2021 WNBA season preview: Top storylines, key players for 25th anniversary

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2021 WNBA season preview: Top storylines for 25th anniversary originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

It has been seven long months since the 2020 WNBA season ended, and the league is on the verge of finally tipping off its 25th campaign.

The league begins the 2021 regular season with four games on May 14 followed by two marquee matchups on May 15, including a 2020 WNBA Finals rematch between the Seattle Storm and Las Vegas Aces.

Here is the outlook for all 12 WNBA teams entering the new season.

Seattle Storm (18-4 in 2020, won WNBA Finals)

Key players: Breanna Stewart, Sue Bird, Jewell Loyd

Seattle stormed its way to a dominant title run, going 6-0 in the playoffs with sweeps over the Lynx and Aces in the semifinals and WNBA Finals, respectively. Stewart, the 2018 league MVP, was unstoppable last season after missing all of 2019 due to a torn Achilles, while Bird added to her trophy case with her fourth championship, which fans were reminded of in a commercial with Steph Curry.

Stewart wasn’t done with rings after winning the title, though -- she got engaged to Mercury guard Marta Xargay earlier this month.

The star tandem of Stewart and Bird combined with a strong supporting cast makes the Storm the rightful favorites to repeat as champions.

Las Vegas Aces (18-4, lost WNBA Finals)

Key players: A’ja Wilson, Liz Cambage, Chelsea Gray

Wilson, the 2020 WNBA MVP, will have her top running mate back in 2021 as Cambage missed the 2020 season after receiving a medical exception. With their two star bigs together again, the Aces will be one of the favorites to take home this year’s title after reaching the WNBA Finals last season.

The team was dealt a major blow just before the season started, though. Angel McCoughtry announced on Monday that she tore her ACL and meniscus in her right knee during the Aces’ preseason game against the Los Angeles Sparks two days prior. The 11-year veteran averaged 14.4 points and 5.1 rebounds per game in 2020, her first year in Las Vegas.

Los Angeles Sparks (15-7, lost in second round)

Key players: Chiney Ogwumike, Nneka Ogwumike, Brittney Sykes

The Ogwumike sisters will be reunited on the court again this season after Chiney opted out of the 2020 season. Even though one of their top players will be back on the floor, the Sparks will be without their two leading scorers from last season. They will have some work cut out for them to earn their sixth straight winning season.

Road Trippin': Chiney Ogwumike recalls sister Erica's trade

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Minnesota Lynx (14-8, lost in semifinals)

Key players: Napheesa Collier, Crystal Dangerfield, Kayla McBride

The 2017 champs were back in the title mix last season for the first time since Maya Moore last played in 2018. Dangerfield, who earned the 2020 WNBA Rookie of the Year award, was the leading scorer while Fowles provided a strong veteran presence en route to a semifinals exit. Minnesota adds McBride, a three-time All-Star and 14.7 points-per-game career scorer, to the fold.

Phoenix Mercury (13-9, lost in second round)

Key players: Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner, Skylar Diggins-Smith

Taurasi, the WNBA’s all-time leading scorer, enters her 17th season seeking her fourth title. The veteran trio above got just half a season of experience playing together before Griner left the Wubble for personal reasons. Taurasi, Griner and Diggins-Smith will be in charge of carrying this team again in 2021, but the talent is certainly there to make a run.

Chicago Sky (12-10, lost in first round)

Key players: Candace Parker, Allie Quigley, Courtney Vandersloot

After spending the first 13 years of her Hall of Fame career in L.A., Parker joined her hometown Sky this offseason. The two-time WNBA MVP, 2020 WNBA Defensive Player of the Year and NBA on TNT analyst joins an even scoring attack in Chicago with five players averaging double-digit points in 2020 and will look to lead the franchise to its second ever WNBA Finals appearance.

Connecticut Sun (10-12, lost in semifinals)

Key players: Jonquel Jones, DeWanna Bonner, Jasmine Thomas

The Suns overcame a slow start to the 2020 season and made some noise in the playoffs. This coming season will mark the return of one star but will also feature the absence of another. Jones, who was a 2019 All-Star, is back after opting out of last season while veteran forward Alyssa Thomas will likely miss the season after suffering a torn Achilles in January. Jones and Bonner will be responsible for leading the offense as Connecticut eyes its second WNBA Finals appearance in three seasons.

Washington Mystics (9-13, lost in first round)

Key players: Elena Delle Donne, Ariel Atkins, Natasha Cloud

The 2019 WNBA MVP is back. Delle Donne is slated to return to the floor for the first time since a Game 5 WNBA Finals win over the Sun on Oct. 10, 2019, after missing the 2020 season. The Mystics will have to overcome the absence of free agent addition Alysha Clark, who suffered a Lisfranc injury on her right foot while playing overseas. However, the returns of Della Donne, Tina Charles and Natasha Cloud have the Mystics poised for another title run after an underwhelming 2020.

Dallas Wings (8-14, missed playoffs)

Key players: Arike Ogunbowale, Charli Collier, Awak Kuier

Ogunbowale, the leading scorer in the league last season, will be surrounded by prominent rookies this season. The Wings were the first team in WNBA to have the top two picks in the same draft, and they got two post players poised to make an impact. Collier, who played at Texas, went No. 1 and Kuier, a 6-foot-5 player from Finland, went No. 2. They also had the No. 5 pick and took Chelsea Dungee out of Arkansas.

Atlanta Dream (7-15, missed playoffs)

Key players: Chennedy Carter, Courtney Williams, Aari McDonald

The Dream's biggest impact in 2020 came off the court. Players protested against the team's co-owner, Senator Kelly Loeffler, who has openly spoken out against the Black Lives Matter movement, and supported her political opponent, Dr. Raphael Warnock. Warnock won the Georgia Senate special runoff election in January. The next month, the Dream were sold to a new ownership group that includes former player Renee Montgomery.

Their 2021 outlook drastically shifted mere days before their season opener, though. Head coach Nicki Collen left the team to take the position for the Baylor women’s basketball team. Assistant Mike Petersen will serve as the team’s interim head coach.

The team's most notable addition on the court is McDonald, who entered the national spotlight in the NCAA Tournament, leading Arizona to a Final Four upset over Paige Bueckers and UConn.

Indiana Fever (6-16, missed playoffs)

Key players: Kelsey Mitchell, Tiffany Mitchell, Kysre Gondrezick

The Fever turned the WNBA world upside down earlier this offseason when they debuted their "Stranger Things" inspired Rebel Edition jerseys. They turned things upside down at the draft, too, by selecting Gondrezick, who was projected by many as a second-round selection, at No. 4 overall.

Indiana is looking to make the playoffs for the first time since 2016.

New York Liberty (2-20, missed playoffs)

Key players: Sabrina Ionescu, Layshia Clarendon, Jazmine Jones

Ionescu gets a chance to begin her WNBA career in earnest after playing just three games her rookie season due to an ankle injury. After starring at Oregon and drawing praise from stars like Curry, the 2020 AP Women's College Basketball Player of the Year is poised to become one of the faces of the WNBA. She and the Liberty have a lot of work ahead of them, though, after winning just two games in 2020.

Max Molski contributed to this story.