2023 WNBA Free Agency Recap and Expert Picks

2023 WNBA Free Agency Recap and Expert Picks

Free agency in the WNBA began in early February and included some of the most significant offseason moves in league history. After most of the dust has settled, the league has a pair of superteams in the Las Vegas Aces and New York Liberty, and both teams are significantly ahead of the pack in 2023 WNBA Championship Odds.

In addition to the major transactions around the league, several prominent players retired during the offseason, including Sue Bird and Sylvia Fowles. Tina Charles was also surprisingly let go by the Mercury last year before joining Seattle, and she hasn't yet found a new team for the 2023 season.

Now that most major players available during the offseason have joined new teams, let's recap the busy February while examining some of the moves from a fantasy and betting perspective.

Top Offseason Moves

Candace Parker Signs with Las Vegas

The defending WNBA champions began free agency with a splash by adding two-time MVP Candace Parker to their already-loaded team. The 36-year-old spent the last two seasons in Chicago and helped bring a title to her hometown in 2021. She'll form a potent frontcourt tandem with reigning MVP A'ja Wilson and forward Jackie Young, who continued to build on a promising young career in 2022. Las Vegas also signed Alysha Clark after she spent last season with the Mystics. Clark has served mainly as a starter over the past several years but may have to settle for a bench role on a loaded Aces roster.

Breanna Stewart Signs with the Liberty

Stewart has been among the most dominant players in the league since being drafted by the Storm with the first overall pick in the 2016 WNBA Draft. She was named the MVP in 2018 and won two titles during her six seasons in the league, all with Seattle. However, after a free-agency period featuring plenty of emoji-filled tweets, Stewart agreed to terms with the Liberty, taking below the maximum salary to allow the team to make additional moves.

Jonquel Jones Traded from Connecticut to New York

Outside of incumbents Sabrina Ionescu and Betnijah Laney, Jones was the first domino to fall in creating New York's superteam, moving from the Sun to the Liberty in mid-January as part of a three-team deal. Jones spent the first six years of her career with the Sun and took a slight step back last season after earning 2021 MVP honors when she averaged 19.4 points and 11.2 rebounds in 31.7 minutes per game. While it's unlikely Jones will be as statistically dominant in New York as part of a star-studded cast, she's joining one of the best collective teams in the league heading into 2023. Kayla Thornton was also dealt to New York from the Wings as part of the deal, and she figures to be a contributor for the Liberty in 2023 if healthy, having recently suffered a leg injury overseas.

Courtney Vandersloot Signs with New York

Like Breanna Stewart, Vandersloot took a contract below the maximum value to help the Liberty make other moves to compete with the Aces. Vandersloot spent the first 12 years of her career in Chicago and averaged double-digit points in seven of the last eight seasons, but she's one of the best passers in the league. The stellar lineup in New York should allow her to thrive as a table-setter, although it's also possible that her personal scoring marks take a hit due to the talent around her.

Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner Re-sign with the Mercury

Griner was wrongfully detained in Russia for nearly a year but will return to the basketball court in 2023 after being freed as part of a prisoner swap in December. She officially re-signed with Phoenix on a one-year deal in late February, along with 40-year-old Diana Taurasi. Griner was among the top centers in the league prior to her absence, and she averaged 20.3 points and 7.9 rebounds in 32.3 minutes per game over her last five seasons. Additionally, it's relatively unsurprising to see Taurasi back with the Mercury after spending the first 18 years of her career in Phoenix. She signed a two-year deal with the Mercury, signaling that she likely plans to put off retirement until at least after the 2024 season.

Marina Mabrey Traded to Chicago

Mabrey was a restricted free agent during the offseason after spending the last three years in Dallas, but the Sky made a significant move to acquire her as part of a four-team trade, sending out their first-round picks for the next two seasons while also agreeing to a 2025 first-round pick swap with Dallas. The Sky lost Candace Parker and Courtney Vandersloot during the offseason, while Allie Quigley will sit out 2023. The new-look team figures to slot Mabrey alongside Courtney Williams, another offseason signee, in the backcourt and Kahleah Copper along with signees Isabelle Harrison and Elizabeth Williams to go with Ruthy Hebard and the return Astou Ndour-Fall among the frontcourt options.

