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WNBA free agency: How do salary cap and revenue sharing work?

The New York Liberty already have Sabrina Ionescu, but could they add Courtney Vandersloot? (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

News of 2021 MVP Jonquel Jones being traded from the Connecticut Sun to the New York Liberty rocked the WNBA this week, not only because she’s a big-name talent but also because of the salary cap implications.

What will the addition of Jones mean for the Liberty — and their rumored pursuit of several top free agents, including Breanna Stewart and Courtney Vandersloot?

Jones’ estimated salary for the 2023 season is $211,150. That’s huge for the Liberty because, with the 2023 salary cap rising to $1,420,500, New York still has wiggle room. They can build around Jones and star point guard Sabrina Ionescu (who will make $86,701 in 2023) and still land at least one big-time free agent.

While Stewart is the name who instantly comes to mind, as she met with the Liberty in the 2022 offseason before re-signing with the Storm, Vandersloot and the team have expressed mutual interest, The Next’s Howard Megdal reported Tuesday. And with a bit of salary cap creativity, they could bring in both.

Free agents can’t begin negotiations until Jan. 21, and they can’t sign contracts until February 1. But here’s what WNBA fans need to know about player salaries and revenue sharing before free agency begins in earnest.

Player salaries

When a team adds up the annual salaries of all the players on its roster, that total can’t exceed the salary cap, which for 2023 is $1,420,500. That represents a 3% increase from last year, when the salary cap was $1,379,200.

Hardship exceptions exist, if rostered players will miss significant time due to injuries, illnesses or other reasons. Outside of those exceptions, though, the salary cap is nonnegotiable.

Teams also must meet a minimum total salary of $1,188,990. If a team does not reach the minimum, that team must make extra payouts to its players at the end of the season, with the WNBA Players Association deciding on the distribution of the money.

Each team can have up to 12 players on its roster at a time, meaning the total salary (up to $1,420,500) must be divided among those 12 players. Contracts can vary, with the highest possible salary in 2023 sitting at $234,936. Rookie contracts are valued between $69,770 and $86,701 depending on where the player was selected in the draft. Those numbers, like the salary cap and salary minimum, increase every season.

Revenue sharing

In 2020, the league and the players signed a collective bargaining agreement that allows players to make money on top of their salaries by taking home a share of the league revenue. Essentially, as the league increases in value, the players make more money.

The NBA has a similar structure. But the WNBAs’s version of revenue sharing has a major difference, one Las Vegas Aces star Kelsey Plum recently called out on “The Residency” podcast.

In the WNBA, the players receive 50% of the the league’s incremental revenue. In the NBA, players receive 50% of all revenue. That means WNBA players share in only the revenue earned above the league’s revenue target for that season. The revenue target goes up by 20% each season, but the actual numbers are unknown.

So the league needs to exceed its revenue goal for a season in order for players to reap the rewards.