New WNBA contract sparks player movement

If the types of player movement, either by free agency or trades, occurred in any other pro league for nearly a month now, it would be at the top of the sports media’s talk list. Instead, the WNBA, America’s longest-running women’s pro league, mostly got the usual minuscule coverage.

“Within the WNBA community it got a lot of attention,” ESPN Analyst Rebecca Lobo told the MSR. “I wished we would have done a little bit more at ESPN and talked about it. But I think overall there was a lot more excitement and a lot more people talking about it than ever before.”

The new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) largely created this historic player movement as many notable players switch teams: DeWanna Bonner from Phoenix to Connecticut, Angel McCoughtry from Atlanta to Las Vegas, and Seimone Augustus from Minnesota to Los Angeles. All three players have been stalwarts with the teams up to this point through their entire pro careers.

Veteran guard Kristi Toliver’s signing with LA was one of the biggest free agency signings that began February 10. She’s returning to the Sparks after three seasons with Washington, where she won her third overall championship ring last fall.

“When free agency came about, it was extremely difficult to pull the trigger and leave,” Toliver admitted. “Yes, it was partly financial. I just wasn’t offered the money I deserved. They [Washington] had to make a decision, and I had to make a decision based off of that, and at the end of the day it was a basketball decision.

“There were other teams in the mix that I met and talked to—Phoenix, Minnesota, Connecticut, Vegas—the list kind of went on,” the guard continued. “It’s nice to be wanted.”

Toliver surmised that the new CBA “is going to create more movement and excitement for the league. This was one of the better off-seasons that I’ve ever been around as far as being a part of the W.”

Washington Coach/GM Mike Thibault told us that he was not surprised with the new frenzy of players switching teams. “There were players who wanted some changes. I think some of that would have happened regardless of a new collective bargaining agreement,” he pointed out. “We lost Kristi Tolliver and added Leilani Mitchell.

“Kristi was a big part of what we did, but it came down to a business decision on both sides about length of the contract. The money basically was the same, but we didn’t want to do a third year.”

The new CBA increased each of the 12 WNBA teams’ salary cap to $1.3 million each. Also, each team will have up to five players making six-figure salaries. According to Thibault, most teams looked beyond the present “and what it is going to look like in two, three years, and not just this year.

“The fallacy that’s out there is that there was this 31 percent raise in the [team’s salary] cap. But it really isn’t overall. If you are paying a couple of players the top price, that 31 percent decreases by a fair amount. I think GMs and coaches are trying to figure that out, and players and agents are going to have to come to grips with [this]. 

“In the past, you had four or five players on the team making about the same amount. Now the real superstars are going to make big money, and you are not going to have that same balance,” Thibault said.

“That’s the great thing about the CBA,” Toliver said. “It’s going to create more movement and excitement for the league—bigtime players making big moves is exciting for the league and for us as players. I’m really happy for this year and the future, because I think it’s going to be really exciting.”

“It made for an interesting off-season,” Lobo said.