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WNBA Free Agency 2021: The Mystics have five unrestricted free agents. Can they re-sign them all for another championship run?

In addition, LaToya Sanders and Natasha Cloud’s contracts have expired, but they can only negotiate with Washington.

New York Liberty v Washington Mystics
Emma Meesseman and Aerial Powers are two of Washington’s unrestricted free agents heading into this winter.
Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images

Today, the WNBA enters its free agency negotiation period. Teams can negotiate with any unrestricted free agents they would like, but they can’t sign contracts until Feb. 1. Earlier this month, teams could give qualifying offers and core players who would otherwise be unrestricted free agents. The Washington Mystics re-signed Sug Sutton, Jacki Gemelos and Stella Johnson this past week. But given the timing, they were all probably given those offers, a non-guaranteed training camp contract, as Gabe Ibrahim noted.

The Mystics of course are looking to save their powder for free agency and bring back most, if not all of their key players from their 2019 championship team. How do things look?

Core Players: None

All WNBA teams can core one player who would otherwise be an unrestricted free agent. In general, cored players are All-Stars and are critical contributors for a team. A player can only be cored up to three times in her career this year. Next season, a player can only be cored twice. Cored players can only negotiate with the team, but they also get maximum level salaries which can be as high as $221,450 this season.

The Mystics have decided not to core anyone, which is a gamble.

Only three players were cored this season, who were Nneka Ogwumike of the Los Angeles Sparks, Liz Cambage of the Las Vegas Aces and Natasha Howard of the Seattle Storm.

Restricted Free Agents: None

The Mystics do not have any players with four years of experience, so this doesn’t apply to them so I’ll be brief on this one. WNBA restricted free agency is like the NBA’s. A player with four years of experience can negotiate an offer sheet with any team. However, her team from the prior season can match it within four days.

Unrestricted Free Agents: 5

Any player who doesn’t have a qualifying offer and isn’t a cored player is an unrestricted free agent. The Mystics have five players — Alaina Coates, Tina Charles, Tianna Hawkins, Emma Meesseman and Aerial Powers — who can negotiate with any team.

Aren’t Natasha Cloud and LaToya Sanders also free agents?

Not exactly. Natasha Cloud and LaToya Sanders were suspended after opting out of the 2020 WNBA season. Their contracts expired last season, but league rules also require that they can only negotiate with the Mystics. Both Cloud and Sanders were valuable contributors to the 2019 team, so they will re-sign with Washington. I expect Cloud to start at guard, but expect Sanders to come off the bench given Charles’ anticipated re-signing.

The Mystics also have a third player in this category of those who were suspended and now have an expired contact. Lee Seul Kang was suspended before the 2020 season after signing a training camp contract last March.

How likely is it that the Mystics re-sign each of their unrestricted free agents?

Let’s go through the players in alphabetical order by last name:

Alaina Coates — I don’t see her re-signing with Washington because she was signed specifically to fill in a roster spot after Cloud and Sanders opted out, and also because Elena Delle Donne and Charles sat the 2020 season out. The Mystics’ front court will be fine without her, even if they don’t re-sign Meesseman or Hawkins.

Tina Charles — She has pledged to come back to Washington after the 2020 season ended. If Meesseman doesn’t re-sign, Charles could also expect to be Washington’s No. 2 option, though I’m also really impressed with Myisha Hines-Allen’s growth.

The big question is how much will Charles ask? Will she sign for less to stay in Washington, and also to allow other key free agents like Powers to return? Either way, if Charles is wearing Washington gear, that’s a good sign of her staying in D.C.

Tianna Hawkins — Hawkins averaged a career-high 19.3 minutes per game last year and averaged 8.5 points per game last season. With Charles, Delle Donne and Hines-Allen in the rotation, Hawkins would probably not play very much.

I also think Hawkins is due for a bigger payday, though not at a max level. Last season, she only made $71,400 and a rebuilding team looking for veteran help could be a better fit. Then again, the DMV is Hawkins’ hometown so she could return.

Emma Meesseman — Based on talent alone, I’ll be the first one to say that the Mystics must give her a supermax salary. But given that her native Belgium is Women’s EuroBasket bound in mid-June and will train for the Olympics soon after that, I’m not sure if she’s going to play in the WNBA this season.

I’m also not sure if the Mystics need Meesseman long term for that matter, given Hines-Allen’s rise and the team’s need to re-sign her. But Washington shouldn’t wait and see what other teams will do. The Mystics must give Meesseman an offer and see where she stands. But I also want us to understand that she’s missing a good chunk of 2021 regardless.

Aerial Powers — Powers was on a roll in the 2020 season, averaging 16.3 points per game before she was sidelined by injury for the rest of the season. She was also a key reserve for Washington in their 2019 championship season, averaging 11.4 points per game. There will be multiple teams interested in Powers, so I hope Washington makes an aggressive offer.

Will all of the Mystics’ free agents come back?

I don’t see all of the unrestricted free agents back because they only have five players under contract, excluding Gemelos, Johnson and Sutton. They have $795,260 of cap space with a salary cap of $1.2 million and can only sign six or seven players. WNBA rosters can only have 11 or 12 players.

I would say Cloud and Sanders re-sign and return given that they can’t negotiate with other teams. Kang is not essential for them since she was on a training camp contract last season, so I could go either way if she comes to Washington or not.

They re-sign Charles at a hometown discount and Powers, Coates and Hawkins sign with other teams and Meesseman returns to Washington after the Olympics. Then fans will see the team make one run at a WNBA championship.