Breanna Stewart, Liberty agree to one-year extension below maximum salary: Sources

The New York Liberty and star forward Breanna Stewart agreed to a one-year deal, league sources said.

Stewart’s return to New York was foretold from the minute the 2023 season ended, when general manager Jonathan Kolb announced that the Liberty would be applying the core designation to Stewart, something the 2023 MVP predicted would happen. The only uncertainties were the duration and value of her contract.

New York and Stewart agreed to a one-year deal below the maximum salary of $208,219 in 2024, which is further below the supermax of $241,984. In doing so, the Liberty were able to retain unrestricted free agent Jonquel Jones at a similar number, thus keeping together the starting lineup that advanced to the 2023 WNBA Finals. Stewart, Jones, Sabrina Ionescu, Courtney Vandersloot, and Betnijah Laney are all back, along with key reserve Kayla Thornton.

Perhaps the most interesting term of Stewart’s contract is that it is non-guaranteed. WNBA teams are allowed to have six protected veterans on their roster, and New York currently has five, so Stewart could have gotten the sixth. However, by signing an unprotected deal — and let’s face it, the Liberty are never going to waive Stewart — the franchise gets more flexibility for future transactions. They could offer a protected veteran contract to a role player to fill out their bench, as they did with Kennedy Burke earlier this offseason. Since New York can’t offer more money than other teams, their biggest carat is a guaranteed salary. Many of the players available at this point in free agency are playing overseas, and in order to get them to leave their teams early for WNBA training camp, there needs to be an incentive.

Furthermore, should the Liberty feel the need to upgrade their roster via trade now or during the season, they can now take back a player on a protected contract without sending one away. That makes their young players who are non-guaranteed deals more tradeable.

The fact that Stewart agreed to a contract that is below her market value and ostensibly a huge win for New York’s cap sheet is a further indicator that WNBA players are valuing other priorities during free agency. Combined with Jones signing for less than the max, the Las Vegas Aces star quartet extending far below the max and All-Stars Napheesa Collier and Ionescu agreeing to unprotected extensions, there’s a trend of players prioritizing fit, ownership and the potential to win rather than getting the most money possible.

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(Photo: Stephen Gosling / NBAE via Getty Images)

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