How to improve the WNBA salary cap

Although the WNBA salary cap increased 30% in 2020, rosters are still extremely exclusive with lots of talent being cut. Yahoo Sports' Cassandra Negley is joined by HerHoopsStats.com's Jacob Mox in this salary cap explainer.

Video Transcript

CASSANDRA NEGLEY: This is Cassandra Negley for Yahoo Sports, and we're joined this week by Jacob Mox of Her Hoop Stats. We're super excited to have you and break down a big problem that has arisen with the WNBA rosters this season. So we're seeing a lot of trouble fitting players under the cap. We have a lot of hardship waivers that have come up. The short of it is the CBA, the league, and union agreed to-- in 2020, it increased the maximum player's salary 82%. The team cap only went up about 30%. How has that played into what we're seeing so far this year?

JACOB MOX: Yeah, I mean, just like you mentioned, the maximum salary increased by over 100,000, while the cap only went up by 300,000. So if you're a team, like Connecticut, whose roster and even, like, three or four players that are making 200,000 plus, like there's your cap space already. And that's not taking into account minimum salary players and rookies, so it really eats into it very quickly with those high salary players. In the aggregate, obviously, it's still a positive. It's just a bug that was introduced by this positive change.

CASSANDRA NEGLEY: Do you feel like teams were too quick to give those high salaries? Will this even out in the coming years?

JACOB MOX: In the coming years with prioritization, there should be fewer hardships, because you won't have players rostered, but suspended. They're either not signed yet, or they're signed, and they have to be there playing. That will ease a little bit of this, but it won't fix the whole problem.

Teams were kind of coming into it with an unknown, and most teams, it seemed with the exception of a few, like Dallas, is in a really good cap space. Dallas is, this season, paying just shy of $300,000 to players who are not playing for the team. So, like, they went the other way, they went all young, very cheap with a few high paying players that they could be comfortable cutting, even though it was guaranteed money. Whereas Connecticut, they have nine active players right now, because they have 11 players, only $5,000 in cap space, and two players suspended or temporarily out of commission due to overseas commitments.

Yeah, I wouldn't go so far as to say that teams were too quick to give out those big deals. I think that you can make the case that there's competitive advantage there in putting your eggs in the best baskets. With the constraints that they were put in, I think that teams arguably did do the right thing. There's, obviously, bad contracts out there.

CASSANDRA NEGLEY: One of the things that is huge right now is expansion. Cathy Engelbert has kind of pushed that down the road. We might hear word of it this summer, but a lot of players are talking about expanding the rosters. They are only at 12 maximum. Like you said, a lot of teams only have 11.

I'm a big fan of adding practice players or just adding rostered players. I think that's huge for a lot of different reasons. You actually looked into the viability of it for her hoop stats and what that might look like. Can you tell us what your biggest takeaways from that are?

JACOB MOX: Yeah, I mean, my biggest takeaway is that looking at the alternative to practice players, which would be just pure rostered players, that almost can't happen without an increase in the salary cap. Because then you just run into a more exaggerated version of what we're seeing right now. So in increased roster sizes would have to come with an increased salary cap.

As Breanna Stewart pointed out in her tweets, an option is to kind of avoid the CBA entirely and go with the practice player route. It's especially helpful for those younger players who are being drafted or a year or two removed from being drafted, and then they're just being cut. Because they either-- either their drafted contract doesn't fit, or they just don't fit due to any other salary cap reasons. Or maybe they're not quite there. Maybe they just need more time to develop, and obviously, in the off season, you can play overseas. But during the season, there's not a lot of great opportunities for that.

So with that in mind, we kind of outlined a rough idea of what that could look like and just kind of following what the G League does in the NBA as a guide for the figures. We kind of settled on 40% of the minimum salary. So essentially, then, instead of adding two roster spots and adding that much to the salary cap, you're now-- you could then keep five players on a practice squad role, keep them around, develop them, let them know your system, know your system intimately, and then you can elevate them when a hardship arises without having to, like, have them be sent across the country at a moment's notice or anything like that.

CASSANDRA NEGLEY: You said five practice players, and you calculated it, I believe, at about 150,000.

JACOB MOX: Yeah, and that's the maximum. The system would be based on the applicable max or the applicable league minimum. So the younger the player is, the fewer years of service they have, the less their applicable minimum is. So that would really incentivize five young players as opposed to five players who are on the upper maximum or the upper minimum.

CASSANDRA NEGLEY: In the W right now, we're starting to see this kind of break. You have millionaire owners, New York, Las Vegas. They want to invest in the W and see their teams rise, and then you have other owners who are definitely invested. They love their teams. They've done right by them, but they don't have the investment from other things to put into the W. What could you foresee happening if we did introduce a system like this to the W or if there were something, like a soft cap with a luxury tax?

JACOB MOX: Yeah, in terms of practice squad players, one of the pieces that I did want to include in the hypothetical proposal was for it to be totally optional, both on the player side for kind of freedom of player movement. So you're kind of getting, like, conscripted into being a practice squad player or anything like that, but also, on the ulnar side. Like you said, a lot of owners, even though it is not that large of an investment, maybe don't want to go full on five players, and then they go three or four players. And they could not bring in any players at all, and that would be a question of competitive balance similar to the whole discussion of flights, and Joe Tsai, and the Liberty.

So they maybe have to-- you'd have to kind of sway some teams that, hey, you cannot spend this money if you want. But you're going to have a disadvantage. That could be a stumbling block for some owners. The carrot for some of the owners that maybe don't want to spend there is, in a system with a soft cap and a luxury tax, that luxury tax goes to the league and helps lessen the financial burden for some of those other owners.

So that is-- it would be a more direct result. Because in theory, a team, like when we saw the new CBA start, a team might not increase their spending across the board. They might just turn one of their $100,000 players into a $200,000 player and kind of run into the same issue. So it's impossible to say how exactly that would go, but it would be-- it's a unique sell to the owners in that those would be game players you're signing. But it might not necessarily fix the root issue.

CASSANDRA NEGLEY: Jacob, thank you so much for being here. We are so appreciative of everything you do at Her Hoop Stats.

JACOB MOX: Yeah, happy to hop on, happy to talk the nitty gritty numbers that maybe don't get talked about enough.