January 11, 2024 

2024 WNBA free agency preview: Connecticut Sun

Securing Brionna Jones, building depth, and finding a dynamic guard on the docket for the Sun

The Connecticut Sun proved last year that as long as Alyssa Thomas is healthy, they’ll be a serious contender for a WNBA championship.

Continue reading with a subscription to The Next

Get unlimited access to women’s basketball coverage and help support our hardworking staff of writers, editors, and photographers by subscribing today.

Join today

After falling to their I-95 rivals the New York Liberty in the semifinals, the Sun have major questions to address with three key players entering free agency. But with Thomas under contract and presumably returning for her 11th season in Connecticut, the goal remains the same — winning the franchise’s first WNBA title.

That likely means defeating the reigning two-time champion Las Vegas Aces at some point. It’s a tall task for every team in the league to keep the Aces — who will keep much of their star lineup intact — from a three-peat. But the Sun are in as good a position as any. Even without their All-Star center Brionna Jones, they came moments from forcing game 5 against the Liberty in Stephanie White’s first season as coach in Uncasville.

Get 24/7 soccer coverage with The Equalizer

The Next is partnering with The Equalizer to bring more women’s sports stories to your inbox. Subscribe to The Next now and receive 50% off your subscription to The Equalizer for 24/7 coverage of women’s soccer.

Sun general manager Darius Taylor believes the team’s championship window is still open. And as they enter the offseason with more cap flexibility than they’ve had in years, he’s looking to keep key players on the roster, and adding another versatile guard and veteran forward.

Brionna Jones, DeWanna Bonner, and Rebecca Allen are the team’s most important free agents, but more cap space gives the front office more financial power in targeting top free agents.

Connecticut Sun Free agents

Players signed for 2024

According to Her Hoop Stats, the Sun have $811,910 in cap space available for five to six players if they decide to keep their current roster intact. And based on last season’s success under White, the Sun have a case for running it back again for a second season.

But the Sun also have an opportunity to prove that Connecticut can be a free agent destination – partly for the quiet beaches and scenic summer charm of Southeastern Connecticut – but also because the Sun have proven time and time again that its a team that will be competing for championships, is led by an MVP frontrunner, and has a coaching staff made up of innovative basketball minds and former players.

The free agency star pool has been reduced with Jewell Loyd, Kahleah Copper and Betnijah Laney all inking extensions with their current teams before the end of last season, but the Sun still have an opportunity to improve on their roster and championship hopes. They’ll look to seize that opportunity in the coming months, but have a few questions that will determine that path.

Your business can reach over 3 million women’s sports fans every single month!

Here at The Next and The IX, our audience is a collection of the smartest, most passionate women’s sports fans in the world. If your business has a mission to serve these fans, reach out to our team at editors@thenexthoops.com to discuss ways to work together.

How do the Sun approach Brionna Jones’ free agency?

Connecticut Sun forward Brionna Jones (42) looks to shoot as Atlanta Dream forward Nia Coffey (12) defends during the WNBA game between the Atlanta Dream and the Connecticut Sun at Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, Connecticut, USA on June 15, 2023. Photo Credit: Chris Poss

Last year the Sun negotiated a one-year deal with Jones under a core designation. After trading away Jonquel Jones to the New York Liberty to kick off the Sun’s offseason, Taylor envisioned a franchise future with Brionna Jones and Alyssa Thomas as the rest of the league’s frontcourt nightmare. Jones’ season ending Achilles rupture in June put a damper on that vision in 2023, but could be the basis of the Sun’s success in 2024.

Taylor told The Next this week that he expects Jones to return to Connecticut this season, but said the team had not made a decision on whether she will be cored. He said last season the organization had to prove that it was still on solid ground to its players and Taylor believes they have accomplished that.

“We feel good about our opportunity and understand that there’s always things that can happen in free agency that you have to be prepared for, but for the most part, I do feel good about her wanting to continue, at least for next season, in Connecticut,” he said.

