2023 WNBA season primer: All eyes on Aces, Liberty ‘super teams’ plus Brittney Griner’s return as league opens 27th season


The 27th WNBA season already has an electricity about it, thanks to the return of Brittney Griner and the anticipation over two new “super teams” hitting the court, led by reigning champion Las Vegas Aces and the new-look New York Liberty. Fans will get their first view of all of it when the regular season tips off this weekend, kicking off an expanded 40-game schedule for each team that features every franchise in action over Friday and Saturday.

The Aces kept nearly every piece from their championship team and then added another superstar to their roster with two-time WNBA MVP Candace Parker. But Las Vegas will open the season without head coach Becky Hammon after she was suspended for two games without pay following a month-long investigation into allegations by former Aces player Dearica Hamby, who claimed to have been bullied and manipulated for being pregnant.

Meanwhile, the Liberty signed two MVPs of their own in 2018 MVP Breanna Stewart and 2021 winner Jonquel Jones, plus they added last year’s assists leader Courtney Vandersloot.

“I think we put [together] a really good team — we’ve had a great offseason,” Liberty head coach Sandy Brondello told media on Tuesday. “But you know, ‘on paper’ doesn’t mean anything at the moment. We haven’t had much of a training camp to be quite honest with all our players — the big three coming in — and that’s unfortunate, but it is what it is. I think we’ll just have patience early, but these players really want to win.”

As for Griner’s first season back in the league following a nearly 10-month detainment in Russia, Phoenix’s second-year head coach Vanessa Nygaard told media earlier this week that they’re preparing for the spotlight to follow them throughout the year.

“When we go to the city, and it’s our first game there, that’s going to be a ‘BG’ game, just like it was for us last year,” Nygaard said. “But this year, it’ll be filled with joy. And we know our W fans are going to be excited to see her wherever we go. So that’s going to be great.”

The eight-time WNBA All-Star and two-time Defensive Player of the Year will play her first two regular season games over the weekend – against the Sparks in L.A. on Friday and at home vs. the Chicago Sky on Sunday. Last season, Griner was named an honorary All-Star for the 2022 game in Chicago, where players from both teams took the court in the second half wearing Griner’s iconic No. 42 as a “BG 42” logo adorned the court.

As far as providing a safe space for Griner, whom Nygaard recognizes may be “somewhat of a divisive media figure now, too,” coach confirmed that the Mercury – as well as all teams in the league – will have a security presence with them throughout the season.

“I think just controlling her availability, and then using the rest of our staff — myself included — to kind of take a little bit of that pressure off of her,” she added. “You know, there are parts of it, she can’t say too much — there’s a book deal, y’all. It’s going to be a great movie, we can’t ruin it.”

Read on as On Her Turf takes a look at top storylines, viewing options, what’s new this season and what to know about each team ahead of Friday’s regular season tipoff.

RELATED: Las Vegas head coach Becky Hammon denies bullying former player after WNBA sanctions

How to watch the 2023 WNBA season

Last week, the league announced 205 live games will air across a range of channels that includes ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN3, ABC, CBS, CBS Sports Network, Paramount+, ION, NBA TV and Amazon Prime Video. Games will also be livestreamed on Twitter as well as on Meta Quest VR headsets in Meta Horizon Worlds and in the XTADIUM app.

Among the highlights in this year’s broadcast schedule is a nine-game opening weekend featuring every team in action over Friday and Saturday, plus three more matchups on Sunday. ESPN platforms will air four marquee games on opening weekend, beginning Friday night as Brittney Griner and the Phoenix Mercury visit the Los Angeles Sparks (ESPN and ESPN+, 11 p.m. ET). On Saturday, ABC has a doubleheader featuring the Atlanta Dream at the Dallas Wings (1 p.m. ET) and the defending champion Las Vegas Aces at the Seattle Storm (3 p.m. ET). Weekend coverage wraps on Sunday as the Mercury host the Chicago Sky (ESPN and ESPN+, 4 p.m. ET).

Additionally, the 2023 AT&T WNBA All-Star Game in Las Vegas will air for the first time in primetime on Saturday, July 15, at 8:30 p.m. ET on ABC. Also that weekend, the Starry WNBA Three-Point Contest and Kia WNBA Skills Challenge will air on ESPN on July 14 at 4 p.m. ET. Finally, ESPN platforms will broadcast every game of the WNBA Playoffs, which will feature up to 27 games including the WNBA Finals.

What’s new for the 2023 WNBA season?

