Starting Five: Early reactions to WNBA Free Agency news

Photo Credit: Lamar Carter

The early portion of the WNBA free agency period always feels like a dam waiting to break. And when that dam breaks, the floodgates are opened. 

In many ways WNBA free agency has become to the W what the Trade Deadline is in Major League Baseball – a period during the calendar where the entire complexity of a league could change with simply a few moves. 

It has only been a few days, but the 2024 rendition of the chaos that is WNBA free agency has already told us a few things about players, teams and the league as a whole. Here are a few of those observations. 

Given how seemingly little information there was about Diggins-Smith as opposed to…say…a Nneka Ogwumike, one may have expected that we would have heard about an Ogwumike signing before one involving SDS. 

Instead the opposite happened as Diggins-Smith announced she would be taking her talents to the Pacific Northwest. Climate Pledge Arena will be her new hoops home as she will sport the green and gold of the Seattle Storm. 

This is a massive get for Noelle Quinn, Pokey Chatman and Talisa Rhea.

Diggins-Smith along with Jewell Loyd is a lethal backcourt. The fact that the Storm would send the fourth overall selection in this of all drafts was a sign that they were on the verge of something big. Bringing Diggins-Smith is a move that tells us the Storm are ready to compete again with the Las Vegas Aces, New York Liberty, Connecticut Sun and Dallas Wings. 

With the Diggins-Smith decision in the books, the attention of the WNBA sphere then turned to Ogwumike. 

It was revealed during the ESPN Free Agency special that Ogwumike narrowed down her decision to three teams – the Liberty, Storm and Chicago Sky. 

Then, Ogwumike revealed in a social media post where she would take her talents. Said news was also broken by little sister Chiney on ESPN.

To the Pacific Northwest.

With two moves, Rhea, Quinn and Chatman have turned the Storm into contenders once again. Seattle is one of the most passionate WNBA cities there is. Even during a rebuilding season last year, Climate Pledge Arena was still packed for Storm contests.

Ogwumike. Diggins-Smith. Jewell Loyd who had a career season last year. An Ezi Magbegor that is on the rise. Take Cover, indeed.

As for the Sparks’ former team, it is now very clear that the Sparks are all-in on its rebuild. 

Jasmine Thomas retired and now assumed a front office job within the Wings. Ogwumike leaves for Seattle.

One wonders if this was what Curt Miller anticipated he would be getting into when he left a contender in Connecticut for a rebuild in Southern California. Karen Bryant will focus solely on business operations and Raegan Pebley is the new general manager. 

The Sparks have also encountered a litany of criticism for not exactly having the best facilities – especially when compared to the Aces, Liberty and Storm. Regardless, the Sparks are clearly building for the future. 

Zia Cooke appears to be the future of the team. Along with whoever Los Angeles drafts with the second, fourth and eighth selections because of trades made with Seattle and Atlanta (Jordin Canada). 

Speaking of Atlanta…

Tina Charles is a name we have not heard that much from lately. She has been a journeywoman lately with stops at the Storm, Phoenix Mercury and Washington Mystics. 

Dan Padover has done it again. Along with landing Canada (plus Aerial Powers and Nia Coffey), the Dream also signed Charles to, what is being reported as, a one-year contract. 

One thing to keep in mind is Charles is 35 years old. But she still is in search of her first championship. And Atlanta is a team on the rise with Rhyne Howard, Cheyenne Parker and Allisha Gray. 

The best bet is for Charles to be that veteran mentor for the rest of the team – similar to Parker. The worst would be if she resembles a grizzled and old veteran. Our guess is she will be that veteran mentor that brings the Dream to that next level as contenders. 

An early story of how this free agent period has turned out has been the dichotomy between smaller market franchises that are clearly in “win-now” mode for 2024 and larger teams that are in rebuild mode.

Look at what the Phoenix Mercury have done. Natasha Cloud, who previously played for a major market team in the Washington Mystics has headed to the Valley. The same Cloud who had a 33-point, nine-assist, six-rebound, four-steal performance in a narrow playoff loss to the Liberty in what turned out to be her final game in the Washington colors. New York’s fans tipped their caps to Cloud after the contest.

Speaking of the Mercury, it appears they will also complete a deal with the Chicago Sky to land former 2021 Finals MVP Kahleah Copper in exchange for players and draft compensation. Not to mention landing Bec Allen. Also, we now know Elena Delle Donne plans to take time away from the game.

Washington, Los Angeles and Chicago appear all to be rebuilding yet Phoenix and Seattle are looking like contenders. This is….wow.