It’s open season for WNBA free agents

Courtesy of AK Sports Management Sika Kone

The WNBA earlier this month released its official free agent (FA) list. Beginning January 1 to Friday, January 14, teams can send out qualifying offers to restricted or reserved free agents.

The four FA categories are:

  • Unrestricted free agent (UFA) – players must have at least five years of service.
  • Restricted free agent – players with four years of service or players who completed their rookie scale contract.
  • Reserved – three or fewer years of service and can only negotiate with their current team.
  • Suspended or expired contract – these players cannot talk to or sign with another team as their current team retains their rights.

If the reserved or restricted FA hasn’t been offered by their current team by January 14, they become unrestricted and talk to other teams beginning January 15 but cannot sign until February 1.

Minnesota Lynx center Sylvia Fowles leads the impressive big names of UFAs—teammates Rachel Banham and Laysha Clarendon also are on the list of 57 UFAs. There are 10 restricted FAs—Las Vegas’ A’ja Wilson is among the top names in this category, with 21 reserved players and seven suspended players.

The Lynx for the 2022 season has $947,002 in total salaries and seven of eight players under contract: Kayla McBride, Aerial Powers, Natalie Achonwa, Damiris Dantas, Napheesa Collier, Crystal Dangerfield, and Rennia Davis are Black. With $432,198 in cap room and three to four open roster slots available, Minnesota’s top priority apparently is to find enough money to sign both Fowles and Clarendon, or only one of them.

Courtesy of AK Sports Management Kone in action

Kone goes pro

Sika Kone left her native Mali at age 14 to play basketball and attend school in Spain. After several years of on-court success, the 6’-3” forward has declared for the 2022 WNBA Draft later this year.

International-born players can apply for draft eligibility if they are at least 20 years old during the calendar year of the draft. Kone will turn age 20 in July.

Kone this season is averaging 14 points and 12 rebounds for her Spanish League club—she has played in the league since 2019. She also helped her Mali national team reach the FIBA U19 world semifinals last summer, the first African team to qualify for the semifinals.

Following are excerpts from an interview with Kone by AK Sports’ Frederic Lesmayoux: “I am very happy to see that the fruit of my efforts is playing off. It’s years of hard work,” admitted Kone. “Playing in the WNBA is a childhood dream. I will continue to work as usual to stand out.”

New Black voices

Four of ESPN’s “new voices” added to its 2021-22 women’s college basketball coverage are Black women. Nikki Fargas, Chelsea Gray and Aja Ellison have joined as analysts and Angel Gray as a play-by-play commentator.

Fargas currently is president of the WNBA’s Las Vegas Aces. Before she took on her current role with the club, she was the head coach at LSU for 10 seasons, and previously the HC at UCLA.

Chelsea Gray joins the ACC Network as an in-game analyst and will be a weekly contributor for the ACCN’s “Ladies Night” coverage. Gray, a 2014 first-round pick, played for Las Vegas last season, for Connecticut (one season), and for Los Angeles (five seasons).

Ellison just finished her college career at Texas A&M and played three seasons at Maryland. She primarily will call games as an analyst on ESPNU and SEC Network.

Angel Gray, in addition to doing play-by-play for ESPN, does the same for the Atlanta Dream for Bally Sports Network. She previously has worked as a sideline reporter for Cleveland Cavaliers’ telecasts and was a play-by-play announcer for Los Angeles of the WNBA.