LAS VEGAS (AP) — Several of the WNBA’s marquee players are flexing newly gained leverage to make demands on the league, including forcing trades and dictating when they’ll play.
Candace Parker is sitting out at least the first half of the upcoming WNBA season. Diana Taurasi had announced earlier that she is sitting out the entire season. Now, Sylvia Fowles may be joining them on the sidelines if she doesn’t get the trade she has requested.
Nonetheless, collectively they represent a growing concern for the WNBA.
Players putting their own needs ahead of the league’s interests.
“They are starting to become like every other league,” U.S. national team coach Geno Auriemma said at training camp on Wednesday. “Players are starting to do what they think is in their best interest. Starting to think about their future. Sometimes that’s not always popular. … The league is strong and viable. It’s proven itself. New stars will pop up.”
The WNBA has the option to take action against players.
The CBA that was ratified before last season gives the league and teams more power to fine players under contract who miss time for overseas commitments. Parker and Fowles haven’t signed WNBA contracts yet, and Taurasi is on the suspended list so none of them can be fined.
It’s unclear if the teams or league will take action against other players, but it could be a growing list. A handful of players skip training camps or miss a few games to start each season while fulfilling their overseas contracts.
Taurasi and Parker play for the same Russian team during the WNBA offseason, but insist that there was no discussion between them and that it is just a coincidence that they would all be missing time. But while Taurasi and Parker are apparently happy with their WNBA teams in Phoenix and Los Angeles, respectively, — saying they are just resting their bodies — Fowles wants out of Chicago.
The 6-foot-5 center, who plays in China, isn’t the first WNBA player to demand a trade. Former league MVP and New York native Tina Charles asked Connecticut to trade her before last season to the Liberty.
Some of the players’ leverage stems from playing overseas, where now they can make 10 times more than the maximum $115,000 WNBA salary. With that kind of financial security players feel they can afford to miss a WNBA season.
Former WNBA All-Star Dawn Staley understands the shift in power, but isn’t thrilled about it. When her playing days ended at Virginia, the only option was to go overseas. Current WNBA players grew up knowing they could play professionally in the United States.
“Players are creating options for themselves when pretty much you had to do what you were told to do in the past,” said Staley, assistant national team coach who played eight years in the WNBA. “I don’t think that’s a bad thing either. We need to find a happy medium between all of those things. We have to take care of our league. I don’t think this helps in taking care of our league.”
Taurasi is confident the decisions of a handful of players won’t lead to the demise of the WNBA.
“This league will be fine,” said Taurasi, who earns near $1.5 million playing in Russia. “I’m just trying to make sure I can keep playing in the league for a long time.”
Taurasi couldn’t remember the last time that she ever had more than a week away from basketball without an injury being involved. She missed the end of her Russian club team’s season because of a broken bone in her left wrist.
By skipping the WNBA season, she’ll have six months to herself.
“I’ll be in Los Angeles, doing pilates and other things to keep me in shape. I might even show up on some courts in L.A. and see if I can get into a game or two,” Taurasi, 32, said smiling.
Parker, 29, also wants to rest, heal and spend time with her family.
“I think in the past I’ve always done what’s better for the group and not myself,” she told The Associated Press on Wednesday. “I love the WNBA and hope to play in it for many more years. Right now this is for me and the longevity of my career and my family. … Physically it will be great and mentally I’ll get to be a mom, pick my kid up from school and camp every day.”
Parker’s daughter Lailaa started kindergarten this year and for the first time split her time between Los Angeles and Russia.
“I’ve been thinking about this for a while,” Parker said. “It’s not something that just happened. … “I talked to my doctors, talked to my family and decided that it’s what we are going to do.”
Unlike Taurasi and Parker, Fowles hopes to be on the court this year, if Chicago’s willing to trade her.
“I requested a trade,” Fowles said. “Chicago has done everything for me the past seven seasons, but I felt … I served my time in Chicago and I want to experience different things. I thought hard and long about it, sat down with my agent and want to do what’s best for me.”
Fowles knows it won’t be easy for Chicago to trade her. She said there is only one team she wants to play for, but would name the team. If the deal doesn’t get done, the 29-year-old center didn’t rule out sitting out the season.
“If nothing happens,” Fowles said, “I don’t know, we’ll go from there.”
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