A couple of big pieces of news for Lynx fans this week.
First, the Lynx announced the hiring of Katie Smith as an assistant coach, replacing Walt Hopkins, who himself is replacing Smith as head coach of the New York Liberty.
Longtime fans will remember Smith as a member of the Lynx as a player from 1999 to 2005. Smith was the team’s first real star, led them to their first playoff appearance in 2003, and made the All-Star team five times in six seasons. She later won two titles with the Detroit Shock while Cheryl Reeve was an assistant coach there.
She coached under BIll Laimbeer in New York for three seasons before taking over the head coaching job in 2018. Her two seasons at the helm were not very successful in terms of wins, but the Liberty were undergoing a major rebuild.
Smith has been inducted into the basketball hall of fame for her brilliant playing career both as a professional and in international play, where she was part of three Olympic gold medal winning teams and two world championship winning teams.
Second, the WNBA and the players association have reached agreement on a new CBA. The deal calls for major changes in both compensation and workplace rules which appear to be significant wins for the players.
Among the changes is an immediate increase in the salary cap from approximately $1 million to $1.3 million. Based on reaching certain growth benchmarks, the players will be in line to receive 50 percent of BRI in future seasons. The maximum salary is increasing dramatically, as are opportunities for additional compensation based on performance in an in-season tournament the league is getting ready to announce, as well as potential marketing dollars.
The increases for top players are in part an attempt to keep more of them from going overseas to play during the winter, and instead stay in the U.S., rest, and help market the league during the off-season. We are seeing those efforts already with USA basketball compensating several veteran stars to stay home, prepare for the Olympics this summer, and play a series of exhibitions to help market the sport.
The agreement will also encourage increased player movement (and thus off-season interest) by limiting the use of the “core player” designation, sort of the WNBA’s version of the franchise tag, which keeps players from leaving even when they have played out their contract. Currently, teams can use the designation up to four times on a player, which essentially means they can control that player into their early thirties. Over the next couple of seasons, that will reduce to no more than two times on a player, allowing them to reach unrestricted free agency earlier.
I’m certainly no expert on the salary cap or the CBA, so for more on the new CBA, I recommend Howard Megdal’s piece in the New York Times.
I’m still trying to figure out what the new rules mean for the Lynx as they head into the free agency season with significant needs. February 1st marks the date teams can begin to sign players. Next week we’ll talk about Lynx free agency.