Expanded schedule: The 2023 season features a record-high 40 games per team, up four games from the previous high of 36 last season. Each team will play 20 home games and 20 road games. The season will conclude on a high note as all 12 teams will be in action on the final day — Sunday, Sept. 10 — with plenty of playoff implications on the line.

Preseason note worth revisiting: Preseason action began May 5 but the highlight came Saturday, May 13, when the Chicago Sky beat the Minnesota Lynx in front of a sold-out crowd of more than 19,000 fans in Toronto. It marked the first time since 2011 that the league played an international game and the first time ever in Canada.

Key rules changes: For the 2023 season, the WNBA will implement a Coach’s Challenge for the first time. The new challenge rule allows for one challenge per team, per game (including overtime), and will trigger an instant-replay review of three specific events: a called foul on their own team, a called out-of-bounds violation, or a called goaltending or basket interference violation. The league also will put into effect modified rules for out-of-bounds call reviews, transition take fouls, resumption of play procedures and bench conduct.

Expanded use of charter flights: In April, the WNBA announced it would expand the use of charter flights to include back-to-back regular-season games during the 2023 season as well as all playoff games.

Key dates for 2023 WNBA season

  • May 19:  Regular season begins
  • July 13-17: WNBA All-Star break
  • July 15: WNBA All-Star Game
  • July 14: Mid-season cut-down date
  • July 15: Mid-season
  • Aug. 7: Trade deadline, 8 p.m. ET
  • Aug. 15: WNBA Commissioner’s Cup Championship
  • Aug. 28: Player playoff eligibility from waivers, 5 p.m. ET
  • Sept. 10: Regular season ends
  • Sept. 13: WNBA Playoffs begin
  • Oct. 20: Last possible Finals game date

The scoop: What to know about each franchise ahead of the 2023 WNBA season


Atlanta Dream

  • Last season: 14-22 (10th)
  • Head coach: Tanisha Wright (second year with Dream)
  • Need to know: The Dream’s roster is headlined by reigning WNBA Rookie of the Year Rhyne Howard, and Atlanta used trades to obtain Allisha Gray from Dallas and Danielle Robinson from Indiana. From the 2023 draft, the Dream added Stanford’s Haley Jones with the No. 6 overall pick and South Carolina’s Laeticia Amihere at No. 8.

Chicago Sky 

  • Last season: 26-10 (2nd)
  • Head coach: James Wade (fifth year with Sky)
  • Need to know: Expect a rebuilding season for last year’s Eastern Conference champions, who lost a slew of players including Candace Parker, Courtney Vandersloot and Emma Meessemen. But they’ve got two-time All-Star Kahleah Copper coming back and signed veteran free agents Courtney Williams and Elizabeth Williams.

Connecticut Sun

  • Last season: 25-11 (3rd)
  • Head coach: Stephanie White (first year as head coach)
  • Need to know: The Sun are facing a new era after head coach Curt Miller left to join the LA Sparks, while 2021 MVP Jonquel Jones moved on to New York and Jasmine Thomas joined Miller in L.A. But look to Brionna Jones, the reigning Sixth Player of the Year, to move into Jones’ role full time alongside DeWanna Bonner and Alyssa ThomasNew faces include Rebecca Allen from New York and Ty Harris from Dallas. On the sidelines, White has two former W players making their pro coaching debuts as assistants: Briann January and Abi Olajuwan. January played 14 seasons in the league and was a seven-time All-Defensive pick. Olajuwan, the daughter of Hall of Famer and NBA legend Hakeem Olajuwan, was drafted by Chicago and played with Tulsa.

Indiana Fever

  • Last season: 5-31 (12th)
  • Head coach: Christie Sides (first year as head coach)
  • Need to know: The Fever took South Carolina standout Aliyah Boston with the No. 1 pick the 2023 draft, and they signed free agent Erica Wheeler in the offseason, bringing back the player who, in 2019 as a member of the Fever, became the first undrafted player to win the All-Star Game MVP award. On the sidelines, former Fever player Karima Christmas-Kelly, who won a championship with the Fever in 2012 and played 10 W seasons, returns to the franchise as an assistant.

New York Liberty

  • Last season: 16-20 (7th)
  • Head coach: Sandy Brondello (second year with Liberty, 10th year in league as head coach)
  • Need to know: New York begins its quest for its first title in franchise history after trading for former league MVP Jonquel Jones and using free agency to sign two-time champion and two-time Finals MVP Breanna Stewart plus with six-time WNBA assists leader Courtney Vandersloot. The star trio joins a Liberty roster that already includes 2022 All-WNBA pick Sabrina Ionescu.

