WNBA free agency 2023: Biggest winners and losers

The Liberty added Breanna Stewart, Courtney Vandersloot and Jonquel Jones to a roster that includes Sabrina Ionescu. (Chris Marion/NBAE via Getty Images)

Now that the dust has settled on WNBA free agency, it’s time to dig into how teams did before the draft takes place in April and the regular season tips off a month later.

The 2023 free-agency period brought fireworks, with some of the league’s biggest stars transferring markets and creating WNBA superteams in the process. Breanna Stewart and Courtney Vandersloot joined Jonquel Jones in New York, and Candace Parker made the reigning champion Las Vegas Aces even more dangerous (though the Aces organization is under investigation both for its treatment of Dearica Hamby and reportedly for circumventing the salary cap). Other teams retooled through trades and signings, trying to keep up with the two frontrunners.

Which teams won and lost free agency? Our team of WNBA experts — Rachel Galligan, Lyndsey D’Arcangelo and Eden Laase — debate and hand out final grades below.

Biggest winners

Rachel Galligan: New York Liberty

The Liberty won free agency, and it’s not even close. Owners Joe and Clara Wu Tsai laid out a vision for the franchise when they acquired it in 2019, and that plan kicked into high gear this offseason. New York secured top free agents Breanna Stewart and Courtney Vandersloot to add to their arsenal of talent, which includes newly acquired MVP forward Jonquel Jones.

There was also the four-team trade involving Dallas, Chicago, Phoenix and New York, which ended up being a low-key victory for the Liberty. New York acquired the rights to Leonie Fiebich and a 2025 first-round pick swap from Phoenix. With the Mercury’s post-Diana Taurasi future in question, that pick could end up as a lottery selection.

Lyndsey D’Arcangelo: New York Liberty

The Liberty set the bar this offseason, no question. They not only acquired the top players on their wish list in Jonquel Jones, Breanna Stewart and Courtney Vandersloot, but they also handled themselves professionally and transparently throughout the entire process. New York has clearly demonstrated its position as a player-first organization that is investing in both the franchise and the league’s future.

Eden Laase: New York Liberty

The player that put the Liberty’s offseason over the top for me was Vandersloot. Once they acquired Jones and signed Stewart, the team’s only potential weakness was the lack of a true point guard, since Sabrina Ionescu plays better off the ball. They solved that problem with perhaps the best pass-first point guard in the league.

In 2022, the Lynx had their worst season under Cheryl Reeve since 2010. (Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images)

Biggest disappointment

Galligan: Minnesota Lynx, Seattle Storm

The Lynx were unable to sign any top free agents despite reports that they were in the mix. Minnesota’s last three free agencies have been below average, and now they have a number of heavy contracts limiting their cap space. Essentially, Minnesota appears to be trying to run it back with the same core roster but without Sylvia Fowles, who retired after last season. Tiffany Mitchell and Lindsay Allen were the Lynx’s biggest pick-ups alongside Damiris Dantas and Nikolina Milić re-signing. With the way the roster is currently constructed, I don’t see the needle moving much in Minnesota.

Seattle added Kia Nurse, retained Ezi Magbegor and lost one of the best players in the world to New York in free agency. The Storm got nothing in return for Brenna Stewart because of their decision not to core her last year. They have no point guard after the retirement of Sue Bird (for which there had been plenty of time to prepare), and unless they make some late additions, this team could be in trouble of falling out of contention.

Silver lining for both? If there is a year to wind up in the draft lottery, 2024 is the time to do it.

D’Arcangelo: Chicago Sky, Seattle Storm

Both the Sky and the Storm knew their big stars might not stay and didn’t seem to have good back-up plans in place. The Sky’s roster has been completely dismantled and yet, in their recent trade for Marina Mabrey, they gave away a handful of future (and much-needed) draft picks. The Storm have no true point guard on the roster, even when they knew Sue Bird wasn’t coming back. They essentially threw all of their eggs in the Courtney Vandersloot basket and came up empty.

Laase: Chicago Sky

Losing Candace Parker, Courtney Vandersloot and rising star Azurá Stevens in free agency was a big blow to the 2021 WNBA champions. They have a franchise player to build around in Kahleah Copper, but none of their signings or acquisitions thus far have put this team over the edge. It seems like the organization is signing whichever players it can instead of building a team.

Los Angeles has quietly had a strong free agency, signing Azurá Stevens and trading for Dearica Hamby. (Jeff Bottari/NBAE via Getty Images)

Biggest surprise

Galligan: Dallas Wings

The Wings’ overall roster movement this offseason was unexpected. I anticipated Marina Mabrey to return and did not expect Diamond DeShields to be on the move, let alone end up in Dallas. The Wings are clearly making a long-term investment in fifth-year center Teaira McCowan, which is understandable given her production, but there are no guarantees for how this team gels together on the floor under new head coach Latricia Trammell. Dallas continues to hoard draft picks, including three first-round selections in this year’s draft.

