WNBA salary cap analysis: Aces in position to defend title with all 5 starters under contract

It's about to be a wild 2023 offseason that will shift the landscape of the WNBA. There's prioritization, the potential for more legendary figures entering retirement and a lot of salary cap room for a few iconic franchises.

Yahoo Sports took an early look at the free agency period, set to start at the beginning of the 2023 calendar, by analyzing the teams with the most cap room (Seattle) to the least (Las Vegas). All cap and salary information is from Her Hoop Stats.

Each team's salary sheet is broken down by starters under contract, bench players under contract, unrestricted free agents, restricted/reserved players and 2023 draft picks. Starters for this purpose are defined as the most used in the starting lineup or a player a team depended upon before an injury. For example, Sun point guard Jasmine Thomas is listed as a returning starter even though she was out with an ACL injury. Italics are used for unprotected contracts, per Her Hoop Stats data. Unrestricted free agents, restricted free agents and reserve players are all listed with approximate 2022 salaries as a starting point to estimate their 2023 salary.

Seattle Storm

Cap room: $1,025,564

Starters under contract (1): Jewell Loyd ($234,936)

Off the bench: Mercedes Russell ($160,000)

Unrestricted free agents: Breanna Stewart ($229K), Epiphanny Prince ($115K), Jantel Lavender ($72K), Stephanie Talbot ($72K), Tina Charles ($34K SEA/$56K PHO)

Restricted: Gabby Williams ($144K) | Reserved: Ezi Magbegor ($60K)

2023 draft picks: Round 1, pick 9. Others: 18 (from New York), 21, 33

Breanna Stewart signing a one-year deal in the 2022 free agency period put in motion a huge 2023 for the Storm. Their first move will be finding a point guard after officially saying goodbye to four-time champion Sue Bird. After that, it’s an open slate given they have one starter under contract. What Stewie, who would qualify for a supermax salary of $234,936 next year, decides to do will determine how the Storm move forward.

Los Angeles Sparks

Cap room: $996,101

Starters under contract: None

Off the bench: Chennedy Carter ($87K), Katie Lou Samuelson ($130K), Jasmine Walker ($75K), Rae Burrell ($68K), Olivia Nelson-Ododa ($65K)

Unrestricted free agents: Nneka Ogwumike ($196K), Kristi Toliver ($196K), Chiney Ogwumike ($116K), Brittney Sykes ($113K), Jordin Canada ($98K), Lexie Brown ($72K)

2023 draft picks: Could have lottery pick, but traded first-round pick to Washington for Carter. Others: 14, 26

The Sparks are in a situation where they need to decide, starting in the front office, what the next stretch of years is going to look like for them. The franchise remains without a general manager and head coach after parting ways with Derek Fisher in June. Roster wise, they're only locked into $424,399 worth of salaries on two players and can strip down to a blank slate if the front office desires a real rebuild.

Nneka Ogwumike has played her entire career in Los Angeles, but also watched as former 2016 championship teammates Candace Parker (Sky 2021) and Chelsea Gray (Aces 2022) won their second titles elsewhere. Riquna Williams also won with the Aces following four seasons in Los Angeles.

Carter and Samuelson are the main players still signed. Fisher brought in Carter in an optimistic move last offseason, but she was rarely utilized and went through a stretch of DNP — Coach’s decision. In her exit interview with reporters, she said she planned on “getting my mentals right” in the offseason.

Atlanta Dream

Cap room: $942,916

Starters under contract (2): Cheyenne Parker ($196,100), Rhyne Howard ($73,584)

Off the bench (2): Aari McDonald ($78,586), Kristy Wallace ($64,657), Naz Hillmon ($64,657)

Unrestricted free agents: Erica Wheeler ($185K), Monique Billings ($140K), Nia Coffey ($130K), Kia Vaughn ($110K).

Reserved: AD ($68K), Beatrice Mompremier ($60K)

2023 draft picks: Second-best odds at No. 1 pick (27.6%). Others: 8 (from Washington), 15.

