WNBA free agency: Veteran guard Kristi Toliver leaves Mystics to return to Sparks

WNBA teams were able to officially start signing free agents to contracts on Monday, and the action has not disappointed. Jonquel Jones returned to the Connecticut Sun, the Los Angeles Sparks and Atlanta Dream made an interesting trade involving Kalani Brown and Brittney Sykes, and in the biggest news of the day, Angel McCoughtry joined the Las Vegas Aces. 

Perhaps the most surprising move so far, however, came when veteran guard Kristi Toliver decided to leave the Washington Mystics. After spending the past three seasons with the team, and helping them win their first title in franchise history last season, Toliver chose to return to the Los Angeles Sparks, where she played from 2010-16. 

In a statement on Instagram, Toliver wrote:

"The business of basketball is tough sometimes, but the game of basketball is the greatest gift because of all the relationships it has given me. i want to thank my DC family for welcoming me 3 years ago and allowing me the opportunity to help bring a championship to this great city. I want to thank the greatest owner in basketball, Ted Leonsis for his continued support.. Coach T and the rest of the staff for trusting in me and allowing me to continue to grow on and off the court... the fans for packing the gym and supporting our game with the amount of passion you do... and mostly I want to thank my teammates for being the hard working, dedicated, selfless, hilarious, baddest MoFo's every single day. I love all of you and you are forever family to me."

The move is not expected to impact her role as an assistant coach for the Washington Wizards, and she will finish out the season with the team. That's notable because the new WNBA collective bargaining agreement, which was ratified last month, includes what has come to be known as the "Toliver provision."

In the old CBA, competitive fairness rules put a $50,000 limit on what teams could pay players for offseason work. And since the Wizards and Mystics have the same owner, that meant Toliver could only be paid out of that fund, and as a result, she was making just $10,000 to be an assistant for the Wizards. Now, thanks to the "Toliver provision," WNBA team affiliates can hire players and pay them at a market rate. 

As the Washington Post notes, "the arrangement is narrowly focused, available only to WNBA players who have at least eight years of experience, including three with their current team, and requires other criteria to be met concerning contract negotiation and salary." Those qualifications are in place to prevent some WNBA affiliates from skirting salary cap rules by enticing players with high-paying jobs on the side in the offseason, but also allow for players to have a legitimate path into the NBA world. 

While Toliver is already making inroads in the coaching world, and paving the way for the next generation off the court, she's still a high-level player, and will be a big boost to the Sparks. Los Angeles finished with the third-best record in the league last season at 22-12, but their journey to get there was a bit of a grind, and they were swept in the semi-finals by the Connecticut Sun. 

With Candace Parker, both Ogwumike sisters and Maria Vadeeva, they have plenty of frontcourt talent, but were super thin in the backcourt, relying on Chelsea Gray to carry the load in that department. Toliver will add another veteran ballhandler, and most importantly give them an elite 3-point threat -- she's a 38.7 percent shooter from behind the arc for her career. That's good in its own right, but will also help create space for their frontcourt players to operate inside. 

NBA Writer

Jack Maloney lives and writes in Milwaukee, where, like the Bucks, he is trying to own the future. Full Bio

Our Latest Stories