NEW YORK — WNBA free agency began and Elena Delle Donne is still in Chicago — for now.
A few teams signed players Wednesday, but the biggest name on the move soon could be Delle Donne. The 2015 MVP is set to be traded to Washington, according to two people familiar with the situation. The people spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the deal hasn’t been finalized yet.
As a restricted free agent, Delle Donne couldn’t be traded by the Sky until Wednesday — the first day teams could sign players. The Sky can now execute a sign-and-trade with the Mystics.
In the meantime, free agent Plenette Pierson signed with Minnesota and Erika de Souza moved to San Antonio. Erlana Larkins re-signed with Indiana and Layshia Clarendon re-upped with Atlanta.
The most sought-after free agent this season is Kristi Toliver, who helped Los Angeles win a title last fall. Teams were allowed to start talking to Toliver and the other free agents on Jan. 15, but compared with other professional leagues — where you may see free agents fly into perspective cities to get wined and dined — it’s a little more difficult in the WNBA.
Many players compete overseas in the winter around the globe, meaning coaches and general managers often travel to Europe, Asia or Australia to meet them in person or make calls at various times of day and night.
Toliver is playing this winter in Russia on the same team as Mercury stars Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner. Phoenix coach Sandy Brondello is an assistant on that all-star Russian team.
“Certainly having your players on a roster with other players that are potentially free agents is an advantage,” Indiana Fever president and COO Kelly Krauskopf said. “It’s unique about our league. They get a chance to see what it’s like to play with another player, you never have that opportunity in another league. It’s unique to us and can work to a lot of people’s advantage.”
Krauskopf has said she’s had players reach out to her in the past about some of their teammates in foreign leagues that are worth pursuing as free agents. They’ve also said who to stay away from.
Other unrestricted free agents include Essence Carson and Alana Beard of the Sparks. Beard told the AP last month that she was going to stay in Los Angeles.
Like Delle Donne, Griner is a restricted free agent, but she will re-sign with Phoenix, according to a person familiar with the situation. The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the deal hasn’t been finalized yet.
The free agent market in the WNBA usually doesn’t involve the league’s marquee names because teams can put the franchise tag on top players if needed. Because of financial constraints from the salary cap, there also can’t be bidding wars.
Before free agency began, the trade market had been active. Phoenix acquired All-Star point guard Danielle Robinson from San Antonio on Tuesday. New York received Kia Vaughn and Bria Hartley on Monday from Washington in a three-way swap. Connecticut and Atlanta traded Aneika Henry-Morello for ReShanda Gray last week.
Those deals have created more movement in the WNBA via trade than all of last offseason.
Krauskopf and San Antonio Stars general manager Ruth Riley both agreed that the new playoff format that basically scrapped conference affiliation and took the top eight teams into the postseason helped create more opportunities.
“I’d hear from teams outside my conference in the past that were more motivated to do a deal with me than teams in their own conference,” Krauskopf said. “Making it more balanced, creates more conversation amongst teams in terms of player movement. Often times, you’d exhaust the opposite conference options first before you start in your own conference.”
Riley completed her first season as general manager of the Stars last year. The Robinson deal was her first trade as a GM.
“I don’t have historical context except what I saw as a player,” Riley said. “It does make you more open to trading across the board, where there were definite barriers within conferences in the past.”
The WNBA season begins on May 13.
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