Gabby Williams returned from a concussion to play for ASVEL in the opening game of the French LFB finals Wednesday, likely ruling her out of the 2023 WNBA season.
Williams had six points and five rebounds as ASVEL lost the opening game of the best-of-three finals at home to Villeneuve d'Ascq. Game 2 is scheduled for Saturday, after the beginning of the WNBA regular season, so Williams would need to leave her French team mid-series to retain WNBA eligibility this season.
The WNBA prioritization rule, negotiated with the players' association as part of the 2020 collective bargaining agreement, kicks in for the first time this season.
By rule, this year players must complete their offseason playing obligations before the start of the WNBA's regular season to be eligible. Next season, the deadline will be the beginning of training camp or May 1, whichever comes later.
Most international leagues responded by moving up their seasons, putting players back with their WNBA teams for the preseason. France was the notable exception, meaning Williams could be the only player who finished last season on a roster prevented from playing in the WNBA.
Although her ASVEL teammate Marine Johannes is under contract with the New York Liberty, Johannes isn't subject to the prioritization rule, which applies only to players with more than two years of WNBA experience.
Williams knew when she signed with ASVEL last summer that missing the WNBA season was a possibility.
"I would love to return to the WNBA," she told reporters last September, "but what's best for my career, what the WNBA decided to do with players like me, it's complicated."
Williams' former team, the Seattle Storm, will move forward by setting its final roster before Thursday's deadline with sufficient cap space to keep a full roster of 12 players without her salary on the books.
Before Williams returned to action, Storm coach Noelle Quinn made clear the team was not planning on having the restricted free agent in the lineup this season despite seeking clarity from the WNBA on how the prioritization rule would apply if Williams remained in concussion protocol.
"We're kind of moving forward thinking we will not have her," Quinn said. "Obviously we lose a lot of defensive prowess and versatility offensively with Gabby, but we'll just find it somewhere else with the group that we have and evaluate there."