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WNBA 2022 offseason: What’s next for the four non-playoff teams?

Rhyne Howard and the Dream were one win away from making the playoffs this year. (Jim Cowsert/NBAE via Getty Images)

After an intense battle between five teams, the Mercury and the Liberty secured the last two playoff spots. The Dream, the Lynx and the Sparks just missed the cut, while the Fever have been out of contention for most of the season.

As the rest of the league entertains scenarios of championship bliss, the offseason is already underway for those four organizations. Here’s what each squad needs to do in the coming months to get into contention next season.

Atlanta Dream

Atlanta was one win away from sneaking into the playoffs, but back-to-back losses to the Liberty ensured New York surpassed the Dream as the final team in the postseason. First-year head coach Tanisha Wright took the Dream from winning 25 percent of their games in 2021 to 39.9 percent this season. That’s the team’s best win percentage since they made it to the semifinals in 2018.

Rookie of the Year frontrunner Rhyne Howard averaged 16.2 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.6 steals a game to lead Atlanta back into the playoff chase. But the Dream have some major offensive shortcomings that need to be addressed in the offseason, starting on the inside. The Dream are fourth in the country from beyond the 3-point line, but once they step inside the arc, things go downhill. As a team, they are 11th in the league in 2-point field goal percentage (45.2) and 10th in free-throw percentage (77.7). And on the other side of the ball, the Dream allow their opponents to score 49.9 percent of their points from 2-point range.

Atlanta needs to set out and sign an experienced big or draft a WNBA-ready post. Players like Nneka Ogwumike, Emma Meesseman and Dearica Hamby will be free agents this offseason, and depending on how things shake out in the 2023 draft lottery, the Dream could be in a position to select South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston or Kansas State’s Ayoka Lee, though the latter may take more development. A better inside presence can easily lead to a couple of more wins and, in turn, a playoff spot.

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Moriah Jefferson will be one of Minnesota's four unrestricted free agents this offseason. (Jeff Wheeler/Star Tribune via Getty Images)

Minnesota Lynx

I’m not ready to think about the WNBA without Sylvia Fowles, but the Lynx need to. Cheryl Reeve was right when she said there will never be another player like her, so replacing the WNBA’s leading rebounder isn’t going to happen.

Instead, Minnesota needs to figure out its new identity. Will they be a more guard-oriented team? Will they look for another traditional post, or seek out someone who can stretch the defense and shoot 3s? How will they fill the hole on defense? What about on the glass? There are plenty of questions, and they won’t all be answered right away.

A good start for Minnesota would be to sign a couple of non-traditional bigs who can serve two purposes. The first is to keep up the team’s rebounding prowess — they were the second best squad on the glass this season. The second is to create offense by stretching the floor. Without Fowles to displace defenders and take attention away from driving guards, the Lynx need to clear lanes in other ways. A post who can stretch the defense and shoot 3-pointers is a great way to do that. Plus, Minnesota could use a lift from beyond the arc after finishing the season with just 24.9 percent of the team’s points coming from 3-point range.

Overall, the Lynx will want to play through two-time All-Star Napheesa Collier, who returned to the court for her team’s last four games just 74 days after giving birth to her daughter. Collier averaged 16.7 points, 6.6 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.3 blocks during the 2021 season.

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Chiney and Nneka Ogwumike may be searching for a new destination this winter. (Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images)

Los Angeles Sparks

Despite finding a way to stay in playoff contention, the Sparks were a mess this year. Derek Fisher was fired early in the season, but his decisions continue to haunt L.A. From the contract divorce with Liz Cambage to his insistence on signing Chennedy Carter despite reported pushback from the organization, Fisher left the Sparks in bad shape. Because of that, it’s time for a total rebuild.

