Star Trade Shakes Up WNBA

Star Trade Shakes Up WNBA

A major trade went down in the WNBA earlier this month, when the Connecticut Sun traded the 2021 WNBA MVP to the New York Liberty.

Fresh off a tough WNBA Finals loss, the Sun now have a whole new look, most recently capped off by the Jan. 15 trade of star center, Jonquel Jones, in a three-team deal with the New York Liberty and the Dallas Wings. The Liberty received Jones from the Sun and Kayla Thornton from the Wings; The Wings received Natasha Howard and Crystal Dangerfield from the Liberty; The Sun received Rebecca Allen and the #6 pick in the 2023 draft from the Liberty and Tyasha Harris from the Wings. Additionally, the Sun traded point guard Jasmine Thomas and their own 2023 first round pick to the Sparks for Jasmine Walker, Olivia Nelson-Adoda, and Kianna Smith.

The Sun’s run of good fortune started in mid-October with the departure of their coach, Curt Miller, after seven seasons. He was later replaced by former Indiana Fever player, and coach, Stephanie White.

Although the main story here is Jones, there are many moving parts to this trade.

The Wings are a young team. In fact, they were the second youngest team in the league prior to the trade. They are led by four-year guard Arike Ogunbowale, who averaged 19.7 points a game this past season, which was good for fourth in the league. They made the playoffs with an even 18-18 record, and suffered a first-round exit at the hands of the Sun.

The addition of Natasha Howard provides a veteran presence on the court and in the locker room that the Wings did not have before. Howard is a two-time all-star and won the 2019 Defensive Player of the Year award.. She brings interior scoring and solid rim protection. Crystal Dangerfield is a small but strong point guard who won the 2020 Rookie of the Tear award. The loss of Kayla Thornton and Ty Harris will hurt the Wings’ perimeter game, but they have gained quite a bit at the rim.

The Liberty are certainly on the rise along with the star-studded play of third year guard Sabrina Ionescu, who averaged 17 points, seven rebounds, and six assists. Ionescu is surrounded by the consistent scoring of Benijah Laney, and the slick shooting and post presence of Stefanie Dolson. The Liberty finished seven in the league.

Jonquel Jones provides everything Natasha Howard does, but better. She can shoot, rebound, block shots, post-up, hit a fadeaway, and create for her teammates. Jones’ presence will provide far more space for Ionescu and Laney to create for themselves. Kayla Thornton provides tough defense and fills some of the three-point shooting ability lost with Rebecca Allen’s departure. The loss of Dangerfield will not prove to be much of a detriment given how small her role was last year with Ionescu running the show at point guard.

The Sun’s high-powered offense is fueled by “the engine,” Alyssa Thomas. Thomas returned to peak form in 2022 after missing all of 2021 with a torn achilles tendon. The swift guard play of Courtney Williams and Natisha Heideman provided a spark to the starting lineup. Heideman stepped up in early 2022 when Jasmine Thomas tore her ACL. Thomas had occupied the starting spot since she joined the team in 2015. The most lethal part of the Sun offense however was the post tandem of Jonquel Jones and Brionna Jones, two all-star centers on one team. A luxury that is no more.

If Jonquel Jones is not replaced, the loss of the 6’5” center will effectively eliminate the Sun’s chances of competing for a championship. Brionna Jones is very good in the post but will not be able to carry the offensive load down there alone, and is nowhere near the defender Jonquel Jones is. Sun season ticket holder, Darlene Guthrie sees some silver lining in the Jones trade from a monetary perspective.

“The trade makes cap room to keep important current players while trying to rebuild the squad with young talent; same as when Tina (Charles) asked to be traded,” she said.

Guthrie is referring to a situation in 2014 eerily similar to this one. Tina Charles was two years removed from winning MVP with the Sun. In 2014 however, she requested a trade and was exchanged on draft night for Kelsey Bone and Alyssa Thomas. The team she was traded to was, you guessed it, the New York Liberty. The only difference between the circumstances surrounding the trades is that in 2014, the Sun were fresh off a last place finish. This time, the Sun were near the top.

While Jasmine Thomas didn’t play last year, she has had a decorated career as a member of the Sun. Her leadership in the locker room was vital to the camaraderie of the squad. Another Sun season ticket holder, Val Light feels losing her will be more detrimental than the loss of Jones.

“I think the departure of Jasmine will affect the team more than JJ’s. Jasmine is a leader, and the players looked up to her,” said Light, “She was able to motivate them when needed and calm some down when they would lose their temper.”

Adding Rebecca Allen to the mix gives the Sun the best catch-and-shoot weapon they have had since Shekinna Stricklen left in free agency in 2019. Allen is a 36.9% three-point shooter for her career.

“I like Allen and what she brings,” says Sun enthusiast Denise Walker. Ty Harris is a promising young guard. She won the SEC Athlete of the Year award in her senior year at the University of South Carolina, a women’s college basketball powerhouse. She was drafted seventh overall by the Wings that spring and showed flashes of potential while playing behind Ogunbowale in Dallas. