WNBA-free agents will be able to officially sign contracts starting Monday, but a source says you probably won’t see Seattle Storm veteran Sue Bird sign a deal on opening day despite not leaving the team.
Bird, a 17-year-old WNBA veteran, will wait for the rest of the Seattle salary cap – including core player Natasha Howard – to clear before signing her contract.
Diana Taurasi, a 16-year-old veterinarian, re-signed a multi-year contract with the Phoenix Mercury on Monday. That both would stick with the franchises they designed was a foregone conclusion, but their situations are different. Phoenix’s cap situation is less strained, so Taurasi’s deal could continue.
Both, as has happened with other WNBA stars over the years, have spent slightly less money in the past helping their teams retain other talent – which begs the question: does the WNBA need its own bird exemption from the? Upper salary limit? Some insiders say this should be considered.
That way, players like Bird and Taurasi – two of the WNBA’s best-known players who have spent their entire professional career with a total of seven championships in Seattle and Phoenix – could sign contracts that slightly exceed the salary cap.
The Bird exception in the NBA, named after Larry Bird of the Boston Celtics, came about when the league set its salary cap from the 1984/85 season. It was an integral part of a soft cap to allow NBA teams to break the cap to sign their own free agents. The free agent exemption for qualified veterans came to be known by a shorter nickname, the Bird Exception, as it was then when he joined the Free Agency and the league and union understood the mutual value of motivating players to stay in their home markets . There are now different levels of bird exemption in the NBA.
It is a coincidence that Sue and Larry have the same last name. But they also share a Hall of Fame pedigree, all of which was spent in the same WNBA / NBA uniform as Taurasi. Without exception, the WNBA has a tough cap. In particular, given that changes to the salary structure that started with the 2020 collective agreement have increased the player movement, the WNBA could add its own exception regarding qualified veterans.
This is of course a long-haul proposal. The WNBA’s CBA can be renegotiated after the 2025 season. It is unlikely, if not impossible, that exceptions will be added by then. Given the very different free agent landscape since January 2020 and the league’s focus on creating additional earning opportunities to help players prioritize the game overseas, questions like these are part of the league’s self-examination.
“It’s kind of a new ball game with the league and the new CBA,” said a WNBA source, familiar with the cap negotiations. “It will take a couple of years to sort that out. But that’s exactly what we should think about as the league grows and gets stronger. Because there are incentives for legacy players to stick with a franchise and there is something cool.” about the.”
Another source suggested that an exception would reward not only the player for their loyalty, but the franchise as well.
“It could give teams back the value they’re looking for by investing in stars early,” the source said.
Since the WNBA is smaller – 12 teams – and in a very different financial landscape than the NBA, the players who were “qualifying veterans” would be different. In the NBA, after three years, players have full bird rights without changing teams in the free agency. In the WNBA it would probably be at least twice as high.
Even if there was an exemption in the WNBA for qualified veterans, the new CBA has guaranteed more player movement. This year we already know that great personalities like Candace Parker (Chicago Sky) and Chelsea Gray (Las Vegas Aces) are leaving the Los Angeles Sparks and Alysha Clark (Washington Mystics) is leaving Seattle. Player movements generate interest in the WNBA in the off-season, which has always been a challenge for the league, and can reward franchises that manage their finances well and create teams that other stars want to join.
At the same time, an exception would reward players who become the faces of their franchises. It could be a few years in the future and players like Bird, 40 and Taurasi, 38, could retire. But it could be something to look out for as part of the league’s growth.