Tanisha Wright did big things in her first season as head coach in Atlanta and rightly earned a number of votes for Coach of the Year. The franchise is clearly building around Rhyne Howard, who they traded up to nab in last year's draft. Howard was named an All-Star in a record-setting rookie season during which she earned Rookie of the Year.

Second-year general manager Dan Padover, who won the Executive of the Year honor twice in helping build the 2022 champion Aces, will have a significant amount of payroll to work with in building around her. Guard Aari McDonald took a large step in her development and AD gave key contributions off the bench after joining the team midseason.

Chicago Sky

Cap room: $931,801

Starters under contract (1): Kahleah Copper ($205K)

Off the bench: Julie Allemand ($70K), Dana Evans ($69K), Ruthy Hebard ($83K)

Unrestricted free agents: Candace Parker ($195K), Courtney Vandersloot ($195K), Emma Meesseman ($185K), Allie Quigley ($135K), Azura Stevens ($140K)

Reserved: Rebekah Gardner ($60K)

2023 draft picks: Round 1, pick 5 (from Phoenix in Diamond DeShields trade). Others: 23, 35

Chicago was trying to run it back after its 2021 championship because the Sky knew it was unlikely everyone would be able to sign back again. The Sky cored Copper last offseason and both Vandersloot and Quigley played on less lucrative contracts. There’s also the possibility Parker and Quigley call it a career ahead of free agency.

James Wade, the reigning Executive of the Year, has the benefit of a top-five pick in what should be a deep draft. If the core does break up, it could be a franchise-defining draft decision.

Phoenix Mercury

Cap room: $881,650

Starters under contract: Skylar Diggins-Smith ($234,350), Diamond DeShields ($154,500), Brianna Turner ($150K)

Off the bench: None

Unrestricted free agents: Diana Taurasi ($228K), Brittney Griner ($228K), Kia Nurse ($74K)

Restricted: Sophie Cunningham ($75K), Megan Gustafson ($72K), Shey Peddy ($72K)

2023 draft picks: None in the first round after giving the Sky what ended up being a No. 5 pick in the DeShields trade. Others: 27, 29

It’s tough to analyze the Mercury’s upcoming offseason without first stating the obvious that there is no certainty when Brittney Griner will return home, let alone if the superstar will want to play basketball again. The WNBA said Griner was paid her full 2022 salary and it did not count against the Mercury’s salary cap.

The mental toll Griner’s detention, labeled wrongful by the U.S. government, took on the Mercury was clear and appeared to be a large contributor to their struggles in cohesion. The superstar team had superstar-level personality issues under a first-year head coach, Vanessa Nygaard, who had never coached a WNBA team prior.

The first shoe to fall will be whether Taurasi wants to come back for a 19th WNBA season. Then it’s if the Mercury opt to trade Skylar Diggins-Smith as they had reportedly looked to do midseason.

Washington Mystics

Cap room: $572,466

Starters under contract: Elena Delle Donne ($234,350), Natasha Cloud ($190K), Ariel Atkins ($175K), Shakira Austin ($73,584)

Off the bench: Myisha Hines-Allen ($175,100),

Unrestricted free agents: Alysha Clark ($183K), Elizabeth Williams ($90K), Tianna Hawkins ($72K), Shatori Walker-Kimbrough ($72K)

Reserved: Rui Machida ($60K)

2023 draft picks: Third-best chances (17.8%) at No. 1 pick in lottery (received in trade with Sparks). Others: 20, 32

The Mystics are in a solid spot with the league's top-ranked defense and the return of a healthy Elena Delle Donne, plus the emergence of All-Rookie teamer Shakira Austin in the starting lineup. Head coach and general manager Mike Thibault said after their first-round loss to the Storm they have a good foundation, but it won't be an identical group next season. Look for Washington to sign players to bolster the offensive production.

