WNBA offseason grades: Where every team stands heading into the draft

The Sparks introduce Liz Cambage in Los Angeles on Feb. 23. (Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Now that the dust has settled on one of the most active free agency periods in WNBA history, team rosters and expectations for the 2022 season are starting to come into focus.

In an effort to make sense of all of the hirings, signings and trades that transpired over the past few months, Just Women’s Sports’ Rachel Galligan and Lyndsey D’Arcangelo are handing out grades based on their evaluations of every team’s moves. See where each of the 12 franchises stand as they gear up for the WNBA Draft on April 11.

Atlanta Dream

Rachel’s grade: C

The key for the Dream this offseason was to find reliable pieces they can build around for the future. While they were unable to attract high-level free agency talent, did anyone actually expect them to? The Dream needed to turn over the roster and implement a new culture from ownership on down, and they did that while positioning themselves as a lottery team for 2023. Rebuilding the franchise will take time, which won’t be easy for a fan base that hasn’t enjoyed a postseason run since 2018, but they started to lay the groundwork as they head into the draft.

Lyndsey’s grade: C+

It’s fair to say the Dream knew going into free agency that attracting a big name to a franchise in the beginning stages of a rebuilding process was going to be a challenge. Top free agents often prioritize championship contenders. That being said, they’ve put together a serviceable roster with a handful of one-year contracts, positioning them to make a bigger splash in 2023 free agency instead. Bringing in Erica Wheeler also gives possible future-franchise player Aari McDonald an experienced role model. With the third overall pick in the draft, the Dream will be surrounding their top rookie with a supportive veteran team.

The Sky re-signed Courtney Vandersloot after a drawn-out negotiation process. (Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images)

Chicago Sky

Rachel’s grade: A

The Sky were able to re-sign Kahleah Copper, Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley to keep their championship core together with Candace Parker. But their roster is not an exact replica of last season, starting with the addition of Ann Wauters to their coaching staff. Wauters helped Chicago recruit two Belgian stars in 2019 Finals MVP Emma Meesseman and Julie Allemand, both of whom instantly boost the team’s depth.

The Sky lost Stefanie Dolson and DeShields, but improved with the additions of Meesseman, Allemand and a host of training camp signees ready to compete for the 11th and 12th roster spots. Chicago has positioned itself as a super team with the chance to make a real run at a repeat championship.

Lyndsey’s grade: A

Keeping the championship core together was paramount, and the Sky were able to do just that, as Rachel noted. Meesseman adds depth to Chicago’s frontcourt, not only filling the gap left by Dolson but perhaps also serving as an upgrade. Overall, the Sky kept it simple: They retained key players and filled holes with equal or better talent. Vandersloot and Quigley also signed for less than what they might have gotten elsewhere. The only issue is cap space, which will likely restrict the Sky’s roster to 11 players.

Connecticut Sun

Rachel’s grade: A-

Based on how the team’s offseason has gone so far, Connecticut is determined to see the vision it implemented three years ago come to fruition. First, the Sun secured MVP Jonquel Jones to a multi-year deal. Then, they replaced Briann January with dynamic guard Courtney Williams, who is familiar with the system after playing in Connecticut from 2016-19. While the loss of January’s defensive presence hurts, Williams fills a desperate need as an off-guard scoring threat. With Alyssa Thomas returning from injury, the Sun will also finally unveil the Big Three of Thomas, Jones and DeWanna Bonner and enter the season loaded up for a championship run.

Lyndsey’s grade: A

The Sun seem to be going with an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” kind of mentality. And why not? They’ve got all the pieces they need already — a re-signed MVP in Jonquel Jones, a power couple on and off the floor in Bonner and Alyssa Thomas, a veteran guard in Jasmine Thomas and 2021 Most Improved Player Brionna Jones. Bringing back Williams was necessary to replace the loss of January on the court, but it also might help team chemistry. The Sun need to rekindle that old spark they seemed to be lacking in the 2021 playoffs.

Dallas Wings

Rachel’s grade: B-

Dallas did not need to do much this free agency, as the team continues to focus on its promising and dynamic young roster. They’ll have tough decisions to make down the road, when they’ll eventually need to part ways with some top-level talent, but that’s not a concern right now.

The Wings made their biggest move late in free agency, adding Teaira McCowan in a trade with the Indiana Fever earlier this month. The 6-foot-7 center gives the Wings a true paint presence and rim protector, and shuffling picks to acquire her was a savvy, forward-thinking move. McCowan, the third overall pick in 2019, has yet to reach her potential in the WNBA, and the Wings are in line to be the beneficiaries of that.

