As WNBA salaries increase, roster spots decrease; Seattle Storm players talk solutions

The 2021 WNBA season earned its highest viewership since 2008. The league saw its largest capital gain in history, and maximum salaries for players increased 94% over the last three years.

So why is it harder than ever to land a roster spot on one of its 12 teams?

FOX 13 asked Seattle Storm players how to solve the roster problem. This year, the team only carries 11 players, without a single rookie.

"We aren’t a league of 144 anymore. We’re a league of high 130’s and that needs to be seen and observed and realized and made better so we don’t have to cut so many players, so many good players that can make rosters," forward Breanna Stewart said. 

The Storm drafted eight players in the last three years-- all of them were cut. The recent increase in minimum salaries to just over $60,000 and maximum salaries to $228,000 is a great thing, but also makes it hard to pay 12 players the league roster max.

"Most teams have a lot of really good players. Players that are more expensive, salaries are higher, and it’s just the way that it works-- that you don’t have that spot, sometimes we have people in training camp when we know we can’t even keep anybody," said Stewart. 

The main culprit is the hard-salary cap, a limit on how much a team can spend on all of its players. As the max salary nearly doubled since 2019, the cap only increased by 38%. This year, only two teams are carrying the roster max of 12 players while staying under the cap.

"Against New York, we're going to shoot around and we find out we only have seven active players. And there's no way to get someone else here. Thankfully, Kiana (Williams) came, but we're in one of the farthest cities in the country. Whereas if we had two extra players here with us, it might be a little bit different and give us a little bit more flexibility," Stewart said. 

Kaela Davis was brought to the Storm on what’s called a "hardship contract" when the Storm needed more players because of illness. She was a top 10 pick in 2017, and now splits time between playing here and overseas.

"I walked in the house at 3:45, my agent called me at 4. It was like, ‘you need to be on a flight to Seattle tonight.’ So the second time was kind of similar. I was like, literally sitting at lunch and he's like, ‘hey, you gotta go back to Seattle.’ So it's been, you know, kind of a whirlwind. So it's tough, but I'm staying as flexible as possible," Davis said. 

Three hours after FOX 13 spoke with Davis, the Storm released her. Her story is not unique, and there’s no developmental league to go play in like the NBA’s G-league. That, and carrying practice players are potential solutions. 

WNBA Commissioner Cathy Englebert told FOX 13 in May that adding more teams could be another solution.  

"We’re working on the economic model for the league as well. We raised some capital, transforming the league, so we will have opportunities to expand hopefully in the future," Englebert said. 

For comparison’s sake, NBA rosters have 15 spots, plus two two-way contract players. That league is also 50 years older than the WNBA.

"If you look at where the WNBA is going to be in another 25 years, then who's to say, you know, where it's going to be, what the contracts are going to look like: roster spots, amount of teams, all that stuff that we want to be better right here right now. I think it's just going to take time, you know, it's an unfortunate situation, just because of the times that we're living in, we feel like we should be in a different place. And I think we, you know, we've earned that, right? I think it's just gonna take some time, right? But we got we know we're gonna keep fighting for ourselves and fighting for what we believe in," Davis said.