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Which WNBA free agents could be good fits for the Dallas Wings?

Dallas Wings head coach Brian Agler said in his introductory press conference that the team will retool with free agency. Here are six players who could help the Wings in 2019.

WNBA: Chicago Sky at Phoenix Mercury
Chicago Sky guard Courtney Vandersloot is a free agent and could be a big pickup for the Wings if she is not cored.

On Tuesday, the Dallas Wings held a press conference announcing that Brian Agler was their new head coach for the 2019 season. In the press conference, Agler said free agency would be the primary method to improve the Wings before the 2019 season.

How do we know which WNBA players are free agents?

Unlike the NBA, the WNBA has kept salary and contract data a bit more guarded which makes things difficult when it comes to making hypothetical trades and free agent signings.

But things have changed considerably in the last year. Howard Megdal of High Post Hoops created a database of WNBA salaries and contract lengths. The addition of these resources makes it easier for those interested in the WNBA to understand the situations teams face in future seasons from a salary cap standpoint. All salary figures and contract lengths in the remainder of this column come from Megdal’s database:

What do the Wings need?

There are two pressing needs for Dallas. First, they need to figure out who their starting point guard will be for the 2019 season. Skylar Diggins-Smith is pregnant and will have her first child soon. It isn’t exactly clear when she is due, but women need time to get back into game shape.

Second, they will have to plan that Liz Cambage will not return next year. 2018 was the first WNBA season for the Australian since 2013 and she has publicly stated that another WNBA isn’t a priority for her.

The Wings, therefore, will have to balance their need to add free agents with their need to abide by the salary cap. The WNBA’s salary cap is $976,300 per Megdal’s database, and the Wings have $606,795 in committed salaries to seven players, including Cambage and Diggins-Smith. The Wings have $369,505 in cap space which is enough to sign at least one player at a maximum-level salary.

If Cambage and/or Diggins-Smith misses most or all of the 2019 season, the Wings could have just $374,295 committed to five players and $602,005 in cap space available to sign free agents and rookies.

If a player misses a season due to international commitments or injury, she is generally placed on the suspended list. The player’s salary will not count against the cap and her team will not pay her. This is unlike NBA teams where most contracts are guaranteed regardless of injury status.

With these priorities in mind, here is a list of free agents the Wings may want to sign to shore up the point guard and/or the center positions ahead of the 2019 season.

Tina Charles, New York Liberty

New York’s starting center scored 19.7 points and 7 rebounds per game in an otherwise forgettable season for the Liberty. Charles earned a maximum-level salary of $115,500 last season and will be an unrestricted free agent in 2019 unless she is cored again like she was last year.

Though Charles forced a trade to go to the Liberty from the Connecticut Sun before the 2014 season, New York is now in a rebuilding situation of its own. Charles has yet to play in a WNBA Finals and may want to take her talents elsewhere. The Liberty can core Charles again like they did last season, but it could set up a standoff that sends her wherever she wants if Charles is unhappy there.

Other teams are likely to send feelers Charles’ way if she is an unrestricted free agent. Another contending team like the Mystics could be interested in Charles because she played for, and has a great relationship, with head coach Mike Thibault, who was with the Sun when she played in Connecticut. But Dallas also has a lot of talent and Charles could be a great fit there if Cambage doesn’t return.

Courtney Vandersloot, Chicago Sky

Both of the Sky’s starting guards, Vandersloot and Allie Quigley, are unrestricted free agents this winter. However, WNBA rules allow teams to core one player only. If Quigley, a natural shooting guard, gets cored, Vandersloot becomes an unrestricted free agent. Vandersloot has spent her entire career in Chicago and has yet to win a WNBA title.

Vandersloot only made one Finals appearance — in 2014, with the Sky. And since Elena Delle Donne left the Sky for the Mystics in 2017, Chicago has been in rebuilding mode. With Diggins-Smith likely out for part of next season, Vandersloot would be an ideal replacement, and she could form a dual point guard backcourt with Diggins-Smith longer term.

Last season, Vandersloot averaged 12.5 points and 8.6 assists per game. Her arrival in Dallas would be great in the short term. But it also raises the question of where Skylar Diggins-Smith and Tayler Hill are in Dallas’ long-term plans.

Shavonte Zellous, New York Liberty

Zellous is not a natural point guard, but she did average a career high 3.0 assists along with 8.2 points in the 2018 season. Zellous was also part of the Fever’s 2012 WNBA Championship team and she was named an All-Star in 2013. The Liberty also have just $237,273 committed in salaries for the 2019 season — $102,000 of which is going to Bria Hartley.

After a bad 7-27 season, New York should be in prime position to make offers to many free agents. But for someone like the 32-year-old Zellous, she would likely want to play for a team with a chance to contend. Dallas has the talent to do that if they can keep their core players together. New York, meanwhile, is probably headed for a longer term rebuild.

Crystal Langhorne, Seattle Storm

In the 2018 season, Langhorne averaged 4.6 points and 3 rebounds per game in 26 appearances for the WNBA champions. Langhorne was cored by the Storm last season, but it’s unlikely that she will be cored again because her production dropped and Natasha Howard quickly became the team’s starting center. Langhorne was paid a maximum-level $115,500 last season so she will probably not earn that in 2019.

In Dallas, she won’t be asked to replace Liz Cambage should the Aussie not return to the WNBA next year. But Langhorne is a solid rebounder and Agler and Bibb both are familiar with Langhorne as well. Agler was the Storm’s head coach in the 2014 season, Langhorne’s first season in Seattle, and Bibb was the Mystics’ Chief Operating Officer from 2007-12, where Langhorne spent the first six years of her career.

LaToya Sanders, Washington Mystics

The Mystics’ starting center had a career season in 2018, averaging 10.2 points and 6.4 rebounds a game while providing a strong presence defensively. Sanders earned $111,000 last season and will enter unrestricted free agency this winter.

However, Sanders has a history of leg injuries. She also suffered an ankle injury in Game 3 of the Mystics’ WNBA Finals series against the Storm. Assuming Sanders is ready to go in 2019, Washington may be tempted to core Sanders because they cannot rely on Emma Meesseman to be a consistent starter given her international commitments. If Sanders is not cored, she could be a good target for Dallas if Cambage doesn’t return.

Krystal Thomas, Washington Mystics

Thomas had a poor 2018 season for the Mystics where she averaged just 1.8 points and 2.5 rebounds a game while shooting a career low 42.9 percent from the field. That’s surprising because Thomas had a breakout 2017 campaign where she averaged 7 points and 9.6 rebounds per game. Thomas also didn’t suffer a major injury in 2018, which makes her decline even more surprising.

Yet, she played for Agler and the Storm in 2011, so she is a familiar face as well. If the Wings bring Thomas on board, they would do so on the hope that Thomas returns to her 2017 self, and they wouldn’t have to pay very much to get her. Thomas’ 2018 salary was just $56,942. Also, Thomas will only be 30-years-old in 2019, so she could bounce back after a bad year.