After returning to the WNBA playoffs for the first time in two years and losing to eventual champions the Chicago Sky, the Wings are primed to take that all-important next step: a deeper playoff run and possibly contending for a championship.
They begin preparing their roster for that tomorrow, with the opening of WNBA free agency. Usually, at least a roster spot or two is expected to get reshuffled during this process, but Dallas is in the unique position of having all 12 of last year’s players under contract. That means money is tight: the Wings waived 2020 second-round pick Luisa Geiselsoder to shake loose just under $80,000 in unused cap space, but that is not enough to bring in a meaningful free agent. Even if they had the cash, though, they’d still need to cut an existing player to free up a roster slot to sign someone (part of me thinks they should—more on that later). All of this is before considering their picks in this year’s draft, highlighted by the fourth and sixth overall selections.
Bottom line, if they keep all 12 players plus their draft picks, some serious math will need to be done, whether it’s cutting someone to sign someone else or even a sign-and-trade scenario.
Either way, these are good problems to have for a team just itching to break out.
“We are in a better position than we have been in the recent past, in that the last few years have been very much a build-and-acquisition mode,” says president and CEO Greg Bibb. “We built through the draft picks we acquired over the past few years and put together a roster that we felt would be young, talented, and give us an opportunity for sustained success.”
As the Wings head toward the 2022 season, much of that work has been done. They’re a likable group with gregarious individual personalities and high-end talent, including six top-five draft picks from the past three drafts. But the missing ingredient is an experienced veteran to lead them. Many of the Wings’ losses last season’s 14-18 campaign came in the final minutes, several by single digits. Dallas probably would have won some of them if they had that true vet who knows how to close out games.
“Experience-wise, we’re still a little light,” Bibb says. “We certainly have looked and will continue to look for that right fit from a veteran, an established veteran, but it has to be the right fit … We spent a lot of time and invested a lot of energy in building this roster and don’t want to sacrifice upside for the sake of adding a veteran just to add a veteran.”
Among the best options is unrestricted free agent Sylvia Fowles. At 36, the league’s all-time rebounding leader could end her storied career bringing to Dallas her much-needed championship pedigree, size, and the defensive acumen that has won her multiple defensive player of the year awards. She’s still a superstar, and while it might cost a lot to get her, the expense would be well worth it.
Other big names would include unrestricted free agents Candice Dupree and Angel McCoughtry or perhaps even Diamond DeShields, a restricted free agent who has battled injuries but, at 26 years old, is still seen as one of the faces of the league. The former two are late into their careers at 37 and 35 years old, respectively, but still have enough in the tank to contribute on the floor while providing the leadership this roster is lacking.
But who departs if one or more of those names arrive? Last month, the team picked up its options on Satou Sabally, Tyasha Harris, and Bella Alarie. The first two are absolutely untouchable, in my opinion. Sabally only played in 17 games last year but made huge strides in her second WNBA season, leading the Wings in rebounding and earning her first WNBA All-Star nod (joining Arike Ogunbowale). Harris is a high-energy scoring point guard whom is especially close with Sabally, Ogunbowale, and Marina Mabrey, all of whom are key parts of the team’s core.
On the other hand, while Alarie did an outstanding job working her way into the starting lineup in the second half of the season, she might be the odd woman out. Charli Collier and Awak Kuier, the first- and second-overall picks in last year’s draft, are both high-ceiling bigs who could use more playing time. If there’s a way to keep Alarie, Dallas should. But she could be a trade chip or, failing that, perhaps the most natural cut.
Another woman in that boat could be last year’s fifth-overall pick, Chelsea Dungee, who came into the league as one of the best scorers in her draft class. But Dungee got limited time on the court in her first season and has a number of other guards ahead of her in the pecking order. She is a player with loads of potential who could be valuable on the trade market and might benefit from a different team that would offer her more minutes and more growth potential.
Regardless of what happens this free-agency period, Dallas is expecting to reach another level in 2022.
“Last year was a really important first step in qualifying for the playoffs,” Bibb says. “Although that playoff run was brief, it gave our players that experience and taste, and I think now we have a team that wants to be in Dallas, is excited about the future for the organization, and ultimately will take us places we want to go; which is competing for championships.”
Now it’s time to see who—and perhaps how many—join them on that journey in the coming weeks.