By: Lyndsay Helfrich
It’s been a quarter of a decade since the Liberty and Sparks tipped off the inaugural WNBA game in 1997 and the hype surrounding this season matches the hype around that first season. The women of the WNBA have made plenty of strides over these last 25 years, including the signing of a historic CBA in March 2020 which has led to unprecedented player movement and better salaries for players. It’s an exciting time in women’s basketball so let’s dive into what hopes and dreams this 25th anniversary season has for each of the 12 teams.
(Photo via Atlanta Dream)
It’s possible no team has had as much drama and intrigue over the last two seasons, largely stemming from their contentious (now former) owner Kelly Loeffler. This offseason saw an ownership change, with former Dream player Renee Montgomery coming into the fold, as well as an unexpected coaching change with Nikki Collen leaving to take over as Head Coach of the Baylor University Women’s Basketball Team. Interim coach Mike Petersen and the rest of the staff will try and lead this young team, which includes 2020 4th overall pick and rising star Chennedy Carter, 2021 NCAA Tournament standout Aari McDonald, and firecracker guard Courtney Williams to the playoffs for the first time since 2018. With former legend Angel McCoughtry moving to Sin City and a fresh new identity, it’s a new day in Atlanta and the future looks bright.
(Twitter via @chicagosky)
Not without their own offseason drama, the Sky also undoubtedly won free agency by bringing in two-time MVP and legend Candace Parker. Parker wanted to come home to Chicago and seek her second title with this championship-ready Sky team. Once again, their backcourt is shored up by the always exciting wife duo of Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley (aka the Vanderquigs), and with Diamond DeShields back healthy on the wing they have all of the offensive firepower they need. Head Coach James Wade feels confident he has found his point guard of the future in Australian Shyla Heal, who the sky drafted 5th Overall in the 2021 WNBA Draft. The Sky were hot at the beginning of the Wubble but collapsed at the end of the season. While they lost Gabby Williams in a trade to the Sparks (and national team commitments), they are hoping the new additions to the roster will put them over the top.
(Twitter via @ConnecticutSun)
The Sun are always in the mix, even if they don’t seem like the most ferocious contenders. You may doubt them, but they don't mind that; this team likes to fly under the radar. They are led by their F/C Jonquel Jones, who is returning after opting out of the 2020 season, and electric forward DeWanna Bonner who joined the team in free agency a year ago. They may not be loud on the court, but they are silent killers, happy to let everyone sleep on them. You can bet the Sun will always be well prepared and coached, led by the always energetic Curt Miller (and depending on the crowd noise in the building, you may even hear him yelling from the sidelines. Keep an eye on the Sun’s official social media for videos of him dancing, you won’t want to miss it). The Sun may have their flaws, but every team this year does. Let’s see how much noise this team can make.
(Twitter via @IndianaFever)
While the Indiana Fever definitely won in the battle of the new uniforms with their Stranger Things-inspired jerseys, it is to be seen how many wins they get on the court. The Fever are in a rebuilding phase and had a rough time in the Wubble last season, only winning six games. The team is led by Hall of Fame coach Marianne Stanley and WNBA legend and Hall of Famer Tamika Catchings in the front office, both of whom establishing themselves in the organization and hoping to push this team to new heights. While they dealt with injuries, opt-outs, and a lack of training time together, the Fever showed flashes of what they could be with a talented core of players in Kelsey Mitchell, Victoria Vivans, Teaira McCowan, Lauren Cox, and rookie Kysre Gondrezick. Hopefully with more training camp time and another season together will help this core of young players and veterans build on the flashes they showed and end their playoff drought.
New York Liberty
(Photo via @nyliberty)
The Liberty possibly have the most hype surrounding them entering the season with a new home at Barclay’s Center and the return of the vaunted Sabrina Ionescu, whose season ended on an unfortunate note just two games into her rookie campaign. New York won the lottery in the 2021 draft but took a big swing and traded that pick to Seattle for the 2019 Defensive Player of the Year and all-around beast Natasha Howard. They have a roster of budding young stars who are all now in their second year, headed up by guard Jazmine Jones who took over much of the playmaking duties for New York in Ionescu’s absence. The Liberty had an up and down season in the Wubble but hope with their pieces all in place this season they will be able to make a splash in their new digs in Brooklyn and across the league.
(Twitter via @WashMystics)
The 2019 champs had a down year in 2020 but are on the rise again. The Mystics have their big guns returning in 2019 MVP Elena Delle Donne and 2012 MVP Tina Charles, as well as their dangerous backcourt in Natasha Cloud and Ariel Atkins. Unfortunately for the Mystics, for every player who has come back, there has been a loss. Ariel Powers is in Minnesota, and Emma Meesseman is an unrestricted free agent who is unlikely to return to Washington (or any team in the WNBA) until after her Belgian national team commitments. Free-agent addition Alysha Clark was lost to an injury during her overseas commitments, but they traded for sharp-shooter Sydney Weise from the Sparks to help in the backcourt. They are well-coached by a legend in Mike Thibault and while they may not be the complete version they once were, they’re gunning for their title once again and you can bet, they will do some damage.
