The Chicago Sky raising the trophy and Candace Parker racing to meet her daughter in celebration feels like eons ago. And for the 12 WNBA teams seeking to feel the confetti this time around, it may as well have been.
It's a brand new season tipping off on Friday and we're here to help jog your memory on offseason happenings and what to watch for in year No. 26.
What's the latest on Brittney Griner, Mercury?
Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner remains detained in Russia, but her status changed earlier this week to "wrongfully detained" by the Russian government, a State Department spokesperson told Yahoo Sports' Jeff Eisenberg on Tuesday.
Now instead of waiting for the case to go through the Russian legal system, the U.S. government can actively work to negotiate the 31-year-old's return. A second option is an international hostage negotiator who has agreed to work on her case. The news also allows family, friends and fans to speak out after months of staying quiet in Griner's best interest.
Griner, who was in MVP contention last season, has been jailed since Feb. 17 when she flew into the Moscow airport to return to her UMMC Ekaterinburg club. Most WNBA players make the bulk of their income playing overseas. Russian custom officials allegedly found vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage.
The league announced this week each court will have a special floor decal to honor Griner that features her No. 42 and initials, "BG." It also confirmed its previous statement the Mercury will receive roster and salary cap relief. Griner will be paid her full salary, the league said, which is $227,900, according to Her Hoop Stats. There have been no further details on what that looks like in practice. The difficulty of fitting players into a hard salary cap has hit a peak this week as talented veterans and top draft picks are being waived.
All 12 markets will also host Heart and Sole shoe drives in her honor. Griner began the initiative in 2016 when she saw Arizonans in the summer heat without shoes and began driving around with extras to hand out.
How the schedule will impact the season
The WNBA does not have all kinds of time to work with this season. The 2022 campaign will wrap for international players to join their teams at the FIBA World Cup to be held in Sydney, Australia, starting on Sept. 22. The 14-week regular-season schedule runs through Aug. 12 and expanded by four games to 36.
There are some back-to-backs in the schedule, but the larger issue is always travel. WNBA teams still fly commercial and can run into serious delays that impact games. There is also the issue of COVID-19, made more complicated by airlines dropping mask requirements after the federal mandate ended.
Some coaches and players are already talking about rest. Mercury first-year head coach Vanessa Nygaard said she wants to save the "tread" on 18-year veteran Diana Taurasi for game days rather than run her down in practices. A large part of that is age as Taurasi turns 40 in June. Elena Delle Donne, coming off of two back surgeries, might opt to stay home if the Washington Mystics' travel schedule is rough or if they have a game-heavy week, The Next reported in April.
The Commissioner's Cup returns in its second year (July 26) after All-Star weekend in Chicago (July 9-10). It will be the first season of the new postseason format that does away with single-elimination games and top-seeded byes.
Who is the favorite to win the 2022 title?
The teams near the top added big-time pieces in the offseason, which we'll get into below, and even those at the bottom are making moves that could put them into a postseason berth.
The Las Vegas Aces and Connecticut Sun are the favorites at +350, via BetMGM. The Sky (+450), Seattle Storm (+500), Mercury (+650) and Minnesota Lynx (+800) round out the top six. The rest of the futures line: New York Liberty (+1400), Washington Mystics (+1800), Los Angeles Sparks (+3000), Dallas Wings (+6600), Indiana Fever (+10000) and Atlanta Dream (+10000).
Yahoo Sports writer Cassandra Negley picked the Sun to win it all in a Finals matchup with the Storm. Yahoo Sports NBA/WNBA editor Johanna Huybers broke out her Raven powers to see into the future. And Just Women's Sports managing editor Hannah Withiam has the Sky taking it over the Sun.
New faces in new places
The free agency period was another busy one, and it doesn't include the four teams that underwent a coaching change. Some stars re-signed with their teams, like Breanna Stewart (Storm), Sylvia Fowles (Lynx) and Courtney Vandersloot (Sky). These are the stars in new threads for 2022.
Tina Charles, Mercury — Charles led the league in scoring (23.4 PPG) and ranked third on the boards (9.6 RPG) during her one season playing with the Mystics. An 11-year veteran and 2012 league MVP, Charles is still chasing her first title and will be even more pivotal with Griner away.