Minnesota Lynx

Cap room: $539,278

Starters under contract (3): Napheesa Collier ($202,154), Kayla McBride ($201,984), Aerial Powers ($201,984)

Off the bench: Natalie Achonwa ($155K), Jessica Shepard ($120K)

Unrestricted free agents: Damiris Dantas ($129K), Rachel Banham ($72K), Moriah Jefferson ($67K)

Restricted free agent: Bridget Carleton ($72K)

2023 draft picks: Worst odds (10.4%) at No. 1 pick in lottery. Round 1, pick 12 (from Las Vegas). Others: 16, 24 (from Vegas), 28

The Lynx have their franchise star in Napheesa Collier, but general manager and head coach Cheryl Reeve needs to find a better way to build the roster in the offseason rather than play around with hardship contracts. Some of those are out of her control given in-season injuries. The prioritization rule going into effect should also help since players won’t be arriving late from offseason commitments and missing games. That’s been the Lynx's biggest issue the past two seasons.

Minnesota will look to fill the production left by Sylvia Fowles, which could mean Aliyah Boston if they end up with the top draft pick or Virginia Tech's Elizabeth Kitley. They can also nab another top prospect with the Aces' first-round pick in the teams' picks trade in April. Or Brionna Jones, who starred at the World Cup where Reeve was head coach. The franchise might consider bringing back Jefferson to lead the offense.

Indiana Fever

Cap room: $527,552

Starters under contract (4): Kelsey Mitchell ($206K), Queen Egbo ($67,634), NaLyssa Smith ($73,584), Danielle Robinson ($155K)

Off the bench:Emily Engstler ($73,584), Lexie Hull ($70,609), Destanni Henderson ($64,657)

Unrestricted free agent: Tiffany Mitchell ($148K)

Restricted: Victoria Vivians ($72K), Emma Cannon ($51K)

2023 draft picks: Best chance at No. 1 pick (44.2%). Round 1, pick 7 (from Dallas). Others: 13, 17 (from Phoenix), 25.

The Fever’s biggest offseason dilemma is coming up with a plan for what exactly they want the next five years to look like in their organization. They rostered seven rookies last season and only two players (Danielle Robinson, Tiffany Mitchell) had more than four years of experience heading into the season.

The only protected contracts they have are Robinson and Kelsey Mitchell ($361,000), so it’s another open canvas of a year. And they’ll have a top-four pick in the lottery if they plan to keep staying young. The Fever have never won the No. 1 pick. But it would be wise to bring in an established veteran with a championship pedigree who can lead this group. They have plenty of picks and young talent to include in a trade deal for that.

Connecticut Sun

Cap room: $436,313

Starters under contract (4): DeWanna Bonner ($234,350), Alyssa Thomas ($212K), Jonquel Jones ($211,150), Jasmine Thomas ($190K)

Off the bench: DiJonai Carrington ($69K), Nia Clouden ($68K)

Unrestricted free agents: Brionna Jones ($120K), Courtney Williams ($103K)

Restricted free agent: Natisha Hiedeman ($72K)

2023 draft picks: Round 1, pick 10. Others: 22, 34

The Sun talked all season about it being their window to win a title and they fell just short. The franchise still has the talent to stay at the top of the league, but will have to do it with a different supporting cast. Brionna Jones can be a starter somewhere (Atlanta? Minnesota?), so either she signs elsewhere outright or general manager Curt Miller, who has spoken glowingly of her, works a trade for Jonquel Jones to re-sign and play Brionna Jones in the starting rotation.

The franchise currently has $847,500 tied up in its four returning starters, leaving $573,000 for at least seven players who will all be around the minimums. The minimum for a player with 0-2 years experience is approximately $60,000 and for three-plus years is approximately $72,000.

