All Scores

The Three Most Pressing Questions in the WNBA

MEG OLIPHANT/GETTY IMAGES

For the second offseason in a row, the WNBA’s new CBA has fostered a free agency period chock-full of star-studded moves and major franchise shake ups. As the dust finally settles, three big unknowns stand out in the league’s new landscape.

ARE THE SEATTLE STORM STILL TITLE FAVORITES?

The defending 2020 champions appear to be shifting their focus toward the future as opposed to maximizing their chances for a 2021 title. Since free agency began, the Storm have said goodbye to two key pillars of their recent dominance: Alysha Clark and Natasha Howard. Clark, a defensive menace who was the only unanimous selection to the 2020 WNBA All-Defensive First Team, was the cornerstone of the Storm’s stifling defense for both their 2018 and 2020 Championship runs. An extremely efficient three-point shooter on the opposite end, Clark signed with the Washington Mystics for 2021 as a free agent.

Days later, Howard was traded by the Storm to the New York Liberty as part of a three-team deal. An inside-the-paint version of Clark on defense and a stretch five on the opposite end, Howard was the 2019 Defensive Player of the Year and is a three-time WNBA Champion (2017 with the Lynx, 2018 and 2020 with the Storm).

The latest goodbye was to Sami Whitcomb, a valuable bench contributor and proficient 3-point shooter, who was also traded to the NY Liberty.

So, what did the Storm receive on the intake side of the ledger?

As part of the Howard trade, the Storm briefly held the 2021 #1 draft pick, but quickly used it to acquire Katie Lou Samuelson from the Dallas Wings. Samuelson, a sharp-shooter from UConn and the fourth overall pick of the 2019 draft, has yet to match her collegiate level of production in the pros. A former teammate of Breanna Stewart, it appears the Storm are hoping that reunion will bring out her shooting magic and fill part of the gap left by Clark.

The Storm also acquired an even younger newbie in Mikiah Herbert Harrigan. The sixth overall pick from 2020, Herbert Harrigan got her feet wet with the Lynx in the Wubble last season, coming off the bench for limited minutes. She flashed promise as a rookie, but in a crowded Minnesota front court, had the potential to spend much of 2021 on the bench.

To offset that collective inexperience, the Storm signed unrestricted free agent Candice Dupree, a fifteen-year veteran and seven-time All-Star who is tied for fifth all-time in WNBA total career points and eighth in rebounds.

With Clark, Howard, and Whitcomb off the books and Samuelson, Herbert Harrigan, and Dupree added on, Seattle is a bit less intimidating than they were last season, especially on the defensive end. But with returners like Jewell Loyd, Jordin Canada, and (ahem) Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart, Seattle is still a 2021 title front runner until proven otherwise.

How will the Los Angeles Sparks fill the voids?

Yes, voids, as in multiple. Granted, Candace Parker’s void is ginormous and covers every inch of the court, but Chelsea Gray’s is a gaping one to boot. In a franchise-altering week, the Sparks said goodbye to both a living legend in Parker, who signed as a free agent with the Chicago Sky, and Point Gawd Chelsea Gray, who signed with the Las Vegas Aces. The enormity of these losses for the Sparks’ stat sheet, attractive style of play, and overall identity cannot be overstated. Add in the departure of Riquna Williams, who also opted to sign with the Aces, and the gaps start feeling insurmountable.

The new roster additions are Amanda Zahui B, a 6’5” center who posted the best stats of her six-year career last season with the Liberty, and Erica Wheeler, the 2016 undrafted free agent who has since established herself as a capable scorer. Needless to say, these new additions don’t come close to filling the shoes left behind, and no one is making the case they were ever intended to. It will really be up to the returning personnel to lead the way on forging a new identity both on the court and off.

The bulk of this responsibility now falls to Nneka Ogwumike. If anyone has the poise and skills necessary to usher the Sparks into the next era, it is “Madame President.” The current WNBPA President showed up in the league with a bang as the number one overall draft pick and Rookie of the Year in 2012. After nine years, she’s now a six-time All-Star, 2016 WNBA Champion, and 2016 League MVP.

Luckily, she’ll have some strong supporting cast members in returners Seimone Augustus, Sydney Wiese, and Brittney Sykes. But the x-factors for the Sparks getting off to the right start in 2021 will be getting Kristi Toliver and Chiney Ogwumike back into the groove and back to high production numbers.

Both Toliver and the younger Ogwumike sister opted out of the 2020 Wubble season due to physical wellness concerns. Toliver is a three-time All-Star and two-time WNBA Champion point guard. A Sparks alum, she spent the previous three years playing for the Washington Mystics and took them all the way to the 2019 WNBA title before transferring back to the Sparks.

