The 2019 WNBA free agency season started rather quietly with the league listing players who are unrestricted, restricted, and reserved free agents. The WNBA also listed its designated core players. As most would expect, Minnesota Lynx forward Maya Moore was given the core player designation since she would otherwise be an unrestricted free agent.
Apparently, Moore doesn’t appear to be content with that. According to Mike Max of WCCO in Minneapolis, Moore is considering sitting out the 2019 WNBA season, requesting a trade or retiring from the WNBA. Moore will turn 30 this year, so it’s unlikely she will retire. But with the low salaries offered in the WNBA, we cannot necessarily rule it out entirely either. Still, there are significant implications to the league depending on what Moore wants to do.
Moore probably doesn’t want to retire, but she may want extended rest
Moore had a down season in 2018. Her absolute statistics (18.1 points and 5.1 rebounds per game) didn’t go down, but she shot the ball at a rate of 42.3 percent, the second lowest in her career. Moore has also played year-round basketball for most of her professional career until this winter when she didn’t suit up for the USA Basketball Women’s National Team in the FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup.
It is not uncommon for American superstars like Moore to rest an entire WNBA season despite being healthy enough to play. Diana Taurasi missed the 2015 season to rest and Angel McCoughtry did the same in 2017. Since Moore is resting this fall and winter to recharge her batteries, it wouldn’t be unheard of to see her rest for an entire calendar year.
Moore doesn’t want to play for a rebuilding team
There aren’t many WNBA players who can claim to win an NCAAW Championship, a WNBA Championship, an Olympic gold medal, and a FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup gold medal in their careers, but Moore has done just that. In addition, Moore has played on dominant teams in the college and professional level throughout most of the past decade.
That changed in the 2018 WNBA season as Lindsay Whalen, Seimone Augustus and Rebekkah Brunson began to decline faster as a group, while Moore didn’t improve as she entered and remained in her prime. Minnesota was just 18-16 last season, following a seven-year stretch where the Lynx won 22 or more regular-season games and won four championships.
Whalen retired after last season and is now the head coach of the Minnesota Golden Gophers women’s basketball team. Augustus and Brunson are unrestricted free agents and can go anywhere they want. Even if both stay along with Moore, it is unlikely that Minnesota is contending for the 2019 WNBA Championship given how far other teams like the Seattle Storm and Washington Mystics have come. Moore is from Georgia, and if she wanted to play closer to home, angling for a trade to the Atlanta Dream could make sense.
It is time to get rid of the core player designation
Since 2015, there have been two WNBA superstars who demanded trades to other teams. In 2015, Sylvia Fowles demanded a trade from the Chicago Sky to the Lynx, and in 2017, Elena Delle Donne demanded a trade from the Sky to the Mystics. In the first situation, Fowles did not want to be cored and held up in Chicago while, in Delle Donne’s case, she was thinking about playing for Washington since the middle of the 2016 WNBA season, to be closer to family.
Even if Delle Donne had remained in Chicago past 2017, it is likely she would have been cored at some point later on. That would have limited Delle Donne’s opportunity to move to another team, perhaps well into her thirties. If Moore stays in Minnesota, she could see these things herself heading toward the later half of her prime.
According to Matt Ellentuck at SBNation.com, the core player designation is more punitive than its closest equivalent, the NFL player franchise tag, given that players could be cored up to four times in their careers. While this is good for teams that need to keep superstar talent, it also limits those superstars from testing the waters of free agency until the best days of their careers are behind them.
If superstar players like Fowles and, to a lesser extent, Delle Donne are willing to sit out seasons just to go where they want, perhaps this tag should be considered outdated. There should be incentives for professional athletes to stay with their current franchises, and perhaps even a franchise tag can be useful. But such tags can also have an adversarial effect on players who aren’t necessarily happy playing where they are.
It is difficult to say whether Moore is truly unhappy playing for the Lynx. But it is also clear that the new CBA needs to address the issue of star players willing to sit out seasons just to get to their preferred destinations if that is what they want to do.