It was another offseason that drastically changed the landscape of the WNBA.
Another offseason where teams that were contenders all of a sudden became pretenders in many eyes.
Another offseason that made us rethink exactly where our 12 teams stood in the WNBA’s overall pecking order.
A unique element of this season is that it will span 40 games as was announced by commissioner Cathy Engelbert at last season’s All-Star festivities in Chicago. The recently played preseason game in Canada between the Minnesota Lynx and Chicago Sky drew nearly 20,000 fans to Scotiabank Arena, giving the WNBA another wave of momentum with the season set to begin. The Sky won that game by a final of 82-74.
The regular season begins on May 19 with four games – including three with Commissioner’s Cup implications. The first will feature the Connecticut Sun at the Indiana Fever and the second sees the New York Liberty at the Washington Mystics. The third will see a rematch of the Canada Game when the Sky visit the Lynx at Target Center and the Phoenix Mercury will open the season in Los Angeles at the Sparks.
The following day, the Atlanta Dream will open their regular season schedule at the Dallas Wings in Arlington and the Las Vegas Aces will travel to Seattle to take on the Storm.
The following day will see three more games – including Brittney Griner’s home return for the Mercury as they welcome the Sky to Arizona.
How do we have our 12 WNBA teams as another season is upon us? Here is a look as we prepare to tip off what is sure to be another thrilling season of WNBA hoops!
As the defending champions, it is only appropriate that one has the Aces as the odds-on favorite to repeat. While coach Becky Hammon has been linked to the opening at the Toronto Raptors, but why would any coach leave a team that may or may not be on the precipice of a dynasty.
As if Las Vegas was not already scary enough – they added Candace Parker in the offseason in free agency. If it is one thing we know about her it is wherever she goes, championships are sure to follow. Ask the Sparks and ask the Sky. In addition, the reigning league MVP in A’ja Wilson is back to add onto what has already become an illustrious resume that has her firmly among the league’s all-time greats. Alysha Clark, who was part of the 2018 championship-winning Seattle Storm, is also part of this team. Add on Kelsey Plum, Jackie Young, Chelsea Gray and company and the Aces once again look like the team to beat in the W.
Ever since the 2018 season where James Dolan moved the New York Liberty from Madison Square Garden to the Westchester County Center, the team has consistently been in the bottom half of the WNBA standings. This includes the 2020 bubble season where the Lib went 2 for the entire bubble.
New York’s ascent back to the top of the WNBA heap has been gradual – and it took a massive step this past offseason as general manager Jonathan Kolb had, arguably, the best offseason of any WNBA team. The Liberty managed to acquire Jonquel Jones via trade – as massive a boost to a team’s post play efforts as one could get. They fulfilled the dreams of many Lib Loyals by returning Breanna Stewart to her native Empire State and they added Courtney Vandersloot to a cast that already includes Betnijah Laney and Sabrina Ionescu. New York not only added great players, but great players with championship pedigree and MVP trophies in the case of Stewie and Jones. With the massive upgrade Sandy Brondello’s team had this past offseason, the Liberty will be winning a lot more than just two games in 2023.
The question many a WNBA pundit has asked over the offseason has been this. With the Aces and Liberty clearly setting themselves up to be the class of the W over the next few seasons, can any team possibly challenge the Las Vegas-New York two-headed monster?
A good place to look would be our nation’s capital. Southeastern DC to be precise. Washington will have a first-year head coach as Eric Thibault assumes the reigns from Mike as he takes a role within the Mystics as its full-time general manager. The health of Elena Delle Donne has been the key for Washington’s contender status these past few seasons. The Mystics also brought Kristi Toliver – a key element of the team’s 2019 championship run – back into the fold. Shakira Austin, who had a stellar 2022 rookie season, is also back for the ‘Stics and Amanda Zahui B. will also call the district home this season.
Speaking of teams that may have real chances at challenging that Las Vegas-New York two-headed monster, Tinseltown may also be a viable place to look.
