We are roughly 2 ½ months out from tip off of the 2022 WNBA season. Many of the big name free agents have already signed with new teams or will be back with their incumbent teams for that upcoming season – one where 36 games will be contested as opposed to last season’s 32.
Ranking certain teams by “tiers” has become a hot trend among sports fans and media. One tier, ideally, has certain teams as shoo-ins to contend for a championship. A few others may be knocking on the door but not quite yet because of what has happened in free agency. Others are jousting for that eighth and final playoff berth, then there are a couple of others who may simply “Bustin’ for (Aliyah) Boston” this season.
Without further adieu, here are our four tiers of WNBA currently as the 2022 season inches ever…so…closer…
Tier 1 – Phoenix Mercury, Connecticut Sun, Chicago Sky, Seattle Storm
Here we have our tier 1 teams – those that will almost certainly make a run to the WNBA Finals in 2022. As of today, we are putting four teams in that that top tier.
Two of those teams are two of last season’s Finals participants as one could expect, the Mercury will be entering the 2022 season with a new coach in Vanessa Nygaard, but managed to add Diamond DeShields and Tina Charles in free agency. Jim Pitman and Vince Kozar pulled a rabbit out of their hats managing to sign DeShields and Charles while keeping Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner and Skylar Diggins-Smith without running into onerous cap issues.
As for the Chicago Sky, there was a period of time where it looked as if they may be knocked down into a lower tier after its championship-winning season of 2021. Fortunately for Skytown, James Wade pulled off resigning both of the VanderQuigs to new contracts as well as last year’s Finals MVP – Kahleah (Freakin’) Copper. Plus, they inked a new deal with 2019 Finals MVP Emma Meesseman. Candace Parker will be back as well.
Connecticut is always the team that flies under everyone’s radar – in part because of where they play, but continues to be the best kept secret in the WNBA. The Sun once again were only a few wins shy of the Finals last season before losing to Chicago in four games. Everyone is coming back from the 2021 rendition of the Sun (Jonquel Jones, Alyssa Thomas, Jasmine Thomas, DeWanna Bonner) (hopefully healthy for the full season) plus they get Courtney Williams back who was part of Curt Miller’s 2019 team that nearly won the Finals vs. Washington that season.
As for Seattle, who knows if this is their Last Dance. The Storm struggled a bit after winning the Commissioner’s Cup last season, but they get back Sue Bird for one more season plus Breanna Stewart who signed for a one-year deal as well. Jewell Loyd is coming back too even though she re-signed for two seasons. Winning a championship and extending what would be an even-yeared dynasty in Seattle may go a long way in ensuring Stewie signs and remains with the Storm long-term, but could the allure and bright lights of her native New York be too much to pass up beginning with 2023?
Tier 2 – Minnesota Lynx, Las Vegas Aces, Los Angeles Sparks
Here is tier 2 – teams that may make some noise to put a scare into the tier 1s, but still may fall just short.
If one thing is true about the Minnesota Lynx, it is a team that will find a way to contend. Speaking of Last Dances, this will be that for Sylvia Fowles – the team’s last remaining notable link (or is it lynk) to the glory days of the 2010s. Sweet Syl deserves all of her sweet flowers and it would be a sight for sore eyes to see Minnesota make one more run before she sprints off into that orange WNBA sunset. With Natalie Achonwa, Layshia Clarendon, Napheesa Collier, Kayla McBride and Aerial Powers returning plus Angel McCoughtry joining, Minnesota has the tools that make that very run.
The Los Angeles Sparks have arguably been the story of the free agency period. Liz Cambage. Katie Lou Samuelson, Jordin Canada. Chennedy Carter. All will be sporting the purple and gold this upcoming season. For all the flack Derek Fisher gets from Sparks fans, one has to ask how he pulled that off without cap issues similarly to what the Mercury did. And this is for a team that still has Nneka Ogwumike, Chiney Ogwumike, Kristi Toliver and Amanda Zahui B. on its roster. The Sparks are looking to get back to the playoffs in its first full season back to Crypto.com since 2019.
