Today we’ll take a look at everything you need to know about how 2023 WNBA free agency works, including key dates. We’ll share some top players that could be on the move. We’ll reveal the latest free agency rumors. And we’ll discuss where to track every team’s current roster and their newest transactions, so you can easily follow your favorite players.
Finally, we’ll provide a glimpse into the WNBA players’ point of view and considerations as they approach their own free agency decisions, with wonderful insight from New York Liberty sharp shooter and two-time WNBA Champion Sami Whitcomb and Washington Mystics’ elite defensive guard Alysha Clark.
WNBA free agency is really important to keep the league growing. Here are some answers to common questions about free agency.
Yes. Teams can start negotiating with players on Jan 21. But there’s a moratorium period and no contracts can be officially signed until Feb. 1.
Once free agency officially begins, teams can negotiate with players, and there are classifications that players fall into that determine how they can negotiate (4 main ones). From January 11 to January 20, teams are required to send out qualifying offers to make applicable players restricted or reserved. Most eligible players will get those qualifying offers, because it’s non-guaranteed money that teams can cut at a later date.
Free agents are expected to be divided into four categories: core players, reserved players, restricted free agents, and unrestricted free agents.
These are player designations that give that team exclusive negotiating rights with the player. According to the WNBA, players can now receive a core designation only three times in their career.
Players with three or fewer years of service are considered to be reserved players. According to the WNBA, the player’s prior team has exclusive negotiating rights (like the core designation).
These are players with four or five years of service. According to the WNBA, restricted free agency gives the player’s prior team the right to keep the player by matching a contract offer the player signs with another team during free agency. This ends up being a lot of players who have just finished their rookie scale contract.
The WNBA goes on to explain that if the player signs a contract offer with another team, the player’s prior team has four days from the date it received the offer to determine whether it wishes to match. If the offer is matched, the player will remain with their prior team. If the offer is not matched within the four-day period, the player will be under contract with the new team.
Unrestricted free agents are players who complete the playing services called for in their contract and have played for five or more years. They are free to sign with any team provided that they are not designated as a “Core Player” by their prior team, according to the WNBA CBA.
Here are a few WNBA players we’re watching closely, along with their current teams:
1/11/23 – Allisha Gray is expected to request a trade from the Dallas Wings, sources told Girls Talk Sports TV. The Washington Mystics, Atlanta Dream, Connecticut Sun, and Chicago Sky are among teams that Allisha Gray has on her wishlist for a potential trade, the sources said.
1/18/23 – Sources told ESPN that an agreement is in place for guard Allisha Gray to be traded to Atlanta Dream from the Dallas Wings, details bring finalized reports M. A. Voepel.
1/18/23 – The Next reports that the trade return (to Dallas) for Allisha Gray will be this year’s third overall pick and another first round pick in either 2024 or 2025.
1/19/23 – Azurá Stevens is a prime target of the Minnesota Lynx, according to multiple league sources reports The Next, with the expectations that the versatile big will earn a max salary once negotiations are all said and done.
1/20/23 – Breanna Stewart will meet with Seattle, New York, Minnesota and Washington reports ESPN.
1/20/23 – The free agency of Chicago Sky guard Courtney Vandersloot is expected to factor into Breanna Stewart’s decision as well, sources close to the situation said – reports Ramona Shelburne.
1/21/23 – Candace Parker has drawn interest from multiple teams, but ultimately deciding between LA + Chicago is what it comes down to – reports Annie Costabile.
1/21/23 – Dearica Hamby addressed her trade to the Los Angeles Sparks on her Instagram, calling the treatment she received from the Aces “unprofessional.” The WNBPA released a statement that they will review the matter.
1/22/23 – Candace Parker has already spoken with both LA and Chicago and will speak with Vegas, according to a league source. – reports Annie Costabile.
1/27/23 – “Connecticut Sun met Erica Wheeler in Europe and I’m hearing it went well but talks with the Indiana Fever are still going strong. She will be moving on from the Atlanta Dream. Other teams are in consideration but CT and Indy are sitting up top.” reports Arielle Chambers + “The Chicago Sky is close in Erica’s consideration. She’s in talks with the team.” reports Ari.
1/28/23 – Candace Parker is signing with the Las Vegas Aces reports Candace Parker: “After evaluating the landscape together with my family, we’ve decided the Las Vegas Aces are the right organization for us at this point in our lives.”
To see the latest breaking free agency news follow these folks on Twitter:
By the way, creator of Power Plays, Lindsay Gibbs wrote a fascinating piece about how Rachel Galligan, Howard Megdal, and Khristina Williams got their starts breaking WNBA news, and the stories they’re most proud of breaking.