Washington Mystics

  • Last season: 22-14 (5th)
  • Head coach: Eric Thibault (first year as head coach)
  • Need to know: Two-time WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne says she’s feeling fully healthy after back issues kept her sidelines for most of the past three seasons, and she’ll be surrounded by many of the 2019 title-winning teammates including Natasha Cloud, Myisha Hines-Allen, Ariel Atkins, Tianna Hawkins and Kristi Toliver. who re-joined the Mystics in free agency this past winter after a stint with the Sparks. Also back is Shakira Austin, who contended for 2022 Rookie of the Year, while 2022 All-Defensive Team pick Brittney Sykes joins the roster after signing as a free agent. Former assistant Eric Thibault is now head coach after 10 seasons as an assistant to his father, current Mystics GM Mike Thibault.


Dallas Wings

  • Last season: 18-18 (6th)
  • Head coach: Latricia Trammell (first year as head coach)
  • Need to know: The Wings added some star power to support Arike Ogunbowale when they obtained three-time champ Natasha Howard and 2020 Rookie of the Year Crystal Dangerfield via a trade from New York plus Diamond DeShields in a trade from Phoenix. Additionally, Dallas drafted Villanova standout Maddy Siegrist, who led the NCAA in scoring last season. Former LA Sparks assistant Latricia Trammel will make her head coaching debut in Dallas this season.

Las Vegas Aces

  • Last season: 26-10 (1st)
  • Head coach: Becky Hammon (second year with Aces)
  • Need to know: The defending WNBA champions and reigning Commissioner’s Cup champs added two-time league MVP Candace Parker to a team that earned multiple honors in 2022 including MVP and Defensive POY A’ja Wilson, Most Improved Player Jackie Young, All-Star Game MVP Kelsey Plum and Commissioner’s Cup Championship MVP Chelsea Gray.

Los Angeles Sparks

  • Last season: 13-23 (11th)
  • Head coach: Curt Miller (first year with Sparks, eighth year in league as head coach)
  • Need to know: Curt Miller, who guided Connecticut to the WNBA Finals in 2022 and 2019, will look to work his magic as head coach for Los Angeles. The Sparks re-signed sisters Nneka and Chiney Ogumike during the offseason and also fortified the roster by adding Dearica Hamby from Las Vegas and Azura Stevens from Chicago.

Minnesota Lynx

  • Last season: 14-22 (9th)
  • Head coach: Cheryl Reeve (15th year with Lynx, 15th year in league as head coach)
  • Need to know: It’s the start of a new era for Minnesota, who is without eight-time All-Star Sylvia Fowles after her retirement last season. Forward Napheesa Collier, a former Rookie of the Year, will aim to take over leadership duties, while former Maryland standout and 2023 No. 2 overall pick Diamond Miller aims to become a franchise star. The Lynx will retire Fowles’ number 34 on Sunday, June 11, just two days after the franchise celebrates its 25th anniversary and honors the top 25 players in Lynx history.

Phoenix Mercury

  • Last season: 15-21 (8th)
  • Head coach: Vanessa Nygaard (second year with Mercury)
  • Need to know: Along with all things “BG,” the Mercury come in hot behind the won’t-quit talent of 10-time All-Star Diana Taurasi, who’s entering her 19th season and turns 41 in June. She’s already the league’s career leader in points (9,693) and needs just 307 points to become the first player in league history to reach the 10,000-point mark. Her 9,693 points are 2,205 more than that of No. 2 ranked Tina Thompson (7,488) and 3,588 more than that of Candace Parker (6,412), the next-highest ranked active player. Teammate Skylar Diggins-Smith is currently on maternity leave after the birth of her second child, but of note, the team added 2021 Rookie of the Year Michaela Onyenwere from New York in a three-team trade.

Seattle Storm

  • Last season: 22-14 (4th)
  • Head coach: Noelle Quinn (third year with Storm)
  • Need to know: The Storm face a few questions marks without Breanna Stewart, who joined the Liberty, and the now-retired Sue Bird. However, they’ve brought back fan-favorite Sami Whitcomb as a free agent and also signed free agent Kia Nurse. The Storm will retire Bird’s No. 10 on Sunday, June 11, when they host Washington at home.

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Las Vegas head coach Becky Hammon denies bullying former player after WNBA sanctions


HENDERSON, Nev. (AP) — Las Vegas coach Becky Hammon denied Wednesday that former Aces player Dearica Hamby was bullied on her team for being pregnant, saying any ill feelings between the two came from Hamby being traded.