Seven players are going to be free agents, and it makes sense for L.A. to unload most of them and start fresh. Holding onto someone like Nneka Ogwumike, despite her obvious talent, isn’t beneficial when the team needs to rework most of its roster. Her $193,409 salary is better used on young talent the organization can develop and build around. The Sparks need to worry about the future, not the now. That means turning to the draft and targeting a versatile centerpiece like Haley Jones or, looking further ahead, a game-changing playmaker like Caitlin Clark or Paige Bueckers in 2024.

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The Fever are building toward the future with their five 2022 top draft picks. (Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

Indiana Fever

On paper, things look bad for the last-place Fever, who parted ways with coach Marianne Stanley earlier this season after she amassed a 14-49 record over three years and missed out on the playoffs for a league-leading sixth straight year. But in reality, the organization is doing all the right things and there is plenty to be excited about.

The Fever are overflowing with young talent after drafting college stars NaLyssa Smith, Emily Engstler, Lexie Hull, Queen Egbo and Destanni Henderson. Smith is certainly a player to build around, and after Rhyne Howard, she was easily the best-performing rookie in the league, averaging 13.5 points, 7.9 rebounds and 1.4 assists per contest. For the Fever, it’s all about staying the course. There likely isn’t a quick pick-up or one draft pick who can take them from last place to the top of the league, but the pieces are coming together.

If Indiana develops the players it has and continues to put a focus on drafting top players over the next few years, then the organization has a good chance of breaking into the top half of the league. For now, they just need to be patient.

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

Cameron Brink likes Caitlin Clark for 2024 WNBA Rookie of the Year

Cameron Brink poses with Caitlin Clark at 2024 wnba draft in new york
Cameron Brink poses with fellow draftee — and possible WNBA ROY —Caitlin Clark. (Photo by Emily Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images)

Cameron Brink already has her rookie of the year pick for the upcoming WNBA season, and it’s Indiana-bound star Caitlin Clark

In the latest edition of Kelley on the Street, host Kelley O'Hara caught up with Brink in New York hours before the Stanford phenom went No. 2 overall to the Los Angeles Sparks at the 2024 WNBA Draft. When O’Hara asked who would win the WNBA's rookie of the year, she answered without pause.

"Caitlin Clark," she said, while a fan commented that she thought Brink would take home the award. Brink later added that the extra foul granted to WNBA players will be "good for me."

"I hope it’s me," Charisma Osborne, who was later drafted by the Phoenix Mercury, said when asked her ROY prediction. "But, I don’t know — we’ll see."

Watch more of Kelley on the Street:

Dash winger Maria Sanchez confirms trade request a day shy of NWSL deadline

María Sanchez of Houston Dash during a NWSL game
In December, Sanchez signed a new three-year contract with the club worth $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. (Photo by Marcus Ingram/Getty Images)

Maria Sanchez issued a statement on Thursday, confirming recent reports that she has requested a trade from the Houston Dash. 

In it, she revealed that the club has been aware of the request "since late March."

"This has all taken a toll and isn’t an easy thing to talk about, but I want to confirm that I’ve requested an immediate trade," she wrote. "My expectations and reasons have been clear. I trust that my current club’s management will honor my decision in a timely manner and proceed with accepting a trade."

"I’m eager to refocus and dive back into what I love most: playing football," she concluded.

Reports of Sanchez's trade request first surfaced on ESPN last week, and were later confirmed by multiple sources. 

In December of last year, Sanchez signed a three-year contract with the Dash valued at $1.5 million including bonuses and an option year. It was the largest contract in NWSL history at the time — a figure that would be eclipsed by multiple contracts in the following months. 

Sanchez spent the offseason as a restricted free agent, meaning that Houston could match any other team's offer to retain her rights. Should the Dash trade Sanchez, her current contract terms would remain intact, limiting potential buyers to teams able to afford to take on an inking of that size.

The Dash has yet to address the trade, instead reiterating to ESPN that Sanchez is "under contract, a choice she made in free agency at the end of 2023." 

Both the NWSL trade window and transfer window close tonight, April 19th, at 12 a.m. ET. The window will stay closed through the next 11 regular season games, reopening on August 1st, 2024.

