WNBA free agency: A first look

Full list of core players, reserved players, restricted free agents and unrestricted free agents

Offseason preparations for the 2012 WNBA season should begin to really warm up now as the leagued released the list of cored players, unrestricted free agents and restricted free agents today.  Let us take a first look at the players involved.

Cored Players

Five players have core status. The most obvious on the list was the Indiana Fever’s Tamika Catchings. The defending MVP is not only the cornerstone but also the face of the franchise, and the Fever are not going to take any chances. It is also not surprising that the Atlanta Dream chose to core Erika de Souza. Dominant 6-4 centers are hard to come by and Erika appears to be getting better by the year.

The absence of strong posts in the free agent market and draft led to the Minnesota Lynx coring Taj McWilliams-Franklin. This is perhaps a little surprising with the younger talent on their roster that needs to be re-signed (restricted free agents Candice Wiggins and Chardé Houston, for example). But, Taj is a better than adequate center while the Lynx hope either Amber Harris or Jessica Adair continue to develop.

The coring of Monique Currie tells you a lot about the state of affairs in Washington, where they still have restricted free agents Crystal Langhorne, Matee Ajavon and Nicky Anosike to sign, and a decision to make on injured unrestricted free agent Alana Beard. Some may think Tulsa should just give it up already with Deanna “Tweety” Nolan, but for a team that has no cap issues, why not continue to protect this asset? Maybe someone will offer a trade this year and bring her back to the WNBA.

Unrestricted Free Agents

You can really categorize most of the unrestricted free agents as either aging, injured, unknown, or underwhelming, and then the ones that are not going anywhere.

Seattle coach Brian Agler tweeting about Tanisha Wright's performance for Elitzur Ramla in Israel.

Seattle head coach and director of player personnel Brian Agler has made it clear that Sue Bird and Tanisha Wright will re-sign with the team. He is on an overseas trip and watched Wright play for Elitzur Ramla today. Since both Bird and Wright love Seattle, I see no reason to doubt that they will return to the team. Cross them off of the list.

The aging list is really the longest and includes some great names. How much do they each have left? Some have plenty others, not so much. Included in this group would be legends like Tina Thompson, Katie Smith, and Sheryl Swoopes, who in 2011 could not match their prior success. You could also throw Marie Ferdinand-Harris, Michelle Snow, Betty Lennox (also injured category), DeMya Walker and Ruth Riley into that category. Ticha Penichiero seems to have the most left in the tank and she is unsure how much longer she wants to play, another factor.

Mystics’ All-Star Alana Beard leads the injured group. She has been unable to stay healthy the last few years and one has to question whether she can still play at a high level, if at all. If the answer is yes, she is a great addition to any roster. If no, then she becomes a salary cap liability. That is a tough decision to make for someone.

Jessica Moore suffered a knee injury that may cause teams to shy away and like Lennox has health issues that have been slowing her down. In addition, do not forget two names that will not appear on the new lists, as they were out of the league last year: Cheryl Ford and Shemeka Christon. Both have incredible talent and, if healthy, will be great additions.

The unknown list consists of players that it is hard to determine from year-to-year if they will even show up. Belinda Snell, Laura Macchi and Ann Wauters could be great additions to a team looking to make moves but will they come and play in the WNBA? No one is sure.

The underwhelming is a group of backups and role players that will get a look by someone most likely, and includes Shyra Ely, Sandora Irvin, Jennifer Lacy and Sidney Spencer.

This leaves a list of seven unrestricted free agents that are of interest. The point guards always have a shot, as depth at that position is an issue. That includes Coco and Kelly Miller as well as Dominique Canty. The off guards are Iziane Castro-Marques, Erin Thorn and Scholanda Robinson. Finally, there is one post, Cathrine Kraayeveld. It is an interesting list but not overwhelming by any stretch.

Which leads to the question, why did teams like Seattle and Phoenix rush to create cap space? Maybe it is the restricted free agents?

Restricted Free Agents

This list is more bountiful, and there are definitely some fun questions to ponder, but as always with restricted free agents, you have to wonder who will be matched by their current teams. Some are pretty obvious matches. Crystal Langhorne of the Mystics, Sylvia Fowles of the Sky and the Sparks’ Candace Parker, for example, are not going anywhere.

New York will look at what teams throw at Leilani Mitchell and Essence Carson, but both will most likely be returning there as well.

The Lynx will face the toughest decisions, not due to cap space as much as due to roster space. They already have a roster loaded with talent, and several upcoming draft picks, including a lottery pick. Having re-signed Jessica Adair, they will have to make decisions on Wiggins, Alexis Hornbuckle and Houston. My feeling is Wiggins returns, the other two do not.

Phoenix, already having traded point guard Temeka Johnson must decide if it wants to re-sign Ketia Swanier or make a run at Penichiero or a Miller or two. Would Carol Ross try to bring Armintie Price with her from Atlanta to Los Angeles or does the Dream keep her? We already mentioned Langhorne, but what about Matee Ajavon and Nicky Anosike, as well as Kerry Gardin in Washington? Add in Beard and DeMya Walker as unrestricted free agents, and the Mystics could lose for nothing most of their franchise.

There are also role players that could be attractive to teams like Tamera Young and Shay Murphy of Chicago, and Tulsa’s Amber Holt. Overall, not a terrible group of restricted free agents.

Still, overall, much like the 2012 draft this is not shaping up to be a game changing free agent class. The general managers and coaches will really have to think hard before committing that all-important cap space to the players that are available, and also weigh the intangibles of this strange looking season with the Olympic interruption and the missing foreign players at the outset. Will one or two new players put a team over the top? It will be fun to see, that is for sure.

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