Lyndsey’s grade: B

With a roster full of young and developing talent, the Wings were content to let free agency roll on without them. They signed Arike Ogunbowale to a supermax contract extension, and that was it until the trade for McCowan. I agree that McCowan — who still has plenty of potential and room to grow — is a great fit. The Wings need to have a more aggressive presence in the post. But overall roster space presents a clear issue, since the Wings have 16 players currently under contract as well as upcoming draft picks. Somehow, they need to get that down to 12.

Indiana Fever

Rachel’s grade: D

You got the sense that the Fever fell behind quickly in free agency, and Tamika Catchings’ departure as GM at one of the most crucial times of the year didn’t help. Indiana moved on from young draft picks Kysre Gondrezick, Julie Allemand and Teaira McCowan while adding veteran Bria Hartley and a host of training camp contracts. They re-signed Victoria Vivians, Lindsay Allen and Emma Cannon and now own the Nos. 2, 4, 6 and 10 picks in the 2022 draft. Last week, they also bought out Jantel Lavender’s contract, opening up a bit of cap space for them to work with.

We are witnessing a complete demolition of this franchise. Indiana has made decisions that simply cannot be undone in a short amount of time, and it will take years for this organization to build back up out of lottery positioning and to attract top-level talent. It’s clear that acquiring picks as assets and rebuilding through the draft in the near future is the best route for them to take. Interim GM Linn Dunn has her work cut out for her, but their selections in this year’s draft should breathe fresh life into the organization and give them a foundation to build upon in the coming years.

Lyndsey’s grade: D+

Let’s be honest, the Fever weren’t in a great position to make a play in free agency, and this exercise feels like grading them for a test when they didn’t have the same study notes as everyone else. I’m giving them the plus for effort because I think they tried their best and came up empty. Catchings may have been planning to step down from her GM position before free agency began. Either way, handing the franchise back to Dunn was the right thing to do. Dunn made some necessary moves — waiving Gondrezick, trading McCowan, bringing in Hartley — to clear room for a bevy of first-round draft picks. Starting with a clean slate seems to be the only way forward for a franchise that has struggled mightily to develop players and build a competitive roster.

Las Vegas Aces

Rachel’s grade: B

The Aces struck it big by hiring Becky Hammon as head coach and securing A’ja Wilson on a two-year deal. Losing Liz Cambage is not the worst thing for the Aces as they enter a new era with Wilson locked in as their franchise player. Bringing back Riquna Williams at the guard spot and re-signing Kiah Stokes for depth in the post were key moves. Theresa Plaisance, Sydney Colson and Kalani Brown, signed to training camp contracts, all have the potential to make an impact on this team. With most of the team’s core returning and Kelsey Plum playing the best basketball of her career, Hammon has a lot of talent to work with in her first season at the helm.

Lyndsey’s grade: A-

Sometimes free agency is more about who you let go than who you bring in. And for the Aces, it was centered on Liz Cambage. With Becky Hammon taking over for Bill Laimbeer, the fit for Cambage and the organization just didn’t make sense anymore. Retaining Wilson and paying her the money she deserves as the backbone of the franchise, re-signing Williams and adding Stokes were smart and necessary moves. It will be interesting to see how the final roster comes together out of a competitive training camp. Either way, Hammon has the pieces to win right away.

Los Angeles Sparks

Rachel’s grade: A

Los Angeles had arguably the most exciting free agency of any WNBA team with the additions of Liz Cambage and Chennedy Carter. While they lost Gabby Williams and Erica Wheeler in favor of adding dynamic offensive depth and securing a 12th person on the roster, the Sparks addressed one of their biggest weaknesses last season: scoring the basketball. Katie Lou Samuelson, acquired in a trade with the Seattle Storm, gives Los Angeles a perimeter threat who can help them stretch the floor and expand their offensive versatility. Now, the Sparks’ success hinges on how quickly this roster can gel ahead of the season.

Lyndsey’s grade: A

The Sparks shook up their roster in the best possible way by adding Cambage, Carter and Samuleson. The frontcourt needed depth, and Cambage brings scoring on offense and rim protection on defense. Swapping out Wheeler for Carter is a win-win, as the Sparks get a talented scoring guard and Carter gets a much-needed fresh start. Kristi Toliver and Jordin Canada, signed to a one-year deal in February, offer experience and mentorship for the young star. Overall, the Sparks addressed their most glaring needs while simultaneously bringing big personalities into the locker room. Meshing both on and off the court will be paramount.

Layshia Clarendon returns to the Lynx after assuming the starting point guard role last season. (Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images)

Minnesota Lynx

Rachel’s grade: B+

Minnesota did not make any franchise-changing moves in free agency, but their decisions were sound and they positioned themselves to be a top-four team once again. Re-signing Sylvia Fowles for her final WNBA season was the cornerstone of Minnesota’s free agency, and rightfully so. With Napheesa Collier expecting her first child in May, Angel McCoughtry was a key pick-up who can fill the hole and add variety to the offense. Layshia Clarendon also returns after seamlessly integrating into the Lynx’s roster last season and bringing poise to the point guard position.

