Las Vegas and Minnesota grab big names early.
By Alex Holmes
The WNBA free agency signing period officially began earlier this week, and has already caused changes to rosters that will shift league power dynamics in 2021. New arrivals in Las Vegas and Minnesota, along with Candace Parker’s move to Chicago, headline the first week of the trading period.
The Las Vegas Aces have been knocking on the door of the WNBA Finals for the last few seasons, and finally made the franchise’s first appearance in the championship series since 2008 this past season. Although they lost the series 3-0 to Seattle, the Aces had one of the best seasons in program history, finishing in first place in the league. Basketball fans should get used to this winning Las Vegas squad for the next couple of seasons—Chelsea Gray is now an Ace.
The three-time WNBA All-Star and 2016 WNBA Champion will boost an already loaded offense. Gray is one of the top passing point guards in the nation, and she will have plenty of options to choose from with the likes of Jackie Young, Kelsey Plum, and Dearica Hamby surrounding her. One of the most exciting things to look forward to will be her development with post players Aj’a Wilson and Liz Cambage. Gray likes to dish the ball to her post players and she is the perfect complement to the Aces’ stacked frontcourt.
Gray’s arrival came at a huge cost for Las Vegas, with the team trading guard Kayla McBride to Minnesota. McBride had plenty of success with her former team as she spearheaded the franchise’s rise to the top of the league; now she’ll see what she can do for her new team in Minnesota. The guard will work well with the Lynx backcourt alongside 2020 Rookie of the Year Crystal Dangerfield. McBride is at her best playing the two guard, which means she and point guard Dangerfield will be a force to reckon with this season.
𝗪𝗘𝗟𝗖𝗢𝗠𝗘 𝗧𝗢 𝗠𝗜𝗡𝗡𝗘𝗦𝗢𝗧𝗔!!!!!@kaymac_2123 is a Lynx.— Minnesota Lynx (@minnesotalynx) February 1, 2021
Lynx fans should also be very excited about forward Natalie Achonwa coming to town, especially as her arrival coincides with McBride’s signing. The pair formed a dangerous guard-forward combination during their time at Notre Dame, where they left South Bend as two of the most decorated and winningest players in program history.
The two will join veterans Sylvia Fowles and Shenise Johnson. With Maya Moore’s return date still up in the air, the Lynx’s new additions should give Minnesota a great shot at making its first finals appearance since 2017.
Candace Parker’s move to Chicago might be considered one of the biggest free agency deals in league history. Parker has played all 13 seasons in Los Angeles, and is the franchise leader in scoring, blocks, and rebounds. In 2020, she led the league in rebounds and shot 51% from the floor.
Parker’s signing would be monumental for any team, but especially for Chicago, where her arrival means the Sky should have one of the best frontcourts in the country. She will team up with veteran Stefanie Dolson, as well as rising stars Diamond DeShields and Gabby Williams. Her future backcourt-frontcourt partnership with veteran and pass-first point guard Courtney Vandersloot should be fun to watch.
CHICAAAAGOOOOOOOOO pic.twitter.com/5wKvx7kl7m— Chicago Sky (@chicagosky) February 2, 2021
Alysha Clark had a terrific stint in Seattle and was a valuable piece to their 2020 championship team. The nine-year veteran had one of her best outings last season, averaging 10 points per game and shooting 56% from the field. Clark takes her three-point shooting, which led the league in field goal percentage at 52%, to Washington D.C. The Mystics won it all in 2019, before finishing eighth last fall. Should Elena Delle Donne return to the Mystics this year, Washington might be back in the playoff hunt.
The New York Liberty and Los Angeles Sparks each gained valuable players, in Betnijah Laney and Erica Wheeler. Laney is coming off her best WNBA season yet, averaging 17.2 points per game, 4.9 rebounds, and 4 assists in 2020. Her efforts earned her the league’s Most Improved Player award and a spot on the All-WNBA Defensive Team. Her arrival to New York raises already high expectations, as she will join Paris Kea and Sabrina Ionescu in the backcourt. Keep in mind that New York will have the No. 1 pick in the 2021 draft. Last place in the league might just be a thing of the past for the franchise.
Wheeler has one of the best stories in the league. As an undrafted player in 2015, Wheeler became a four-year starter for the Indiana Fever and earned 2019 All-Star MVP honors. The guard will pair well with the formidable Ogwumike sisters. Along with Seimone Augustus and Riquana Williams, Wheeler will keep the Sparks in contention for a deep playoff run in 2021.
Veterans and league legends Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi elected to re-sign with their respective teams. Bird is waiting for the Seattle Storm to resolve its salary cap situation. When it does, she and the Storm will be one of the favorites to win another WNBA title.
Taurasi is a nine-time WNBA All-Star and three-time WNBA champion. She and guard Skylar Diggins-Smith will try to help the team crack the top four in the league standings this year after finishing fifth in 2020.
A front-page occasion 📰 pic.twitter.com/Q1RTnE5mat— Phoenix Mercury (@PhoenixMercury) February 3, 2021
Power shift (not really)?
Based on the free agency trades, the Aces, Lynx, and Storm will once again be league heavy weights. All three teams just have too much firepower, and the singing period bolstered the Aces and Lynx in particular. The Sky could potentially be a contender for an Eastern Conference final appearance with Parker, and it shouldn’t be a surprise to see them finish in the top five.