Fever will look for star power, veteran experience in free agency

General manager Tamika Catchings is tasked with improving a roster than finished 6-16 in 2020

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Enjoy our team-by-team free agency previews!

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Indiana Fever guard Erica Wheeler (17) during the WNBA game between the Indiana Fever and the Connecticut Sun at Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, Connecticut, USA on May 28, 2019. Photo Credit: Chris Poss

When Indiana Fever general manager Tamika Catchings met with the media following the conclusion of the 2020 season, she was asked about the concept of a “star” player — a label she embodied during her 15-year career — and whether the team currently has one on the roster.

She didn’t offer a clear-cut answer, but did imply that the Fever are still in pursuit of this player by noting that there were “stars” on each of the teams that reached the finals (likely referring to the Storm’s Breanna Stewart & Aces’ A’ja Wilson or Angel McCoughtry).

The Fever must rely heavier on free agency to obtain a player of this caliber after finishing last in the 2021 WNBA Draft Lottery, earning the fourth pick. The team also owns the 14th, 21st and 26th overall selections in the draft.

When asked last week by The Next’s Pepper Persley about the specific voids she’ll need to address during the free agency period, Catchings elaborated further by saying she’d like to sign a “championship-caliber player.” She identified experience, attitude, and involvement in the community as ideal characteristics of an addition.

“We are so young, we need more leadership,” Catchings told Persley. “And so I want to get a strong leader, a strong veteran leader. And I think that at that point, when we look at position-wise, somebody that comes in, I want somebody that works hard, is a go-getter every single day. When they come in, they’re the first one in, the last one to leave.”

The Fever roster contains four unrestricted free agents — Candice Dupree, Natalie Achonwa, Jantel Lavender and Erica Wheeler. Lavender was acquired in a trade with the Chicago Sky midway through the 2020 season, and will almost certainly be retained. If Catchings intends to maintain a sense of veteran leadership among her youthful team, she’d likely make every effort to retain Achonwa and Dupree as well.

Wheeler’s situation is more interesting, primarily because she missed the entire 2020 season due to complications with the league’s COVID-19 protocols. She was slated as team’s starting point guard until Belgian rookie Julie Allemand slid into the role seamlessly, leading the team in assists and 3-point shooting (min. 40 attempts).

Wheeler was paid the second-highest salary on the team during her All-Star season in 2019, so it’ll be interesting to see how the team handles its dealings with her.

On Dec. 18, the Fever already exercised the team options of Teaira McCowan and Kennedy Burke.

An ideal unrestricted free agent target for the Fever to target would be veteran and two-time WNBA champion Alysha Clark. A member of the 2020 WNBA All-Defensive First Team, Clark can help the Fever improve their league-worst metrics in opponents’ defensive rating (111.4) and points per game (89.5) from last season. She also possesses extensive playoff experience, which would prove invaluable for a young Fever team that hasn’t reached the postseason since 2016.

Other honorable mention free agents that should be on Fever’s radar include Essence Carson, Riquna Williams and former Fever member Natasha Howard.

The WNBA’s free agency negotiation period runs from Jan. 15 through 31, and signings may begin on Feb. 1. It is during this time the Fever, led by Catchings and head coach Marianne Stanley, will search for their next “star.” The 2021 draft is set to take place in April.