WNBA: With Stewart headed to New York, Storm face difficult decision

WNBA: With Stewart headed to New York, Storm face difficult decision

Breanna Stewart has officially made her long-awaited free agency decision, choosing to sign with the New York Liberty after playing the first six seasons of her WNBA career with the Seattle Storm. The 2018 league MVP and 2018 and 2020 Finals MVP announced her decision via Twitter on Wednesday, ending months of speculation.

Stewart’s decision should create a ripple effect throughout the WNBA as other teams that have been waiting for him begin to fill out their own rosters. Needless to say, the Storm will be particularly affected by Stewart’s decision, which will likely change the course of the franchise as its championship window closes and it enters an era of uncertainty. the team still has All-WNBA guard and Olympian Jewell Loyd on its roster after signing her to a big deal last offseason, but not much beyond that, and unless another star signs in Seattle, the team is closer to a rebuilding phase than any sort of championship contention.

Technically, Stewart hasn’t signed with the Liberty yet, and ESPN’s Holly Rowe mentioned during a televised free agency roundtable on Wednesday that a signing and trade could be in the works, in which case the Storm would get at least some kind of trump in return. What we do know is that Stewart won’t play for Seattle next season, nor will Stephanie Talbot, who signed a two-year contract with the Los Angeles Sparks.

In numbers*

Free agents (type) (2022 salary)

Gabby Williams (Restricted) ($144,000) Epiphanny Prince (Unrestricted) ($115,000) Jantel Lavender (Unrestricted) ($72,141) Ezi Magbegor (Reserved) ($60,471) Tina Charles (Unrestricted) (34 $285)

Average Total Free Agent Salary: $425,897

Total team salary: $394,936

Ceiling space: $1,025,564

Analytics Center Ezi Magbegor is set to get a significant pay rise after playing at the Defensive Player of the Year level for much of 2022. Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

Currently, the Storm only have two players under contract: Loyd and center Mercedes Russell. They haven’t signed a contract yet, but the loss of Stewart significantly changes what Seattle might want to do from now on.

The Liberty and Las Vegas Aces, who signed forwards Candace Parker and Alysha Clark on Wednesday, have dominated the WNBA’s current free agency spell so far, essentially establishing “super teams” that put them comfortably ahead of all. the other teams in the league. This is, of course, at Seattle’s expense; with Stewart gone and Sue Bird retired, the Storm no longer has the top-end talent to compete with the Liberty or Aces.

So the question will be whether Seattle is still trying to field as competitive a team as possible in 2023 or is approaching the season as more of a development season.

Will Courtney Vandersloot be Bird’s heiress?

The Storm entered the post-Bird era without an immediate in-house replacement for the legendary playmaker. Briann January also retired after 2022, having played 14 seasons in the WNBA, while the future veteran of 13 Prince’s years with the team is unknown; if she is brought back, it seems unlikely to be in a much bigger role than the one she played on the Storm bench.

It was speculated that longtime Chicago Sky guard Courtney Vandersloot would be willing to join the Storm in 2023, and for a brief moment on Wednesday, it looked like that would happen. However, representatives for Vandersloot were quick to push back against those initial reports, and as of Wednesday night, she remains unsigned.

Courtney Vandersloot’s agent, Lindsay Kagawa-Colas, refuted reports that Vandersloot had committed to Seattle and confirmed to ESPN that Vandersloot has yet to make a final decision.

— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) February 1, 2023

On the surface, signing Vandersloot would make sense for the Storm. The current WNBA record holder for most assists in a season, Vandersloot was born in Kent, Washington and played college basketball at Gonzaga University in Spokane; if she wants to play closer to home, Seattle would be the obvious choice, and the Storm will have the cap space to make Vandersloot, who has already announced she won’t be returning to Chicago, a tempting offer.

Vandersloot has also been linked to the Liberty and Minnesota Lynx, however, and if she wants to compete for a WNBA championship in 2023, both teams could be better options than Seattle. If that’s the case, Seattle could choose to strengthen its leading position in the draft; currently, the first the Storm will pick in the 2023 WNBA Draft is No. 8 overall, and if they’re looking to take a guard with that pick, players like Charisma Osborne (UCLA), Jacy Sheldon (Ohio State ), Ashley Owusu (Virginia Tech) and Celeste Taylor (Duke) would be possibilities. The Storm also own the rights to Australian guard Jade Melbourne, whom they selected in the third round of the 2022 WNBA Draft; Melbourne is still very young at just 20, but this season could be the perfect opportunity for her to make her WNBA debut on a team that desperately needs her skills.

Magbegor will be key for Seattle

All is not bleak for Seattle. Storm’s figure to have one of the game’s rising international stars at Magbegor, and they will have his exclusive bargaining rights after making him a qualifying offer last week.

Magbegor made visible progress in 2022, averaging 11.3 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.3 blocked shots per game as the Storm’s starting center and anchored what was the league’s best defense during this period. Magbegor’s role in the team diminished after the team signed Charles – putting a damper on what was shaping up to be a Defensive Player of the Year-caliber season – but the Storms are not in danger of losing her to the profit from another team, and they’ll surely reward his development with a new contract for 2023 and beyond.

Will Williams be able to play?

Another Storm player who needs a boost is Williams, whose restricted free agent status will give Seattle a chance to match any offer made by a rival team and keep him for 2023.

However, Williams may not even get the chance to play. In accordance with the WNBA’s Prioritization Clause which comes into effect this year, any player who is not on their respective WNBA team at the start of the regular season will be automatically suspended by the league for the entire season.

That’s a problem for Williams, who currently plays overseas for French basketball club LDLC ASVEL Féminin. The end of the Women’s Basketball League season will overlap with the start of the 2023 WNBA season, meaning Williams could be forced to take a summer break. If so, the Storm will be one of their most athletic players and their best defensive playmaker on the perimeter.

* All salary figures are from Her Hoop Stats.

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