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(Updated) 2021 WNBA Free Agency: Brionna Jones’ pay nearly doubles with Sun after 2020 improvement

Brionna Jones showed tremendous upside in 2020 and now she will continue to use her talents to aid the Connecticut Sun while being paid $120,000 per year over the next two years. Her re-signing ensures that she and former Maryland teammate Alyssa Thomas will continue to be teammates on one of the three teams they've played together on, with the other being ZVVZ USK Praha.

Connecticut Sun v Las Vegas Aces - Game Five
Brionna Jones upped her scoring average in 2020 from 3.5 points per game to 11.2 points.
Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

The Connecticut Sun have re-signed Brionna Jones, one of the most improved players in the WNBA, to a two-year contract worth $120,000 each year. They have also signed Sydney Wallace, who currently plays in Poland, to a training camp contract.

Earlier, the Sun re-signed Jasmine Thomas to a three-year contract and announced on Tuesday that they signed Alyssa Thomas to a multi-year extension despite the fact that she recently tore her Achilles while playing overseas.

The Connecticut franchise has demonstrated its loyalty to A. Thomas and its desire to test out its big three of A. Thomas, DeWanna Bonner and Jonquel Jones — albeit in 2022 now, due to A. Thomas’ injury.

As a player who carried the Sun through two postseasons while making less than star money, and a player who is expected to do great things when she returns, A. Thomas — considered “The Engine” for Connecticut — still deserved her payday.

The Sun acquired Bonner last offseason in a sign-and-trade, but J. Jones opted out of the 2020 WNBA season due to COVID concerns, leaving the Sun with a star duo instead of a trio. When it was J. Jones and A. Thomas leading the show in 2019, Connecticut was one win away from a WNBA championship and Sun fans were left wondering if the team could have hoisted the trophy had all three stars suited up in 2020.

The goal of Sun head coach and general manager Curt Miller, who recently signed a four-year extension, is to make sure fans are confident about the franchise’s future, which required re-signing Thomas as the No. 1 priority.

The Sun struggled mightily on the offensive end of the floor in 2020 and finished with a 10-12 record before making a surge to the semifinal round of the playoffs. J. Jones will rectify many of the offensive woes when she returns this season, but the team could still use another 3-point threat to improve upon its 31.1-percent shooting from distance last season, which ranked 11th in the league.


By the numbers*

Free agents (type) (average salary) (new salary)

  • Bria Holmes (unrestricted) ($130,000)
  • Jasmine Thomas (unrestricted) ($118,500) ($185,000)
  • Alyssa Thomas (unrestricted) ($115,000) ($200,000)
  • Theresa Plaisance (unrestricted) ($103,333)
  • Essence Carson (unrestricted) ($85,000)
  • Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis (unrestricted) ($68,232)
  • Brionna Jones (restricted) ($68,000) ($120,000)

Team figures

Total average salary of free agents: $688,065

Total team salary (including Jasmine Thomas, Alyssa Thomas and Brionna Jones, but none of the other players above): $1,099,446

Cap space: $239,554

Analysis

Las Vegas Aces v Connecticut Sun - Game Three
From left to right: DeWanna Bonner, Brionna Jones, Jasmine Thomas and Alyssa Thomas huddle during A. Thomas’ heroic effort in Game 3 of the 2020 semifinals.
Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

Brionna Jones received the pay day that she deserved. If anything she may have deserved a little more.

The Sun now have seven players under contract with three others under training camp contracts. They have $239,554 left to pay four to five players. And since that number divided by five is less than the player minimum of $58,710, they will have to go with four and one of them can’t be Bria Holmes at her current pay. The Sun will likely have to stick with the three players on training camp contracts (Natisha Hiedeman, Beatrice Mompremier and Kamiah Smalls) and sign one of their second round draft picks.

We previously reported:

Alyssa Thomas’ contract is for four years and she will be paid $200,000 this year, which is well under the $221,450 supermax. However, we now know that Jasmine Thomas will be paid $185,000 this year, which is higher than anticipated. So Connecticut is not in as good shape as we expected money-wise.

Since we know that the Sun value Brionna Jones, Bria Holmes may be the one to go now that J. Thomas has been paid so much.

The Sun’s cheapest options for the bottom of their roster would be Kamiah Smalls, who is signed to a training camp contract at $58,710, and one of their second-round draft picks ($61,543). If Connecticut chooses to keep Smalls and just one draft pick (which would leave them with 11 players) and let Holmes go, the team could pay B. Jones as much money as they want because $239,301 would remain in cap space.

If they keep Holmes instead of the draft pick, the Sun will be left with $170,844. And if they let Holmes go but keep two draft picks to give them 12 players, they will be left with $177,758. Lastly, if they keep Holmes and try to keep 12 players, which would be ideal, they would be left with $47,758 — not enough to pay all 12 players, which means they would not be able to keep B. Jones.

