The Indiana Fever need more talent on paper. Them and the Sparks were the only teams to not have an All-Star last year, though Erica Wheeler of the Sparks and Indiana’s Kelsey Mitchell both had solid cases.
Mitchell has superstar potential, but she’s not there yet. She is still mostly a scorer with not much else going on in her stats. And to be a true contender in the WNBA, you need a big three or four.
The Fever can pray that NaLyssa Smith really is as close to Rhyne Howard in talent as people are now saying. Or maybe Smith will be better than Howard. Or maybe Howard will fall to the Fever. Whoever they take at No. 2 has a chance to be a key addition. Can general manager Tamika Catchings pull off another big move or two?
By the numbers*
Free agents (type) (2021 average salary)
- Jessica Breland (unrestricted) ($145,000)
- Lindsay Allen (restricted) ($70,040)
- Temi Fagbenle (reserved)
- Bernadett Határ (reserved) ($58,710)
- Victoria Vivians (reserved) ($62,014)
Total average salary of free agents (not counting Fagbenle): $336,124
Total team salary (including Astou Ndour-Fall buyout): $1,363,828
Cap space: $15,372
The the first thing the Fever should do is let Jessica Breland sign with another team. She’s too expensive at $145,000 and 34 years of age (by the time the season starts). She only averaged 5.8 points per game last year.
One might think the Fever should get rid of a lot of players considering their struggles. However, Victoria Vivians is a young player with a lot of promise that they should not just bring back, but also invest in. I see her getting paid somewhere near what the Sun paid Brionna Jones after her 2020 improvement. I think B. Jones was underpaid then (and certainly is now). Her 2020 stats trump that of Vivians’ 2018 stats (her best year), but her $120,000 represents a recent deal given to a potentially rising star at around Vivian’s age. I see Vivians in the $90,000 to $110,000 range and I think Indiana really likes her and will lean towards the higher end.
Let’s say they give Vivians $106,000 and Lindsay Allen $85,000. Allen’s got some skills, but her stats never really amaze. That would leave them with enough money to fill their 11th roster spot with a supermax player, which is what they really need to turn things around.
Courtney Vandersloot, Kahleah Copper, Jonquel Jones, A’ja Wilson, Liz Cambage, Sylvia Fowles. Breanna Stewart, Jewell Loyd and Tina Charles are the players who should be considered definite or potential supermax players. Copper, J. Jones, Wilson and Stewart are locks to return to their teams and Charles is probably the least likely player in the league to want to play for a bad team.
Loyd is a legend in the state of Indiana from her time at Notre Dame and could prove herself as a No. 1 player by parting ways with Breanna Stewart. Unlike Charles, she already has two championships. From the Fever’s perspective, she’s younger than Vandersloot, Cambage and Fowles. That would be a home run. However, it should be noted that the Fever already have a star shooting guard in Mitchell who, like Loyd, thrives off having the ball a lot.
A lot of WNBA SGs can slide into the 3 spot, but the Fever don’t have anyone listed as a small forward. Copper would be a great SF to add — and thrives off making cuts — but that’s not happening.
Bernadett Határ and Temi Fagbenle likely won’t get pay raises of very much money if they are kept over Kysre Gondrezick and Aaliyah Wilson. Határ and Fagbenle have slightly better contribution histories in the league compared to Gondrezick and Wilson, who basically have none. But Határ was undrafted and Fagbenle was a No. 35 pick, while Gondrezick and Wilson went at No. 4 and No. 11, respectively, in last year’s draft. Maybe the latter two get second chances.
Chelsey Perry, another rookie last year, is also an option to keep, but she averaged just 2.2 points per game in 2021 and was the No. 26 pick.
If the Fever settle for their big free agency acquisition being someone below the supermax, which is likely because the superstars are all long shots, they will have a little extra money to replace Határ, Fagbenle, Gondrezick, Wilson and/or Perry with players who are slightly better and slightly more expensive. They could build depth instead of top-end talent.
Without Határ and Fagbenle, the Fever would have just one center: Teaira McCowan. If they bring in 6-foot-8 Cambage that would be an upgrade in the starting lineup and McCowan could move to the bench. But would Cambage and McCowan (6’7”) ever be able to be on the floor together? Maybe. Although Cambage is primarily a post player and was even more heavily used down there in Bill Laimbeer’s anti-3-point system, she does have a 3-point shot and can stretch the floor. How cool would it be to have two 6-foot-7+ rotation players? Opposing centers would never get a break.
Also, McCowan could be exclusively Cambage’s backup so that they all but never play together. But they would be two of the team’s best players and you’d want to play both of them a lot.
It should be noted that Cambage is unlikely to leave a championship contender in Las Vegas to go to Indiana.
Fowles lacks Cambage’s ability to give McCowan space in the paint by stretching the floor and may be too old to give the supermax, though her play in 2021 had her on the fringe of the MVP conversation.
Getting Vandersloot and making Danielle Robinson the backup point guard would be an incredible starter-bench combo like Cambage-McCowan. But Robinson is a still legit starter at this point in her career — she really stepped it up last year — and Allen would be the backup if she’s kept. If she’s not, Gondrezick can play some point.
Another problem with getting Vandersloot is the fact that she’s likely a package deal with her wife, Allie Quigley, and the Fever can’t afford both of them unless Quigley takes a pay cut from $194,000 to $121,000. Quigley may take a pay cut at age 35, but not by that much. Plus, the Chicago Sky are all Vandersloot has ever known and she’ll want to stay there with Quigley, who is from Chicago, and all the other teammates she just won a championship with.
With the No. 10 pick the Fever could look to get a small forward like Rae Burrell of Tennessee or Ashley Joens of Iowa State, or a center like Ayoka Lee of Kansas State.
With the No. 2 pick, if they get Howard instead of Smith, that would give them a 6-foot-2 guard who could absolutely play the 3.
If the Fever keep Gondrezick and Wilson instead of Határ and Fagbenle, let Allen sign elsewhere and keep the No. 10 pick, they will be able to spend $247,107 on two free agents instead of one. That’s a $123, 553.5 split, but they could also do something like $160,000 and $90,000.
Someone in the $160,000 range is going to be more realistic than a supermax player for Indiana and, as discussed in the Wings free agency preview, Tiffany Hayes, Myisha Hines-Allen and Diamond DeShields are good options there.
If the Fever can manage to pay Vivians less because she is a reserved free agent and won’t be courted by other teams, they will have more money to work with.
* All salary numbers come from Her Hoop Stats