The status of Jasmine Thomas, who is coming off an ACL injury sustained weeks into the season, is also a consideration. While in Connecticut for the final two games of the WNBA Finals, she began running on the court in an emotional moment for her, her fiancee Natisha Hiedeman and teammates. It seems she would be on track to return for training camp without restriction. Hiedeman took on the starting point guard role.

New York Liberty

Cap room: $382,915

Starters under contract (5): Natasha Howard ($227,900), Betnijah Laney ($201,984), Stefanie Dolson ($160K), Rebecca Allen ($136,850), Sabrina Ionescu ($86,701)

Off the bench: Jocelyn Willoughby ($80K), Michaela Onyenwere ($75K), Didi Richards ($69K)

Unrestricted free agents: Sami Whitcomb ($150K)

Reserved players: Han Xu ($60K), Marine Johannes ($41K, late signing), Crystal Dangerfield ($42K, hardship and signing)

2023 draft picks: Round 1, No. 6. Others: 30

The Liberty dealt with so many injuries that the starting lineups fluctuated throughout the season and head coach Sandy Brondello could switch up the five above with a free agency addition. (Crystal Dangerfield and Marine Johannes each had starts.)

Yahoo Sports' Chris Haynes reported last offseason that Breanna Stewart met with Liberty executives, putting eyes on her to come to her home-state team this time around. That max deal would eat up most of the cap room with two roster spots still to fill. Easily doable with a top-six pick and an additional player near the minimum. But if Xu and Johannes opt to stay with the W, they might make some additional moves in that scenario to keep them.

Dallas Wings

Cap room: $363,696

Starters under contract (4): Arike Ogunbowale ($234,936), Allisha Gray ($169,600), Kayla Thornton ($109,716), Satou Sabally ($86,701)

Off the bench: Tyasha Harris ($83K), Charli Collier ($79K), Awak Kuier ($79K), Veronica Burton ($71K), Jasmine Dickey ($62K), Bella Alarie ($83K)

Unrestricted free agents: Isabelle Harrison ($159K)

Restricted free agents: Marina Mabrey ($72K), Teaira McCowan ($72K)

2023 draft picks: Round 1, pick 11 (from Chicago). Others: 19, 31.

There are reports from July that the Wings plan to trade Allisha Gray, a 2022 All-Star snub, this offseason. That was before the Wings fired Vickie Johnson despite making the playoffs, notably without star Arike Ogunbowale playing in the last weeks of the season. It will be the third coach in five seasons following Brian Agler (2019-20) and Johnson ('21-22).

Ogunbowale is coming off her rookie contract ($72K in 2022) to lead the league in base salary at the player supermax. Seattle’s Loyd is the player at that number currently with Diggins-Smith, Delle Donne and Bonner a couple hundred behind. Dallas has a plethora of young (and inexpensive) talent it needs to determine if it wants to properly fit in or package and trade away to best compete.

Las Vegas Aces

Cap room: $128,804

Starters under contract (5): Chelsea Gray ($196,267), A'ja Wilson ($202,154), Kelsey Plum ($200K), Dearica Hamby ($169,000), Jackie Young ($165,000)

Off the bench: Riquna Williams ($149K), Iliana Rupert ($68K), Kierstan Bell ($68K), Aisha Sheppard ($65K)

Unrestricted free agents: Kiah Stokes ($115K), Sydney Colson ($72K), Theresa Plaisance ($72K)

2023 draft picks: None in first round (traded to Lynx). Others: 36

Yeesh. Yes, the reigning champion Aces have all of their starters coming back after the quintet set a regular season record for most average points per game. But they will likely need to find a fill-in for Hamby, at least in the short term, after she announced at the championship parade she is pregnant with her second child. There is no timetable available.

Kiah Stokes had stepped in for Hamby late in the season and again in the postseason after Hamby sustained a bone bruise in her knee. But they cannot sign her anywhere near her 2022 salary because it would eat up nearly all of their cap room and leave them one player short of the roster minimum. They’ll look to bring in two players each at around the player minimum if they keep Riquna Williams’ large contract on the books.