The Sparks are another team that experienced a wholesale reshuffling of its front office. Los Angeles has put the Derek Fisher years behind them and landed Curt Miller, formerly the Connecticut Sun’s coach, to southern California. Plus, Karen Bryant has assumed a role as the team’s general manager.
Miller led the Sun to two WNBA Finals – once in 2019 and once last season. Both Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike are back for Los Angeles and the team fittingly added a former Sun in Jasmine Thomas. Dearica Hamby is also now part of the Sparks following a controversial trade that had her leave the Aces. Jordin Canada is on this team. One of Los Angeles’ newcomers is Zia Cooke, who the team drafted out of South Carolina. She had an impressive preseason contest recently against the Mercury where she scored 12 points.
Phoenix, unarguably, experienced the most turmoil and drama of any of our 12 WNBA teams last season – and it was sadly all out of the team’s control. It felt from start to finish as if something was missing from last season’s rendition.
That something was Brittney Griner who is making her triumphant return to Phoenix this season. BG did show signs of rust in the Merc’s recent preseason game against the Sparks, but one can certainly expect her to right the ship. In addition, Diana Taurasi is back for another season. The question with Phoenix over the last few seasons has been if they looked more like a team of veterans or a team that has aged. The Mercury made the playoffs last season despite all of the turmoil that was going on and the issues the team were having with coach Vanessa Nygaard. Griner’s return is certain to give Phoenix an emotional lift, but will it be enough to catapult the Mercury to another deep playoff run? It is possible.
No team may have undergone a more thorough front office shuffle than the Connecticut Sun. Team president Jen Rizzotti is certainly putting her stamp on the team as it transitions out of the Curt Miller era.
Stephanie White has replaced Miller as the team’s head coach. Along with that, the Sun also brought in former Atlanta Dream assistant Darius Taylor to assume a role as the team’s new general manager as well as former WNBA player Morgan Tuck to be the assistant general manager. While the team did suffer a couple of key losses with its former league MVP going to New York and another of its key players going to Los Angeles, Connecticut still does have Alyssa Thomas to wear its signature blue, orange and white jerseys this season. Also, DeWanna Bonner is returning to the Sun this season. The Sun will be an interesting team to watch as all indications appear to be that they will be more middle of the road than the title contenders they have been as of late.
The Atlanta Dream are a classic case of a team that had a successful season in 2022 without actually making the playoffs. After all, the last time the Dream were consistently in the playoff conversation was 2019 when Atlanta nearly advanced to the Finals with Angel McCoughtry as the face of its franchise.
When one has a coach such as Tanisha Wright and a general manager in Dan Padover who essentially was the architect in building the Aces into the juggernaut they are today, one can certainly see why the Dream are playing in front of packed crowds at Gateway Center Arena. Last season’s Rookie of the Year – Rhyne Howard – is back for her sophomore campaign. The Dream also added Allisha Gray during the offseason along with the drafting of Stanford’s Haley Jones and South Carolina’s Laeticia Amihere. Atlanta barely missed out on the playoffs last season. One can guess that will not be the case in 2023 as the Dream have the pieces in place to be one of those final eight postseason teams.
Dallas was one of several WNBA teams that experienced a coaching vacancy over the offseason. While the team may have qualified for the playoffs the last couple of seasons, it is clear that Greg Bibb and Amber Cox are expecting more than just a first round exit. With that, they brought in a new coach in Latricia Trammell.
Of course the most noteworthy player that is on the Wings roster is Arike Ogunbowale. If Dallas is to have long-term success, their goal ought to be to build pieces around Ogunbowale that could really catapult Dallas into pure contender status. Teaira McCowan has all of the potential to be one of those pieces. Diamond DeShields arrives in north Texas following stints with the Phoenix Mercury and Chicago Sky. The veteran presence and championship pedigree of a Natasha Howard helps as well. Dallas once again also dominated in the draft – they selected Maddy Siegrist out of Villanova, but the Wings organization has to be getting tired being the team everyone talks about in mid-April. Dallas wants to be the team on everyone lips in September.