Hammon, one of the league’s marquee figures, said at a news conference she did nothing to warrant discipline from the WNBA, which suspended her for two games without pay Tuesday after a monthslong investigation into Hamby’s allegations.

“I’ll take my little lump on the chin and keep it moving,” Hammon said. “We’re bigger than this. It’s just not who the Aces are. It’s not who I am. And so, yeah, everybody’s disappointed in the situation, but at the end of the day, we know who we are and so we go to sleep every night in that truth.”

Hammon said she once asked Hamby about her pregnancy, but didn’t get into the specifics of what she said.

“I guess you’d have to ask for (the league’s) interpretation,” Hammon said. “But, yeah, that from my understanding was my misstep, if you will.”

Hammon, who in her first season last year led the Aces to the WNBA championship, spent eight seasons as an assistant coach for the San Antonio Spurs and is considered one of the rising stars in the basketball coaching world. She has been linked to the vacant Toronto Raptors job.

The WNBA also rescinded the Aces’ first-round pick in the 2025 draft on Tuesday for a different issue — a violation of league rules regarding impermissible player benefits involving Hamby, who was traded to the Los Angeles Sparks on Jan. 21.

The trade allowed the Aces to clear up salary-cap space to sign former two-time WNBA MVP Candace Parker.

“We made the decision to move Hamby because we could get three bodies in for her one contract,” Hammon said. “I think it’s very evident who we signed why we made the move, but (Hamby’s pregnancy) was never an issue and it was never the reason she was traded. It just wasn’t. It came down to math and business. That’s all it was. Nothing personal.

“I had a great relationship with Hamby the whole time, which is probably why she felt the way she did. It feels like a betrayal. It’s a crappy part of my job, but somebody’s got to be the bearer of bad news.”

Hamby said after the Sparks’ practice Tuesday she wanted “to move forward and focus on where I am today.” However, she said she “and the union will continue to explore our options.”

The union was especially critical that Hammon and the Aces weren’t more severely punished, saying in a statement: “Where in this decision does this team or any other team across the league learn the lesson that respect in the workplace is the highest standard and a player’s dignity cannot be manipulated?”

The WNBA said it interviewed 33 people and reviewed texts, emails and other documents. Hammon said none of the current Aces players were interviewed, and to her knowledge the only player the league spoke with was former Las Vegas player Liz Cambage.

Hammon also said she sent no negative texts or emails to Hamby.

“I actually haven’t seen that Dearica said she received nasty texts from us,” Hammon said. “I think that’s completely fabricated by somebody on the outside that doesn’t know what the hell’s going on.”

The Aces issued a statement Tuesday stating their support for Hammon.

“The WNBA’s determinations about Becky Hammon are inconsistent with what we know and love about her,” the statement read. “Becky is a caring human being who forges close personal relationships with her players.”

Hammon said she especially appreciated the support of owner Mark Davis, president Nikki Fargas and her players.

“That’s all I need to keep it moving,” she said.

Hammon became the first woman to assume the head duties in an NBA game when Gregg Popovich was ejected during a December 2020 game against the Los Angeles Lakers. Hammon also coached the Spurs to the 2015 NBA Summer League title.

She will be enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in August. She was a six-time WNBA All-Star and became the seventh player to eclipse 5,000 career points.

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Kelsey Plum aims to ease transition from college to pros with inaugural ‘Dawg Class’


Opening day for the WNBA season is still a month away, but 2023 is already off to a dream start for Las Vegas Aces’ All-Star guard Kelsey Plum. For starters, the 28-year-old former No. 1 draft pick comes in off her most prolific year to date, averaging career highs of 20.2 points (second most in the regular season) and 5.1 assists per game in 2022, which ended with the Aces winning the WNBA championship for the first time in franchise history.

She’s also starting the season on a newlywed high after marrying NFL tight end Darren Wallen on March 4. But perhaps what really has Plum excited is the successful launch of a deeply personal project, the Kelsey Plum Dawg Class powered by UA Next. Held this past April 14-16 at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, Plum partnered with sponsor Under Armour to host a three-day camp designed to help women college athletes navigate the journey from college basketball to the professional level.

“The impact that we’ve already made in terms of the growth that these women have [experienced] in just a short amount of time is really cool to see,” Plum told On Her Turf from Bradenton, where she joined the nine chosen athletes in all training sessions and acted as the camp’s 10th player – in honor of her jersey No. 10.

