Sun expect to benefit from WNBA's new CBA

This offseason is the biggest that both the Connecticut Sun and head coach and general manager Curt Miller have had since 2015 when he was hired to resurrect the franchise.

Connecticut’s commitment to rebuild itself around a young core paid off last season as the Sun reached the WNBA Finals, taking the Washington Mystics to the limit before losing in the decisive fifth game.

The franchise's contracts with almost that entire roster have run out. Eight of the 12 players are free agents, including center Jonquel Jones, an All-WNBA second team pick last season, wing Shekinna Stricklen and off-guard Courtney Williams. It would force the team to make hard choices on who to pay and who to let go to adhere to the salary cap.

But the Sun will have more flexibility now after the league and players union announced a tentative eight-year collective bargaining agreement on Tuesday that would increase the salary cap in the first year by 31 percent up to $1.3 million.

“Across the league, it gives us a lot of flexibility on how to construct your roster and how you want to put it together,” Miller said. “It’s certainly exciting times for the players and all involved that there an increase in that salary cap, but now it’s back to work for us all of us to figure out how each one of us are going to attack that.”

The league’s owners still have to approve the deal, so everyone is running behind with free agency. Negotiations could start last year on Jan. 15 and contracts signed on Feb. 1.

Miller didn’t specifically reveal what areas of the team he was focused on improving when asked Friday.

“It’s going to be a chemistry, a culture thing that’s really, really important,” Miller said.

The new CBA is a huge win for the players with better pay, travel arrangements, health benefits and, starting next season, 50-50 revenue sharing. The biggest stars can earn over $500,000, a huge bump from last season’s maximum salary of $115,000.

“It was a historic agreement,” Miller said. “(It’s) very exciting times for the league and the future of the league. (It’s) obviously a very player-focused agreement. A lot of compliments and obvious credit goes out to great negotiating on both sides, but especially the players union and the players doing an unbelievable job. … on some issues that haven’t been part of the CBA in the past.”

A big problem unique to the WNBA is players augmenting their salaries by playing overseas during the offseason with most making better money than they do here. It regularly causes players to arrive late to training camp and puts extra wear-and-tear on players' bodies, never mind making them nomads who rarely get to see family and friends.

Nneka Ogwumike of the Los Angeles Sparks, the players’ union president, told the Associated Press earlier in the week that the new CBA gives players more financial incentive to remain home during the offseason.

“I think that’s a long-term goal,” Miller said. “There is still money overseas for some people that would be hard to walk away from if they choose to play year-round, but it’s a great first step in allowing some of these choices for our athletes that can they, will they, choose to stay in the states and have a more traditional offseason.”

n.griffen@theday.com

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