2019 WNBA Free Agency: A team-by-team progress report

Note: Table only includes players who played in 10+ games with one WNBA team last season.
Note: Table only includes players who played in 10+ games with one WNBA team last season. /

Who has added the most value in free agency?

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It’s safe to say that WNBA free agency has been slow so far. Two weeks in, the biggest bombshell has been about a player who will not even play in 2019 (Minnesota Lynx star Maya Moore). 46 players have signed contracts for 2019, 35 of whom played at least 10 WNBA games last season. Of those 35 players, all but six re-signed with their 2018 team. Meanwhile, 29 WNBA players from last season are still waiting to sign on the dotted line, and countless others are hoping for a phone call from a WNBA general manager.

In this week’s stats column, I’m breaking down which teams had the most to do in free agency and which teams have made the most moves so far. I aggregated the information from the WNBA’s list of free agents, Ben Dull’s excellent free agency trackerHigh Post Hoops breaking news, and the teams’ websites. All data is through February 20, 2019.

The pool of free agents

In total, 64 players who played at least 10 WNBA games in 2018 became free agents this off-season. However, there are four types of free agents, and not all types actually free players up to sign with new teams:

  • Core players – teams can “core” one player per offseason, which gives the team exclusive negotiating rights. Players can only be cored four times in their career. Core players are usually superstars; if not, they are cored because they are their teams’ highest offseason priority.
  • Reserved players – these are players who have been in the league for three years or fewer. Their rookie contracts are up, but their teams have exclusive negotiating rights.
  • Restricted free agents – these are usually players who have been in the league for four years. Their original team has the right to match any offer they sign with another team.
  • Unrestricted free agents – these are usually players who have been in the league for five years or more. They are free to sign with any team, and their original team does not have the right to match an offer from another team.

Here are the number of free agents in each category that were available at the beginning of WNBA free agency and the percentage who have signed offers with any team:

Note: Table only includes players who played in 10+ games with one WNBA team last season.
Note: Table only includes players who played in 10+ games with one WNBA team last season. /

Unrestricted free agents have been re-signed at the slowest pace, whereas restricted free agent signings have moved the fastest. This makes some sense: unrestricted players are able to sign with other teams and have the most freedom to choose a team, so they may take more time deciding. Also, some teams might prioritize re-signing their core or reserved players ahead of adding new players, slowing down the timeline for unrestricted free agents who do not re-sign with their original teams. On the other hand, for restricted free agents, the player’s original team has only four days to match another team’s offer. That deadline might speed up the pace of signing restricted free agents relative to other types of free agents.

How many free agents did each team have?

WNBA teams varied in the number and types of free agents they had at the beginning of the offseason. The average number of free agents was just over five, with three of those being restricted or unrestricted free agents able to sign with another team. The chart below shows the number of each type of free agent that every team had this off-season. Red and orange categories indicate players that cannot negotiate with other teams and are therefore likely to re-sign, while green categories indicate players who have more choice among WNBA teams:

New York had the most free agents off of last season’s team (9), followed closely by Phoenix (8). The biggest names were cored players Tina Charles (New York) and DeWanna Bonner (Phoenix), both of whom have yet to re-sign with their teams. But New York’s free agency situation is a lot more fluid than Phoenix’s because six of New York’s free agents could sign with another team as restricted or unrestricted free agents, whereas more than half of Phoenix’s free agents were reserved or cored.

On the other end of the spectrum, Connecticut and Las Vegas each had the fewest free agents, with two apiece. Las Vegas re-signed restricted free agent forward Dearica Hamby, but has not moved on reserved guard Lindsay Allen. Connecticut re-signed Jasmine Thomas, its cored player, but forward Betnijah Laney, an unrestricted free agent, signed with Indiana for 2019.

Three teams—New York, Minnesota, and Washington—had four unrestricted free agents, the highest number in the league. New York has not yet re-signed any of those players, while Minnesota and Washington have each re-signed one (Seimone Augustus and LaToya Sanders, respectively). Las Vegas was the only team in the league with no unrestricted free agents.

How many moves has each team made?

Almost half of WNBA teams had seven or more free agents, giving them lots of roster spots to fill. Of those teams, Chicago has made the most moves, countering its seven free agents by re-signing five players and adding Evelyn Akhator and Victoria Macaulay, neither of whom played in the WNBA in 2018. Here is the full breakdown by team:

Four teams in the league have signed as many players as they had free agents: Chicago, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, and Seattle. Each of those teams has re-signed some of their free agents and added at least one new player. Importantly, these signings do not mean that the teams are done with free agency. They could still re-sign their remaining free agents or add additional players before training camp; teams will enter camp with larger rosters (including their 2019 draft picks) and make cuts before the start of the regular season. For all 12 teams in the league, then, there’s likely work left to do to assemble a full roster this spring.