January 5, 2023
2023 WNBA free agency preview: Indiana Fever
Every time a bell rings, Lin Dunn will sign a wing
When Lin Dunn was hired to be the General Manager of the Indiana Fever, she provided the organization with a three-year plan to guide the franchise back into a stable place. Her goals throughout her first season running the team were about improvement and growth.
Now, she is about to start her first full free agency period as interim GM. She signed a few players last offseason, but Tamika Catchings was the Fever’s lead decision maker when free agency opened, and she made moves for the first few weeks of the player movement period.
This time, it will be different. And the context of the Fever roster is completely different, too. Six of the Fever’s top-11 players in total minutes last season weren’t with Indiana when free agency began last year. So much changed for the franchise in 2022.
Dunn will try to add to that group.
“To be honest with you, we will look into free agency strongly to hopefully bring at least two veterans, not only great players but great people, into this franchise,” Dunn said at the end of the 2022 campaign. She noted that the franchise has the necessary salary cap space to make additions (roughly $527k, per Her Hoop Stats) and that she is hoping the franchise can be one of the teams that is battling for a postseason berth in the coming season.
That context is important. The Indiana Fever pivoted into a new era last season, and they have a new head coach, Christie Sides, for the coming campaign. The hope is that all of those alterations to the roster and coaching staff will lead to playoff basketball, or at least a regular season record that nearly leads to it.
“Free agency will be key for us… we will be able to get into the, I guess you would call it, competitive race for free agents a little bit more aggressively,” Dunn added when discussing the team’s resources.
Of the 12 players who finished the 2022 campaign on the Fever roster, five (Tiffany Mitchell, Victoria Vivians, Emma Cannon, Khayla Pointer, and Rennia Davis) are set to become free agents, though only Mitchell is an unrestricted free agent. The other four could be restricted or reserved free agents, meaning Indiana has the means to keep them no matter what if they are so inclined.
However, given that Dunn stated in her exit interview last season that the team will be looking to “bring at least two veterans… into this franchise,” and that the Fever have two of the top-seven picks in the 2023 WNBA draft, it seems likely that many of those players will be competing for camp deals and an opportunity to remain with Indiana going forward. Add in two players to the mix who had their contract suspended last season — Bernadett Hatar and Chelsey Perry — and the situation becomes even muddier. Dunn will have some tough choices to make between retaining former players and adding new ones.
Dunn seems to be most focused on adding proven WNBA talents to the team — not simply experience alone. If Dunn wants to improve the roster with vets and hopes to make the playoffs, talent — as opposed to years of service — seems like the most important trait for Indiana in free agency.
That seems like a “duh” statement, but the Fever have been after youth and veteran knowhow with their recent additions. That may not be the case this time around as the team looks to take the next step after a five-win season in 2022.
In the absence of trades, it’s clear what position Dunn needs to pursue: wings. On the interior, the Fever already have NaLyssa Smith, Queen Egbo, and Emily Engstler under contract for next season, and barring a true shock, add Aliyah Boston to that group with the top overall pick in the 2023 draft. In that case, frontcourt depth won’t be necessary for the Fever in free agency.
At guard, Indiana already projects to have Danielle Robinson, Destanni Henderson, Kelsey Mitchell, and Lexie Hull under contract. Ball handling depth is valuable, but the red and blue already have talent and developing contributors in the backcourt.
On the wing, though, the Fever are light. Really light. If Vivians and T. Mitchell depart in free agency, the Fever have essentially no depth at those positions outside of trying huge lineups with Engstler on the wing or smaller units with Hull at the small forward spot. Those aren’t awful options, but if the Fever want to improve their roster and want to push for the postseason, they’ll need upgrades.
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Can they get someone like Alysha Clark, who is coming off of a solid season with the Washington Mystics? Or Nia Coffey, who spent last season with the Atlanta Dream playing under Sides? It’s unclear exactly what the Indiana Fever are looking for in free agency, but those two are extremely good fits on paper.
There are other names out there at several positions that make sense, but any perimeter-minded forward would be of great value to the Fever, especially if they can play multiple positions. That would help Sides have more lineup options, a necessary advantage for a rebuilding team.
With many draft picks and tons of cap space available, the Fever could be busy in free agency. Last year, they brought 22 players in to training camp and slowly cut down the roster to 12. With a new head coach, tons of young talents, and roster changes coming, it wouldn’t be surprising to see something similar happen again.
That said, the headline for Fever free agency should be Dunn’s pursuit of veteran free agents that can help the team improve in the short-term. Everything else that happens after that will likely be a response to the new look of the team. For example, if the team grabs two excellent defenders on the wing early in free agency, then Dunn may look for more offensive-minded ancillary players to fill out the squad. The inverse is also true, and the position of the best players added will matter significantly.
Where Dunn ultimately decides to go with her signings will be telling of the team’s hopes for the coming season. Signing younger, growing players would have merit for a building roster, but that would signal that the Fever are still playing the long game. More established veterans being brought in would telegraph that Indiana wants to make some noise this season. The team’s actions will speak louder than their words can in terms of identifying the next steps toward contending, whenever that may happen.
Armed with many successful draft picks from last season, a fringe All-Star talent in Kelsey Mitchell, the number one overall pick, and tons of salary cap space, the upcoming offseason and free agency period should be a busy one for the Indiana Fever. With Lin Dunn at the helm for her first full offseason, the Fever’s three-year plan will finally start to take shape.