(Twitter via @DallasWings)
Dallas is one of the youngest teams in the WNBA, led by superstar guard and the league’s scoring leader Arike Ogunbowale, and unicorn forward Satou Sabally. They had the rare opportunity to pick 1st and 2nd overall in the draft, taking Charli Collier from Texas and Awak Kuier from Finland. The Wings have all of the young talent in the world and are now being led by Vickie Johnson who took over from Brian Agler this offseason. Johnson will need to harness the talent on this roster into a consistent product, something they struggled with last season and likely will again this year, as all young teams do. They nearly made the playoffs last season in the Wubble and are hoping to build on that, with a top-8 finish being a successful season.
Las Vegas Aces
(Twitter via @LVAces)
Viva Las Vegas, baby! The Aces are coming off a WNBA finals run and are looking to get back there after being swept by the Seattle Storm. Led by A’ja Wilson, with a 2020 MVP trophy and a statue at the University of South Carolina, and joined by all-world center Liz Cambage, the Aces are not playing around. Cambage opted out of the 2020 season and is looking to return and dominate the league once again. Also returning is the certified bucket, guard Kelsey Plum, who is returning from an Achilles tear, and 2019 Sixth Woman of the Year Dearica Hamby. Rounding out their backcourt is Point Gawd Chelsea Gray who came over from the Sparks in free agency and former No. 1 pick Jackie Young. Sadly, due to a preseason ACL tear, the Aces are without the great Angel McCoughtry, once again robbing us of the McCoughtry-Wilson-Cambage frontcourt we all deserve to see. While this team is light on outside shooting, they are coached by bad boy Bill Laimbeer and that means they are going to dominate the glass and be a physical force. The Aces are going to feast in the paint and body their opponents on defence; playing them is not going to be a fun task for the other teams in the W.
Los Angeles Sparks
(Twitter via @LASparks)
The Sparks have lost some shine in the last few years, going from perennial contenders to not making it out of the second round of the playoffs. They have changed coaches, changed front offices, and the face of the franchise in Candace Parker left in free agency. Los Angeles is clearly pivoting towards a new era, this time led by former first overall pick Nneka Ogwumike. The former MVP is a stalwart in the locker room and on the court for this team and is now the unquestioned star. She is surrounded by athletic defenders and shooters, including guard Erica Wheeler who came over from Indiana in free agency knowing that she could be a lethal pick and roll partner with Ogwumike. Brittney Sykes, Amanda Zahui B, and Kristi Tolliver, and Te’a Copper, and Cheney Ogwumike round out a talented group of players; while they may not have championship potential this season, they will certainly be tough to beat.
(Twitter via @minnesotalynx)
The only things in life that are certain are death, taxes, and Cheryl Reeves putting together a stacked roster. The Minnesota Lynx may have been quiet by their standards over the last couple of years but they’re back and ready to roll. The great Sylvia Fowles is once again joined by budding phenom Napheesa Collier and 2020 Rookie of the Year Crystal Dangerfield. The Lynx were active in free agency bringing over Kayla McBride, Aerial Powers, and Natalie Achonwa, shoring up an already talented core of young players. Maya Moore is again sitting out the season to pursue criminal justice reform and anti-racism activist work, but despite losing one of the greatest players in the game, Minnesota is once again ready to rule the WNBA.
(Twitter via @PhoenixMercury)
Despite an influx of talent last season, the Mercury struggled in the Wubble and looked disjointed at times. The pieces didn’t always fit, but you can trust the talent and coach Sandy Brondello to figure it out. The Mercury added to their core of Skylar Diggins-Smith, Brittney Griner, and the GOAT Diana Taurasi by trading for Kia Nurse this offseason from New York. Depth and health will always be a concern with this team, but that goes for just about every other team in the league. They may not have lived up to potential in the Wubble but the talent on this team is undeniable and with more time together after a full season, a longer training camp, and a healthy Taurasi, the Mercury should certainly be considered a top-tier team in the league. If things break their way, it wouldn't be surprising to see this team in the finals. Can the White Mamba secure one more title in her 17th season? The Mercury are sure hoping so.
(Twitter via @seattlestorm)
The 2020 Champions are coming into 2021 looking to run it back behind a red-hot Breanna Stewart. Stewart parlayed her WNBA title into yet another European title and finals MVP with UMMC Ekaterinburg in Russia during the offseason and is coming back to the W looking for more. Stewie is joined by the infamous Sue Bird, who is seeking her fifth WNBA championship with the Storm. Jewell Lloyd and Jordin Canada remain with the team as well, and while they lost some key pieces, the additions of Kennedy Burke and Candace Dupree should balance them out. Defending their title is going to be challenging as the league is deep, but at the end of the day, the Storm has the best player when it all matters in Bird. Until she shows any signs of slowing down, the Storm are going to be a force and you better make your shots because they are just going to keep scoring.