Chiney Ogwumike, Nneka’s younger sister by two years, lived up to the family name by also going number one in the 2014 draft and backing it up with the Rookie of the Year award. Playing three of her first five seasons with the Connecticut Sun (the other two she missed due to injuries), she was reunited with Nneka upon being traded to the Sparks in 2019. A two-time All-Star herself, it’s yet to be seen how bright her star could shine if she could string together a few injury-free seasons. And while she is expected to re-sign with LA, the move hasn’t been made official.

The simple truth is there will be no filling of the voids in LA. There can only be change and transformation into something new. It’s not something that will happen easily or quickly, but hopefully Derek Fisher, the Sparks head coach and GM, can use 2021 to get the ball rolling in the right direction. With the high-profile location and big name support the Sparks enjoy, having a consistently strong team in LA isn’t just good for the franchise, it’s good for the league as a whole.

How will Dallas use their stacked deck of draft picks?

For the first time in WNBA history, one team holds the top two picks in a single draft. In the league-wide shuffling that took place last Wednesday, the number one draft pick started the day with the New York Liberty, then went to Seattle as part of the deal for Natasha Howard, only to be traded away from Seattle to Dallas in exchange for Katie Lou Samuelson and a 2022 second-round pick.

While many were surprised Samuelson garnered the number one pick, Dallas wasn’t going to question it. After all the dust settled, the Wings were left holding the 1st, 2nd, 5th, 7th, and 13th overall picks for the 2021 draft. For a team that had the 2nd, 5th, and 7th picks in last year’s draft, it will be back-to-back years that the Dallas Wings are in a position to make franchise-altering decisions on draft day.

In the 2020 draft the Wings were able to snag Satou Sabally, Bella Alarie, and Ty Harris by not trading any of their picks prior to draft day. This left the Wings with an extremely young roster with a high potential payoff a few years down the road. Currently, their most veteran players have just five seasons in the league (Kayla Thornton and Astou Ndour).

Heading into the 2021 draft, it would be surprising if the Wings didn’t use some of their assets to add more veteran experience to support their young talent, especially seeing that they’ll need to clear some roster space to add more pieces on draft day. However, it will be hard for the Wings to pass on the chance to use their top overall pick to draft center Charli Collier from Texas and put some sure firepower into the paint. That is, if she opts to leave college a year early.

The downside for the Wings having so many high-ranking picks this year, as opposed to a different year, is the number of unknowns leading into the draft. With the chaos of the pandemic, the NCAA has granted all 2020-2021 senior student-athletes an extra year of eligibility. What the class will look like come draft day is very ambiguous. Even without the extra layer of fog, many consider this 2020-2021 class to be on the shallower end of the talent pool.

Even so, the Dallas Wings are sitting in an enviable position, and the franchise’s future looks bright. With Arike Ogunbowale, the league’s reigning top scorer, at the helm and Satou Sabally just scratching the surface of her dynamic skill set, as well as the loads of young talent in their supporting cast, the Wings have the chance to significantly fast forward their development in becoming a Championship contender.

Cameron Brink likes Caitlin Clark for 2024 WNBA Rookie of the Year

Cameron Brink poses with Caitlin Clark at 2024 wnba draft in new york
Cameron Brink poses with fellow draftee — and possible WNBA ROY —Caitlin Clark. (Photo by Emily Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images)

Cameron Brink already has her rookie of the year pick for the upcoming WNBA season, and it’s Indiana-bound star Caitlin Clark

In the latest edition of Kelley on the Street, host Kelley O'Hara caught up with Brink in New York hours before the Stanford phenom went No. 2 overall to the Los Angeles Sparks at the 2024 WNBA Draft. When O’Hara asked who would win the WNBA's rookie of the year, she answered without pause.

"Caitlin Clark," she said, while a fan commented that she thought Brink would take home the award. Brink later added that the extra foul granted to WNBA players will be "good for me."

"I hope it’s me," Charisma Osborne, who was later drafted by the Phoenix Mercury, said when asked her ROY prediction. "But, I don’t know — we’ll see."

Watch more of Kelley on the Street:

Dash winger Maria Sanchez confirms trade request a day shy of NWSL deadline

María Sanchez of Houston Dash during a NWSL game
In December, Sanchez signed a new three-year contract with the club worth $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. (Photo by Marcus Ingram/Getty Images)

Maria Sanchez issued a statement on Thursday, confirming recent reports that she has requested a trade from the Houston Dash. 

In it, she revealed that the club has been aware of the request "since late March."

"This has all taken a toll and isn’t an easy thing to talk about, but I want to confirm that I’ve requested an immediate trade," she wrote. "My expectations and reasons have been clear. I trust that my current club’s management will honor my decision in a timely manner and proceed with accepting a trade."

"I’m eager to refocus and dive back into what I love most: playing football," she concluded.