“When you talk about making an impact, Under Armour has just thrown the kitchen sink at this with the resources in terms of trainers, strength and conditioning, mental performance — really kind of attacking all sides of what it takes to be able to grow as a player. I’m really proud to be a part of it, and this is beyond my expectations.”

Plum’s now-famous “dawg mentality” is reflected in every aspect of the class, which featured a star-studded lineup of college guards including recent No. 2 WNBA draft pick Diamond Miller (Maryland), Azzi Fudd (UConn), Deja Kelly(UNC), Georgia Amoore (Virginia Tech), Gianna Kneepkens (Utah), Hailey Van Lith (transfer portal, Louisville), KK Bransford (Notre Dame), Raven Johnson (South Carolina) and Rori Harmon (Texas).

Each guard was hand-picked by Plum for their on-court skills as well as their shared mentality and commitment, which she hopes to encourage by providing players with tools and insights to succeed. Plum’s project has already caught the attention of fellow players including Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, Natasha Cloud and Chelsea Gray.

“It’s been really cool to see a lot of my colleagues in the W just reach out and say, ‘Hey, this is really cool, what you’re doing. This is what we need to grow the game, and this matters,” said Plum. “This is a baby step to a bigger vision, but I think that when you have something, you’ve got to share it. It’s like paying it forward. I’ve had people in my life like a Sue Bird or Diana (Taurasi) mentor me, and I know how much it impacted my life. And so if I can figure out a way to do that for them — or at least put them in touch with someone that can do that for them — that to me is purposeful.”

To that end, Plum enlisted members of her own teams on and off the court to participate in the weekend, which consisted of multiple on-court sessions each day with Plum and her performance team, as well as off-court sessions with experts on three key areas: mental preparation, brand building and first-hand accounts of making the jump to the pros.

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“It’s so crazy because I don’t know a lot of information,” said Miller, who was among the headliners at the WNBA Draft in New York just four days before the start of Dawg Class. “I’m literally still trying to figure it out. I mean, the transition is way quicker than you think. I knew it was quick, but when you’re in the midst of it, you realize that every day can’t be wasted and you’re constantly doing something – that really took me by surprise.”

Golf pro and sport performance coach David Elaimy addressed mental preparation and combatting those inevitable external and internal interferences, while an expert panel including Plum talked personal brand building, navigating brand partnerships and “blocking the noise.” Vegas teammate Gray also shared her journey to the pros, noting challenges she faced during her rookie year and how she persevered, and addressing overall differences between being a college and professional athlete.

“One thing about this camp is it’s short but there are a lot of workouts in one day, and I forgot how much that takes a toll on your body,” said Miller, who’ll report to the Minnesota Lynx’s training camp on April 30. “When you take a break and then come back, your body’s adjusting to the speed of the game — and you still have to be consistent. And one thing I know, training camp is no joke. When you go into the W, you’re taking someone’s job, so there’s no time to feel like my body hurts or I’m tired, because nobody cares. …You just got to push through because training camp is going to be war.”

Plum said her own bumpy experience moving from college to pro basketball was the original impetus for Dawg Class. Despite leaving the Washington Huskies program having set the single-season scoring record (1,109 points) and the NCAA career scoring record (3,527 points) and going as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 WNBA Draft, she struggled to navigate the transition. Last summer, after being named All-Star Game MVP in her first appearance, Plum revealed that she had suffered a years-long battle with anxiety and depression that shook her confidence and clouded her ability to define herself outside of the context of basketball.

“I had everything on paper that looked like I should have been very happy and fulfilled, but internally, I was just absolutely broken,” Plum shared. “When I got to the pro level, I struggled. My performance was always tied in with my confidence, so when I didn’t perform well, I didn’t have any confidence. And that was really detrimental to my mental health. …I was taking heavy medication, I definitely had suicidal ideations. I wasn’t talking to anyone; I wasn’t figuring out how to get help. And a lot of times, when you get to that spot, you don’t even realize you’re in the hole until it’s so deep, and you look up and you feel helpless. This camp has stemmed from me feeling like, OK, helpless is a terrible feeling that you don’t want any human to feel.

“And so this camp is about really trying to answer those questions and being vulnerable, like, ‘Hey, listen, I was the No. 1 pick, and I went through this.’ Everyone goes through this, whether we want to talk about it or not, so let’s talk about it. Let’s open up the discussion for how I got there and then how I got out of it, and what’s allowed me to now be mentally at the freshest, healthiest point in my life.”

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