The Sun can choose to core Jones again, ensuring that no other teams negotiate with Jones without their permission. Under a core tag, Jones can accept a one-year deal at the supermax ($241,984 according to Her Hoop Stats) or negotiate a different contract like she did last season.

The Sun missed Jones’ size, efficiency and defense last season, and finding someone who could replace her impact was a tall order. Jones is only 28 years old, has a history with the franchise, and has continued to get better as her roles have gotten larger over the last few seasons.

If healthy, Jones will make a huge difference in covering up a lot of weaknesses that the team showed without her last season, but if the front office has any concerns about her recovery or thinks there are other frontcourt players who could better fit White’s five-out vision than Jones, the team could choose to let her go.

If the Sun opt not to core Jones, the team would have to take a big swing in a different direction at a star who would complement Thomas in the frontcourt.

There are a few superstars in the free agent market who could fill that description: Nneka Ogwumike, Brittney Griner and Candace Parker, but none stand out as realistic options as the front office would have to convince the west coast-based players to move their lives across the country to Uncasville, Connecticut.

But there is an East Coast-based player who might be willing to take an Amtrak to New London if she decides to move on from her current team: Delaware native and former MVP Elena Delle Donne.

Delle Donne has only played in 55 total games since defeating the Sun for a WNBA championship in 2019, dealing with various back injuries and an ankle injury last season. Considering her injury history, signing Delle Donne would be risky for the Sun. But she’s still shown she’s an elite offensive weapon when she’s healthy. Taylor agrees, calling her a “supertalent.”

“I think with our team and organization, she would be great. I don’t know if she would go too far from home, but we’re not far,” Taylor said. “It’s something that we’re discussing and we’ll just have to kind of see where the chips fall.”

Add Locked On Women’s Basketball to your daily routine

Here at The Next, in addition to the 24/7/365 written content our staff provides, we also host the daily Locked On Women’s Basketball podcast. Join us Monday through Saturday each week as we discuss all things WNBA, collegiate basketball, basketball history and much more. Listen wherever you find podcasts or watch on YouTube.

Who do the Sun target to replace Tiffany Hayes?

Connecticut Sun guard Tiffany Hayes (15) drives to the basket as New York Liberty forward Jonquel Jones (35) defends during the 2023 WNBA Semi-final game between the New York Liberty and the Connecticut Sun at Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, Connecticut, USA on October 01, 2023. Photo Credit: Chris Poss

Last year the Sun’s biggest need was finding a dynamic guard, which they found in former All-Star guard Tiffany Hayes. Hayes started every game for the Sun last year and was an important two way player averaging 12.1 points per game on 47.6 percent shooting. Her aggressive downhill attack was a perfect fit for the new offense White wanted to implement, and something the Sun had been missing from their teams before that.

But Hayes announced her retirement from the WNBA in December and the Sun now need a different answer to fill a big hole that Hayes will leave. Taylor said he’s not sure the Sun will find a guard who brings everything Hayes did, but the team is interested in adding a versatile guard who can create for themselves and others.

Several players were headed for free agency and fit the mold of a two-way guard who can score and make plays, but have re-signed with their teams: Jewell Loyd with the Seattle Storm, Kahleah Copper with the Chicago Sky and Betnijah Laney with the Liberty.

The marquee option remaining is former Phoenix Mercury and Dallas Wings point guard Skylar Diggins Smith. She missed last season because of maternity leave, but has been public about her ongoing training and her impending free agency.

In 2022, Diggins Smith led the league in playing time and was the league’s third best scorer with 19.7 points to go with 4.0 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game. Thomas was the team’s de facto ball handler the last two seasons, and proved to be one of the best facilitators in the game, but replacing her primary distributing responsibilities with a true point guard would optimize Thomas’ ability to work in the post.

