2010 WNBA Free Agency, Pt. 1
Unrestricted Free Agents.
by Ben York
The start of the WNBA season is only four months away!
Now that the official 2010 WNBA free agent list is out, it is time to take a detailed look at which players and teams could make the most impact in the offseason. Something to keep in mind while reading this — no deals can be finalized or signed until February 1.
We, at SLAMonline, want to know where you think these players are going to go. Let your voice be heard. I’ll offer my opinion of where I think a few players could end up and what type of player(s) teams will go after, but we want to hear your opinion as well.
Now, before we get comments saying the Sparks should go out and sign Cappie Pondexter, Candice Dupree, and Lauren Jackson let’s not forget the single most important factor that WNBA teams will need to consider is their financial situation. This isn’t Major League Baseball and it is just the reality of the situation next year. I’d plan on more teams going after jersey sponsors and players having to make a tough decision about going somewhere for less money.
To begin, here are the unrestricted free agents for 2010 (for a full list of players, visit WNBA.com):
• Kiesha Brown
• Renae Camino
• Dominique Canty
• Tamecka Dixon
• Kristi Harrower
• Lauren Jackson
• Kara Lawson
• Hamchetou Maiga-Ba
• Taj McWilliams
• Coco Miller
• Kelly Miller
• Anna Montanana
• Ticha Penicheiro
• Ruth Riley
• Ashley Robinson
• Katie Smith
• Penny Taylor
• Nikki Teasley
• Le’coe Willingham
At first glance, my initial thought was the sheer number of impact and role players the 2010 free agency period has (not including the restricted free agents). It’s a nice mix of young players with some proven veterans and teams will need to decide how a potential player fits in not just with their style, but with their financial obstacles – something that is an unfortunate reality for many organizations.
The team that is in the most difficult situation is undoubtedly the Phoenix Mercury. Both Penny Taylor and Le’coe Willingham are unrestricted free agents and they’ll certainly draw interest from virtually every team in the league. With Cappie Pondexter being a restricted free agent, the Mercury will almost assuredly match any offer Cappie gets to keep her in Phoenix. Penny is such an amazing player that you’d have to think they’ll make a strong play for her as well (all indications are that Phoenix is where she wants to be). Doing so, what will happen to Le’coe Willingham? With the season she had in 2009, other teams will probably be able to offer her more money. At the end of last season, the Mercury maintained they still would like to gain depth at the 4 and 5 positions, and there are quite a few bigs on the market for Phoenix to look at. Something will have to give, and it remains to be seen if Le’coe will be the odd woman out.
In the 2010 free agency period, as I stated above, the bulk of decisions will consist on how much money each team has to spend. If we are being honest, there aren’t that many teams who can afford to sign a max deal with a player given their current situation. Though, you never know what could happen in the WNBA as evidenced by the recent trade between the Lynx and Sun.
With Lisa Leslie gone, the Sparks have now freed up a nice sum of dollars and should be a major factor in free agency. They could make a big splash and sign a bona-fide star or simply add to their already stellar depth. With the coaching change from Cooper to Gillom, what type of player will they go for? Ticha Penicheiro would be a nice fit to any team and a veteran presence at the guard position for the Sparks, as they sorely missed Temeka Johnson in 2009. On the other hand, with Leslie gone, they’ll need more depth in the post in an attempt to fulfill the gap that Leslie leaves. Instead, will they make a play for a 4 or 5?
With the recent rise of the Mystics, I look for Washington to spend some money addressing their depth issues. GM Angela Taylor has already improved the core of the team and with Detroit now gone, the Mystics have a golden opportunity to make noise in the East.
Connecticut (who I think will go after Kara Lawson) is another team that could surprise us. The Sky, if they play their cards right, could sign two or three solid players in the offseason and perhaps one max player.
Out of all the free agents, most fans (die hard and casual) will probably be watching to see where Katie Smith ends up. Rumors are flying everywhere from Los Angeles to Minnesota. The question remains, how much does she have left in the tank? I personally believe she would be a vital factor to a contending team for the next two or three years for her toughness and defense alone. But with as amazing as she’s been in her career she’ll probably come with a larger price tag. Because of this, I anticipate only a handful of teams being able to try courting Smith, but there is little doubt she’ll make a big impact for whatever team she signs with. Does Chicago make a bid for her? Or, perhaps Seattle since Smith played under Agler in the ABL? In my humble opinion, the Silver Stars would be the best fit for Smith simply based on their style and needs. Still, the real question remains — how strange is it going to be to see her in another uniform?
One interesting thing to note about the 2010 unrestricted free agent list is how many players are known for their defense. Ruth Riley highlights an outstanding list along with Taj McWilliams, Lauren Jackson, Ashley Robinson, Katie Smith, Kelly Miller, Coco Miller, and Tamecka Dixon. For teams looking to bolster their defensive presence, there are an abundance of players to choose from. Many of which, are more than affordable. Phoenix, Minnesota, Atlanta, Chicago, and San Antonio could all use help on the defensive end of the floor and I would think they all go after a player in that capacity.
Another important part of this free agency class is the amount of viable depth players that will be nice additions to several teams. The unrestricted list alone features a vast array of players who could fulfill a variety of gaps. The Mystics are in need of depth at the post position and Ruth Riley or Taj McWilliams would be a perfect fit there. Atlanta needs a backup point guard and Tamecka Dixon would fit in well on the Dream. Le’coe Willingham would be a solid fit for the Sky at the 4 position, adding a nice scoring boost and defensive mindset; plus, they should have the money to spend (even if they match an offer to Dupree). Seattle could also be a surprise player in free agency to address their issue with depth in 2009. Though, a healthy Lauren Jackson (and there is nothing that says she will be with another team besides Seattle) could remedy that fairly quickly…
Let’s not forget about some of the players who aren’t being talked about as much. Though they might be considered wildcards, they each bring a significant amount of talent to any team they play on. Nikki Teasley, Dominique Canty, Kristi Harrower, and Kiesha Brown could all provide a boost in various ways to multiple teams. Competition for a job will still be fierce with the maximum roster size capping at 11.
In the end, it all boils down to what the market says for many of these ladies. In other years, they might be able to get more than what they will in 2010. Though, the same holds true for the NBA and every other professional sports league.
What do you think? Where will these players end up?