On Monday, the WNBA released its list of cored players, unrestricted, restricted free agents, and reserved players. Teams can now enter negotiations with players, but we won’t know about actual signings and trades until February 1.
We will go through what all this means, and which 2017 Mystics players are in these categories of free agents.
Cored players are players who would otherwise be unrestricted free agents. But it’s a franchise tag that prevents such player from signing anywhere else. In exchange, the cored player gets a max-level salary for the next season.
Tina Charles of the New York Liberty leads the 2017 WNBA “cored” class. If this were the NBA, she’d be the most sought after free agent and teams will line up to get in front of her. Instead, she has to sign another contract with New York, even if she wants out of New York. That’s unlikely, even considering the Liberty’s ownership in the future. Charles demanded a trade to New York from the Connecticut Sun in 2014.
We’ve seen cored WNBA superstars force their way out of town like Sylvia Fowles in 2015 when she demanded a trade to the Minnesota Lynx from the Chicago Sky. But most cored players, even superstars, are happy with their current environments.
The Mystics didn’t core anyone for this season and haven’t since 2012, before Mike Thibault came around. It’s unlikely that the Mystics would core anyone until at least 2020 when Emma Meesseman’s contract expires. Then, they also have Tayler Hill, Tierra Ruffin-Pratt and Elena Delle Donne to think about. We don’t know exactly when all their deals expire, but the Mystics’ day of coring is coming sooner rather than later.
Unrestricted Free Agents
Unrestricted free agents are like their NBA counterparts. They can sign with anyone they want, no strings attached. Considering that most of the All-Stars are cored, unless they’ve been cored four times already, the best unrestricted free agents are usually sixth men or non-All-Star level starters.
Ivory Latta and Allison Hightower are unrestricted free agents who played for the Mystics last year. They can go anywhere they want.
In Latta’s case, she spent five seasons with the Mystics as an unrestricted free agent and was their starting point guard from 2013-2015. Along the way, she made two All-Star teams. Latta has been the Mystics’ veteran voice over the years while the homegrown Meesseman - Hill - TRP trio was getting their feet wet. Latta has remained an effective off the bench in the last two seasons where she averaged 8 ppg in 2017. However, her three point shooting efficiency dropped from the high 30’s when she first arrived to the low 30’s in the last couple season.
Hightower came to the team as a midseason replacement for Tayler Hill after she tore her ACL. In 11 games, Hightower averaged 4.7 points a game, but her per 36 minute production was at a career high since 2013 when she was an All-Star. Her overall shooting percentage can use room for improvement, but I liked the spark she brought off the bench and her effort on both ends of the floor.
Restricted Free Agents
WNBA restricted free agents are like their NBA counterparts. They can sign extensions with the team they played on last season or offer sheets with any other team. If they sign an offer sheet, then their first team has four days to decide whether to match. This usually affects 2014 WNBA Draft first round picks who are entering their fifth season.
Tianna Hawkins wasn’t in the 2014 class, she was in the 2013 class. So why is she an RFA? It’s because she missed the 2015 WNBA season after giving birth to her first child that year. In 2017, Hawkins scored a career-high 6.9 points per game and grabbed 4.2 rebounds a game. In all likelihood, she’ll be back in D.C. this season.
Going back to restricted free agency, it could add some light on why the Mystics traded these two in Monumental Red away:
That’s right: Bria Hartley and Stefanie Dolson are restricted free agents this year because they were the Mystics’ first round picks in the 2014 WNBA Draft. In theory, they could sign an offer sheet with Washington, but it’s unlikely that the Liberty and/or Sky, respectively wouldn’t match. I liked both of them in Washington, but why did they have to go?
One reason is because they just didn’t have “first mover” advantage. They came in the second year of the Mystics’ long term rebuild, not the first. In addition, Washington already committed long term to the members of their 2013 Draft Class: Meesseman, Tayler Hill, and Tierra Ruffin-Pratt are now on their sophomore deals.
Re-signing Hartley and Dolson could create cap issues since they would most likely earn a lot more than the rookie minimums, if not a max salary. WNBA teams don’t have a “luxury tax” or a soft salary cap like the NBA, so it’s not like Ted Leonsis can just put up the bill just because he feels like it.
And then there’s hindsight given last year’s offseason: the Mystics had to let Hartley and Dolson go so they could get the roster space to sign Kristi Toliver and get Delle Donne. Hartley and Dolson certainly improved last year on their new teams. But we can also agree that what Toliver and Delle Donne provided in 2017 is better than what Hartley and Dolson would have if they remained in Washington. The Mystics in the Delle Donne Era are trying to win now, not later. So, a team in that position is going to make some moves to get talent who can provide more right away than bank on whether they can get past a certain threshold in two-three years.
I’m still sad that they’re gone though.
Reserved players are those whose contracts have expired and have less than four years of experience in the league. But they aren’t unrestricted free agents. The team they were with last season is the only team they can negotiate with this season.
Asia Taylor is the Mystics’ lone reserved player. She played 24 games, but scored a career low 1.9 points per game and never averaged more than 8 minutes a game in any of her three WNBA seasons. I’d expect to see her get a training camp contract, but there’s a good chance she won’t make the opening day roster. We haven’t figured in the 2018 first round pick, and any other players who may sign with the team as free agents.
What should the Mystics do?
As of now, the Mystics are bringing back eight players who are under contract, assuming they make no further changes. Like any other WNBA team, they are going to try to add some new free agents of their own. And you’d think that they will keep their first round draft pick, unlike the Wizards in each of the last two seasons.
If I have to guess what happens to the Mystics’ free agents, I think they should be open to keeping Allison Hightower. However, they should allow Latta to sign with another team. The other writers and I aren’t in complete agreement on this, but Latta has been declining in the last couple seasons, and I’d like to see Natasha Cloud get another crack at playing more minutes like she did in 2015 and 2016.
At any rate, I don’t think the Mystics will keep both Latta and Hightower. If they do, then it’s probably a sign that they’re going to trade one of their key rotation pieces since there isn’t much opportunity to get talent otherwise.
In regard to Hawkins, she’ll be re-signed and the Mystics should keep her as a backup to Meesseman and Krystal Thomas. She’s a strong rebounder and also has the ability to stretch the defense with her three point shooting. Finally, I think Taylor will get a training camp deal. However, it’s far from a given that she’ll make the 2018 roster.