The WNBA tipped off its 25th anniversary season Friday with four games.
The defending champion Storm hosts the Las Vegas Aces at noon Saturday at the Angel of the Winds Arena in Everett in a rematch of last year’s WNBA Finals.
Here’s a look at where teams rank heading into the 2021 season.
1. Las Vegas: Last season, the Aces finished with the No. 1 playoff seed without All-Star center Liz Cambage and point guard Kelsey Plum, the former Washington Huskies star, who return this season. Las Vegas also added three-time WNBA All-Star guard Chelsea Gray to pair with last season’s WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson and two-time reigning Sixth Woman of the year Dearica Hamby. The Aces are loaded despite the loss of Angel McCoughtry, who suffered a season-ending knee injury during an exhibition game.
2. Seattle: The Storm tied with Las Vegas for the best record in the league last season, but Seattle lost several key contributors in the offseason, including Natasha Howard, Alysha Clark and Sami Whitcomb. It remains to be seen if a handful of newcomers led by Candice Dupree can fill the void. However, Breanna Stewart, Sue Bird and Jewell Loyd make the Storm a title contender.
3. Chicago: The Sky made perhaps the biggest splash in free agency during the offseason while luring two-time WNBA MVP Candace Parker away from Los Angeles. If the 35-year-old, 14-year veteran can still play at a dominant level in the post, then she’ll pair nicely with WNBA All-Star guards Courtney Vandersloot, Allie Quigley and Diamond DeShields.
4. Minnesota: No team was more active in the offseason at upgrading its roster than the Lynx, which added free agents Kayla McBride, Aerial Powers, Natalie Achonwa and No. 9 overall WNBA draft pick Rennia Davis. Minnesota expects continued development from back-to-back Rookie of the Year winners Napheesa Collier and Crystal Dangerfield. Still, the Lynx’s title chances hinge on 35-year-old Sylvia Fowles, who is the last holdover from the team’s 2015 WNBA title, staying healthy. She played just seven games last season due to a calf injury.
5. Washington: Injuries and absences ruined the Mystics’ bid to defend their 2019 WNBA title and it looks as if the same troubles will plague them again this year. Former league MVP Elena Delle Donne underwent back surgery in December and is still listed as questionable for the opener. Meanwhile, 2019 WNBA Finals MVP Emma Meesseman is expected to miss most of the season and Clark, the former 3-and-D standout from Seattle, is out due to an offseason foot injury. It remains to be seen if 32-year-old Tina Charles, who sat out last season, can return to her 2012 WNBA MVP form. The Mystics would be well served if Natasha Cloud, Ariel Atkins or Myisha Hines-Allen can emerge into an All-Star caliber player.
6. Phoenix: The Mercury was a game away from the WNBA Finals three years ago before losing to the Storm in Game 5 of the conference finals, but it hasn’t been a championship contender the past two years due to the team’s inability to provide stars Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner with a capable supporting cast. Adding Skylar Diggins-Smith last year provided much-needed firepower, but Phoenix’s lack of depth has been detrimental. The Mercury potentially leveraged its future to acquire All-Star Kia Nurse and Megan Walker in exchange for the first-round draft picks this year and in 2022.
7. Los Angeles: The Sparks’ nine-year playoff streak appears to be in jeopardy as the team undergoes a major transition away from the Parker-Gray era. L.A.’s Big Three has been reduced to just Nneka Ogwumike who is now entrenched as the veteran star on a roster full of disparate pieces. Kristi Toliver and Chiney Ogwumike return after sitting out last year. The Sparks also added veterans Erica Wheeler and Amanda Zahui B. during the offseason. Still, there are plenty of questions that coach Derek Fisher will have to answer. Here’s one bright spot: L.A. might have landed the steal of the 2021 draft in rookie forward Jasmine Walker, the No. 7 overall pick who has been impressive early on.
8. New York: Sabrina Ionescu, the 2020 No. 1 overall pick who played just three games last season in the WNBA bubble, makes her long-awaited Gotham City debut. The Liberty should push to snap a three-year playoff drought if Ionescu lives up to the hype and Howard returns to 2019 form when she was an MVP candidate with the Storm.
9. Connecticut: Coach Curt Miller worked miracles last season while leading an injury-depleted Suns team that finished 10-12 to Game 5 of the semifinals. Two-time WNBA All-Star Jonquel Jones returns after sitting out last season, but it’ll be difficult for Connecticut to overcome the loss of all-everything standout Alyssa Thomas, who is out for the season due to a torn Achilles.
10. Atlanta: The Dream’s new ownership group fired general manager Chris Sienko during a turbulent offseason, which preceded coach Nicki Collen abruptly leaving for Baylor two weeks before the season opener. Despite the offcourt upheavals, the guard-heavy Dream has a relatively talented squad that includes Tiffany Hayes, Courtney Williams, Chennedy Carter, Odyssey Sims and 2021 No. 3 overall draft pick Ari McDonald.
11. Dallas: The Wings fired former Storm coach Brian Agler after 18-38 record the past two years and handed the reins to Vickie Johnson, who posted an 8-26 record during her one season as coach in 2017 in San Antonio. Dallas has loads of young talent, including the reigning scoring champ Arike Ogunbowale and 2021 No. 1 overall draft pick Charli Collier.
12. Indiana: It’s unclear exactly what direction the Fever is headed after losing Dupree and promising young forward Kennedy Burke to Seattle in the offseason. Apparently, Indiana intends to build around Kelsey Mitchell, Tiffany Mitchell and center Teaira McCowan. The Fever added three expensive veterans (Jantel Lavender, Danielle Robinson and Jessica Breland), but the trio of former All-Stars isn’t likely to carry a team that’s missed the playoffs the past four years.