The 2022 WNBA free agency period isn’t yet over, but enough of the big names are in place to get a determination of how each team has reshaped itself or reloaded during the offseason.
Save for the Dallas Wings, every franchise made substantial moves to upgrade its roster for this season or set itself up for the future. There were a number of transactions that deserved high praise, as well as some head-scratchers, and it’s safe to say the race to the top of the WNBA standings will be as competitive as ever in the upcoming season.
With so much player — and coaching — movement, the Swish Appeal staff decided to get together to answer a simple question: Who is the biggest winner of free agency? It turns out building a consensus was anything but simple.
Eric Nemchock: The Sky entered the offseason with quite a few things to take care of, and while it seemed inevitable that they’d lose at least one or two pieces of their championship-caliber core, they’ve done a magnificent job of retaining their most important players while mitigating their losses. The team couldn’t afford to keep Stefanie Dolson or Diamond DeShields, but Emma Meesseman and Crystal Bradford are more-than-capable replacements at their respective positions, and a trade for Julie Allemand secured the Sky’s guard rotation for both 2022 and the future.
These moves have also freed up enough money to keep Courtney Vandersloot, Allie Quigley and Kahleah Copper; it’s very possible that the 2022 Sky will be even better than the team that won it all in 2021, and the moves they’ve done to achieve that while under significant salary cap constraints have been spectacular.
Zack Ward: If you like points, you like what the Phoenix Mercury did this offseason. Tina Charles was already an all-time great scorer; in 2021, she made 19 more threes than her previous career best and did it in six less games and at the highest percentage of her career (a solid 36.5 percent). She was the scoring champion and I don’t think it’d be wise to sleep on her at age 33 when you saw what Sylvia Fowles did at age 35 last year. Judging by that, Charles may have a few not just good, but MVP-level seasons ahead of her.
Add her to Brittney Griner and Diana Taurasi, who were the most lethal scoring duo in last year’s postseason, and the Mercury are scary. They have the players who finished second, fifth and seventh in MVP voting last year and another in Taurasi who played at an MVP level in the playoffs. Then there’s Diamond DeShields, Phoenix’s other big offseason addition. I’m firmly in the ‘DeShields is a star’ camp and think she has all the tools to get back to that level. On the ESPN free agency special, Rebecca Lobo even called DeShields a potential future MVP, which would give the Mercury an entire starting five in the conversation. I like DeShields at the 3, with Skylar Diggins-Smith and Diana Taurasi in the backcourt and Charles and Griner in the frontcourt. I don’t think anybody will step on anybody else’s toes too much, so I think it was a home run to get Charles and DeShields.
Cat Ariail: After Chicago’s 2021 shoot-for-the-Sky signing of Candace Parker produced a championship, there’s a tendency to see teams that took the big swings as free agency’s winners. However, I’m intrigued by a team that doubled down on familiarity — the Connecticut Sun.
Most importantly, the Sun re-upped reigning MVP Jonquel Jones for max money for two seasons. But it is the return of Courtney Williams to CT that makes the Sun big winners. Williams’ personal misfortune, a product of her ignominious end with the Atlanta Dream, is the Sun’s good fortune, allowing an organization facing salary cap constraints to upgrade on the steady and solid Briann January with the spicy and electrifying Williams. We saw how Williams could increase the Sun’s upside in the 2019 WNBA Finals, providing a fearlessness that the team lacked as things stagnated for them in the 2021 playoffs. Add a highly-motivated Williams to Connecticut’s high-dollar core of J. Jones, Alyssa Thomas and DeWanna Bonner, who are finally expected to play a full season together, and the Sun appear to be positioned to turn last season’s disappointment into a long-awaited title.
Sabreena Merchant: Truly, it’s hard to find too many offseasons not to like in the WNBA this season. Even teams that didn’t make splashy improvements could be considered winners: Indiana picked a direction for the future, Dallas doubled down on its young core, Washington kept Myisha Hines-Allen and got Elizabeth Williams on a bargain, and could be getting both Alysha Clark and Elena Delle Donne back from injury.
But the biggest winner? For now, let’s say the Seattle Storm. They had a starting lineup full of free agents and got essentially everyone back, a minor miracle in this new era of player movement. That includes one final year of Sue Bird, who at age 41, is somehow still the only point guard who can drive the Storm to success. Seattle also kept Breanna Stewart, Jewell Loyd, and Mercedes Russell, the core of a team that was wrecking the rest of the league — remember that Commissioner’s Cup final? — until Stewart went down. Adding Briann January was another coup. She’s a defensive menace who has shot at least 37 percent from three each of the last four seasons and can play next to Bird and Loyd.
This is a contending team that knows how to play with one another and is hungry after bowing out in the second round of last year’s postseason, so getting the band back together is a big win. Bet against a healthy Breanna Stewart at your own peril.