The WNBA will begin enforcing its prioritization clause for the 2023 season, but Las Vegas Aces signee Candace Parker is waiting to assess the viability of the new rule.
The prioritization clause requires players to prioritize the WNBA over international leagues for which they suit up in the offseason. The rule was part of the collective bargaining signed in 2020 but goes into effect for the first time this year.
If WNBA players with at least two years of experience do not report to their teams by May 1, they will be fined. If they miss the start of the regular season on May 19, they will be suspended for the year.
In 2024, the consequences will get even harsher. Players will be suspended for the whole season if they do not join their WNBA teams by May 1 or the start of training camp, whichever is later.
“I think it’s going to be next year where we’re really going to see if this is something that the league is going to be able to sustain,” Parker told Yahoo Sports. “I, myself, would have had a huge decision to make in my fifth year being 26 [or] 27 years old deciding whether or not to come back to play with the WNBA or go to Russia and make 10 to 20 times what I’m making in the WNBA.”
The 36-year-old forward played for several international teams throughout her career, including Russia’s UMMC Ekaterinburg, Turkey’s Fenerbahçe and two Chinese teams. In recent offseasons, though, she worked as an NBA broadcast analyst.
European teams could shift their contracts to allow players to return to the WNBA in time for the season. And the WNBA is increasing domestic opportunities for players. But paydays in international leagues often far outstrip WNBA salaries.
“In order to have that [prioritization] rule then, in what way are you supplementing the other seven months?” Parker told Yahoo Sports. “Because you still want to get better as an athlete and as a player. For me, basketball was my first love, so I want to compete. And if I can’t compete here during those months, then I want to go over there.
“And so I think this is going to be big next year, more so than this year, and is going to be a big test to see if this really can in fact work.”
Parker’s former Chicago Sky teammate Emma Meesseman, who is an unrestricted free agent this offseason, is “unlikely” to play in the WNBA in 2023, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. The 29-year-old Belgian forward is playing for Fenerbahçe this European season.
WNBA owners reportedly “wouldn’t budge” on the prioritization clause during CBA negotiations, newly retired Sue Bird told Yahoo Sports. Bird sees 2023 as a chance for the league to take “baby steps” with the rule.
“It’s like a soft opening, if you will,” she said. “I think it’s a little easier to come back to the WNBA season before the games start. It will be harder next year when players have to get back before training camp starts.”
European leagues working with the WNBA timetable would be a “best-case scenario” for players, Bird acknowledged. But as the 2023 season approaches, the true impact of the rule remains to be seen.
“So here we are, we’re about to find out and we’re about to see if it all works,” Bird said.