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The most notable WNBA moves at the midseason deadline

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It’s been an active week for roster moves in the WNBA. Teams had to make decisions on players by Wednesday, the midpoint of the WNBA season, before their contracts became guaranteed for the rest of the year.

As a result, many teams made cuts (and subsequent signings) in order to remain within the salary cap. Here are some of the most notable roster moves from the past week.

Lauren Cox was waived by the Indiana Fever on Sunday and, three days later, was picked up by the Los Angeles Sparks. The No. 3 overall selection in the 2020 WNBA Draft, Cox averaged 8.6 minutes per game this year and played in just 25 games over two seasons, not giving her much of a chance to prove her worth. She was a standout in college, helping lead Baylor to a national championship in 2019 and winning Big 12 Player of the Year in 2020.

Kiah Stokes is another former first-round pick who struggled to assert herself this year. Despite playing a major role on the Liberty last year, Stokes found herself in a different situation this season, appearing in just nine of the Liberty’s 17 games. In those nine games, she averaged 4.2 rebounds, 0.6 assists, 0.7 blocks and 1.7 points in 15 minutes. She has reportedly signed with the Las Vegas Aces, which would reunite her with Bill Laimbeer, her coach with the Liberty for from 2015-17.

Rachel Banham was waived Monday by the Lynx. The Lynx have been hit hard by injuries this season, forcing them to get creative with roster maneuvering and hardship contracts, and Banham appears to have been a casualty of that. In her second season with the Lynx, Banham was averaging 4.4 points, 1.6 rebounds and 1.1 assists in 11.5 minutes per game. The team is reportedly planning to re-sign Banham, a former Minnesota Gopher and hometown favorite, to a restructured contract if and when she clears waivers. The Lynx also terminated Layshia Clarendon’s hardship contract Thursday but are expected to re-sign her to a season-long deal.

Kiana Williams is one of the notable 2021 draftees to have been waived by her team. Selected 18th overall in April after winning a national championship at Stanford, Williams appeared in eight games for the Storm. She was an impact player with the Cardinal, averaging 13.4 points, 2.4 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game during her career while setting a school record for 3-pointers made. But with the likes of Jewell Loyd and Sue Bird ahead of her on the depth chart, she wasn’t getting enough playing time in Seattle.

Kristine Anigwe joined the Sparks on June 4 under a hardship contract after Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike were sidelined with injuries. That contract was terminated on Wednesday. Adding in three games for Dallas before she moved to the Sparks, Anigwe has appeared in 10 total games this season, averaging 3.4 points and 3.3 rebounds in 13.6 minutes per game.

Karlie Samuelson and Bria Holmes were also cut by the Sparks, but both were re-signed under hardship contracts. Samuelson scored a career-high 13 points on 5-for-5 shooting in a win against Washington last week. Through six games, she has averaged 3.2 points, 1.5 rebounds and one assist in 13 minutes per game. Meanwhile, Holmes has played in 12 games, averaging five points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.5 assists in 18.8 minutes per game. She also holds the franchise record for single-game plus/minus with a +39, which was set on June 3 against the Indiana Fever.

Joyner Holmes joined the Aces in May after the team waived forward Emma Cannon. Holmes, originally drafted by Seattle in 2020 and later picked up by the Liberty, was waived by New York once Kiah Stokes returned from overseas play. Holmes played in just four games for the Aces, averaging 3.3 points and shooting 50 percent from the field.

Kiara Leslie, Megan Gustafson and Stella Johnson were all waived by the Mystics. Gustafson was signed on a hardship contract and, as a result, saw limited playing time. Johnson also received limited minutes. Leslie, on the other hand, was drafted in the first round by the team in 2019 and carried for a full year despite being injured and unable to play. In the three seasons since she was drafted, Leslie has played in only 28 WNBA games. In nine games this season, Leslie has averaged just 2.8 points in under 10 minutes per game. Mystics head coach and general manager Mike Thibault had the following to say about the move:

On Thursday, the Mystics signed Gustafson and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough to seven-day contracts. Walker-Kimbrough, drafted sixth overall by the Mystics in 2017, played her first three WNBA seasons in Washington.

Chelsey Perry was picked up by the Fever after being released by them back in May. She played in the Fever’s two preseason games, scoring a team-high 16 points against Chicago on May 19, and their first two regular season games. But she faced an uphill battle on Indiana’s depth chart and was waived in order for the team to sign Betti Hatar. After the WNBA season, Perry is set to continue playing in Spain for AE Sedis Bàsquet.

New Washington Spirit Head Coach Jonatan Giráldez Arrivin DC

head coach Jonatan Giráldez
Jonatan Giráldez joins the NWSL from FC Barcelona Femení. (Ramsey Cardy/UEFA via Getty Images)

Five months after announcing that the Washington Spirit had hired Barcelona Femení coach Jonatan Giráldez as the team's new head coach, Giráldez has joined the club in Washington, DC.

Giráldez is coming off of a successful season with the Spanish side, having won UEFA Women's Champions League, Copa de la Reina, Supercopa, and Liga F in his final season to complete a lauded Quadruple.

While Giráldez was finishing out his tenure in Europe, Adrián González filled in as Spirit interim head coach. González has also seen success, leading the team to its third-place standing with a 9-3-1 record through 13 games.

“I’m thrilled to join the Spirit and begin this next chapter with the club,” Giráldez said in an official team statement. “To be part of the vision Michele Kang has for the Spirit and women’s soccer globally is an exciting opportunity.”