Keep your eye on the WNBA transactions page this year to see moves as they happen and the free agency hub. And check out this tracker by the Chicago Sun Times. We like it because it’s really visual, and has every player who made an appearance in the league. You may also find Her Hoops Stats salary cap sheet by team tool helpful in seeing negotiating wiggling room.
Unrestricted free agent Breanna Stewart told SB Nation, “I think that this year , this free agency is probably gonna be the biggest free agency since our new CBA.” And it didn’t disappoint. Though, veteran hooper Candace Parker made what still remains probably the biggest move in 2021, choosing to return home to Chicago, and culminated the season crowned a WNBA champion.
Player movement is good for any sports league, especially the WNBA. Marquee players want to be in control of their careers, and should be given the opportunity to see what else is out there.
As Chelsea Gray’s wife Tipsea explained during the awesome Uninterrupted documentary detailing the couple’s free agency visit to the Las Vegas Aces in 2021, “You get to see how other teams operate, you get to see how other people treat their players, treat superstars and from there you can make an educated decision. But when you only have been with one franchise, you don’t know what you don’t know.”
In January 2020, the WNBA set the wheels in motion for players to move to new teams, as the league and the Women’s National Basketball Players Association reached a new Collective Bargaining Agreement.
The new CBA provides players with better travel accommodations, motherhood and family planning, and salary increases. Ultimately allowing for a total team salary cap of more than $1.3 million. And all WNBA teams must carry at least 11 players on their roster. Other changes that impact player movement include that a player can now only be “cored” three times, rather than four. And players must only finish five seasons prior to entering unrestricted free agency, down from six.
In New York Liberty sharp shooter and two-time WNBA Champion Sami Whitcomb’s second podcast episode, Learning from Legends, she chats with Washington Mystics’ elite defensive guard Alysha Clark about free agency. They dive into what they consider when evaluating the next steps in their career. They reveal how it’s not just about the money, or loving their co-workers: It’s about pushing through complacency and finding new ways to grow.
Sami: “Alright well I want to change topics a little and move into where you are now. I think obviously there’s a lot that we’re not covering in between what we just spoke on and where you are now. But I think I really want to do a little bit of a deep dive so to speak into free agency and what that experience is like for players. Obviously we can only speak from our perspectives.”
“I know sometimes I’ll read articles or comments or whatever when I’m bored and you hear fans or whoever speculate on certain things and it always makes me think how they just don’t know the process. They don’t understand what’s happening or like what’s going on. And fair enough, there’s no reason for them to necessarily know the ins and outs. But I do think that there’s probably a lot of interest in the process of it for players, what they’re thinking about, what’s important to them, what their reasons are going in what they are looking for.”
“So I guess I thought we could both kind of speak to why we were in the position we were in after you know how many years were both in Seattle, winning a couple of Championships, what it was for each of us that was enticing to decide ‘OK, we’re ready for a new challenge’ you know we’re ready for this next kind of step in our careers, and what drew us away, I guess. So I want to start with you and what you’re comfortable with talking about in terms of that experience for you.”
Alysha: “Well this was my first real free agency. Cuz at any other time, I basically signed year to year, until I got my first two years. I signed, and then I signed an extension. And in those years it was kind of like – I’m not going to say nobody else was interested – but I didn’t really have value in the league anywhere else, kind of outside of Seattle. So it was always a no-brainer. It was like ‘No I want to be here.” I felt like at the time during those other years I was quote on quote with a free agent, there was still so much more room for me to grow. So I was like ‘Oh, you know, OK.’ I’m a creature of habit, I’m a creature of comfort.”
“So it was just like ‘No this is where I want to be, where I want to stay’ and I don’t want to jeopardize something good that I have here, for a potential let down somewhere else…It was like a no-brainer. I was like I have a lot more room to grow here, I’m going to keep growing here. So that’s what I did and that’s what I chose, and I’m so happy I did because it put me in a position where after the 2020 season I now actually got to experience free agency for the first time.”
“And honestly, when I was going through the process, when I was initially approached in the process, I wasn’t planning on leaving. You know what I mean? I just wanted to pay respect to actually having a free agency, go through the process, and just be able to bring some little nuggets back and be like ‘OK, hey how about this? Why don’t we work and progress in this way, blah, blah, blah.’”
“And so having these conversations, going throughout it, hearing what these other GMs, other coaches, thought of me and thought of my potential I was like ‘Wow, huh, okay.’ That really started kind of making me think.”
