Breanna Stewart at NY Liberty practice
May 17, 2023: NY Liberty forward Breanna Stewart at practice

Breanna Stewart’s Below-Max Salary Gives Liberty Room to Work With

The New York Liberty re-signed star forward Breanna Stewart on Monday.

According to reports, New York and Stewart agreed to a one-year deal below the max salary of $208,219, which is further below the supermax of $241,984.

Running It Back

Stewart’s willingness to take less than the max allowed the Liberty to retain Jonquel Jones at a similar number, preserving the starting lineup that reached the 2023 WNBA Finals: Stewart, Jones, Sabrina Ionescu, Courtney Vandersloot and Betnijah Laney.

“We are thrilled to welcome back the MVP, Breanna Stewart,” Liberty general manager Jonathan Kolb said in a statement. “Stewie’s return marks our unwavering commitment to excellence and our collective drive to bring a championship to New York.”

Stewie’s return is no surprise. After the 2023 season ended, Kolb announced that the Liberty would be applying the core designation to Stewart. The duration and value of her contract were the only uncertainties.

Flexibility Is the Key to Stability

The most interesting aspect of Stewart’s contract is that it is non-guaranteed. WNBA teams can have six protected veterans on their roster, and New York has five, so Stewart could have been the sixth.

However, signing an unprotected deal gives the franchise more flexibility for future transactions. It could offer a protected veteran contract to a role player to fill out its bench, as it did with Kennedy Burke earlier this offseason.

New York cannot throw out as much money as other teams, so the team’s biggest gem is a guaranteed salary. Many players available at this stage of free agency are playing overseas. To get them to leave their teams early for WNBA training camp, there has to be an incentive.

Additionally, if the Liberty decide to upgrade their roster via trade now or during the season, they can acquire a player on a protected contract without sending one away. This enhances the trade value of their young players on non-guaranteed deals.

Beyond the Bucks

Stewart’s agreement to a contract below her market value illustrates that players prioritize much more than money during free agency, such as fit, ownership and potential to win. This is further evidenced by Jones signing for less than the max, the Las Vegas Aces’ star quartet extending far below the max and All-Stars Ionescu and Napheesa Collier agreeing to unprotected extensions.