Why the WNBA wage cap may be the Seattle Storm’s most difficult opponent

Behind the WNBA’s greatest beginning 5 and a deep bench, the Seattle Storm weren’t actually challenged en path to their second championship in three seasons, going 6-0 within the playoffs, with the ultimate 5 wins by double digits — together with a 33-point victory to shut out the Las Vegas Aces within the WNBA Finals.

This offseason, the Storm may discover a more difficult foe: the WNBA’s $1.34 million wage cap, which might drive the staff to decide on between its beginning lineup and veteran expertise on the bench. With starters Alysha Clark and Natasha Howard both unrestricted free agents and due for large raises due to their roles within the Storm’s success, Seattle’s entrance workplace can have tough selections forward.

Clark and Howard poised to extend wage

One of many key modifications to the WNBA wage cap throughout negotiations on the brand new collective bargaining settlement signed forward of the 2020 season was dramatically rising the utmost wage for particular person gamers. Whereas the cap grew, too (leaping by 31% from 2019 to 2020), max salaries went up greater than 80% for gamers eligible for the league’s “super-max” wage.

Although level guard Sue Fowl was one of many gamers who jumped to the brand new super-max of $215,000 from her earlier wage of $115,500, the Storm have been in a position to afford a deep roster underneath the 2020 cap as a result of a number of of their starters have been nonetheless on contracts signed underneath the outdated construction. That modifications this offseason, when solely Jewell Loyd (due $121,500 within the final 12 months of a rookie extension) will nonetheless be underneath an old-style contract. (Finals MVP Breanna Stewart can also be underneath contract for $190,550, having re-signed final offseason however not but with sufficient expertise to qualify for the super-max.)

Specifically, each Clark and Howard are poised to money in. Howard was making the outdated max of $117,000 on a sign-and-trade deal when she joined the Storm previous to the 2018 season. Having since gained Defensive Participant of the Yr and completed fifth in MVP voting in 2019, when she led a Storm staff with out the injured Fowl and Stewart to the second spherical of the playoffs, Howard is all however sure to command the brand new, greater max.

So too may Clark, who was beforehand making lower than the outdated most ($85,800) after extending her contract throughout coaching camp in 2018. That was earlier than Clark earned recognition as one of many league’s high defensive gamers, which culminated in unanimous choice to the WNBA’s All-Defensive first team this season. Clark’s environment friendly offense and versatile protection make her a match for nearly any staff.

With Clark and Howard, the Storm’s present beginning 5 hasn’t been overwhelmed in a playoff sequence, successful titles in 2018 and 2020. That fivesome posted the very best internet plus-minus within the WNBA in both 2018 (plus-229, the best single-season differential for any lineup in league historical past) and this season (plus-80 in the 11 games Bird played).

The Storm can afford to max out each Clark and Howard presuming certainly one of them takes the smaller max quantity, which is probably the most one other staff might provide them in free company. They’ll even afford to make certainly one of them a core participant, which might take them out of the market totally in change for guaranteeing the super-max wage. (Doing so and re-signing both Clark or Howard to a multiyear deal would stop them from having the choice of designating Stewart a core participant when she turns into an unrestricted free agent after the 2021 season.) However bringing each again would imply sacrifices elsewhere.

Storm bench more likely to look completely different

The flip facet to greater maxes is much less cash to go round elsewhere. Becoming a beginning lineup with 4 max gamers underneath the wage cap — presuming a return by Fowl, who mentioned after Sport 3 of the Finals that she would not decide on her future till she begins coaching for the 2021 season and sees how she feels — would drive the Storm to spend far much less on their bench.

In 2020, Seattle had three reserves making not less than $100,000, per Richard Cohen of HerHoopsStats.com, who supplied all of the wage information for this piece: guard Epiphanny Prince and forwards Crystal Langhorne and Morgan Tuck. The Storm could not afford any on this state of affairs, which might imply waiving Langhorne and Tuck, whose 2021 salaries are non-guaranteed, in line with Cohen. (Prince was on a one-year deal and can once more be an unrestricted free agent.)

Given Langhorne and Tuck spent the playoffs out of the staff’s rotation and Prince was the Storm’s fourth guard when Seattle was at full power, these would not be tough sacrifices. The Storm might need a harder alternative with Sami Whitcomb, a restricted free agent who led the staff in bench scoring (8.1 factors per sport) whereas making the veterans minimal of $68,000. If one other staff affords Whitcomb a considerable elevate, the Storm would not possible be capable of match the provide.

One WNBA staff government speculated that Whitcomb could possibly be in line for a suggestion sheet beginning north of $150,000 per season, which might put her properly out of the Storm’s worth vary if the beginning 5 returns intact.

Different groups will not fret for the Storm, who nonetheless have two reserves with beginning expertise (Jordin Canada and Mercedes Russell, key figures within the Finals) underneath contract, together with promising 21-year-old Ezi Magbegor. However the Storm’s bench is more likely to be a lot much less skilled in 2021, with 2020 first-round choose Kitija Laksa (who remained at dwelling in Latvia this season) and their 2021 first-round choose changing the confirmed veterans they’d on their bench this 12 months. The Storm may additionally be compelled to play a lot or the entire season with simply 11 gamers on the roster, compromising their depth in case of accidents.

All of this presumes the Storm’s unrestricted free brokers wish to come again. We have seen as lately as final offseason that the core designation would not stop free brokers from forcing trades, albeit with their former staff getting one thing in return. It is attainable Howard can be occupied with an even bigger function just like the one she performed in 2019, when she averaged a career-high 18.1 PPG because the Storm’s first choice on offense.

A method or one other, the Storm roster that goes for a 3rd championship in 4 years in 2021 is more likely to look completely different than the one which simply accomplished one of the dominant seasons in WNBA historical past.

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