There is no question that the Las Vegas Aces, who were in the 2020 WNBA Finals in the bubble with the storm took a massive hit this free agent period. Yes, they got back A’ja Wilson but losing McCoughtry to the Lynx and Cambage to the Sparks means Becky Hammon’s work will be cut out for her in her first season at the helm with the Aces. Las Vegas still does have Chelsea Gray and Dearica Hamby who will likely be part of its starting lineup in addition to Kiah Stokes in addition to Kalani Brown who recently signed after balling out at Athletes Unlimited. One thing is for certain – this is fully Wilson’s team now.
Tier 3 – Washington Mystics, New York Liberty, Dallas Wings
Here is tier 3 – featuring, fittingly, three teams that will likely be jockeying for position in terms of that final playoff berth.
Of course, all things with Washington hinge on how healthy or not Elena Delle Donne will be. She participated in only a few games last season and was not with the Mystics in the bubble two seasons ago. There have been optimistic reports coming out of D.C. indicating Delle Donne may be fully ready to go in 2022 and that the comeback tour is on. In addition, Elizabeth Williams – formerly of Atlanta – will also be wearing Mystics colors this season. Add that to Natasha Cloud, Tianna Hawkins and Ariel Atkins (plus the first overall pick in the draft which will be Kentucky’s Rhyne Howard, according to Lines.com) and Washington may not have to worry about lottery ping pong balls as was the case last season.
Will the real New York Liberty please stand up? That is the question at Atlantic and Flatbush. New York will get much-needed help at the five with the addition of Stefanie Dolson from the defending champion Sky, but will miss the toughness that Jazmine Jones brought to the team. Sandy Brondello’s first season in Brooklyn will see a mix of vets such as Dolson, Natasha Howard and Sami Whitcomb along with young talents including DiDi Richards, Sabrina Ionescu and 2021 Rookie of the Year Michaela Onyenwere. Then – there’s Betnijah Laney. The question: is the real Liberty team more like what we saw at the beginning of 2021 when they began white-hot or after the Olympic break where New York went cold and nearly missed the playoffs.
There are two things, among many, that are much-loved within the Dallas Wings’ organization – draft picks and Arike Ogunbowale who Dallas re-upped with. As far as those draft picks go, it appears they are finally starting to bear fruit. Whether it is Satou Sabally, Ty Harris, Bella Alarie or Allisha “Gold Medal Lish” Gray, the Wings are a team that clearly is on the up and up. This is not even considering that Dallas will have a top four pick again because of a trade with the Sparks. Vickie Johnson will be entering her second season at the helm in the metroplex and if 2021 was any indication, it may be a sign that the ascent for the Wings is just now taking place.
Tier 4 – Indiana Fever, Atlanta Dream
Now we have reached our final tier – and that is tier four – featuring a pair of teams that have been stuck in hoops purgatory for a few seasons and may now see a certain South Carolina Gamecock as their way out.
And that Gamecock, believe it or not is not A’ja Wilson.
Indiana may actually have taken a step forward recently with the announcement that Tamika Catchings would be stepping down as general manager. It was a kind gesture by the Fever to name her to the GM role given what she has meant to the franchise in a state that loves basketball. It became crystal clear that being a general manager may have been too much to handle for Catch. Getting rid of two lottery picks in Lauren Cox and Kysre Gondrezick shortly after they both were drafted by Indiana was a sign that they either were not drafting the right players or were not scouting the correct players. Indiana did sign Bria Hartley, Alaina Coates and Jazmine Jones to go along with Jantel Lavender, Teaira McCowan, Tiffany Mitchell, Kelsey Mitchell and Victoria Vivians, but if things do not turn around quick in Indy, 2022 could be Marianne Stanley’s final season as coach.
As for the Dream, last season was tumultuous for reasons that had nothing to do with being thrust in the political spotlight ala the 2020 bubble season. From the reported Chennedy Carter-Courtney Williams beef after a blowout loss in Las Vegas to that viral video involving Williams and Crystal Bradford to losing another draft lottery, Atlanta’s first season at Gateway Center Arena in College Park had as many potholes as one’s average ATL street. They did sign a veteran in Erica Wheeler along with another Kia Vaughn and still have Tiffany Hayes on the roster. Tanisha Wright will be at the helm of a young Atlanta bunch still searching for an identity after coming so close to the Finals in McCoughtry last season in the Big Peach – 2019.
For now, both the Atlanta Dream and Indiana Fever front offices are likely watching Aliyah Boston highlights on a continuous loop.