“And I’ll never forget on one of the calls they were like ‘It doesn’t matter what we all think. We all think you’re an incredible player. We all want you as part of our organization. We all think you’re an incredible person. But what do you want?’ And when that question was posed to me I was like ‘Okay well’ and I sat there, and after I got off the phone I was like I guess I’ve never really sat back and thought about what I personally want out of my career.”
Sami: “Which is crazy.”
Alysha: “I just kind of went with whatever was right, and whatever made everyone else happy and comfortable. And I was for it. And at the time it was great, cuz that’s what I was enjoying; that was what made me happy. But then I never really stopped to think, how some of these other players get to do like, ‘In my career I want XYZ’ – I’ve never done that. I’ve never set a personal goal. I’ve never set those types of things in my career in the WNBA.”
“Overseas [I did]. But in the WNBA I never did. Because I was like ‘Oh it’s not going to be a reality. So there’s no point to do it and be disappointed.’ Until the 2020 season, I made my first personal goal. I set a personal goal of being Defensive Player of the Year. I was like I’m more than capable of making that happen. I’m more than capable of being in the running and talk for that. So that was the first time in my entire career that I set a personal goal.”
Sami: “And you were that year. Let me just put that out there.”
Alysha: “So I did that and I sat back and I said ‘Okay what does Alysha want?’ Not ‘What does Alysha want that’s going to make so-and-so happy, that’s going to make so-and-so feel good?’ Job less hectic? What do you want?”
“And when I did that, I realized I’m choosing to be comfortable.”
“The things I said I wanted to do off the court to set up life after basketball were being put on the back burner. And I was like, I’ve been saying I want to do these things and I haven’t done them. And that is honestly like what it was. I was like I need to get out of my comfort zone.”
“I need to take a bet on myself. And if I fail alright cool but at least I made the decision for myself. But if I succeed, cool because I made a decision for myself – and that was hard.”
Sami: “It’s so interesting to hear you say that because in my opinion we’re very much in different categories in terms of caliber of player in this league. And I feel like the words you’re using in the thought process you had was very, very in alignment with mine. So the word comfort that you said. Like that was it for me…I remember just the shock of probably even more for people to hear that you were leaving cuz I’m sure they were thinking ‘Oh she’s a starter. She has such an amazing role on this team…Why would she leave?’ And you know, same for me now like, ‘What’s Sammy going to do? She has this great role for herself there, they’ve won Championships, she’s playing with these players. Why would you leave?’”
“I think people assume it’s ‘Oh they’re unhappy there.’ It wasn’t even that like, I think we were both truly happy, we loved our team, we loved the organization, we love the city of Seattle. It was so fulfilling in the time that we were there. But you use that word comfort and I think for me it’s always been about trying to realize my potential, whatever that looks like. Like you said if you fail you fail, but you tried at least. You put yourself out there.”
“You stepped out of your comfort zone. That is such a cliche but it’s the only way that you’re able to kind of see how great you can be. Or what your ceiling is.”
“And I think even for someone as great as you, like you wanted to experience that. You wanted to continue to explore how good you could be, and in what areas you could continue to improve and evolve in. And that was much the same for me. It was like ‘All right, well I know lots of people think that that’s probably the best I can do in terms of a role. But let’s see. Let’s see if I can play a little bit more, have a little bit larger of a role. Be a leader on a team, whatever.’ And that’s really what it comes down to. It’s not as simple as that, because there’s so much emotion involved. It’s so, so hard when you are comfortable somewhere and when you do really love the people and who you’ve been doing this with.”
“But ultimately, I think for me – and I assume it was similar for you – I just felt like if I didn’t do that decision then, I think I would have always looked back and I would have always wondered. I would have always had maybe a little bit of just regret that I didn’t just have the courage to kind of like you said bet on yourself. And again, I could live with it not working out. But the not knowing, would probably always, I think as a competitor – would always eat away at you a little bit.”
“So I think it’s not easy and I know it’s not always what people want to hear. They think it must be this contentious ‘She didn’t get what she wanted. They weren’t looking after them or whatever it was.’”
“But sometimes it’s just as simple as you just need that next opportunity to grow, you need that next challenge. And I think as competitors and athletes I mean that’s a real thing that’s a real craving. That’s a real itch we have to scratch in order to be elite I think. It’s what sets players like you apart.”
“So yeah, I just found that really interesting and I wanted to know what your experience was, in terms of similarities with mine, and obviously we had talked along the way. And I remember just being so excited for you that you were able to finally enjoy this process and this experience. Where you did feel like people were valuing you, and you didn’t feel like you had to maybe just not that you didn’t want to stay in Seattle, but that you didn’t have options to really feel like okay if I do want to go somewhere else I can. So it was exciting, from my perspective, to see that you were getting at least the attention and love that you deserve. It was a long time coming.”