Seattle Storm debut state-of-the-art $64 million practice facility

Jewell Loyd #24 of the Seattle Storm during warms up during practice on July 11, 2020 at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida
Jewell Loyd, seen here practicing at Florida's IMG Academy, and her team are in for a major upgrade this season. (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)

The four-time league champion Seattle Storm unveiled their new practice facility on Thursday, with Storm co-owner Lisa Brummel dubbing Interbay's Seattle Storm Center for Basketball Performance the team’s "new home."

"It's just such a special space," Brummel told Fox 13 Seattle. "I think when the players get here, it's gonna be overwhelming."

The sprawling 50,000-square-foot, $64 million property is just the second designated practice facility to be designed and built expressly for a WNBA team, with the Storm further noting that 85% of all design and engineering team members involved in the project's construction were women and people of color. The finished product holds two professional indoor courts, two 3x3 outdoor courts, a state-of-the-art locker room, and players' lounge, plus designated areas for strength and conditioning, kitchen, dining, and nutrition, and recovery. 

"This facility reflects our commitment to providing our athletes an exceptional environment that supports their growth, health, and performance," said Storm co-owner Ginny Gilder in an official team release. "It’s built for women, by women, embodying our dedication to leading the way in professional women’s sports."

For their part, the team can't wait to make the faciilty their own.

"It's amazing," Storm guard Jewell Loyd told Fox 13. "Not having to drive everywhere around, knowing you have access anytime of the day to get into the gym, to workout." 

Head coach Noelle Quinn said she predicts the team is "never going to leave this building."

"Which is a good thing for me," she continued. "You talk about having an edge in performance. We want our athletes to not only perform on the court, but get whatever they need."

All of the Storm's staff and operations will now live under one roof, and the team also has plans to launch a youth basketball program operating out of the building.

Mystics relocate game to accommodate Caitlin Clark fans

Maya Caldwell, Erica Wheeler, and Lexie Hull of the Indiana Fever celebrate Caitlin Clark
Get ready — Caitlin Clark is coming to town. (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Caitlin Clark effect is quickly making its mark on the big leagues, as WNBA host teams around the country rush to upgrade their Fever games to larger arenas in order to accommodate surging ticket sales.

With Clark mere weeks away from her Indiana Fever debut, both the Las Vegas Aces and Washington Mystics have officially relocated their scheduled home games with head coach Christie Sides' squad. On Thursday, the Mystics became the latest to adjust their plans, moving their June 7th matchup from Entertainment & Sports Arena in Southwest DC to the more centrally located — and much larger — Capital One Arena "due to unprecedented demand."

The Mystics home court's capacity taps out at 4,200, while Capital One Arena — home to the Wizards, Capitals, and Georgetown Hoya's Men's Basketball — can fit nearly five times that crowd at some 20,000 spectators.

"The move to Capital One Arena will allow for additional fans in the stands as well as premium hospitality options, including Suites and the all-new all-inclusive courtside Hennessy Lofts," the team announced via Thursday's press release.

The Aces were one of the first teams to switch venues, aiming to take on the Indiana Fever in front of as many as 20,000 fans inside T-Mobile Arena on July 2nd. That’s a sizable a boost from their home venue, which holds just 12,000.

For those still planning to face the Fever in their home arenas, ticket prices have skyrocketed. Previously scheduled construction has already forced the LA Sparks to relocate their first five games — including their May 24th clash with the Fever — to Long Beach State's Walter Pyramid. The temporary venue is quite the downsize, holding just 4,000 in comparison to Crypto.com Arena's near-19,000. As of Friday, the get-in price for that game started around $400.

Despite fans launching a Change.org petition urging relocation, the Chicago Sky say they're unable to move their June 23rd Fever meeting from Wintrust Arena's 10,000-seat facility to the 23,500-seat United Center due to a concert. Tickets for that game start around $325 as of Friday.

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