Breanna Stewart excited for Seattle Storm return, says WNBA's overseas prioritization rule must be 'figured out'

Seattle forward Breanna Stewart says that although she is excited to be back with the Storm for 2022, she is concerned about the future and how her WNBA career can coexist with playing overseas.

Stewart, who was an unrestricted free agent, has a one-year supermax deal with the Storm, who drafted her No. 1 out of UConn in 2016. The Storm have won two WNBA titles with Stewart, who was league MVP in 2018 and has averaged 20.0 points and 8.9 rebounds in her five-season WNBA career.

Stewart also has had success overseas, including playing for UMMC Ekaterinburg in Russia. The WNBA's most recent collective bargaining agreement, signed in 2020, seeks to make players prioritize the WNBA over other leagues. It will start to be enforced in 2023 with mandatory fines for players who are late to report to their teams' training camps. By 2024, those players will be suspended for the WNBA season.

"Prioritization is, like, the biggest topic of conversation in the WNBA for me, especially in the next couple of years," Stewart said Thursday on a video call with reporters. "To be able to play overseas at UMMC Ekaterinburg, where basketball is very valued, we're treated really well and able to make a lot of money, it's just hard for me. With the prioritization, you're cutting off one of my sources of income and not substituting it.

"That's something that needs to be kind of figured out. I don't have a great answer for what's going to happen. But I think it's going to affect a lot more players in the WNBA than people think right now."

Stewart earns approximately $1.5 million per season overseas. The WNBA supermax salary for the 2022 season is $228,094.

There will be exceptions to prioritization, such as for players' obligations to their national teams. Graduations and other significant life events also would be exceptions for being late to report, and players will be exempt from prioritization for their first two years in the WNBA.

"It's something that, if I'm quite honest, I'm not the happiest about in our CBA," Stewart said of prioritization. "Because it's just really limiting what professional women's basketball players can do in their offseason and their ability to make money overseas."

Prioritization has been an issue since the WNBA launched as a summer league in 1997. Many players go overseas for winter leagues and might not be done with their obligations there to allow them to be on time to WNBA training camps. The salary increases in the newest CBA, therefore, were directly tied to prioritization, as that was a major concern of owners.

In Stewart's case, for instance, an Achilles injury she suffered overseas in April 2019 forced her to miss that WNBA season, when the Storm were trying to repeat as champions. Of course, injuries can happen in the WNBA as well; Stewart was hurt at the end of last regular season and wasn't able to return for the playoffs. Seattle lost in the second round.

For now, though, Stewart wants to focus on this coming season with Seattle, including the chance to play again with Storm guard Sue Bird, who is returning for her 19th WNBA season, and to be in the newly remodeled Climate Pledge Arena.

Stewart got married last year and has a baby daughter with her wife, and she said the family feeling of the Storm is part of her attachment to the organization as well.

Stewart, who is from Syracuse, New York, did take a visit to the New York Liberty during free agency, which she thought of as part of her due diligence in the process. But she said she didn't seriously contemplate not returning to the Storm for this season.

"It reminded me of when I was being recruited in high school," Stewart said. "It was just an opportunity to see what other franchises are doing and then compare it to Seattle. I'm happy to be back in Seattle."