The IX: Basketball Wednesday with Howard Megdal, May 1, 2019

WNBA free agency is broken — Interview with Marina Mabrey — Must-click women's basketball links

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WNBA free agency is broken

The news that Chelsea Gray signed Tuesday with the Los Angeles Sparks came as a surprise to no one.

The one-year, $115,000 deal was considered a fait accompli by those in the league, in the sense that Gray preferred to remain in Los Angeles.

But let’s unpack a bit here. Gray sat, available to any/all teams who wished to pursue her, for the duration of the WNBA offseason. She is an otherworldly talent, between her efficient rainbow threes, to her impossible-to-stop downhill treks to the basket, and elite ability to find teammates. In fact, more than one WNBA talent evaluator has waived away concerns about first-year head coach Derek Fisher by invoking Gray’s abilities as a magical cure to any spacing concerns with a big-heavy Sparks lineup.

It is easy to find teams where she’d have been an upgrade. Indeed, the hard part is finding teams that wouldn’t have been best-served giving her a max deal for as many years as allowed.

And yet: this didn’t happen. This wasn’t even a case where Gray could bring a huge offer back to the Sparks and get them to increase their offer to her, not with a max salary limit from the CBA, not even to get her more years in security.

Now, some caveats: it may well be that with a CBA negotiation in progress, Gray and her agent, the able Allison Galer of Disrupt the Game, didn’t WANT to lock her in under the current salary structure.

Even so: that would indicate the inherent limitations of both the status quo and why a new deal needs to provide for fundamentally different movement options, whether we’re talking about the coring rule (which all but locks in a player drafted to a team through the end of her 20s, from rookie scale to restricted free agency to multiple opportunities to core her once that ends) or the low ceiling limiting how aggressively teams can pursue the Chelsea Gray-level players who do hit the market.

The resulting player movement, incidentally, will also drive offseason interest in the league. There’s really no one losing here. It should be an area of common ground for everyone involved.

This Week in Women’s Basketball

Reminder: First, the underlined words are the links. Second. CLICK these, even if you’ve already read them. Clicks = Attention from editors, producers and webmasters. Third, if you want to push out stuff you’ve written or read, email me!

Even before she became an IG star at the White House, Natalie Weiner captured what makes Kalani Brown so intriguing.

Lots of WNBA milestones ahead in 2019, Kurtis Zimmerman broke them down by category.

Diamond DeShields is endlessly entertaining.

If Baylor and Notre Dame have moved you to poetry, you’re not alone.

Great interview with Brian Agler here, and Nicki Collen here.

Gabriella Levine lays out the case to pay WNBA players more like the lawyer she is.

Jenn Hatfield lays out the history of top picks getting traded to analyze the Chiney Ogwumike deal.

And hear from Chiney herself, courtesy of Sarah Spain.

Masterful look at the Baylor visit to the White House by the great Lindsay Gibbs.

Is Nike’s spending on women’s athletes keeping up with its noble rhetoric?

Point of personal privilege: Sloane Martin is fantastic, and the Lynx are lucky to get her.

Second point of personal privilege: the WNBA will miss you, John Focke.

(Notice how the Lynx keep on bringing in quality people? Yes, me too.)

Five at The IX: Marina Mabrey, Los Angeles Sparks

I spoke to Marina during Final Four weekend, but with an eye on the professional career ahead of her.

HOWARD MEGDAL: At the next level, WNBA side. When you think about your aspirations there, your goals there, what do you think stands out as the number one skill set that you can translate to the most?

MARINA MABREY: I feel like my ability to shoot the ball translates, but also my ability to play the one or the two. Obviously my regular position is a two guard, so I haven’t been able to do that a lot. I feel like being versatile is how I stick out.

HOWARD MEGDAL: You were kind of pressed into duty during that last year. I feel like the necessity has really prepared you for the league in a way that otherwise maybe you wouldn’t have had a chance to do before you got here. So many guards that you see get to the league, and then have to learn the role. Have you thought about the way in which that’s helped you?

MARINA MABREY: I feel like it’s helped me because if there’s somebody at my position at the two, that’s playing, I can still play at the one. Or if there’s somebody already at the one, I can play at the two. I feel like it will give me a better chance at getting on the floor quicker.

HOWARD MEGDAL: Do you see that as an opportunity you’ve created while you’ve been here? Or do you think you came in this way?

MARINA MABREY: No, it definitely felt created here. I was a two and only a two when I got here. And if adversity had not hit, I would still be a two and only a two. I feel like it was a really hard road to get to being able to be a pretty sufficient point guard. But I feel like I put the time and the work into what I am now. I feel like either way, it’s preparing me to be able to get that playing time.

HOWARD MEGDAL: There’s another aspect of your game that I don’t feel like gets enough attention which is the defensive side of the ball. If you look at Synergy of each of the last two years, you’re in the top ten percent in terms of defensive points per possession. And I’m just wondering if you think the size that you bring in relative to who you’re playing is why, and if not, where do you think that comes from?

MARINA MABREY: I feel like I try to play to my advantage. My advantage is not getting up, but getting under people. But it’s using my length. So if I can guard you from six feet back and still guard you, and you cannot be able to shoot it, that’s what I use to my advantage. So obviously, I’m not the quickest person on the court, but if I can play my angles right, and I can make people push it out further, and further, and further, and further, I don’t have to do as much work once they get the ball. I feel like that’s the key to me being effective.

HOWARD MEGDAL: You come out of Jersey where we’ve had no shortage of great players through the years. What do you think allows for there to be such a pipeline of talent coming out of the state?

MARINA MABREY: I feel like, just in general, people from Jersey are competitive. So I feel like that brings a level of intensity no matter what. Just being so competitive to different states. And then also being able to combine that with more talent and go and play in New York and New Jersey tournaments at the park. I feel like it all goes down at the park in Jersey, so I feel like that has helped me become a good player because we play against women and men. And so you get the physicality and you also get the skill set to get all kinds of different views from the men’s game and the women’s game when we played with men. I think that helped me a lot, coming from Jersey.

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By Lindsay Gibbs, @Linzsports ThinkProgress
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal High Post Hoops
Thursdays: Golf
By Carly Grenfell, @Carlygren
Fridays: Hockey
By: Erica Ayala, @ELindsay08 NWHL Broadcaster

Written by The IX Team