The 2020 campaign tips off soon, and it’ll look different than usual. Some of the WNBA highest paid players won’t be participating in Florida for the quarantine-style shortened season for a number of reasons, but plenty of others will be competing at IMG Academy.
With the new collective bargaining agreement, there’s more money out there for WNBA players than ever before. When the agreement was made in January, the salary cap jumped from $1 million to $1.3 million, meaning bigger and better contracts could be available to the athletes, maximum salaries increased from $117,500 to $215,000, the average WNBA player now earns six figures, and more.
Taking into account only the players you will see this summer, these are the WNBA highest paid players this season:
Note: I’ve chosen to exclude Elena Delle Donne, who is on a max contract worth $215,000 annually, as it’s unclear if she will play yet. The Washington Mystics have promised her full salary despite the WNBA not awarding her a medical exemption for the season.
WNBA Highest Paid Players in 2020
DeWanna Bonner (Connecticut Sun) – $215,000
DeWanna Bonner spent 10 seasons with the Phoenix Mercury, and in that time, she became one of the WNBA’s superstars. She has scored in double figures in every one of her W seasons, been named to three WNBA All-Star Games (2015, 2018, 2019) and won two championships (2009, 2014). In 2018, she had one of the best seasons of her career after a pregnancy led to her absence from the 2017 campaign, further cementing her as one of the league’s best.
Her time in Phoenix ended this offseason, though. The team shipped her to Connecticut in a sign-and-trade deal that brought three first-round picks – No. 7 and No. 10 overall in the 2020 WNBA Draft and a 2021 selection – Phoenix’s way. Under the new CBA, players who re-sign with their teams are eligible for the $215,000 max salary, and those agreeing to a new squad can make up to $185,000. The sign-and-trade allowed Bonner to hit the full max, which she will enjoy in 2020 while donning a Sun jersey.
Emma Meesseman (Washington Mystics) – $215,000
Emma Meesseman signed a one-year, $215,000 deal with the Mystics in the offseason to become one of the WNBA highest paid players. She has averaged double-digit scoring in every season since 2014 (excluding 2018, which she missed to play for Team Belgium in the 2018 FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup) and been a productive part of the ‘Stics since they picked her with the No. 19 overall pick in the second round of the 2013 WNBA Draft. But she really blew up with incredible performances during the playoffs last year as she was instrumental in Washington winning its first title in franchise history, posting 19.3 points per contest through nine playoff games, plus shooting 58.2 percent from the field and 58.1 percent from beyond the arc.
While the one-year deal brings questions about her future in Washington and in the WNBA in general after this season, she’s still with the Mystics for the time being, and she’s being handsomely compensated for it.
Skylar Diggins-Smith (Phoenix Mercury) – $215,000
After Phoenix lost Bonner, it acted fast to replace her with another one of the league’s superstars: Skylar Diggins-Smith. Using some of the assets acquired in the Bonner deal, the Mercury swapped two 2020 first rounders and a 2021 first round selection to the Dallas Wings for the guard in February. Phoenix put Diggins-Smith on four-year deal for the new league maximum through the sign-and-trade, making her one of the WNBA’s best paid players in 2020.
Diggins-Smith did not play the 2019 campaign after giving birth to her son the spring before the campaign and will be making her return to the WNBA in a different jersey than when she was last seen in 2018. In that season, she earned her fourth WNBA All-Star nod, posting 17.9 points and 6.2 assists per night. Now 29 and coming off a yearlong hiatus, big things are expected for Diggins-Smith in Phoenix.
Brittney Griner (Phoenix Mercury) – $215,000
At the end of the 2019 season, Brittney Griner told the world it was Phoenix or bust for her.
“They want me back, I plan on signing back,” she said in September. “If I don’t play here, I won’t play anywhere (in the WNBA). I mean that. I’m not playing for any other organization. I’m a Phoenix Mercury until I’m done.”
Griner stayed true to her word, and the Mercury rewarded her in kind. Clearly not shy about shelling out the big bucks, Phoenix re-signed Griner to a multi-year deal valued at the WNBA maximum in the same month it added Diggins-Smith for the same money.
Since Phoenix selected Griner with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 WNBA Draft, the center has been one of the most prolific players in the league, heading to the All-Star Game in all but one season and averaging more than 20 points per game in each of the last three campaigns. Now 29, Griner should still have some great years ahead of her, and Phoenix seems to be where they’ll be. And in 2020, she will play as one of the highest paid players in the WNBA.
Sue Bird (Seattle Storm) – $215,000
Knee surgery kept Sue Bird from playing in 2019, but she will be back in 2020 at the ripe age of 39, and it’ll be yet another ride with the Seattle Storm after she re-signed with the only team she has played for through her ongoing 17-year WNBA career, extending to 18 this season (17 if you don’t count 2019).
When we last saw Bird in the W two years ago, she put up 10.1 points and 7.1 assists per contest and shot 44.8 percent from deep. earning her 11th WNBA All-Star Game appearance in the process. Incredibly, her 221 total dimes tied for the most of her career in a single season, matching the same mark she set in 2003 as a 22-year-old, an important part of why the Storm climbed the mountain top in 2018, the third title of her career. It remains unclear how much her knee surgery will affect her ability on the court, and at 39, a decline has to come at some point. But the Storm must not think it’ll arrive before her 40s, and with pretty steady production throughout her whole career, Bird appears ageless. That’s why she is one of the WNBA highest paid players in 2020.
Biggest Contracts in Normal Circumstances
The pandemic has made everything weird. The 2020 WNBA season is no exception. Not everyone you’re used to seeing will be on the court for various reasons, which affected this list. If we were to pretend everything were normal, these would be the WNBA highest paid players in 2020:
T-1) $215,000 – Sue Bird (SEA), DeWanna Bonner (CON), Liz Cambage (DAL), Elena Delle Donne (WAS), Skylar Diggins-Smith (PHX), Brittney Griner (PHX), Emma Meesseman (WAS)
8) $206,000 – Vandersloot (CHI)
9) $200,000 – Quigley (CHI)
10) $195,000 – Gray (LAS)
T-11) $185,000 – Hartley (PHX), Jones (CON), McCoughtry (LVA), Ndour (DAL), Stewart (SEA), Toliver (LAS), Williams (ATL)
18) $180,250 – Dolson (CHI)
19) $175,000 – Charles (WAS)
T-20) $170,000 – Jefferson (DAL), Stricklen (ATL)