Allisha Gray Dealt to Atlanta

The Dream lost guards Tiffany Hayes and Erica Wheeler during the offseason, and Gray should handle a significant role in the backcourt after being traded from Dallas to Atlanta. Gray served exclusively as a starter for the Wings last year, averaging 13.3 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.5 assists in 32.9 minutes per game, marking the highest totals of her career in points, assists and minutes.

Tiffany Hayes Traded to Connecticut

Hayes played just 11 games for the Dream in 2022, but she'll have a new home to begin the 2023 campaign. Connecticut traded the No. 6 overall pick in this year's draft to Atlanta for Hayes, signaling the Sun's optimistic outlook regarding the 33-year-old. She's been a consistent scoring threat in recent years and figures to have a significant role in Connecticut's outlook after the team lost Courtney Williams.

Diamond DeShields Traded to Dallas

The Wings seem to be building for future seasons following their offseason moves, but DeShields is a veteran presence who should have a chance to contribute in 2023. The 27-year-old spent the first four years of her career in Chicago but joined the Mercury last season and started in 19 of her 30 appearances. She isn't guaranteed a starting role in 2023, with Natasha Howard and Satou Sabally remaining in Dallas, but DeShields will likely compete for a spot in the top unit during camp and should carve out consistent minutes either way.

Sparks Trade for Dearica Hamby, Sign Azura Stevens

Hamby served mainly as a starter for Las Vegas last year but took on a bench role late in the season. She didn't leave the Aces on good terms, and the team is under investigation for its treatment of the forward. However, she'll have a chance for a fresh start with the Sparks once she's available following the birth of her second child. The team also added Stevens during the offseason. Stevens spent the last three seasons in Chicago and averaged double-digit points in two of those years despite mainly coming off the bench in the past two years. With Stephanie Talbot out for the season due to a torn ACL and Katie Lou Samuelson pregnant, Stevens should be in line for significant run in the frontcourt.

Seattle Signs Kia Nurse

Nurse has served mainly as a starter over the last three seasons but didn't suit up for Phoenix in 2022 due to a torn ACL. It appears she'll be ready for the 2023 campaign, and the 27-year-old should have a chance to earn a sizable role for her new team following Sue Bird's retirement.

Brittney Sykes Signs with the Mystics

Sykes had one of the best years of her career with the Sparks last year, averaging 12.7 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 2.0 steals in 28.8 minutes per game. Her performance earned her a three-year contract with the Mystics, and she should form a potent backcourt tandem with Natasha Cloud.

RotoWire Experts Weigh In

Who is your early favorite to win the WNBA title?

While both the Aces and Liberty are positioned to contend for a championship in 2023, I give the slight edge to Las Vegas. The team already displayed its potential under first-year coach Becky Hammon last year and have added Candace Parker for this season. While I think New York has better talent overall, the Aces' established chemistry is enough for me to pick them as my 2023 favorite.

-Jason Shebilske

My early favorite remains the Las Vegas Aces. I think the Aces are returning too many pieces from last year and already have that chemistry, also now adding a talent like Candace Parker to the mix. New York will be right there along with Las Vegas, but I still think it will take a little bit of time for the Liberty to establish championship-caliber chemistry. 

-Mitchell Hansen

There are two obvious options here and that's about it. I'm going to roll with the Liberty. I think that their firepower slightly surpasses that of the Aces, though you can't go wrong with either selection. Sabrina Ionescu played off the ball in college and should slot in seamlessly alongside one of the better distributors in league history in Courtney Vandersloot, and Breanna Stewart and Jonquel Jones in the frontcourt will give teams fits. Not to mention, they have lethal shooting off the bench from Marine Johannes.

