WNBA expansion a hot-button topic as roster cuts begin

“We need more teams,” Washington Mystics guard Natasha Cloud tweeted. “These players deserve to be on a roster. It really kills me.”

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Commissioner Cathy Engelbert addressed expansion, but only vaguely at the WNBA Draft in April. She essentially said: We’re not there yet. 

Commissioner Cathy Engelbert addressed expansion, but only vaguely at the WNBA Draft in April. She essentially said: We’re not there yet.

Patrick Semansky/AP

The WNBA regular season is less than two weeks away, and it’s Sky coach/general manager James Wade’s least favorite time of the year.

The roster cutdowns leading up to the first game of the regular season are never fun. Wade hasn’t made any cuts yet but expects to within the next 24 to 48 hours.

“You want to procrastinate because you hate to see people go,” Wade said. “I wouldn’t see [putting off making my first cuts] going past tomorrow. I want to get down to 13 for Toronto. I don’t want to take 15 players [to the last preseason game].”

This time of year also brings out strong opinions and hot takes from people within the WNBA and its fans. Most of them want to know when the league will expand.

Commissioner Cathy Engelbert addressed expansion, but only vaguely at the WNBA Draft in April. She essentially said: We’re not there yet.

Before training camp even started, the No. 4 overall pick in the 2022 draft, Emily Engstler, was waived by the Indiana Fever. She has since been picked up by the Washington Mystics, but the news of her dismissal a year after being drafted was met with shock across the league.

On Sunday afternoon, the Mystics waived Evina Westbrook and Alisia Jenkins, prompting this reaction from veteran guard Natasha Cloud.

“We need more teams,” Cloud tweeted. “These players deserve to be on a roster. It really kills me.”

Wade has a slightly different take on expansion and the impending roster cuts that will hit players across the league.

He would love to see expansion, but he believes that the limited roster spots in the league make it the most prestigious in the world, and that’s not a bad thing.

“It’s not a birthright; it’s a privilege,” Wade said. “You have to work hard to be one of the 144 best players. It doesn’t mean you’re not a great player because you didn’t make it in the WNBA. It just means you have work to do, and that’s OK. It’s tough to play in the WNBA. Some of your favorite college players can’t make it in the WNBA.”

Conversations among players obviously vary from team to team and with level of experience in the league. Sky rookie Kayana Traylor is focused on showing up every day and giving her best and leaving the rest up to the decision-makers.

NaLyssa Smith and Lexie Hull, both in their second year with the Fever and part of the same draft class as Engstler, acknowledged the challenges.

“When you see a loved one get waived, that’s when it really hits you,” Smith said. “It shows how hard it is to make it in the league. [Players] have conversations about it. It’s very unfortunate for those who do get waived because they’re talented, and we’re so young.

“I’m definitely looking forward to expansion.”

Injuries and availability

Marina Mabrey arrived in Chicago after her season with Famila Schio in Italy but has yet to fully practice with her new team. She was not available for the Sky’s second preseason game in favor of resting. Wade said she has sat in on film sessions and the team’s walkthrough Sunday morning but said it’s important that she’s ready physically and mentally before fully immersing in practice and preseason games.

Wade said again that Li Yueru is in town but is “getting healthy.” She was not with the team for its second preseason game.

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