Grading the Trade: Hornbuckle Finds a Home

The Minnesota Lynx signed-and-traded Alexis Hornbuckle to the Phoenix Mercury for a 2013 second-round draft pick.

The first signing of the true free agency period turned out to also be a trade. Exactly why it turned out to be a trade, your guess is as good as mine. There’s no way that Alexis Hornbuckle was going to be playing for the Minnesota Lynx in 2012. They had only three free agents left, all restricted, and Hornbuckle played the fewest minutes of the three last year. They’ve also got six draft picks, including the #3 overall selection, and the only open roster spots are going to be created by the departure of those free agents. Hornbuckle was gone.

She was especially gone at the inflated contract number Phoenix threw at her. With Temeka Johnson traded away, Marie Ferdinand-Harris an unrestricted free agent (and not particularly good), and Penny Taylor’s status for next season up in the air thanks to the Olympics, Phoenix needed help on the perimeter. That’s not in question. But holy mackerel did they decide to overpay a backup guard who barely played last season and shoots 36% for her WNBA career. This isn’t exactly the kind of player that Merc fans had in mind when they saw their team clearing cap space for 2012 free agents, even with the caveat that you usually have to overpay for restricted free agents. Continue reading

Grading the Trade: On a Wing and a Prayer

The Los Angeles Sparks trade Noelle Quinn to the Washington Mystics for Marissa Coleman.

The first move of the WNBA free agency signing period turned out to be a trade that would’ve been perfectly legal back before free agency started. LA and Washington decided that their underperforming backup wings might do better if they swapped them around, so Noelle Quinn and Marissa Coleman both face a change of scenery next season. Given how they played in 2011, it probably can’t hurt.

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WNBA Free Agency List & Analysis: Tulsa Shock

Cored: Deanna Nolan

Unrestricted Free Agents: Jennifer Lacy, Betty Lennox, Sheryl Swoopes

Restricted Free Agents: Amber Holt

Reserved: Abi Olajuwon

I’ve said it over and over again, so it won’t be a surprise to hear it one more time – this team just needs talent. It doesn’t matter where, although they have bigger holes at some spots than others, they just need as many players as they can find who are true WNBA quality and are willing to sign and play for the Tulsa Shock. Bringing in Indiana assistant Gary Kloppenburg as their new head coach looks like a good move, introducing someone who knows the league and the women’s game to a franchise that desperately needed that infusion. He already turned Andrea Riley into Temeka Johnson, so they would seem to be heading in the right direction.

As with last year, and even after acquiring Johnson from Phoenix, the Shock basically have more cap space than they know what to do with. They’ll probably keep Amber Holt, even though I’m yet to see much real WNBA talent from her in the four years she’s played in the league. Jennifer Lacy can fill out a post rotation, so they might give her another deal (although as with Holt, I wouldn’t go much past the minimum, even with all that cap space to burn). It’s probably time for Betty Lennox to retire and stay retired. Sheryl Swoopes may be a different story, after suggesting she at least has a little gas left in the tank last season. Continue reading

WNBA Free Agency List & Analysis: Seattle Storm

Unrestricted Free Agents: Sue Bird, Katie Smith, Belinda Snell, Tanisha Wright

Restricted Free Agents: Allie Quigley

Reserved: Ewelina Kobryn

It’s a good thing that Storm fans have grown to trust head coach/GM Brian Agler, or that would be a pretty damn scary list. With Lauren Jackson missing for the first half of the 2012 season training with Australia for the Olympics, and having traded away both Swin Cash and Le’coe Willingham at the start of this month, now every guard worth anything from last year’s roster is an unrestricted free agent. In fact, Seattle’s current opening day lineup is TBA/TBA/TBA/Little/Robinson. However, the fact that Agler chose not to use his core designation on anyone has to be a sign of confidence. If there was less than a 100% chance in his mind that Sue Bird was going to stick around, he’d have used it on her. And once he was sure about Bird, he could easily have used it on Tanisha Wright instead – but didn’t. That almost certainly means that both will return, and it’s largely a matter of when, not if, they’ll sign. Wright should get a decent little raise as well.