D’Arcangelo: Los Angeles Sparks

In his introductory press conference, new Sparks head coach Curt Miller talked about his excitement and anticipation for free agency. After leaving Connecticut for Los Angeles in October, he was ready to make some moves. Acquiring Jasmine Thomas and Dearica Hamby showed he meant it. But luring Azurá Stevens out of Chicago and away from other teams was downright impressive.

Laase: Los Angeles Sparks

All eyes have been on the Liberty and the Aces, but Miller is quietly putting together a solid team in Los Angeles. Picking up Hamby, Thomas and Stevens, and then re-signing both Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike, are all wins for the new coach. The Sparks are heading in the right direction after two straight losing seasons.

Best signing or acquisition

Galligan: Azurá Stevens (Chicago Sky)

New York’s Breanna Stewart and Courtney Vandersloot signings are the easy choice, but I’m going to go with Azurá Stevens to Los Angeles. Given the free-agency market this year, Stevens was highly sought after, with half of the teams in the league making a play to recruit her. It’s a positive sign that Los Angeles was able to attract a free agent of Stevens’ caliber this early on in their rebuild under new general manager Karen Bryant and coach Curt Miller. Stevens gives the Sparks a unique weapon and a great complement to Nneka Ogwumike.

D’Arcangelo: Candace Parker (Las Vegas Aces), Allisha Gray (Atlanta Dream)

Candace Parker is a huge get for the Aces, who are the favorites to repeat as WNBA champions outside of New York. Aside from Stewart and Vandersloot, Parker was the biggest signing in free agency and makes Las Vegas even more talented than they already were. But I have to give Atlanta credit as well. Allisha Gray, whom the Dream acquired in a trade with Dallas last month, is an undervalued player with a huge upside. Don’t sleep on a Gray/Rhyne Howard backcourt.

Laase: Jonquel Jones (New York Liberty)

This signing was especially critical because it sent all the other offseason moves in motion. Jones made New York an even more desirable location for Stewart and Vandersloot and likely played a part in Parker signing with the Aces, who give her the best shot at a title this season when competing against New York. The Liberty set off an era of superteams in the WNBA when they traded for Jones.

James Wade has chosen to forgo a rebuild despite losing multiple stars in free agency. (Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images)

Most perplexing move

Galligan: Chicago Sky’s three first round picks and five total picks for Marina Mabrey

The Sky gave up their 2023 first-round pick, 2024 first-round pick, 2025 first-round swap rights, 2024 third-round pick and 2025 second-round pick for Marina Mabrey at a time when a host of elite college talent will be coming up through the draft. While there is reason to commend coach James Wade’s desire to win, this trade fleecing is hard to look past. He plans on winning now and retooling his roster through free agency for years to come, a vision that will largely depend on the franchise’s ownership changes and added investment.

We knew Chicago’s championship era would come to an end — with Candace Parker, Allie Quigley, Azurá Stevens and Courtney Vandersloot all walking away this offseason — but the decision to give up future assets in the midst of a complete overhaul is baffling. A move of this magnitude will be scrutinized for years to come.

D’Arcangelo: Chicago Sky, Minnesota Lynx

I’m a big Mabrey fan, but the Sky giving away the farm for a player who has yet to make an All-Star team is mind-boggling. As for the Lynx, it’s the lack of moves for me. They most likely tried to make plays for some big names but were unable to seal the deal, and now they’re left to compete in the league’s new superteam era with just two All-Stars on their roster (Napheesa Collier and Kayla McBride).

Laase: Chicago refusing to accept the idea of a rebuild

There is no shame in rebuilding. It’s part of the game, particularly when you lose three starters at the same time, as James Wade and Chicago did. While Wade’s desire to be competitive with the team he has is understandable, his refusal to admit that his squad will need time to develop is puzzling.

Team grades

Atlanta Dream

B — Galligan
B+ — D’Arcangelo
B — Laase

Dallas Wings

A- — Galligan
B+ — D’Arcangelo
A — Laase

Los Angeles Sparks

A — Galligan
A — D’Arcangelo
A — Laase

Phoenix Mercury

B — Galligan
B- — D’Arcangelo
B — Laase

Chicago Sky

C- — Galligan
D — D’Arcangelo
D — Laase

Indiana Fever

B- — Galligan
B- — D’Arcangelo
B — Laase

Minnesota Lynx

F — Galligan
D — D’Arcangelo
D — Laase

Seattle Storm

D — Galligan
D — D’Arcangelo
D — Laase

Connecticut Sun

B+ — Galligan
B — D’Arcangelo
C — Laase

Las Vegas Aces

A — Galligan
A- — D’Arcangelo
A — Laase

New York Liberty

A+ — Galligan
A+ — D’Arcangelo
A+ — Laase

Washington Mystics

B — Galligan
B — D’Arcangelo
B — Laase

Rachel Galligan is a basketball analyst at Just Women’s Sports. A former professional basketball player and collegiate coach, she also contributes to Winsidr. Follow Rachel on Twitter @RachGall.

Lyndsey D’Arcangelo is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports, covering the WNBA and college basketball. She also contributes to The Athletic and is the co-author of “Hail Mary: The Rise and Fall of the National Women’s Football League.” Follow Lyndsey on Twitter @darcangel21.

Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.