-Chris Benzine

I believe New York will have some growing pains with a completely revamped roster, so heading into the regular season, I have to pick the Aces. Las Vegas returns its entire starting lineup from a championship squad and have added Candace Parker to the mix. Unlike the Liberty, who'll have to rely heavily on their newcomers (Breanna Stewart, Jonquel Jones and Courtney Vandersloot) instantly, Parker doesn't have to be a focal point on a nightly basis and is more of a luxury option at this stage of her career. When it's all said and done, I think it'll be a tossup between the two superteams, but until proven otherwise, the Aces should remain the title favorites in 2023. 

-Kirien Sprecher

If we're being honest, it's a two-team race for the 2023 title. The Aces are +140, the Liberty are +150, and the team with the next-lowest odds is Washington all the way up at 16/1. Ultimately, I think the onset of a "superteam era" in the WNBA is a good thing for league, though there's a chance it could end up devaluting the regular season. Between Las Vegas and New York, I lean toward the Aces. They return a title-winning, four-woman core of players all in their primes – plus Candace Parker, who's essentially a luxury piece. Meanwhile, the Liberty are equally loaded – and arguably deeper – but they'll be asking more of a 34-year-old Courtney Vandersloot.

-Nick Whalen

This is mostly a two-horse race between the Liberty (+150) and Aces (+135). However, I think the star power added to New York in Breanna Stewart, Jonquel Jones and Courtney Vandersloot, combined with a rising star in Sabrina Ionescu, will be able to overwhelm even the toughest of competition.

-Michael Gillow

Who is your sleeper team?

While it's easy to look toward Las Vegas and New York for this year's championship picks, the WNBA playoffs allow for plenty of upsets, even with the new format established last year. No teams earn first-round byes, and the best-of-three format in the first round makes it plausible for the lower seed to gain a significant edge early on. I think the Mystics are in position to make a run in 2023, especially if Elena Delle Donne can remain healthy. Washington added Brittney Sykes and Amanda Zahui B. during the offseason and has most of its contributors returning this year, making the team my favorite outside pick to win the title.

-Jason Shebilske

My sleeper team for 2023 is the Dallas Wings. Dallas is already coming off a 2022 season where it finished 18-18 and as the sixth seed, but the Wings have brought in the likes of Diamond DeShields, Natasha Howard and others to surround Arike Ogunbowale in Dallas. They will be a team to watch this summer. 

-Mitchell Hansen

I feel like any team outside of the top two qualifies as a sleeper pick to win it this season. My feeling on the subject is that the Mercury, despite some turmoil on the roster last year, could make a run at it. My reasoning lies with the fact that I could see Tina Charles returning to Phoenix in 2023, joining the team she intended to join last season before Brittney Griner was wrongly detained in Russia. Phoenix with their current makeup and Charles could be a real contender.

-Chris Benzine

The Atlanta Dream. Rhyne Howard, the 2022 No. 1 overall pick, struggled with her consistency at times, but she proved she's capable of being a dominant player in the W during her rookie campaign. The Dream proved to me this offseason that they are ready to capitalize on Howard's stardom in 2023 by signing two quality veteran guards (Allisha Gray and Danielle Robinson) to pair with Aari McDonald, who had a breakout sophomore season last year. Add in the steady presence of Cheyenne Parker at center and solid frontcourt backups Naz Hillmon and Monique Billings, and I think Atlanta can compete with any team in the league on a nightly basis. 

-Kirien Sprecher

The league is unbelievably top-heavy right now, and that's borne out in the title odds, but I do think the Sun and the Wings should be really fun to watch. Connecticut added Natisha Hiedeman in free agency, while Dallas has a nice young core in Arika Ogunbowale, Satou Sabally and Teaira McCowan.

-Nick Whalen

The Mercury finished eighth last season without Brittney Griner after finishing fifth in 2021. With Griner back in the United States, the Mercury should be a fringe contending team on the back of the two-time Defensive Player of the Year. 

-Michael Gillow

Who is your favorite for MVP?

