The 2023 WNBA salary cap is $1,420,500, but understanding exactly how it all works is more complicated than just one number — Boardroom has you covered.
Two things can be true at the same time:
- WNBA players are making more money than ever before
- It is more difficult than ever before for teams to pay their stars as much as the league will allow
Such is life when you play in a league with a salary cap that has not increased at the same rate as player wages. To be fair, the league has taken steps to offset this, namely giving players additional opportunities to earn money outside of their base on-court salary. That includes a Commissioner’s Cup with a $750,000 prize pool, additional marketing opportunities, and a bonus structure that rewards success.
It’s easy to look at any number of players in this league and decide they deserve to make the true maximum WNBA salary ($234,936 in 2023). What’s more complicated, however, is figuring out how to make it happen while still fielding a competitive team around those players.
With that in mind, as the W returns for a new season on May 19, here’s everything you need to know about WNBA salaries and the salary cap in 2023.
2023 WNBA Minumum Salary and Supermax
Per the league’s collective bargaining agreement, WNBA players with less than three years of experience cannot earn less than $62,285 in 2023, representing the league minimum. For players with three or more years of experience, that number jumps to $74,305.
As for max contracts, salary structure for 2023 exists in two tiers:
- A “supermax” of $234,936 for veterans that meet special criteria
- Three players are earning this salary in 2023: Jewell Loyd (Seattle), Arike Ogunbowale (Dallas), and Diana Taurasi (Phoenix)
- A regular max of $202,154 for everyone else
- Three players are earning this salary in 2023: Napheesa Collier (Minnesota), Erica Wheeler (Indiana), and A’ja Wilson (Las Vegas)
In every year of the current CBA, both the minimum and maximum increase to account for inflation.
For comparison’s sake, in 2019, the year before the current CBA went into effect, the league minimum was just $41,965 and the max was $117,500.
Inside the WNBA Salary Cap for 2023
The salary cap situation in the WNBA is a little complicated, but understanding its structure will go a long way toward understanding why such a drastic increase in player salaries isn’t quite as impressive as it seems at first glance.
First, the most basic numbers: The 2023 WNBA salary cap will be $1,420,500. That’s up from $1,300,000 in 2020, the first year of the current CBA, and up from $996,100 in 2019, the last year of the prior agreement.
But that’s not the only number to look at. There is also a minimum team salary and guarantee level.
Minimum Team Salary: This one is pretty self-explanatory. Set at $1,188,990 for 2023, this is the total team salary number that teams must hit by the end of the season. If they fail to reach that mark, the team will owe the difference to its players, either handed out as a proportion of players’ base salaries or by another formula as determined by the Players’ Association.
Guarantee Level: How is that $1,188,990 minimum determined? Glad you asked. That is 90% of what the W calls the guarantee level, which is $1,321,100 in 2023. The guarantee level represents the average amount that each team must spend this season. If the league does not meet this average, then all players in the league will get a cut of the shortfall.
Crunching the Numbers
The idea of minimums that teams must pay is great news for the players, but it does come with a downside. Compared to the previous CBA, the minimum and maximum salaries for individual players are now a larger percentage over the overall cap. Just look at 2019 (the last year of the prior CBA), 2020 (the first year of this one), and 2023:
Min: $41,965 (4.2% of cap)
Max: $117,500 (11.8% of cap)
Min: $57,000 (4.4%)
Max: $215,000 (16.5%)
Min: $62,285 (4.4%)
Max: $234,936 (16.5%)
The minimum salary as 4.4% of the cap is only a modest bump from before, so that’s not the real issue here. The maximum, however, is now 16.5% of the cap, compared to 11.8% previously. That means teams can go all-out and spend on a few players, but their payroll flexibility after that is going to be more limited than it was before. Had the max salary remained $234,936 and 11.8% of the cap, then this year’s cap would be $1,990,983 — more than enough for each team to sign two more players to max deals.
It’s how we’ve ended up in a situation where a league already with too few roster spots chooses not to fill every last one of them.
To further aggravate matters, WNBA coaches even admit that they don’t necessarily field the best possible roster in terms of talent — and that’s because of the salary cap. As Los Angeles Sparks coach Curt Miller said last year when he was coaching the Connecticut Sun, “What the general public forgets at times, it’s not always about the best 11 players, it’s the best 11 players that fit under your salary cap.”
Notice he said 11, not 12, which is the intended size of a full roster. Becky Hammon’s star-studded Las Vegas Aces are one such team that will start with 11 players this season.
Those 11 will combine to make $1,420,016 this season, which is within $500 of the current cap. Rather than carrying a 12th player, the Aces have built a star-studded team at the top, led by Wilson ($202,155), Kelsey Plum ($200,000), and Chelsea Gray ($196,267).
We’re still waiting for all 12 teams to announce their rosters, but we already know that there will be fewer than 144 total players listed — after all, the cap is the cap.
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