First-time WNBA free agents say uncertainty takes a toll

Photo by Zofeea Genota, LA Sparks Amanda Zahui B. signs with the Sparks

WNBA free agency is virtually addition by subtraction. 

In Minnesota, in order to make room for signing three free agents, the Lynx made a couple of trades. Head Coach/GM Cheryl Reeve last week told reporters, including the MSR, that signing Kayla McBride, Natalie Achonwa and Aerial Powers for the 2021 season will provide the team with versatility.

“We now have perimeter players that people have to play and make difficult choices,” explained Reeve. “You can’t just worry about Syl (Sylvia Fowles) and Phee (Napheesa Collier). You have a lot more to worry about.”

It was the 5’-9” Detroit-born Powers’ first foray into free agency. Dallas drafted her in 2016, where she made the all-rookie team. Later she was traded to Washington, where she was a member of the 2019 Mystics’ championship team. 

“It was my first free agency. I never have been through this [before],” Powers told the MSR. “It was different because you want to make the right decision for your future [and] your career.

“For me it was taking the time, getting all the information I needed to make the right decision,” she explained. “I definitely took some time, and she [Reeve] was patient with me. 

“When I made the decision, I woke up saying this is right,” continued Powers. “But then I’ll sleep on it another day. Then I woke up the next day and said this is where I want to be for sure.

“I know I’m happy I took my time,” she reaffirmed.

Amanda Zahui B. also was a free agent first-timer: She was Minnesota Golden Gophers’ first early entry draftee when she left after her sophomore year and became the second overall pick in the 2015 Draft by Tulsa (now Dallas). She was traded to New York after her rookie season, where the 6’-5” Swedish native spent five seasons.

Courtesy of YouTube Aerial Powers

Her best season as a pro came last summer in the Wubble when Zahui B. averaged nine points, eight rebounds, shot 34% from three-point range, and was the Liberty’s best defender, according to PIPM (player impact plus-minus). She recently signed as a free agent with Los Angeles.

Said Zahui B. to the MSR, “The hardest part about free agency really was not knowing 100% [where she would eventually sign]. Waiting while I was overseas, then being at home and not really knowing, I think that was the most frustrating part.

“Once I allowed myself out there and had conversations [with team officials], I started appreciating [free agency] more,” she continued. “It was hard for a short while. As a free agent, I never thought that day would come.”

Both Powers and Zahui B. are very active in the WNBA’s longstanding social justice actions and other initiatives. “We were able to voice our opinions,” added Powers. “When it comes to social justice, I know the Minnesota Lynx is very persistent in their voices. I am going to be the same.”

“It really doesn’t matter where I am in the world. I’m still going to do that,” noted Zahui B., who also started a young girls’ book club. “We all need to be treated equally.”

On her book club, now that she is in L.A., “I really want to continue doing that,” Zahui B. said. “The girls I was working with really inspired me every single time we had a session. I want to keep building on that.”