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WNBA hot stove: Ranking the top five free agents for 2023

Breanna Stewart leads a talented pack of WNBA free agents. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Count on big names and bigger moves in WNBA free agency this offseason.

Former WNBA MVPs Breanna Stewart and Candace Parker are among the top players available. The addition of Stewart, Parker or another key free agent could help transform a team into a championship contender.

Teams can issue qualifying offers and designate core players from Jan. 11-20, and they can negotiate with players starting on Jan. 21. Players can sign contracts starting on Feb. 1.

Before negotiations get underway, Just Women’s Sports ranks the top five players on the market in 2023.

1. Breanna Stewart

While there may be debate over the rest of these rankings, Stewart is the consensus No. 1.

The 28-year-old has been a dominant force with the Seattle Storm since they drafted her in 2016. She led Seattle to WNBA titles in 2018 and 2020, taking home the MVP trophy in both Finals. She was named league MVP in 2018 and is in conversation for the award every season. And she is still in her prime, averaging 21.8 points, 7.6 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.6 steals and nearly a block per game.

There’s not a team in the country that wouldn’t be thrilled to have Stewart on their roster, but she’s likely to be interested in a select few. The frontrunners include the Storm, with whom she has spent her whole career, and the New York Liberty, a team she met with last season before signing a one-year extension with Seattle.

Sue Bird, Stewart’s longtime point guard in Seattle, retired after the 2022 season, but the Storm still offer another dynamic scorer in Jewell Loyd. If the Storm add another pass-first point guard to their lineup – say, Courtney Vandersloot, another top free agent – then it makes sense for Stewart to stay put.

But if she’s looking for a new challenge, New York could be the better fit. The Liberty made the playoffs last season and beat the Chicago Sky in Game 1 before eventually falling 2-1 in the first-round series. They have solid pieces, including excellent passers in Sabrina Ionescu and Marine Johannes, that would complement Stewart well. And the addition of the former MVP would instantly put them in contention for the title.

2. Brionna Jones

This is a great time to invest in Brionna Jones, because despite two All-Star nods and the Sixth Player of the Year award in 2022, Jones has yet to reach her full potential. The ceiling is high for the 27-year-old post, and she could be a core piece for whichever team she signs with.

Last season, Jones averaged 13.8 points and 5.1 rebounds off the bench for the Sun en route to a WNBA Finals appearance. Jones adds a strong presence in the paint that could anchor an offense or complement another big, especially a lankier shot-blocker. The Sun had success when they played through Jones in the paint, and the same should be true wherever she lands.

If the Sun can afford her, and if new coach Stephanie White can convince her to stick around, Connecticut would be foolish not to re-sign the Maryland product. But with players like Jonquel Jones and Alyssa Thomas already fixed as the team’s superstars and Curt Miller leaving to coach the Sparks, it could be the perfect time for Jones to join a new team and establish herself as one of its top players.

3. Emma Meesseman

The Sky lucked out when they signed Meesseman in 2022 after the forward spent seven seasons with the Mystics. And it might make sense for them to re-sign her, depending on where their other free agents (namely, Parker and Vandersloot) end up. But if those players move on, then Meesseman likely will too, as the Sky officially will enter a rebuild.

A skilled 6-4 forward, Meesseman was named Finals MVP in 2019 despite coming off the bench for the Mystics. She added another dimension to the Sky offense as a big who could stretch the floor and pass the ball, averaging 12.4 points and 5.6 rebounds per game while shooting 34.2% from the 3-point line. Perhaps her best – and one of her most underrated – abilities is her passing. Meesseman showcased a high IQ for the Sky, making all the right plays, with a nearly 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.

Though Meesseman isn’t as skilled as the next player on this list, she has a lot of career left at just 29 years old, which gives her plenty of options. She can join a team that needs a few seasons to build or serve as a great addition to a team that’s already competing but missing the final pieces.

4. Candace Parker

Parker would be much higher on this list if not for the fact that she’s at the tail end of her career. The 36-year-old could easily play for several more seasons – her play has yet to decline – but she’s been vocal about feeling like she’s close to retirement. So the perfect team for Parker is one that can win a title in 2023.

The 2023 season will be Parker’s 16th in the WNBA, and her combination of leadership and on-court skill makes her a great veteran presence. The Tennessee grad has won two WNBA titles – one with the Sparks and one with the Sky – and was named Finals MVP during Los Angeles’ run in 2016. Last season she averaged 13.2 points, 8.6 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1 steal and one block per game in Chicago.