Reports of Sanchez's trade request first surfaced on ESPN last week, and were later confirmed by multiple sources. 

In December of last year, Sanchez signed a three-year contract with the Dash valued at $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. It was the largest contract in NWSL history at the time — a figure that would be eclipsed by multiple contracts in the following months. 

Sanchez spent the offseason as a restricted free agent, meaning that Houston could match any other team's offer to retain her rights. Should the Dash trade Sanchez, her current contract terms would remain intact, limiting potential buyers to teams able to afford to take on an inking of that size.

The Dash has yet to address the trade, instead reiterating to ESPN that Sanchez is "under contract, a choice she made in free agency at the end of 2023." 

Both the NWSL trade window and transfer window close tonight, April 19th, at 12 a.m. ET. The window will stay closed through the next 11 regular season games, reopening on August 1st, 2024.

Seattle Storm debut state-of-the-art $64 million practice facility

Jewell Loyd #24 of the Seattle Storm during warms up during practice on July 11, 2020 at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida
Jewell Loyd, seen here practicing at Florida's IMG Academy, and her team are in for a major upgrade this season. (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)

The four-time league champion Seattle Storm unveiled their new practice facility on Thursday, with Storm co-owner Lisa Brummel dubbing Interbay's Seattle Storm Center for Basketball Performance the team’s "new home."

"It's just such a special space," Brummel told Fox 13 Seattle. "I think when the players get here, it's gonna be overwhelming."

The sprawling 50,000-square-foot, $64 million property is just the second designated practice facility to be designed and built expressly for a WNBA team, with the Storm further noting that 85% of all design and engineering team members involved in the project's construction were women and people of color. The finished product holds two professional indoor courts, two 3x3 outdoor courts, a state-of-the-art locker room, and players' lounge, plus designated areas for strength and conditioning, kitchen, dining, and nutrition, and recovery. 

"This facility reflects our commitment to providing our athletes an exceptional environment that supports their growth, health, and performance," said Storm co-owner Ginny Gilder in an official team release. "It’s built for women, by women, embodying our dedication to leading the way in professional women’s sports."

For their part, the team can't wait to make the faciilty their own.

"It's amazing," Storm guard Jewell Loyd told Fox 13. "Not having to drive everywhere around, knowing you have access anytime of the day to get into the gym, to workout." 

Head coach Noelle Quinn said she predicts the team is "never going to leave this building."

"Which is a good thing for me," she continued. "You talk about having an edge in performance. We want our athletes to not only perform on the court, but get whatever they need."

All of the Storm's staff and operations will now live under one roof, and the team also has plans to launch a youth basketball program operating out of the building.

Mystics relocate game to accommodate Caitlin Clark fans

Maya Caldwell, Erica Wheeler, and Lexie Hull of the Indiana Fever celebrate Caitlin Clark
Get ready — Caitlin Clark is coming to town. (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Caitlin Clark effect is quickly making its mark on the big leagues, as WNBA host teams around the country rush to upgrade their Fever games to larger arenas in order to accommodate surging ticket sales.

With Clark mere weeks away from her Indiana Fever debut, both the Las Vegas Aces and Washington Mystics have officially relocated their scheduled home games with head coach Christie Sides' squad. On Thursday, the Mystics became the latest to adjust their plans, moving their June 7th matchup from Entertainment & Sports Arena in Southwest DC to the more centrally located — and much larger — Capital One Arena "due to unprecedented demand."

The Mystics home court's capacity taps out at 4,200, while Capital One Arena — home to the Wizards, Capitals, and Georgetown Hoya's Men's Basketball — can fit nearly five times that crowd at some 20,000 spectators.

"The move to Capital One Arena will allow for additional fans in the stands as well as premium hospitality options, including Suites and the all-new all-inclusive courtside Hennessy Lofts," the team announced via Thursday's press release.

The Aces were one of the first teams to switch venues, aiming to take on the Indiana Fever in front of as many as 20,000 fans inside T-Mobile Arena on July 2nd. That’s a sizable a boost from their home venue, which holds just 12,000.

For those still planning to face the Fever in their home arenas, ticket prices have skyrocketed. Previously scheduled construction has already forced the LA Sparks to relocate their first five games — including their May 24th clash with the Fever — to Long Beach State's Walter Pyramid. The temporary venue is quite the downsize, holding just 4,000 in comparison to Crypto.com Arena's near-19,000. As of Friday, the get-in price for that game started around $400.

Despite fans launching a Change.org petition urging relocation, the Chicago Sky say they're unable to move their June 23rd Fever meeting from Wintrust Arena's 10,000-seat facility to the 23,500-seat United Center due to a concert. Tickets for that game start around $325 as of Friday.

Start your morning off right with Just Women’s Sports’ free, 5x-a-week newsletter.