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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.