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Location: Seattle, WA
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|Posted: 10/07/20 2:39 am ::: Core Players in 2021
|I first have to say, speculating on this very subject so far in advance could not have been made possible without Richyyy and his sheer dedication to his in-depth League research (you can find his 2021 Free Agency list here). We rebkellians and other followers of herhoopstats couldn’t be more grateful!
With that said, we can start speculating on which teams core somebody in 2021 – where perhaps it has never been harder to predict due to the substantially heightened trickiness of navigating the new salary range. Despite only three teams coring someone last season (three players of high quality, at that), there are so many free agents this year, so it’s still a bit hard to say how teams will value players this season.
Why we could see fewer teams core someone this year: Teams might just not have – or want to give up – the cap flexibility to devote the maximum amount of money on one player.
Why we could see more teams core someone this year: Teams with several great – but not elite – unsigned players from their 2020 roster may risk coring aka overpaying someone in order to retain them, accepting that they won’t be able to re-sign everyone they want to, so they target who they view as their most important unsigned player, effectively letting go of some of their other free agents.
By the way, this poll is set to expire on January 14, which is the last day a team can core a player (the period to core a player or make qualifying offers to whom it applies runs from Jan. 1 to Jan. 14. Thanks again, Richyyy!). Phoenix cannot core anyone in 2021, due to the designation being carried over on Griner from the multi-year supermax contract she signed during the previous free agency. But every other team in 2021 can. I divided Richyyy’s free agency list by team, for reference. Who might those cored players be, should a team use its designation? Let’s take a look.
Notes: The 2021 maximum value aka supermax for a player who would be re-signing with their previous team is, if I’m not mistaken, $221,450. All players listed as candidates are UFAs.
Best candidate: Betnijah Laney – 5 years of experience
2020’s Most Improved Player unexpectedly went from below-the-bar to a bit of a star. How she follows up her award-winning campaign of this season given all of her previous seasons being lackluster is enough of a question mark that the Dream probably won’t haphazardly core-commit to her like that.
Odds that Atlanta uses its core designation: Unlikely
Best candidate: Cheyenne Parker – 6 years of experience
As much as the Sky will need to keep a player like Parker for any future championship runs with this group (as Richyyy noted here), they realistically won’t have the cap space to core her and pay her a supermax deal should she demand it – unless they get rid of a veteran already under a sizable contract before the core deadline (Dolson?).
Odds that Chicago uses its core designation: Unlikely
Best candidate: Alyssa Thomas – 7 years of experience
It’s plain & simple: the Sun need to re-sign the anchor of the team (on both sides of the ball). Though the Sun need to manage their cap situation carefully with the several unsigned players they have, any moves need to start with re-signing Alyssa Thomas and then figuring out the rest.
Odds that Connecticut uses its core designation: Likely
Best candidate: N/A
Dallas’ only free agent appears to be Allisha Gray, who is already a RFA. The only legitimate reason they’d use the core designation on this very solid role player is if they don’t want her negotiating at all with other teams – which would be unusual, especially if they want to re-sign her to a multi-year deal.
Odds that Dallas uses its core designation: Highly unlikely
Best candidate: Erica Wheeler – 5 years of experience
Even while the position of point guard is arguably the most crucial one, Wheeler doesn’t seem good enough to be considered for a potential supermax. Still, the Fever do have cap space this year, and a few other unsigned players of which they might want to seek control of someone in advance of free agency. Too, if Allemand skips 2021 due to competing for Belgium in the Olympics (but comes back in 2022), the Fever could be okay with giving Wheeler the one-year supermax standard in a weird way of trying her out to see if she’d be able to carry out Marianne Stanley’s system effectively.
Odds that Indiana uses its core designation: Somewhat unlikely
Best candidate: Liz Cambage – 4 years of experience
Even if she declares she’s forever done with the WNBA between now and free agency, I just don’t think the Aces take any chances here. Assuming she’s at most non-committal, I highly doubt the Aces risk letting her walk & sign with LA like she’s always wanted (or whomever). Even still, Kayla McBride is also a dark-horse candidate to be cored.