Liz Cambage, Sparks — Cambage, a four-time All-Star and former Australian national team star, was all smiles during her introductory news conference since she has long wanted to play in Los Angeles. She'll help the last-place Sparks' offense catch up after playing for the best offense in Las Vegas.
Chennedy Carter, Sparks — Carter averaged 25.4 mpg, 17.4 ppg, 3.4 apg and 2.3 rpg her rookie year after the Dream drafted her No. 4 overall in 2020. Her sophomore year was on a similar trajectory, but she was suspended for "conduct detrimental to the team" in July amid a season of controversy in Atlanta. Los Angeles provides a fresh start for the young star who put in offseason work with Angel McCoughtry.
Angel McCoughtry, Lynx — Speaking of McCoughtry, the 12-year veteran is also seeking her first title though she's made the WNBA Finals four times. She's coming off another ACL injury that forced her to miss the Aces season and will team up with Team USA teammate Sylvia Fowles and head coach Cheryl Reeve.
Stefanie Dolson, Liberty — Dolson collected an Olympic gold medal in 3x3 and a WNBA championship with the Sky in 2021. The veteran center averages 9.4 ppg, 4.9 rpg shooting 50% and will bolster a Liberty team in need of paint points.
Courtney Williams, Sun — Williams averaged 16.5 ppg, 11th-best in the league, but the Dream said it would not bring her back after she posted a video of herself and teammates involved in a physical altercation in a parking lot. The veteran guard will return to Connecticut where the 2019 Sun squad came minutes from the franchise's first title.
Emma Meesseman, Sky — Meesseman, the '19 Finals MVP, skipped the 2021 WNBA season while with her Belgian national team. The 6-4 big slots into the Sky's returning core of Candace Parker, Kahleah Copper, Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley.
Diamond DeShields, Mercury — DeShields led the Sky's offense in 2019 with career-highs 16.2 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 2.4 apg but took less of a role in the 2021 championship season. The athletic wing will join the Sky's WNBA Finals foe in Phoenix.
Julie Allemand, Sky— Allemand, 25, only played the 2020 WNBA season (8.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 5.5 apg) after the Fever drafted the point guard in the third round in 2016. She'll learn from and back up veteran Vandersloot.
Former players dot new leadership
Four of the 12 teams enter the season with new coaches. Three of those parted ways with their former coaches while the fourth, the Las Vegas Aces, brought in the big-time hire of former player and NBA assistant coach Becky Hammon.
The hires bring the total number of former players leading teams to six of the 12. Eight of the 12 are women and a ninth is a retired NBA star. The league instituted a rule that teams can have a third coach on staff if at least one is a former player in an effort to help widen the pipeline and it appears to be working.
Las Vegas Aces: Hammon was named the Aces head coach in December even though the position wasn't open. The 16-year WNBA veteran joined Gregg Popovich's bench in San Antonio in 2014, but has not been seriously looked at for jobs in the NBA. She said she jumped because Las Vegas "saw me as a head coach right now." The Aces (24-8 in 2021) led the league on offense (109.1 ORtg) and ranked second defensively (98.0 DRtg). Hammon will expand their game back to the perimeter and add 3-point shooting to the offense.
Atlanta Dream: Tanisha Wright, formerly an Aces assistant coach, is focused on the "player experience" to help the Dream climb out of the draft lottery and into a better place than the last year. She played a decade for the Seattle Storm, winning the 2010 WNBA title, and will now build around No. 1 pick Rhyne Howard. Atlanta (8-24) ranked bottom-four in most metrics, but were first in steals (8.9) and second in blocks shots (4.6).
Phoenix Mercury: Vanessa Nygaard took over for the Mercury (19-13) after the team parted ways with Sandy Brondello, who led them to the 2021 WNBA Finals. Nygaard checked the team's boxes of leadership, technician and Xs and Os as she juggles veteran talent with some youth. She played in three Final Fours for Stanford in the late 1990s and most recently coached at the Windward High School and Aces.
New York Liberty: Sandy Brondello, the Australian national team coach, crossed coasts to take over the Liberty after facing them in a tough first-round playoff game last fall. New York, one of the league's founding franchises, has yet to win a championship and will look to expand its game past 3s-or-nothing. The Liberty (12-20) ranked 11th in ORtg (93.7), but fourth in DRtg (105.7).