“[Diggins Smith] can carry a team and can lead a team with her leadership. She’s a winner and competitor [and] certainly will be somebody that we would be interested in if she had interest in us,” Taylor said.

Unrestricted free agents Natasha Cloud and Jordin Canada are two elite defenders and proven floor generals. They wouldn’t be as high profile of a signing as Diggins Smith, but still bring enough offensive versatility to upgrade the team’s backcourt rotation alongside Natisha Hiedeman, Ty Harris and Dijonai Carrington.

The Sun could also look at bringing back Courtney Williams for a third time. Williams will always be a fan favorite in Uncasville, and she showed off her versatility in Chicago by averaging 10.4 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 6.3 assists and posting her first career triple double last season. Most importantly for White, Williams showed she can be a three-point threat.

How do the Sun build a deeper rotation?

Connecticut Sun forward DeWanna Bonner (24) New York Liberty forward Jonquel Jones (35) and Connecticut Sun guard Rebecca Allen (9) fight for rebounding position during the 2023 WNBA Semi-final game between the New York Liberty and the Connecticut Sun at Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, Connecticut, USA on October 01, 2023. Photo Credit: Chris Poss

Four years ago, the Sun made a loud statement in free agency by trading for DeWanna Bonner. Bonner has been an important veteran for the Sun, averaging sss over her last four seasons in Connecticut. She’ll be 37 years in old August, but is coming off one of the best seasons in her career. If Bonner chooses to continue her storied WNBA playing career, Taylor hopes it is in Connecticut.

Bonner has always spoken positively about her experience in Connecticut and has talked about her hunger to win a championship there. Bonner is engaged to Thomas, who currently has one more year on her contract, and it’s hard to imagine either of them going anywhere in 2024.

Bonner received the supermax on her last contract, but it will be interesting to see how the Sun approach a new contract, and if she’s willing to take a discount to help the Sun fill out their roster — something stars have done to make the “superteams” in New York and Las Vegas possible.

Rebecca Allen was another addition in 2023 who provided a spark and versatility on offense and defense, and she got better as she got more comfortable throughout the season.

But with prioritization in full effect for 2024, Allen, an Australian native, was unsure of her WNBA future at least for the short term during exit interviews last October. She said she would have to think about her options, especially with the 2024 Paris Olympics in sight, as a member of the Australian team.

Taylor said he wants Allen to return to the Sun, and he’s spoken with her agent about the upcoming year. To Taylor’s knowledge, Allen wants to play again in the WNBA this season, it just comes down to figuring out what the Olympic schedule looks like for her this summer.

If Allen decides to opt out of the season or doesn’t re-sign with Connecticut, Taylor will be challenged to find another player who can guard multiple positions and give the same value on offense.

Alanna Smith had an impressive comeback season last year and will surely have interest from multiple teams. Tiana Hawkins had a good year for Washington and played alongside Thomas at Maryland. Both would be boosts to the frontcourt, but neither quite matches Allen’s ability to guard the perimeter.

Karlie Samuelson was strung along on short term contracts for Los Angeles over the last few seasons, but proved she could be a good three point shooter off the bench. Nia Coffey is another versatile defensive stalwart who would fit well in the aggressive Sun defense.

The Sun can also plan on adding the No. 10 pick in the 2024 draft to the roster, something they haven’t made a habit of — trading 5 out of 6 first rounders they’ve held since 2020.

Beyond the obvious top-end stars that the Sun won’t be able to draft, Taylor said he thinks the 2024 class is deep and will have a lot of surprising players. The obvious choice of guard or post player will depend on how the Sun fare during free agency.

“The healthiest teams usually win so we want to try to stay healthy,” Taylor said. “Having versatility and people who play multiple positions and adding some experience, I think will help us this season.”

Written by Jacqueline LeBlanc

Jacqueline LeBlanc is the Connecticut Sun beat reporter for The Next. Prior to The Next, Jacqueline has written for Her Hoop Stats and Sports Illustrated.

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.