A star on both offense and defense, Parker is one of the best to ever play in the WNBA. But since this could be her last year, she has to land with the right team. Whoever picks her up must be ready to win now. One possibility? A return to the Sparks. Miller expressed interest in bringing her back during his introductory press conference, but the team would need to find the right pieces to put around her in order to compete for a championship.

5. Teaira McCowan

In her fourth season in the league, McCowan blossomed into the player she always had the potential to be. The No. 3 pick in the 2019 draft, she helped the Dallas Wings earn a spot in the playoffs after an August that saw her team go 6-2. During that stretch, McCowan averaged a double-double with 17.4 points and 10.1 rebounds per game while also shooting 55% from the field.

McCowan is a restricted free agent, so there is a good chance she will land with the Wings. But they’ll have competition now that the league knows what McCowan is capable of. There are a lot of talented posts in the WNBA, but McCowan is one of the tallest at 6-7 – and at 25, she has a long career ahead of her. If she is able to maintain what she did at the end of the 2022 season, then McCowan becomes a very attractive prospect.

Honorable mentions

Courtney Vandersloot

Vandersloot is a talented guard who can elevate a team with her passing ability. But she’s nearing the end of her career at 33 years old, and she fits onto a roster in a specific way. Vandersloot isn’t the type of guard that’s looking to go isolation. Instead, she wants to set up teammates, and to do that she needs elite scorers around her who don’t have to dominate the ball. Pay attention to where Parker and Stewart land, because Vandersloot may follow one of them.

Brittney Griner

In any other free agent market, Griner would be near the top of this list, but she’s not a true free agent this season. After a traumatic ordeal in which she was wrongfully detained in Russia for 294 days, Griner returned to the United States in December, so this certainly won’t be a normal offseason for the 32-year-old. The Mercury have saved a roster spot for her, and the 6-9 center has said she plans to play for them this season.

Nneka Ogwumike

Ogwumike has said publicly that she wants to stay in Los Angeles, and new Sparks coach Miller said in his introductory press conference that re-signing her is a priority. There’s no reason to believe she lands anywhere else.

Caitlin Clark stuns in surprise SNL appearance

(Julia Hansen/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK)

Caitlin Clark made a surprise appearance on “Saturday Night Live” over the weekend, which quickly went viral.

The Iowa star showed up on the show’s Weekend Update segment to playfully call out Michael Che’s history of making jabs at women’s sports. It started when Che joked that Iowa should replace Clark’s retired No. 22 “with an apron.” 

When Clark entered, Che said that he was a fan. But Clark wasn’t convinced – especially not when co-host Colin Jost brought the receipts of Che’s jabs.

“Really, Michael? Because I heard that little apron joke you did,” she said, before making him read some jokes of her own in retaliation and shouting out the WNBA greats that came before her. She then got in one final dig – bringing him a signed apron as a souvenir. 

When Che promised to give it to his girlfriend, Clark delivered her best line of the night.

“You don’t have a girlfriend, Michael,” she said.

Afterward, SNL castmember Bowen Yang told People that the 22-year-old and teammates Gabbie Marshall, Kate Martin and Jada Gyamfi – who joined her at Studio 8H – “were so cool.”

“She's so charming and witty,” Yang said. “They were just the most stunning, noble people.

“Athletes just have this air about them. They know they're amazing. I mean, these are people who have numeric attachments and values to their performance. That's something that comedians never have.”

Portland Thorns start NWSL season winless, in uncharted territory

Portland has started the season winless through four games for the first time. (Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports)

The Portland Thorns continue to struggle to start the season, falling 2-0 to the North Carolina Courage and remaining winless through its first four games. 

It’s uncharted territory for Portland, who has never started the NWSL regular season without a win in four games before. Following the loss, defender Becky Sauerbrunn voiced her frustrations with the start. 

“It’s hard to find a lot of encouraging things, but what I find encouraging is that people are frustrated,” she said. “People are pissed off that we’re not doing well. We care, and I think that’s really important.” 

She also added that while the team will reflect individually, “there’s going to be no finger pointing.”

“We’re going to look at ourselves and figure out what we should have done, or I should have done better,” she said. “There is a list of things that I could have done better, and I’m going to make sure I know every single thing and watch this game back.”