It is possible for the Sun to still keep B. Jones as described above, but it’s going to mean letting a solid contributor in Holmes go, playing with 10 players (with A. Thomas hurt) or substituting Holmes for a less expensive proven contributor but paying B. Jones much less. And B. Jones was one of the most improved players in the league last year and should get high offers elsewhere.

Here’s how we broke things down before it was revealed that A. Thomas, J. Thomas and B. Jones will be staying:

The Sun have enough cap space to re-sign everyone if their salaries were to all remain the same. However, A. Thomas deserves a lot more money. With DeWanna Bonner and Jonquel Jones already making the supermax and the max, respectively, one would think Thomas’ salary will be right up there with those players she she inks her new contract.

A. Thomas is eligible for the supermax and has more experience in the league than J. Jones. Seeing as she has been improving at age 28, seeing to outdo herself year over year, she just may deserve it.

A. Thomas has the work ethic to come back stronger from injury than her pre-injury form, and we’ve already seen her outperform expectations, as well as everyone on the court, in spite of injury.

On Connecticut’s list of free agents, B. Jones stands out as another player deserving of a pay raise. She was on the outskirts of the Most Improved Player discussion since she upped her playing time and numbers significantly in 2020. The jury was still out on B. Jones entering the 2020 season, but it is now clear that she is a solid contributor who is on the rise at age 25. So, she will likely be making a lot more than her base salary of $68,000 from last year.

But will she keep her roster spot with Jasmine Thomas also being a huge priority?

J. Thomas is 31 years old and her scoring average has been on the decline since it peaked at 14.2 points per game in 2017. She did have one monster game in 2020 — 31 points in the playoffs — and she is certainly capable of leading the team in scoring on any given night. If Connecticut can convince her to re-sign for the same salary, rather than to one boosted in free agency, it has a better shot at keeping her.

The Sun must know, however, that J. Thomas could be a key contributor on another team if she is unhappy with her pay in Connecticut, though it is easy to imagine that it is her preference is to stay with the Sun and the good chemistry she has built with her teammates.

One obvious move for the Sun is to not re-sign Theresa Plaisance, who is making just over $100,000. Plaisance didn’t contribute much last season and letting her go leaves Connecticut with 12 players. Pay increases for A. Thomas and B. Jones, when added together, will likely be $10,000 to $30,000 over the $100,000 that was allocated to Plaisance’s salary, so there will still be more work to be done if Connecticut wants to keep J. Thomas.

That is unless the team feels justified in paying A. Thomas less because she will be out for a year with injury.

As for the other free agents, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis had an off year in 2020, Essence Carson is aging and Bria Holmes is pretty expensive at $130,000.

The Sun already have signed young, inexpensive players Natisha Hiedeman and Beatrice Mompremier to training camp contracts and second-year player Kaila Charles ($60,946) is likely a keeper, too, especially now since she brings a lot of what Thomas brings to the table. Hopefully those three (in addition to other young players) can take big leaps forward and provide depth to a roster that may be without some of the players who are free agents.

Hiedeman, a guard who can play the point, has shown enough promise to settle down Sun fans about the prospect of losing J. Thomas. She not only put up solid numbers in her second year for a No. 18 draft pick out of a mid-major, she is also tough and clutch.

A. Thomas said in a Zoom call on Tuesday that she does not plan on having surgery on the torn labra in her shoulders during her time off.

“I think that’s just too much,” A. Thomas said. “Right now I’m focused on this injury. I’m able to play with my shoulders. I’ve been doing it for years and I’m gonna continue playing the way that I play.”

As for her re-signing, it’s clear that there was a lot of loyalty involved on both sides. A. Thomas has played her entire seven-year WNBA career in Connecticut.

Here’s what Sun head coach Curt Miller had to say about the re-signing:

Despite the recent injury, it was important to show our loyalty for all that Alyssa Thomas has done for our franchise. AT has established herself as one of the premier players in the world. AT, known as our engine, is a fierce competitor and a defensive stopper. Offensively, she is a versatile facilitator who helps establish our attacking tempo. We know she will return from this set back better than ever.

And here’s what A. Thomas had to say:

I’m very happy to be continuing my career with the Sun. What we have been able to accomplish over the last few seasons has been really special, but the job isn’t done. I’m going to do everything I can to help bring home a championship for this team, our fans and the Mohegan Tribe. I am truly grateful for their belief in me.


This story was updated to include information about Alyssa Thomas’ Achilles injury, her, Jasmine Thomas and Brionna Jones’ re-signings with the Sun and the addition of Kamiah Smalls on a training camp contract.

* All WNBA salary information courtesy of Her Hoop Stats and spotrac and is current as of Feb. 4, 2021