WNBA looks ahead to 2022 season with potential changes
By DOUG FEINBERG
Candace Parker made the biggest move last offseason choosing to return home to Chicago. The decision paid off as the WNBA star led the Sky to the franchise's first championship.
Chicago will have choices to make if it wants to become the first repeat champion since the Los Angeles Sparks did it in 2001-02. WNBA Finals MVP Kahleah Copper is an unrestricted free agent, as are married Sky teammates Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley.
Besides Chicago, the rest of the WNBA could have a different look next year with potential movement as some of the league's biggest names are available.
In the past, many of the WNBA's top players didn't move too often, but the collective bargaining agreement that was ratified in 2020 has allowed for more player movement by reducing the number of times teams could potentially force their top player to stay by coring them. While it's unlikely, regular-season MVP Jonquel Jones of Connecticut and former top award winners Breanna Stewart of Seattle and Tina Charles of Washington all could change teams this offseason.
Stewart just recently had surgery for a minor repair and reinforcement of the Achilles tendon in her left leg, the team announced Thursday. It wasn't the same Achilles she tore overseas a few years ago. She potentially will be headed overseas at some point this winter to play on her Russian league team.
Many of the WNBA's players have already headed overseas to play in their winter leagues to supplement their incomes.
League greats Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi will also have to make choices whether they want to come back and play. Bird, who turned 41 over the weekend, said she'll sit down with her family and discuss whether she wants to play another year in Seattle. The Storm will be back in their new renovated home arena next year which could be a huge reason for the league's all-time assist leader to return.
Taurasi has one year left on her contract in Phoenix, and said that she'll sit down with her wife Penny Taylor and figure out what she wants to do. The couple just welcomed their second child before the WNBA Finals.
Here are a few other things that could change next year:
The WNBA continues to grow with strong ratings and social media engagements. Next season will potentially have a 36-game schedule - the most the league has played. There's also discussions of a new playoff format that's supported by players and coaches, as well as some league executives. The current structure, which has been in place since 2016, rewards the top teams with byes until the semifinals and has single elimination games in the opening two rounds.
This season marked the first time that neither one of the top two teams made the WNBA Finals since the league changed its postseason format. Chicago was a six seed and Phoenix a five. The Sky won the championship in four games to cap off the league's 25th season.
"I'm sure whatever we change it to in the next three to five years, we'll be looking at it again because there's pros and cons to every different playoff format," Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said during her state of the league address at the Finals. "So we want to be very thoughtful about what we do."
The WNBA is also looking into adding more teams.
"Expansion is on the horizon," Engelbert said.
She said that the league is conducting a data analysis to find potential expansion cities using about 15 metrics to evaluate different locations and hopes to have a more concrete answer during the 2022 season.
"The data looks like it's going to read out some interesting information for us to start having exploratory discussions with certain cities," Engelbert said, "Make sure that we can find great ownership groups to support a WNBA team and great fan bases. So that's why I think looking at how those cities are already supporting the WNBA, whether it's viewership, merch sales or other things or whether they're supporting women's sports or women's college basketball are great indicators of how it would get supported if a WNBA team were to go in that market."
Elena Delle Donne missed most of the season while recovering from a back injury as she played in only three games. The Washington Mystics star is hoping to be ready to go for 2022 after also missing 2020 because of fear of complications from getting the coronavirus.
More AP women's basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-basketball and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports
Updated October 18, 2021