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2023 WNBA Free Agency: Will lottery victory attract talented free agents to Indiana Fever?

The Indiana Fever have struggled to bring in stars in recent years, which is why they have remained at the bottom of the league. But now that Aliyah Boston is likely on the way to Indiana, will current WNBA stars want to join her, Kelsey Mitchell and NaLyssa Smith?

2023 WNBA Draft Lottery
Kelsey Mitchell at the 2023 WNBA lottery.
Photo by Chris Marion/NBAE via Getty Images

The Indiana Fever’s last season where they went .500 or better was their 17-17 campaign in 2016. That’s also the last time they made the playoffs. It was Tamika Catchings’ last season after she had led the team to a Finals appearance the year before.

Over the last four seasons the Fever’s winning percentage has gone from .382 to .273 to .188 to .139. They never were able to draft first overall over that span, nor have they done so at any point in their history. That changes this year with the Fever currently on the clock with the potential opportunity to select South Carolina star Aliyah Boston.

Indiana has a new head coach in Christie Sides after neither Marianne Stanley nor Carlos Knox was able to find much success last year. In addition, this is former Fever champion head coach Lin Dunn’s first full offseason as the franchise’s general manager since taking over for Catchings. Can Dunn begin to turn things around?

By the numbers*

Free agents (type) (2022 average salary)

  • Tiffany Mitchell (unrestricted) ($148,400)
  • Victoria Vivians (restricted) ($72,141)
  • Bernadett Határ (suspended/contract expired) ($58,710 — 2021)
  • Emma Cannon (restricted) ($50,713)
  • Khayla Pointer (reserved) ($37,121)
  • Chelsey Perry (suspended/contract expired) ($30,900 — 2021)
  • Rennia Davis (reserved) ($18,560)

Total average salary of free agents: $416,545

Total team salary: $892,948

Cap space: $527,552


Let’s say the Fever don’t try to keep Bernadett Határ, Khayla Pointer, Chelsey Perry or Rennia Davis. They keep Lexie Hull because she was too big of an investment at No. 6 in last year’s draft. They draft Boston at No. 1 and Aijha Blackwell at No. 7 (that’s who ESPN currently has them taking). That leaves them with these players on a 12-woman roster (roughly in order of importance with projected salaries):

  • Kelsey Mitchell, starting SG ($206,000)
  • Aliyah Boston, starting C ($74,305)
  • NaLyssa Smith, starting PF ($73,584)
  • Victoria Vivians, starting SF ($115,000, a $42,859 raise)
  • Queen Egbo, second C ($67,634)
  • Danielle Robinson, starting PG ($155,000)
  • Emily Engstler, second SF ($73,584)
  • Tiffany Mitchell, second SG ($148,400, no change in pay)
  • Emma Cannon, second PF ($85,000, a $34,287 raise)
  • Destanni Henderson, second PG ($64,657)
  • Aijha Blackwell, third SF ($71,300)
  • Lexie Hull, third SG ($70,609)

This likely isn’t going to get the job done, though Boston could make a large impact right away and if Smith takes a big sophomore leap, that’s not a bad big three with those two and K. Mitchell.

This also leaves the Fever just $16,083 over what they are required to pay in total as a minimum and with an incredible $215,427 left to spend. They could pay a 13th player over the max if they were allowed to have 13 players.

So what do they do? Well, this is a good free agent market for power forwards with Emma Meesseman and Brionna Jones both unrestricted free agents (this is assuming the Fever have no shot at Breanna Stewart, Candace Parker or Nneka Ogwumike). But the Fever have their supposed power forward of the future with NaLyssa Smith in the starting lineup. They could upgrade their backup by replacing Emma Cannon, but likely want their big free agent signing to be at a position they don’t have a star at.

That leaves small forward and point guard. Outside of point guard Courtney Vandersloot, there aren’t really any superstars available at those two positions. Vandersloot would be a dream scenario, but returning Erica Wheeler to the club is more realistic.

Wheeler has the fond memory of winning All-Star Game MVP as a member of the Fever and might want to come back and help the team get out of its rut. Wheeler, to me, is the second-best point guard available, ahead of Moriah Jefferson and Jordin Canada, neither of whom would be a big enough upgrade over Danielle Robinson to make a significant impact on the Fever’s winning percentage. Wheeler, to me, would be a big enough upgrade though. I thought she should have made her second All-Star Game in 2021 when she was with the Sparks. If Indiana can get the 2021 version of Wheeler (13.6 points and 4.8 assists per game) I think that would be a pretty good situation.

WNBA: All Star Game
Erica Wheeler as an All-Star in 2019
Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

The Fever could put Wheeler in the starting lineup, move DRob to the bench, where she could still have a big impact, and have Destanni Henderson also play some minutes and see if her high ceiling pans out.

The Fever likely wouldn’t want to be done after that. Let’s say they try to bring in that small forward too, so that Victoria Vivians can join Robinson on a strong bench unit. If Sophie Cunningham is willing to give up her role on a contender, I’d say go after her. And hey, the situation is getting better in Indiana with Boston and now potentially Wheeler.

Cunningham is listed as a guard, but she’s 6-foot-1 and played up a spot (sometimes two) in Phoenix’s Brittney Griner-less small-ball lineup last year. She was my vote for Most Improved Player as she flashed star potential with 12.6 points per game and 2.5 made threes per game at a 40 percent clip. If that 36-point performance is any indicator, her scoring average could be much higher than 12.6 in the future, and she’s only 26.

The Fever would have to let another player go to make room for Cunningham and I say they should let go of Hull because they have two good shooting guards in the Mitchells and should hold on to this year’s No. 7 pick instead of last year’s surprising and ultimately unsuccessful No. 6 pick. By the way, I think they should change their No. 7 selection to Maddy Siegrist over Blackwell to have a power forward to replace Cannon and back up Smith. Siegrist is the best power forward available in the draft and can put points on the board in a hurry, which the Fever desperately need.

If they keep 12 players, the Fever can afford to pay Wheeler around $200,000 and Cunningham around $170,000, or some other combination of the $371,036 between the two. If they feel like letting go of their third point guard, Henderson, they could pay Wheeler the supermax of $234,936 and Cunningham around $200,000, which is nearly the max. Not that Indiana will actually pay Wheeler the supermax (maybe they split it at around $215,000 each or give in to the power forward option and get a bigger star), but she did earn a lot in 2022 ($185,400) and the Fever need to overpay to get someone really good to come play for them. Cunningham made $75,000 last year on the final year of her rookie contract. It will be interesting to see how much value teams place on her given her breakout season and age. Wheeler is unrestricted and Cunningham is restricted.

It might be best to just hold on to Henderson instead over going way overboard on the two free agents because I believe Henderson is going to be a valuable WNBA player somewhere down the road.

* All salary numbers come from HerHoopStats