Women's Watch: WNBA challenged to overcome tough times ahead
Chicago Sky and WNBA training camps open Sunday.
Just 20 days later, on May 25, the Sky will tip off the season on the road against the Minnesota Lynx. A Maya Moore-less Lynx.
While the young, incoming talent in this league continues to excite fans, 2019 will nonetheless be a challenging season for the WNBA.
For starters, there will be some big-time familiar faces missing from the mix.
Moore, one of the best WNBA players in history, announced months ago she will not be playing for the Lynx in 2019 because she is taking the summer off to rest, spend time with family and concentrate on her faith.
The Lynx will already be without longtime WNBA favorite Lindsay Whalen, who retired at the end of last season after a long career as one of the game's best point guards. Also hitting retirement this summer is former Sky guard and Chicago native Cappie Pondexter, a perennial WNBA all-star.
Meanwhile, the WNBA will be without reigning league Most Valuable Player Breanna Stewart, who ruptured her Achilles tendon last month in the EuroLeague championship game.
Stewart, a versatile forward, led the Seattle Storm to the WNBA championship last summer.
In Phoenix, guard Diana Taurasi, arguably the best WNBA player of all time, is out for at least the next 10 to 12 weeks (a big chunk of the WNBA season) after undergoing spinal surgery to relieve pain and pressure in her back.
Meanwhile, the Dallas Wings are uneasy with their top two players in limbo. Point guard Skylar Diggins-Smith announced in October she is pregnant. She will miss part, if not all, of the season. And center Liz Cambage demanded a trade to Los Angeles during the offseason. Dallas executives have been working feverishly to keep Cambage in a Wings uniform and say they have gotten close to a deal multiple times, but nothing has been finalized yet, and Cambage still seems determined to be in Los Angeles.
At the league office in New York, there is also uncertainty as the WNBA still has no permanent president in place. Former president Lisa Borders resigned in October ... and has already left the new position she took, but her replacement at the WNBA has yet to be named.
NBA Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum is currently the interim WNBA President.
Then there's the WNBA collective bargaining issue that will be hanging over the league all season.
WNBA players have been vocal about wanting more pay, a bigger slice of the WNBA pie. They have opted out of their collective bargaining agreement and are ready to revamp the entire deal for future seasons.
That leads me to some updates on last week's column, in which I supported the players' desire to make more money in the United States so that they don't feel compelled to supplement their incomes by playing overseas from October to April and therefore stressing their bodies year-round, making them susceptible to catastrophic, Breanna Stewart-type injuries.
WNBA players reportedly share in 20 percent of league revenues while NBA players get about 50 percent.
But while the idea of taking home a bigger, more equitable slice of the WNBA pie sounds like a no-brainer, I am encouraging WNBA players to tread lightly in their future CBA negotiations regarding this issue. The WNBA, which can't compare to the NBA in revenue and profitability, will be able to afford to pay out only so much more to its players ... and still exist.
And more than anything, fans, journalists who champion the league, and the players themselves, want a league. There are no better salaries, no salaries at all, if there is not a league.
An idea I mentioned last week is for the WNBA to work more closely with players to establish off-season jobs/careers in the U.S. that would be financially beneficial, flexible and easier on the body than six to seven months of playing basketball overseas in the offseason.
For starters, I think league sponsorship deals with big national companies should include full-time and part-time employment opportunities for players. This wouldn't be a charity case. The players would be working for their compensation from these companies, and perhaps would develop into valuable employees in the future.
Ron Howard, director of communications of the WNBA, contacted me the day my column came out last week and told me that it was "really fair and you covered it from a lot of angles, far more in fact than many others have done thus far."
Howard also pointed out the WNBA has made some efforts to work with players in finding professional off-season opportunities in the U.S.
The NBA and WNBA Development Department works to help NBA, WNBA and G-League players enroll in Harvard Business School's "Crossover Into Business" program. Current Sky players Cheyenne Parker and Diamond DeShields have been past participants.
There are also two programs in place to help with player placement in team management and coaching, the NBA Basketball Operations Associate Program and the NBA Assistant Coaches Program.
Finally, regarding salaries, Howard indicated the average WNBA salary is $75,000, up slightly from the $70,000 that I reported. Likewise, the max base salary is up to $117,500 from $100,000. Those figures do not include benefits and in-season housing.
So, here's what we know now: the WNBA salary figures (and benefits) are slightly better than I thought, and the NBA and WNBA have taken some measures to facilitate off-season and future career development for WNBA players. All good.
Still, more can be done to better compensate and reward WNBA players, and to keep them at home during the off-season. I have no doubt that is true.
But my initial concerns and conclusions go unchanged.
WNBA players aren't wrong for wanting more. No woman in the workforce is. But more, in this case, needs to come in a measured, realistic way ... a way that also keeps the WNBA's lights on.