With Cash gone, the Storm will probably also hope to retain Katie Smith’s services. She took a significant pay cut to join Agler – her former ABL coach – in Seattle, so they may have to make it up to her with a bit more cash this year, but she’ll probably stick around. Continue reading

WNBA Free Agency List & Analysis: San Antonio Silver Stars

Unrestricted Free Agents: Ruth Riley, Scholanda Robinson, (Ann Wauters)

Restricted Free Agents: None

Reserved: None

It’s a short list of existing players that San Antonio have to deal with this year. Riley’s been a stalwart for them for five seasons now, but no longer seems particularly vital to their roster. Her size and willingness to fight for the cause are useful, but she’s their starting center and they’re an appalling rebounding team – which tells you a lot. She comes with her own faults, but Jayne Appel is probably ready to fill Riley’s limited role, which would then just leave the problem of filling Appel’s spot. They’d probably like to keep Riley around, because 6-5 centers don’t grow on trees, but they’d also probably like her price to come down quite a bit. She’s no longer worth the sums they’ve been paying her in prior years. There’ve also been suggestions from some quarters that she’s considering retirement. Scholanda Robinson wandered in and out of Dan Hughes’s rotation in 2011, despite starting over half their games. With her limited production, it’s hard to see them paying her much more than the veteran’s minimum, and she may find a more favourable situation somewhere else.

The Silver Stars already have some cap space to explore free agency, and if they don’t re-sign Riley they’ve got a whole lot more. The primary need is glaringly obvious – rebounding and interior presence. One potential source for that was Ann Wauters, the Belgian center who last played in the WNBA for San Antonio in 2009. She’s reportedly made some indications that she wants to return to the league this year. However, the Silver Stars cored her in 2010, but decided not to keep the designation attached to her in 2011, which made her an unrestricted free agent. The expectation was that if she ever decided to return to the WNBA, her loyalty to her former team would take her back to San Antonio even without being cored. Rumour has it that Wauters may be returning, but that it could well be to a different city, which will leave San Antonio searching for other options. Continue reading

WNBA Free Agency List & Analysis: Phoenix Mercury

Unrestricted Free Agents: Marie Ferdinand-Harris, Sidney Spencer

Restricted Free Agents: Ketia Swanier

Reserved: Alexis Gray-Lawson, Krystal Thomas

Unlike so many other teams, this is all about who the Mercury might be able to bring in, not who they’ll be able to keep. They obviously have little interest in Sidney Spencer, because they didn’t even give her the qualifying offer that would’ve made her a restricted free agent. Marie Ferdinand-Harris was wildly overpaid yet again last season, and may return if the Mercury strike out on more appealing options (but hopefully at a lower figure than last season). They’ll probably want to keep Swanier around after the years she’s already played in their system, but they’ll be hoping it’s at the veteran minimum (if anyone else wants to pay her more than that – which admittedly seems unlikely – I’d let her walk). Alexis Gray-Lawson and Krystal Thomas will both probably receive minimum deals for the chance to make the squad in training camp.

Now for the meaningful bit. They dumped starting point guard Temeka Johnson in a trade for Andrea Riley a couple of weeks ago, and the only way that move makes sense is if they use the consequent cap space to make a splash. Having given away Kara Braxton during the season, and with Ferdinand-Harris’s contract expiring, they already had some room to work with – and with Johnson gone they’ve added an extra $50,000 or so. The most obvious hole is at the point, because none of Swanier, Riley or Gray-Lawson are likely to be the answer. Sue Bird would be the first choice by a mile, but Seattle would’ve cored her if they’d felt there was any chance that she would leave. Candice Wiggins may well be the next option, and with Diana Taurasi’s passing ability they may well feel that Wiggins wouldn’t have to play as any kind of ‘true’ point guard to fit easily in their backcourt. Continue reading

WNBA Free Agency List & Analysis: Minnesota Lynx

Cored: Taj McWilliams-Franklin

Unrestricted Free Agents: None

Restricted Free Agents: Alexis Hornbuckle, Charde Houston, Candice Wiggins

Reserved: Jessica Adair

After cantering to the championship in 2011, it’s almost unfair how little the Lynx have to worry about in the offseason. They did precisely what some of us suggested New York should’ve done last season, and used their core spot on Taj McWilliams-Franklin to prevent her wanderlust taking her elsewhere. The mild danger was that she’d be offended by her choice being taken away and retire or demand a trade in response, but she’s already confirmed that she’s coming back to the Lynx (she’s not technically allowed to have officially signed yet). That immediately solidifies their post rotation for next season. Everyone else is at least somewhat under Minnesota’s control.

The restricted free agent most important to them last year was Candice Wiggins, who I’m sure they’d like to keep, but with some hesitation. They’ve got the cap room to pay her this year, but with her injury history and other youngsters they’ll need to pay in the future, they may be reluctant to go too high or for too many years. We’re also going to see teams and players start wondering about what might change in the next CBA soon, because the current one runs out after the 2013 season. Would the Lynx risk giving Wiggins a three-year deal when that third year would be part of a future agreement which they can currently only guess at? Continue reading