Elena Delle Donne is on the move.
One of the best women basketball players on the planet, the Chicago Sky star and Olympic gold medalist is going into her fourth professional season and, as such, is a restricted free agent. She has announced her intention to sit out the 2017 season until she becomes unrestricted, and able to sign with any team.
Like the NBA, players in the WNBA have restricted free agency in their fourth season; that is, a team signing the player to an offer sheet could lose the player if the team drafting the player matches the offer. A year later, players can become unrestricted free agents and can sign with any team.
Of course, much has been made about how, after 20 seasons, a single NBA contract could fund the entire pay scale for the WNBA’s teams, such is the imbalance in wealth between the two leagues.
As such, you might consider whether Delle Donne’s move is designed to call attention to this equality and the fact that many WNBA players make exponentially more money in foreign leagues that play in the fall and winter.
But there’s a more personal reason for Delle Donne to want to become a free agent a year earlier. And that reason has informed many of her decisions in life.
Delle Donne has an older sister, Lizzie, who was born with cerebral palsy. Elena chose not to attend the University of Connecticut, and face life without her sister, and chose to attend Delaware. It is also because of that strong family connection that Elena has not signed a contract to play for a European team.
Rumors have abounded that Elena Delle Donne is angling for a WNBA team close to her family’s home, whether it is the Washington Mystics or the New York Liberty. Both are about a two-hour drive from Wilmington.
The speculation is especially acute in Washington, which is the only one of the current WNBA franchises to never play a WNBA Finals contest. Too, the attendance has sank from 18,000 per game in the beginning to the point where a team in a dying league — the five-team Arena Football League — is being slated to take over as the Verizon Center’s primary summer tenant.
Indeed, plans are being made to move the Mystics to a remote area of the District of Columbia to play in a planned Washington Wizards-owned practice court which will seat somewhere around 4,200.
With Elena Delle Donne in the lineup, they’re going to need a bigger building.