NEW YORK (AP) – It’s already been a busy week in the WNBA, and teams can’t officially sign free agents until Wednesday.
There have been three trades in the last five days, and at least one more is set to be done soon with Elena Delle Donne heading to Washington, according to two people familiar with the situation. The people spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal hasn’t been finalized yet.
As a restricted free agent, Delle Donne can’t be traded by Chicago until Wednesday at the earliest, when the Sky can execute a sign-and-trade with the Mystics. That’s also the first day that teams can sign unrestricted free agents.
The most sought after free agent this season is Kristi Toliver, who helped Los Angeles win a title last fall. Teams were allowed to start talking to Toliver and the other free agents on Jan. 15. But compared to other professional leagues, where you may see free agents fly into perspective cities to get wined and dined, it’s a little more difficult in the WNBA.
Many players compete overseas in the winter around the globe, forcing coaches and general managers to travel to Europe, Asia or Australia to meet them person or have calls at all times of day and night.
Toliver is playing this winter in Russia on the same team as Mercury stars Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner. Phoenix coach Sandy Brondello is an assistant on that All-Star Russian team.
“Certainly having your players on a roster with other players that are potentially free agents is an advantage,” Indiana Fever president and COO Kelly Krauskopf said. “It’s unique about our league. They get a chance to see what it’s like to play with another player, you never have that opportunity in another league. It’s unique to us and can work to a lot of people’s advantage.”
Krauskopf has said she’s had players reach out to her in the past about some of their teammates in foreign leagues that are worth pursuing as free agents. They’ve also said who to stay away from.
Other unrestricted free agents include Essence Carson and Alana Beard of the Sparks. Beard told The Associated Press last month that she was going to stay in Los Angeles. Post players Erlana Larkins of Indiana and Erika de Souza of Chicago are also free agents.
Like Delle Donne, Griner is a restricted free agent, but she will re-sign with Phoenix, according to a person familiar with the situation. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal hasn’t been finalized yet.
The free agent market in the WNBA usually doesn’t involve the league’s marquee names because teams can put the franchise tag on top players if needed. Because of financial constraints from the salary cap, there also can’t be bidding wars.
The trade market though has been active. Phoenix acquired All-Star point guard Danielle Robinson from San Antonio on Tuesday. New York received Kia Vaughn and Bria Hartley on Monday from Washington in a three-way swap. Connecticut and Atlanta traded Aneika Henry-Morello for ReShanda Gray last week.
Those deals have created more movement in the WNBA via trade than all of last offseason.
Krauskopf and San Antonio Stars general manager Ruth Riley both agreed that the new playoff format that basically scraped conference affiliation and just took the top eight teams into the postseason helped create more opportunities.
“I’d hear from teams outside my conference in the past that were more motivated to do a deal with me than teams in their own conference,” Krauskopf said. “Making it more balanced, creates more conversation amongst teams in terms of player movement. Often times, you’d exhaust the opposite conference options first before you start in your own conference.”
Riley completed her first season as general manager of the Stars last year. The Robinson deal was her first trade as a GM.
“I don’t have historical context except what I saw as a player,” Riley said. “It does make you more open to trading across the board, where there were definite barriers within conferences in the past.”
The WNBA season begins on May 13.
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