Lyndsey’s grade: A-

The Lynx were another team that didn’t really need to do anything big in free agency other than re-sign Fowles, so adding McCoughtry is a definite bonus — especially with Collier not playing in the beginning of the season. Re-signing Clarendon was also an important move; they were an integral part of the Lynx’s turnaround last season, and maintaining that chemistry is critical. Aside from figuring out the final roster, which will result in some painful cuts barring a trade to clear up additional cap space, the Lynx are in good shape.

New York Liberty

Rachel’s grade: B-

New York’s big move was the addition of Stefanie Dolson, who gives them depth in the post and provides leadership for a young and retooling roster. The Liberty also re-signed Rebecca Allen, who is playing her best basketball at the right time. Outside of that, they were not pressed into making any drastic moves. New York should be content with playing the long game while it positions itself to remain competitive. That likely means ending up in lottery contention after this season and attracting top-level free agents in the future (Breanna Stewart, who visited the Liberty during the offseason, will be a free agent again next year).

Lyndsey’s grade: B

The Liberty probed some of the top names in the free agency market, including Stewart. And while they didn’t land any this season, they could be smartly laying the groundwork for next year and beyond. I love that they brought back Allen, and adding Dolson gives them more depth and versatility at center. I also hope we get to see 2019 No. 2 overall pick Asia Durr healthy and back on the court this season. New York is still thin at point guard and will most likely address that need in the upcoming draft.

Tina Charles turns the Mercury into one of the most fearsome lineups in the league. (Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)

Phoenix Mercury

Rachel’s grade: A

Diana Taurasi has one more year left on her current contract with the Mercury, and the franchise made it a point to continue to load up for a championship run with the additions of Tina Charles and Diamond DeShields and the return of Sophie Cunningham. While the Mercury made it to the Finals last year, they’re also dealing with some turnover as Vanessa Nygaard replaces Sandy Brondello as head coach. While Brittney Griner’s status in Russian custody remains unknown, Phoenix enters the season with more depth and versatility after an active offseason.

Lyndsey’s grade: A+

It feels strange weighing in on the Mercury when Brittney Griner is in a very scary and untenable situation. Basketball just isn’t that important, comparatively. But for the purpose of this free agency breakdown, here are my thoughts:

The Mercury swung for the fences, and why not? I said in our previous free agency roundtable that they should go for broke, especially with Diana Taurasi in the late stages of her career. Getting Charles at a bargain salary, which she was happy to agree to in order to create more cap space, and working out a trade for DeShields were both excellent moves for a franchise on the cusp. And retaining Cunningham, a spark plug off the bench, made perfect sense.

Seattle Storm

Rachel’s grade: B-

I still am making sense of Seattle’s decision to core Jewell Loyd and not Breanna Stewart. The Storm exchanged Gabby Williams for Katie Lou Samuelson in a trade with the Sparks, giving them more versatility and depth on both ends of the floor. While Seattle is clearly set on one more ride with Sue Bird and their championship core, I have concerns about the organization sustaining its success in the coming years.

Lyndsey’s grade: B

If Bird hadn’t returned for “one more season,” I don’t think Stewart would have re-signed with Seattle. But she did, and with Loyd cored, the Big Three remains firmly intact. That was the Storm’s goal, so if we’re grading on that, they got the job done. As for the rest of the roster, there’s little cap room left to fit everyone — even with Bird graciously taking the veteran minimum. There are going to be some cuts, and the roster could end up looking and feeling very different at the start of the season. With a bunch of one-year contracts in place, what happens after this season is anyone’s guess.

Elena Delle Donne returned for three games last season before getting shut down again with a back injury. (Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images)

Washington Mystics

Rachel’s grade: B

The Mystics seem to be doing all they can to run it back with their 2019 championship core, but all of that hinders on the health of Elena Delle Donne. Losing Emma Meesseman to Chicago hurts, but they filled the gap by securing breakout star Myisha Hines-Allen for the long haul. Assuming Delle Donne and Aysha Clark are healthy, Washington will have two major pieces of the puzzle joining Ariel Atkins, Natasha Cloud and Hines-Allen for this year. Now, the focus turns to draft night and what coach Mike Thibault decides to do with the No. 1 overall pick.

Lyndsey’s grade: B

The Mystics entered free agency with a lot of questions surrounding the overall health of their roster, and that most likely impacted the moves they made (or didn’t make). Their main priority was to re-sign Hines-Allen, who is a proven asset and an essential part of the team. I also like the decision to bring back Tianna Hawkins, who spent last season with Atlanta after six years in Washington. With Delle Donne and Clark working their way back to full strength, there’s not much else the Mystics could have done. But having the first pick in the draft opens up a lot of doors for their roster.

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.