Indiana Fever shuffle rotation ahead of franchise-altering WNBA Draft
The Indiana Fever roster has changed dramatically over the free agency period. Since Lin Dunn took over as interim general manager on Feb. 14, she has made a handful of moves that could shake up her team’s rotation this coming season.
“It’s still so fresh,” Indiana guard Kelsey Mitchell said this week of Indiana’s offseason changes. She said she believes in the front office’s vision for the Fever, but she acknowledged that everything is very new.
What makes it new? Two of Mitchell’s teammates from last season were waived as a part of the roster shuffle. Young guard Aaliyah Wilson was let go, and the team agreed to a buyout – er, “divorce” – with veteran forward Jantel Lavender in a pair of moves that each came with a level of surprise.
The Wilson waiver was surprising as the guard was a first-round pick in the 2021 WNBA Draft. While her impact di lei was small during her rookie season, the Texas A & M product showed enough flashes of skill to seemingly merit a chance to help the Fever improve next year, something Wilson was hoping to do.
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Dunn was not in charge of the Indiana Fever front office when Wilson was drafted, however, and has said on more than one occasion that changes need to be made after a last place finish. Replacing Wilson with different guards was one such change, and now the 23-year old is searching for her next home.
Moving on from Lavender, meanwhile, was surprising for both on-court and contractual reasons. The forward started in 14 games for the Fever in 2021 and had a significant role for the team during the season, and she was due $ 350,000 over the next two campaigns. Those factors made it seem like Lavender and the Fever were joined at the hip.
Instead, the veteran forward and the Fever front office negotiated a contract buyout. The agreement reduced Lavender’s cap hits to $ 119,000 in each of the next two seasons, per Her Hoops Stats, and she was waived. She has since signed a training camp contract with the Seattle Storm.
Dunn brought in guard depth to backfill Wilson’s spot. Before even moving on from the 11th overall pick in 2021, the Fever announced that they had signed guard Haley Gorecki, a 25-year old with varied experience. She played sparingly in three games for the Phoenix Mercury last season and was a member of the USA 3 × 3 Women’s AmeriCup team this summer.
“Haley is a versatile perimeter player, who can play any of the guard positions or at small forward,” Hall of Fame Fever head coach Marianne Stanley said of Gorecki. The Fever are light on wings and may value Gorecki’s ability to play in that role.
Dunn had more guards in mind in addition to Gorecki, so the Fever inked guard Jaime Nared to contract a few weeks after letting Wilson go. Nared spent two seasons with the Las Vegas Aces after being drafted 13th overall in 2018. She, like Gorecki, can play in both the guard and wing spots.
Nared has shown that she can be a decent defender on the perimeter when tasked with being a stopper, and that is where she could give Indiana a new element – the Fever are light on players who defend well in space.
Between Nared, Gorecki, Mitchell, Bria Hartley, Danielle Robinson, Tiffany Mitchell, Lindsay Allen, and Micaela Kelly, the Fever have a logjam at the guard spots. There will be heavy competition for roster spots throughout the next month and into training camp.
On top of adding guards after waiving Wilson, Dunn also added to her frontcourt after waiving Lavender. Indiana re-signed center Bernadett Hatar, the tallest player in the WNBA last season, to a training camp deal.
Hatar is a unique player thanks to her height and agility. Connecticut Sun coach Curt Miller complimented the Hungarian’s speed di lei after the Fever and Sun battled last season, and Hatar’s quirky skillset di lei makes her an asset for the Fever. She pulls down rebounds with ease and has the length to block shots that appear to be open. In seven games last season, Hatar averaged 4.9 points and 2.6 rebounds per game.
“She’s a great team player, she does a lot of the little things well. Pretty good passer, she has a nice shooting touch, ”Stanley said of Hatar last year.
With these moves, the Fever roster now stands at 15 with the WNBA draft coming next Monday. But Indiana has seven picks in the draft, including four in the Top 10 (Nos. 2, 4, 6 and 10). And expectations for the players they’ll pick there are high.
“We are looking at our seven draft picks, in particular the four in the first round, to rebuild around, and fortunately this is a draft where we think 2, 4, 6 and 10 will have an immediate impact on our team,” Dunn said in a conference call on Thursday. “They might not have an immediate impact on other teams, but they will definitely have an impact on our team. So we’re excited about four picks in the first round. “
If there’s one certainty left, it’s that there are more changes to come on the roster ahead of the 2022 season.