Similar to my reasoning for picking the Aces to repeat as champions, I like A'ja Wilson to win a second consecutive MVP award. Players like Breanna StewartSabrina Ionescu and Jonquel Jones are among the best in the league. However, not yet clear how their production will shake out with the Liberty, and I think it's possible that their numbers drop slightly in favor of a team-based mindset. As a result, I think Wilson is in position to be named MVP once again, even after the Aces added Candace Parker.

-Jason Shebilske

My favorite to claim the MVP award in 2023 is 2018 MVP Breanna Stewart. On a new team in a new city in New York this summer, I think Stewie will step up even more and take things over as the top option on the Liberty while claiming her second MVP award. She has been in the running for the award every year, and I think she gets over the hump this year.

-Mitchell Hansen

Since I'm going with the Liberty as my pick to win the title, it would only make sense to go with a player from that club. While I think Sabrina Ionescu is a dark horse to challenge in that regard, I'm going to go with Breanna Stewart again. She's the best player to walk into almost any locker room she joins, and the Liberty will assuredly have the necessary team success to put her name in contention for the award.

-Chris Benzine

Elena Delle Donne. The last five MVPs are A'ja Wilson (two times), Jonquel Jones, Delle Donne and Breanna Stewart. Wilson now shares a frontcourt with Candace Parker, while Jones and Stewart are teammates. In my mind, there are simply not enough touches on a nightly basis for those players to put up the numbers they have in recent years, so I think Delle Donne should be the favorite simply because she's the best player in the league without a star-studded cast. Injuries are certainly a concern for Washington's star forward, but if she can consistently be in the lineup, she'll have a good chance of propelling the Mystics to a winning record, which should result in ample MVP consideration. 

-Kirien Sprecher

Breanna Stewart (+250) and A'ja Wilson (+280) are the heavy betting favorites, and of those two I would favor Stewart – partially because the WNBA has not had a back-to-back MVP since the league's first two seasons back in 1997 and 1998 (Cynthia Cooper). If you're looking for more value, Elena Delle Donne at 16/1 is intriguing. I'm not sure I'd bet Sabrina Ionescu (11/1) or Kelsey Plum (11/1) due to the fact that they're the clear second-best players on their own teams.

-Nick Whalen

Elena Delle Donne has already won the award twice in her career, most recently in 2019. After missing 2020 and the majority of 2021 due to back injuries, the 33-year-old forward had a good season in 2022. However, she will have her first healthy offseason since 2019, when she last won the award. This also comes down to other favorites like last year's winner, A'ja Wilson, and Breanna Stewart having other MVP-caliber players on their team in Candace Parker and Jonquel Jones taking away votes from their teammates.

-Michael Gillow

Aside from the obvious Las Vegas and New York superteams, who is one free agent signing or traded player you think will have a significant impact?

Chicago's trade for Marina Mabrey intrigues me due to the number of draft picks the Sky gave up while she was already a restricted free agent. Mabrey's role increased with the Wings last year, and she figures to have a significant role alongside Courtney Williams in Chicago's backcourt in 2023 after the Sky lost several key contributors during the offseason. While I'm not a big fan of the deal in terms of the Sky's long-term outlook, I think Mabrey is a solid fantasy sleeper this year and makes the team intriguing in 2023.

-Jason Shebilske

I think Marina Mabrey in Chicago will be a beneficial move for the Sky, who are trying to rapidly rebuild after losing multiple key players this offseason. Mabrey was traded to Chicago in February as part of a three-team trade that sent Diamond DeShields to Dallas and Michaela Onyenwere to Phoenix, and I think Mabrey will take another step up in production this summer with the Sky. 

-Mitchell Hansen

While Atlanta may still not have the pieces to make a run, I think the addition of Allisha Gray this offseason is a big get for the Dream. She was clearly disgruntled in Dallas and now joins an Atlanta team desperate for scoring. Gray can provide just that, shooting north of 40 percent from three last seasons, and the Dream clearly believe she's a piece to build around signing her to a muti-year deal. Gray is just entering her age-28 season and should provide a big output alongside budding star Rhyne Howard.

