Five storylines for WNBA's 28th season: From Caitlin Clark to Aces' three-peat bid

There are plenty of storylines for the 2024 WNBA season, from the arrival of Caitlin Clark to the two-time defending champion Las Vegas Aces’ bid for a three-peat.

Here are five things to follow when regular-season play opens Tuesday.

Fever pitch

Clark, college basketball’s all-time leading scorer, decided to forgo her final season of eligibility to enter the WNBA draft and was selected by Indiana with the top pick, setting off a frenzy of ticket sales for Fever games, home and road. Plus, the Fever will have 36 of their 40 games broadcast on national television.

Indiana finished last in the Eastern Conference last season and at 13-27 had the league’s third-worst record. Can Clark help the Fever become winners? They haven’t been to the playoffs since 2016 and won the franchise’s only title in 2012.

Clark started her WNBA career with 21 points in a 79-76 preseason loss in Dallas. She scored 11 of the Fever’s first 19 points. Clark, who was slowed in the second half after picking up her third and fourth fouls in the third quarter, made five of 13 three-point shots.

In the Fever’s 83-80 preseason win at home over the Atlanta Dream, more than 13,000 fans attended the game. Clark was not as effective, making four of 12 shots from the field and just two of nine from three-point range. She did have eight rebounds and six assists as well as six turnovers.

“It was a lot of fun, I thought they were loud, I thought they were into it. It was fun to see,” Clark told reporters following her home debut. “This is a preseason game on a Thursday night and there’s 13,000 people here. I think that just shows you what it’s going to be like for us all season. It’s going to help us.”

Aces three-peat?

Las Vegas is the odds-on favorite to repeat, led by two-time most valuable player A’ja Wilson and coach Becky Hammon. Last season the Aces had a league-best 34-6 record and became the first team to repeat since the 2002 Sparks, with Wilson winning Finals MVP.

Las Vegas could become the first team to three-peat since the Houston Comets won the first four WNBA titles from 1997 to 2000.

Las Vegas’ starting lineup last season included four All-Stars: Chelsea Gray, Kelsey Plum and Jackie Young at guard plus Wilson at forward. Kiah Stokes made 22 starts at center after Candace Parker’s season-ending foot injury. Parker has since retired.

Wilson, Gray and Young are under contract through 2025, and Plum’s contract expires after this season, although an extension appears likely.

“It’s everything to be able to keep that chemistry and build off it year after year,” Plum said. “We’ve been building this thing for a while, so there’s definitely a lot of pride in that. The city takes a lot of pride in that. This organization takes a lot of pride in that. There’s a lot of loyalty here.”

Leading challengers

The New York Liberty fell two games short of winning the franchise’s first championship last season, falling to the Aces in four games. It was New York’s fifth runner-up finish, but first since 2002.

With MVP Breanna Stewart, who led the Seattle Storm to titles in 2020 and 2018, leading the Liberty to first place in the Eastern Conference last season at 32-8, they look to be the team best suited to stop the Aces. Particularly with an All-Star backcourt of Sabrina Ionescu and Courtney Vandersloot, who helped the Chicago Sky win the 2022 championship.

Include in the mix forward Jonquel Jones, who has been an All-Star in four of her seven seasons and was MVP when leading the Connecticut Sun to the 2021 title, and the championship pedigree is there.

“We know what happened last year and the fact we didn’t achieve our goal will motivate us, but it’s not what we’re thinking about the entire season,” Stewart said. “I’m really excited to get things going with a new and old group and build the chemistry. Now most of us have a year under our belt, what are we going to do bigger on and off the court?”

Other playoff contenders could include Seattle and Phoenix, who made big offseason moves.

The Storm, who now have a $60-million state-of-the-art practice facility, signed former Sparks star and MVP Nneka Ogwumike and Skylar Diggins-Smith.

The Mercury added Natasha Cloud, a two-time all-defensive guard, and wing Kahleah Copper, who was part of the Sky’s title-winning team, to a lineup that includes veterans Brittney Griner and Diana Taurasi.

The rookies

The 2024 draft class, with Clark as the headliner, was considered one of the best in WNBA history. Some pundits compared it to the 2003 NBA draft class that included LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh.

The Sparks landed Stanford center Cameron Brink with the second pick and Tennessee forward Rickea Jackson at No. 4, fortifying their frontcourt for the immediate future.

The Sky also shored up their frontcourt by landing two-time NCAA champion center Kamilla Cardoso from South Carolina with the third pick and Louisiana State forward Angel Reese at No. 7.

Other forwards expected to make an immediate impact include Connecticut’s Aaliyah Edwards, selected sixth by the Washington Mystics, and Utah’s Alissa Pili, chosen eighth by the Minnesota Lynx.

Up, up and away

Commissioner Cathy Engelbert announced Thursday the league plans to fund charter flights at a cost of about $50 million over the next two years in a move that addresses years of player safety concerns regarding travel on commercial flights.

“We are thrilled to announce the launch of a full charter program as soon as practical for the 2024 and 2025 seasons, a testament to the continued growth of the WNBA,” Engelbert said in a statement.

It means no more long security lines, bodyguards in public spaces, cramped legroom or layovers for the professional athletes who have been lobbying for better travel long before Clark helped bring increased interest to the league.

Wire services contributed to this report.

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