The goal for Lin Dunn has been to change the culture at the Indiana Fever. It has been a culture that has been mostly devoid of winning ever since Tamika Catchings retired and actually took another step back following the firing of Pokey Chatman. The Fever were another team that underwent a change in coach.
Christie Sides now takes over after a Marianne Stanley era in Indiana that was less than memorable. But, of course, all eyes will be on the Fever’s No. 1 overall draft selection in Aliyah Boston. She is expected to potentially be the face of the Fever’s franchise for the next 15 seasons. The reuniting of Boston with her teammate from South Carolina in Destanni Henderson should also pay worthwhile dividends. And the team still has the veteran presence of an Erica Wheeler. The goal for Indiana should not be playoffs – after all that did not even happen (barely) in A’ja Wilson’s first season with the Aces. The goal should be to get back to where they were when the team let go of Chatman. If Indiana can do that – which we think will happen – then it is a successful season.
As volatile as WNBA free agency can be nowadays, all it takes is a few months and a team can go potentially from riches to rags just as easily as it can go from rags to riches. The Seattle Storm are a perfect case study for this as the team enters its second season back at Climate Pledge Arena.
Noelle Quinn’s team experienced a pair of key losses. We know what those losses are. They were the retirement of Sue Bird as well as Breanna Stewart calling it a career in Emerald City and relocating to Atlantic & Flatbush. The centerpiece of the team is now Jewell Loyd, who herself was an important element to the reemergence of the Storm as a WNBA power in the late 2010s and into the bubble of 2020. Seattle may boast one of the more passionate fanbases in all of women’s basketball, but it appears that fanbase may have to endure yet another rebuild similar to the one it endured between the championship of 2010 and the drafting of Stewie in 2016.
Speaking of teams that went from the penthouse to the basement. Let us just say that the view of the Loop and the lake is a lot more visually appealing at the top of the Willis Tower than it is from an underground Metra station in the Loop. James Wade would know given the changes his team saw over the offseason.
Chicago blew that late Game 5 lead to the Connecticut Sun and with it any chance the Sky had of extending its reign over the WNBA beyond 2021. Candace Parker left for the Las Vegas Aces. Courtney Vandersloot left for the New York Liberty. Allie Quigley is taking a year off. Despite the predictions of many seeing the Sky falling, Wade and his team appear to be using the words of doubters as fuel ala the Sun’s old “DisrespeCT” campaign of 2019-22. Chicago did win the Canada Game by a final of 82-74 over Minnesota. Former Finals MVP is still on the Sky’s roster as is an emerging Dana Evans. As is Rebekah Gardner, Courtney Williams and Elizabeth Williams. We will be more than happy to eat our words if the Sky were to embark on a run. After all, players do like playing for Wade which is why the hire was so praised when it was first made.
If the last few years have proven anything, they have shown that even Cheryl Reeve-coached teams can undergo their fair share of growing pains. Front office restructuring was the calling card for many WNBA teams over the offseason and the team that calls the Land of 10,000 Lakes its home was no exception.
Reeve, who is also the team’s president of basketball operations named Clare Duwelius as Lynx general manager and this is occurring against the backdrop of the team transitioning to new ownership. As of this writing, Marc Lore and Alex Rodriguez now own 40% of the Lynx (and Timberwolves) franchise. Minnesota is in a similar position that Dallas has been in with Arike Ogunbowale – how to put pieces around Napheesa Collier that can bring the Lynx back to being title contenders. Diamond Miller, the rookie out of Maryland could be one of those that may make a run at Rookie of the Year. One must also remember that Aerial Powers has played on a championship team and Kayla McBride is one of the premier 3-point shooters in the W. Brea Beal also has the chance to make an immediate impact. Watch out though if the Lynx are 6-24 heading into the final 10-game stretch of the season. If so, the names Paige Bueckers (a native Minnesotan) and Caitlin Clark may start to weigh heavily on Reeve’s brain.