Odds that Las Vegas uses its core designation: Likely
Best candidates: Chelsea Gray – 6 years of experience; Nneka Ogwumike – 9 years of experience
There could’ve even been three roughly equal candidates for this distinction had Candace Parker still been eligible to be cored. As it is, there are still two. Gray might show some loyalty and take a ‘hometown’ discount (she’s from the Bay area so it’s somewhat accurate to use that term). Although maybe she recognizes that she’s arguably the most important to re-sign, since: A) she’s younger than Ogwumike, B) she’s the team’s showrunner as the starting point guard, and C) she has been on a different team before, so she could be fine with moving again. On Ogwumike’s side, her desire to stay in LA could depend on if her sister Chiney continues her own playing career in LA or cuts it short due to her growing analyst career. Otherwise, the eldest Ogwumike would be a great fit on her home state’s lone team, the Wings, playing under the coach whom she arguably played her best basketball under in LA. Not to mention: whichever players are willing to stay would have to approve of the coaching situation – whether it’s Derek Fisher or not. There will be enough potential moving pieces out of LA (soooo many free agents) where I can’t see LA not using their core designation due to all the uncertainty, in order to have control of somebody.
Odds that Los Angeles uses its core designation: Likely
Best candidate: N/A
The only highly valuable unsigned player on the Lynx is Maya Moore, but because her contract expired while she was inactive, Minnesota retains her rights anyway. No other Lynx free agent comes close to having core-worthy value.
Odds that Minnesota uses its core designation: Highly unlikely
Best candidate: Amanda Zahui B. – 6 years of experience
The Liberty can afford to core Zahui B. and sign her to the one-year supermax, but them having already re-signed Kiah Stokes for next season makes it seem unlikely they’d bring Zahui B. back to retain the least talented post group in the League. However, if they really wanted to spice things up, they could core Zahui B. with the intention of trading her either in free agency, but be content with re-signing her should any deals fall through. Though it’s not the money part that would be the concern – it’s ultimately both if they want her back, and if she wants to come back.
Odds that New York uses its core designation: Somewhat unlikely
N/A. They cannot core anyone in 2021.
Best candidate: Natasha Howard – 7 years of experience
Sue Bird won’t be cored at this point (has she ever been? ). Clark probably won’t be cored either, since the defensive specialist has never taken on a lead role within the offense – though it’s no secret how vital of a piece she is for the contending Storm on both sides of the ball. By eliminating both Bird and Clark as possibilities – albeit hesitantly – that leaves Howard, whose value will be a hot topic throughout the next several months. It’s going to come down to how much more the Storm weigh this past season than the previous two seasons when considering her future value. This past season was her worst – or should we say quietest – season with the Storm. She was a superstar in 2019, playing without Breanna Stewart next to her in the post. But Howard has yet to have a season playing with Stewart where she looks like more than a top-class role player. Still, the Storm have now won the Finals in the two seasons that Stewart and Howard (and Bird, and Loyd, and Clark) were the starters. Now if Howard’s priority is getting a supermax deal, it really shouldn’t be coming from this team since there’s no indication she’ll play like she did in 2019 – not with Stewart healthy and leading the way. But like Clark, Howard has high intangible value as it relates to the Storm’s success. And unlike Clark, Howard is used to changing teams. Not to mention: teams will be courting the Storm’s free agents hard in order to break them up as best as they can. So with all that said, I can envision the Storm giving her a supermax deal anyway and figuring the rest out later (and there’s a decent amount to figure out).
Odds that Seattle uses its core designation: Somewhat likely
Best candidate: Emma Meesseman – 7 years of experience
Washington will be strapped for cash in 2021, so they ought not to risk committing the max sum of money to any one person. The only way they core someone is if Meesseman not only openly wants to play in 2021 but also drops hints that she wants to consider signing elsewhere – or just doesn’t tip her hand either way and makes Thibault squirm. There’s no indication whatsoever that that’ll be the case… but we’ll see. And even if Tina Charles didn’t already verbally commit to re-signing with the Mystics, she is no longer eligible to be cored.
Odds that Washington uses its core designation: Unlikely
Man, f*** all this f***ing horsesh*t (maybe. We'll know for sure by January 5th!)