The WNBA free agency period for the 2023 season began Feb. 1, but the buzz around megastar signings began weeks earlier. Announcements from superstar forwards Candace “Ace” Parker and Breanna “Stewie” Stewart impacted WNBA odds on what teams will reach the finals in the fall. Here’s a rundown of the most significant big moves and developments that will affect the upcoming season.
Ace to the Aces: Candace Parker Breaks Hearts in Chicago
It was no surprise to die-hard fans that Parker decided to leave the Los Angeles Sparks for the Chicago Sky after 13 seasons in early 2021. Her relationship with then-coach Derek Fisher was shaky, and her hometown came calling. The two-time MVP, also known as Ace, is from the Chicago area and often spoke about the joy she always felt when playing in front of her hometown crowd during road trips to the Windy City.
With one title under her belt, Parker could not have wished for a better inaugural season with the Sky. Chicago won the league championship for the first time in franchise history, giving her a second ring. She led the team in rebounding and was second in scoring. However, after her two-year contract with the Sky expired, and she chose not to re-sign.
The reigning champions, the Las Vegas Aces, enticed Parker to the desert. She cited family reasons for heading back out West as her teenage daughter still attends school in Los Angeles. But there were other reasons. The team’s president Nikki Fargas, a fellow Tennessee alumna, was an assistant coach for the Lady Vols when Parker was a student-athlete, and the two remained close. Also, Parker’s wife, who is Russian, played with Aces head coach Becky Hammon on the Russian National Team.
“She is a talented playmaker, an exceptional leader, and an invaluable piece toward our quest for another championship title,” Aces general manager Natalie Williams said about Parker. Williams and Hammon also view Parker as a solution to some issues Vegas faced last season.
Las Vegas Aims to Fix Glaring Problems
With the roster changes made so far by Hammon and Williams in the offseason, Las Vegas seems to be mending some of the issues that were factors in the losses they incurred in 2022. ESPN analyst and Las Vegas Aces color commentator Carolyn Peck summed up those issues during the network’s WNBA Free Agency Show on Feb. 1:
“One, sometimes there was a mismatch, especially at that three position size-wise. Number two, it was fatigue. They had a lack of depth. Well, with the moves that they have made, they have really, really solved all of those.”
Adding Parker and other veteran post players solves the three position issue. The team’s other signings and trades:
- The acquisition of 6-5 Swedish center Amanda Zahui B in exchange for Dearica Hamby, plus Los Angeles’ second-round pick in the 2024 WNBA Draft. Zahui B sat out last season after playing for the Sparks for a year when she averaged 9.2 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 1.0 assists in 23.8 minutes per game.
- Signing four-time WNBL champion and three-year WNBA veteran center Cayla George. The Australian native is a star in her home country’s WNBL for the Melbourne Boomers and is averaging 18.6 points, 11.9 rebounds, and 4.7 assists per game. Having a center who can dish it out of the paint is a big plus for Las Vegas, especially with sharpshooters like guard Jackie Young on the perimeter.
- Adding defensive specialist and veteran guard/small forward Alysha Clark. “Having Alysha Clark join the Aces is like winning the lottery,” said Williams. “She is a savvy defender and skilled scorer from all three levels, as well as a veteran leader who gives us great depth at the guard and small forward spot.”
Even without Parker, it is easy to see why sportsbooks predicted Las Vegas to win the 2023 title in the months leading up to free agency.
Breanna Stewart’s Emojis and The Decision
After a few weeks of keeping fans on edge with cryptic social media posts that only included emoji clues, two-time WNBA Finals MVP Breanna Stewart revealed her departure from the Seattle Storm to take her talents to the Big Apple.
Head coach Sandy Brondello laid the groundwork for obtaining Stewart with the acquisition of Connecticut Sun center Jonquel Jones, the 2021 WNBA MVP, in a three-team trade. The Liberty also received veteran forward Kayla Thornton from Dallas in the transaction.
With triple-double phenom Sabrina Ionescu as floor general and Jones in the paint, the addition of Stewart immediately put the Liberty in the WNBA Finals conversation.
Chemistry is the Difference
Stewart is a six-year veteran who has only played for Seattle. Compared to Las Vegas, the Liberty’s roster is a hodgepodge of players who will need to build the chemistry of a championship team. Furthermore, New York hasn’t had a winning season since 2017. Last season the team lost in the first round of the playoffs.
Meanwhile, Las Vegas has a strong core that includes the reigning MVP, A’ja Wilson, plus star point guard Chelsea Gray, the 2022 Commissioners Cup MVP. Parker played with Gray in Los Angeles and is friends with Wilson.
Las Vegas beat Connecticut for the 2022 title, holding the Liberty’s new center Jones to 13 points. Even under new head coach Hammon, the Aces played like a well-oiled machine. It will be hard for any team to threaten their dominance, and they will likely finish with an even better record than last season’s 26-10.
The regular season ends Sept. 10, and the playoffs start September 13. Depending on the length of each series in the bracket, the WNBA Finals could last until Oct. 20. Given all the moves made and the sheer talent on their squads, expect to see the Las Vegas Aces battling the New York Liberty in a showdown of legends with the reigning champs coming out on top.