The Thorns currently sit at the bottom of the league table with just one point, having allowed 10 goals – tied for the worst in the league. They’ve yet to lead in a match. And as questions grow, answers need to be had from head coach Mike Norris. 

Norris is in his second year as head coach of the club after leading the team to a second-place finish in the regular season last year. When asked about the possibility of pressure growing after the unprecedented start, Norris said that the pressure has been there “from day one.”

“I cannot be driven by my day-to-day and the longer vision of the pressure of the job,” he said. “We’ve got a belief in how we want to play, how we operate. We’ve got to stick with the process of that. While we do it, we have to review and see what is working, what’s not working.

“I’ll be showing up for the team and being there for what they need from me as we approach getting back together as a group next week.”

Maria Sanchez reportedly requests trade from Houston Dash

Mar 23, 2024; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Dash forward Maria Sanchez (7) warms up before the match between Racing Louisville and Houston Dash at Shell Energy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Maria Sanchez, who signed one of the biggest deals in NWSL history just four months ago, has reportedly requested a trade from the Houston Dash. 

ESPN was the first to report the news, which was confirmed by multiple sources.

In a statement to ESPN, the team said: “​​Maria Sanchez is under contract, a choice she made in free agency at the end of 2023." 

In December, Sanchez signed a new three-year contract with the Dash worth $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. At the time, it was the largest contract in NWSL history – something that was eclipsed by multiple contracts in the following months. 

The winger was a restricted free agent in the offseason, meaning that Houston could match any offer from another team and retain her rights. Should the team trade Sanchez, her contract would remain as it has been signed with the league. That limits the number of teams that could take on her contract. 

In three starts with the Dash this season, Sanchez has zero goals and an assist. The Dash are 1-2-1 through four games and have allowed a league-worst 10 goals.

The team hired a new coach, Fran Alonso, in December. Earlier this year, former goalkeeper coach Matt Lampson was fired for violating the league’s Coach Code of Conduct and Anti-Fraternization policy. 

Both the NWSL trade window and transfer window close at midnight ET on Friday.

Canada beats U.S. Hockey 6-5 in thrilling World Championship win

UTICA, NEW YORK - APRIL 14: Team Canada raises the Championship Trophy after winning The Gold by defeating The United States in OT during the 2024 IIHF Women's World Championship Gold Medal game at Adirondack Bank Center on April 14, 2024 in Utica, New York. (Photo by Troy Parla/Getty Images)

Canada got its revenge on Sunday, winning the 2024 IIHF Women’s World Championship and taking down the U.S. in a 6-5 overtime classic.

Marie-Philip Poulin, a longtime star for Canada, got her first two goals of the tournament, while Danielle Serdachny had the game-winner. 

"I hate to say you're not trying to rely on it, expect it, but I know I've grown to expect it," Canada coach Troy Ryan said of Philip-Poulin. "Tonight was just a whole other level. I could see in her eyes every time we called her name that she was ready to go. It's just special."

The win came after Canada lost 1-0 to the U.S. in the group stage of the tournament. On Sunday, the two teams met for the 22nd time in 23 tournaments in the gold medal game – and the action between the two teams delivered. 

Among those scoring for the U.S. were Megan Keller, Alex Carpenter, Hilary Knight, Laila Edwards and Caroline Harvey. Julia Gosling, Emily Clark and Erin Ambrose had the other three goals for Canada, giving them their 13th World title after falling to the U.S. in last year’s title game in Toronto. 

This year’s game was held in New York, and it was the second-highest scoring final between the two teams. The U.S. won a world championship 7-5 in 2015. 

"Oh man, that feels good to win it on U.S. soil," Canada goalie Ann-Renee Desbiens said after the game. "We owed it to them and owed it to ourselves to win that one."

Canada also denied Knight a record 10th World Championship win, although she did become the most decorated player in women’s world championship history with 14 medals. After the game, Poulin gave Knight a hug on the ice. 

"We just said 'that was unbelievable,'" Poulin said.

U.S. coach John Wroblewski echoed the sentiment that it was an outstanding game after being asked about ending the game on a power-play after leaving too many players on the ice. 

"Instead of talking about the isolated events of tonight's game, I think that normally that's an interesting storyline,” he said. “But I think the entity of an amazing 6-5 game is an amazing hockey game that took place."

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