-Chris Benzine

As mentioned in the sleeper-team question, I think the additions of Allisha Gray and Danielle Robinson will have a positive impact on the emergence of Rhyne Howard. Both are veteran guards who can space the floor and create more opportunities for Howard to showcase her playmaking skills, but the Dream's new backcourt duo can also facilitate and get the reigning Rookie of the Year easier looks than she had in 2022. 

-Kirien Sprecher

It's tough to veer away from Vegas and New York, but I do think the Brittney Griner situation will be very interesting to monitor. Obviously, we all know what she's been through over the last year, but last time we saw her on a WNBA court she was averaging 20.5 points, 9.5 rebounds (career high), 2.7 assists and 1.9 blocks. It's fair to wonder if she'll experience some regression. Kia Nurse, who signed with the Storm, is also a name to monitor. She, too, missed all of last season while working back from a torn ACL. In 2021, Nurse put up 9.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.8 threes in 32 stars.

-Nick Whalen

Tiffany Hayes was traded from the Dream to the Sun in exchange for the No. 6 pick in the 2023 WNBA Draft. The Sun finished with the best record in the league in 2021 and the third-best in 2022, but Jonquel Jones' departure will surely cause a slide in the standings. However, Hayes averaged 16.2 points, 3.6 rebounds and 2.1 assists in 11 games for Atlanta last season and will likely have a large role in Connecticut.

-Michael Gillow

2023 WNBA Championship Odds (via DraftKings)

Las Vegas Aces (+140)

New York Liberty (+150)

Washington Mystics (+6200)

Phoenix Mercury (+1600)

Connecticut Sun (+2500)

Chicago Sky (+3000)

Dallas Wings (+3000)

Seattle Storm (+3000)

Minnesota Lynx (+3500)

Atlanta Dream (+4000)

Los Angeles Sparks (+4000)

Indiana Fever (+8000)

The author(s) of this article may play in daily fantasy contests including – but not limited to – games that they have provided recommendations or advice on in this article. In the course of playing in these games using their personal accounts, it's possible that they will use players in their lineups or other strategies that differ from the recommendations they have provided above. The recommendations in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of RotoWire. Chris Benzine plays in daily fantasy contests using the following accounts: FanDuel: Crispy272001, DraftKings: Crispy27. Michael Gillow plays in daily fantasy contests using the following accounts: DraftKings: Pmookbeast. Jason Shebilske plays in daily fantasy contests using the following accounts: DraftKings: FavreFanatic, FanDuel: Favre_Fanatic. Nick Whalen plays in daily fantasy contests using the following accounts: FanDuel: nickwhalen2, DraftKings: wha1en.
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ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Chris Benzine
Chris is a sports editor for various sports on the site and also a consistent contributor in the college sports arena.
Michael Gillow
Michael Gillow is a breaking news writer for the NBA, WNBA, college basketball and college football for RotoWire. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a degree in journalism. He loves everything about sports and is an avid sports-bettor.
Mitchell Hansen
Mitchell has covered sports teams and leagues on all levels, having spent more than seven years covering the WNBA and NBA, among other sports. He joined RotoWire in 2022 while offering analysis on the NBA, WNBA and G League. You can follow him on Twitter @M_Hansen13.
Jason Shebilske
Jason joined RotoWire in 2019 as his first position covering fantasy sports. In addition to RotoWire, he writes for Sports Broadcast Journal.
Kirien Sprecher
Kirien Sprecher is a University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate who has covered the NBA, NFL and MLB for RotoWire since early 2021. In his free time, Kirien is probably arguing a foul call during a pickup basketball game at a local rec center.
Nick Whalen
Now in his 10th year with the company, Nick is RotoWire's Senior Media Analyst, a position he took on after several years as the Head of Basketball Content. A two-time FSWA award winner, Nick co-hosts RotoWire's flagship show on Sirius XM alongside Jeff Erickson. He also co-hosts RotoWire's Football and Basketball podcasts. You can catch Nick's NBA and NFL analysis on VSiN and DraftKings, as well as RotoWire's various social and video channels. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @wha1en.
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