Giráldez has worked at Barcelona since 2019, initially coming on as an assistant coach before moving up to head coach in 2021. The team went 30-0-0 on the season under Giráldez during his first year as manager.

He brings along with him Andrés González and Toni Gordo, who will serve as the Spirit's Fitness Coach and Club Analyst, respectively.

US Track & Field Olympic Trials Touch Down in Oregon

Sha’Carri Richardson competes in the women’s 200-meter preliminary round during the USATF Outdoor Championships
Sha’Carri Richardson will have some competition this week as athletes vie for an Olympic berth. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The US Olympic Track & Field Trials begin on June 21st, kicking off a 10-day quest to determine who will represent the US in Paris this summer.

The crucial meet will take place in Eugene, Oregon, where the top three finishers in each event will punch their ticket to the 2024 Olympics. As with this past week's US Swimming Trials, even the most decorated athletes must work to earn their spot — and one bad performance could undermine four years of preparation.

Reigning 100-meter World Champion Sha'Carri Richardson headlines this year's field, as the 24-year-old looks to qualify for her second Olympic Games and compete in her first. Richardson is a world champion in both the 100-meter and 200-meter sprint, but missed the Tokyo Olympics due to testing positive for THC shortly after the last US Olympic Trials.

Other standouts include 400-meter Olympic gold medal-winning hurdler Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, who's currently the most decorated athlete in the active women's US Track & Field pool. McLaughlin-Levrone qualified to run in the 200-meter and 400-meter flat races alongside the 400-meter hurdles at the Olympic Trials, but opted to focus solely on her signature event.

800-meter specialist Athing Mu will also be a huge draw this week, as the Olympic gold medalist looks to shake off a lingering hamstring injury while pursuing her second Summer Games. Gold medal-winning pole vaulter Katie Moon will also attempt to qualify for her second-straight Olympic Games.

Ole Miss star McKenzie Long could be Richardson's greatest competition in the 100-meter and 200-meter events, as well as Richardson's Worlds teammate Gabby Thomas in the 200-meter. In field events, watch for Oregon senior Jaida Ross going head-to-head with reigning world champion Chase Jackson in the shot put, as both push for their first Olympic team berth.

Regardless of why you tune in, the US Olympic Trials are a perpetually thrilling and sometimes brutal qualification process. If you're able to make your way to the head of the pack, a shot at Olympic glory might just be waiting at the finish line.

Fans can catch live coverage throughout the Trials via NBC, USA, and Peacock.

Top Teams Square Off in NWSL Weekend Slate

NWSL Orlando Pride forward Barbra Banda
Orlando Pride, led by forward Barbra Banda, will take on Utah in this weekend's NWSL action. (Nicholas Faulkner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

As the NWSL season continues, a few top-performing clubs will have a chance to boost their standings this weekend.

First-place Kansas City will travel to Providence Park to take on fifth-place Portland, as the Current look to keep their unbeaten streak intact. And in New Jersey, third-place Washington will take on fourth-place Gotham FC, with both teams attempting to extend multi-game unbeaten streaks.

A six-point gap has opened between the fifth and sixth spot on the NWSL table — with just six points also separating the league's top five. Kansas City, Orlando, Washington, Gotham, and Portland have recently proven themselves to be a cut above the rest of the competition. With eight postseason spots up for grabs and half the season behind us, a pattern is forming that indicates the playoff race could come down to spots six through eight on the NWSL table.

Of those top five teams, only Orlando faces an opponent in the bottom half of the league this weekend: The Pride will take on 14th-place Utah, who nonetheless are coming off a win — just their second of the season — over Bay FC last weekend.

But despite Kansas City and Orlando having yet to lose a game, Gotham might be the squad coming into the weekend with the most momentum.

Clutch goals from Rose Lavelle and rookie Maycee Bell gave the Bats a 2-0 midweek win over San Diego on Wednesday, in a rematch of the 2024 Challenge Cup. Gotham's unbeaten streak dates all the way back to April, as rising availability and sharpened form have honed this year's superteam into a contender.

Bottom line? As the NWSL season passes the halfway mark, some matches might begin to feel more like playoff previews than mere regular season battles.

Chelsea Gray Returns From Injury in Aces Win Over Seattle

las vegas aces chelsea gray and kelsey plum celebrate a win over the seattle storm
Gray has been sidelined with a foot injury since the 2023 WNBA Finals. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Chelsea Gray made her return to the basketball court on Wednesday, helping the Aces to a 94-83 win over the Seattle Storm. 

The lauded point guard missed the first 12 games of the season, having been injured in last year’s WNBA Finals. The left foot injury caused her to miss Game 4 of the championship series, and she’s continued to rehab it through the beginning of the 2024 season. 

Her return on Wednesday was capitalized by the fact that she needed just 20 seconds to make an impact and record her first assist. While she finished with just one point, she had seven assists, four rebounds, and two blocks to go alongside it in 15:30 minutes. Gray's contributions on the night brought her career assist record up to 1,500.

"I probably went through every emotion leading up to today," Gray said after the game. "I was a little anxious all day. It's been a long time since I've been out on that court. But the fans were amazing from the time I came out to warm up to the time I checked in the game. It was a rush and a feeling I missed a lot."

It’s been a roller coaster of a season so far for Las Vegas, who have lost five of their last seven games. Gray, who averaged 15.3 points, 7.3 assists, and 4.0 rebounds in 2023, has proven herself a much-needed addition to the team’s lineup.

"Felt like my heart," Aces coach Becky Hammon said when asked how she felt hearing the crowd erupt for Gray's return. "She's the leader of our team. I thought she did a wonderful job too."

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