Allen, who signed with Chicago.

There’s still more work to be done for the Lynx, however. With Aerial Powers signing with the Atlanta Dream and Rachel Banham with the Sun, Minnesota currently has eight players on its roster (not counting guard Kayana Traylor or forwards Liz Dixon and Taylor Soule, who signed training camp contracts). The team announced that forward Jessica Shepard will miss the 2024 season, while Mitchell Hansen of Canis Hoopus reports that forward Nikolina Milić will also sit out. So, we’ll see what else general manager Clare Duwelius and head coach Cheryl Reeve have up their sleeves.

Lynx sign ex-Sky Alanna Smith, Courtney Williams; re-sign Bridget Carleton

The Lynx began the 2024 free agency period with just six players under contract and over $640,000 of cap space, and they got right to work, signing Smith and Williams to two-year contracts. According to the Her Hoop Stats WNBA salary database, Smith will be making $150,000 in both years of her deal; Williams will make $175,000 in 2024 and $180,000 in 2025.

Smith, who is coming off a career year in Chicago, will add both length and skill to Minnesota’s frontcourt. Last season with the Sky, she posted career-highs across the board, averaging 9.2 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 1.3 blocks per game while shooting 49.8 percent from the field; Smith was one of just nine players to average more than one steal and one block per game in 2023, according to Across the Timeline.

Williams also had a productive 2023 as a member of the Sky, particularly in the playmaking department. The veteran guard averaged a career-high 6.3 assists per game, good for fourth in the WNBA, and played heavy minutes (30.1 per game) at the point for a Chicago roster that was shorthanded in the backcourt for much of the season.

It’s likely that Williams will play a similar role for Minnesota in 2024. Though she’s been more of an off-ball player for most of her WNBA career, Williams will be sharing the backcourt with players like Kayla McBride and Diamond Miller, and she has the experience to play point guard in a pinch—something that Reeve hasn’t been shy of asking from off-ball guards in the past.

Smith, meanwhile, may or may not be in the starting lineup, though her skillset will be valuable to Minnesota in any capacity. At 6-foot-4, Smith is an active and versatile defender, and she has legitimate 3-point range on her jump shot, giving the Lynx much-needed versatility in their frontcourt alongside All-WNBA forward Napheesa Collier and 2023 All-Rookie honoree Dorka Juhász.

Finally, the Lynx re-signed Carleton to a two-year contract for $125,000 in both years. It’s a raise for Carleton, who earned $72,141 from the Lynx in 2022 and $91,000 in 2023. The 6-foot-1 wing will once again be relied on as a valuable depth piece for the team, having earned Reeve’s trust long ago to make spot starts when needed and provide a consistent 3-point shooting threat from the perimeter.

Lynx swap Tiffany Mitchell for Natisha Hiedeman

The Lynx also traded Mitchell, who was set to be in the second year of a two-year contract, and their second-round draft pick (No. 19 overall) for Hiedeman, who will be earning $120,000 in 2024.

On the surface, this may seem like a simple guard-for-guard swap, but there’s reason to like it for Minnesota. Mitchell started 21 of 33 games for the Lynx in 2023, though she was often playing out of position as the team’s lead guard. Her scoring production dipped as a result: 7.3 points per game on 40.4 percent shooting from the floor.

Hiedeman hasn’t been the highest-volume scorer throughout her WNBA career, either, but her individual game fits the current Lynx roster better than Mitchell’s did. Hiedeman’s outside shooting ability was a crucial part of the Sun’s success in recent years; in each of the past three seasons, Hiedeman attempted at least four 3-pointers per game, and she shot 39.2 percent from beyond the arc during that span. With Minnesota’s previous go-to 3-point shooter, Rachel Banham, signing with Connecticut, Hiedeman’s range will be quite valuable to the Lynx offense.

Hiedeman also has experience playing point guard from her time with the Sun, though it wasn’t in the traditional sense, as Alyssa Thomas ran much of the team’s offense from the power forward position. We’ll see how much Reeve plays her at the point and how her minutes compare to those of Williams—and how much the team’s two new guards share the court.

Shepard, Milić expected to miss 2024 season

Dallas Wings v Minnesota Lynx
Jessica Shepard has been a key member of Minnesota’s frontcourt rotation for the past two seasons.
Photo by Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images

Despite this flurry of activity, the Lynx will still need to account for the loss of two of their most prominent frontcourt players from 2023.

Shepard, who is currently playing in Italy for Umana Reyer Venezia, will finish her season there. Because the Italian season overlaps with the start of WNBA training camp, she’ll be ineligible to play in the WNBA this summer due to the league’s prioritization clause, and her contract will be suspended. This is obviously disappointing for the Lynx, who have seen Shepard grow into a key part of their frontcourt rotation. In 2022 and 2023, Shepard posted averages of 8.1 points, 7.2 rebounds and three assists per game while shooting 50.6 percent from the field in 26.4 minutes.

Milić may very well be in the same boat. Hansen reports that Milić, who is currently a reserved free agent, is leaning towards sitting out the 2024 WNBA season. The Lynx will need to replace the 5.9 points and 2.7 rebounds she averaged from 2022-23.

Currently, Minnesota has just three guaranteed contracts on its books—McBride, Williams, and Smith—and can offer up to three more. Financially, the Lynx have $334,592 in remaining cap room, so it’s possible they offer a guaranteed contract to a one of the remaining free agents on the market in order to improve their depth.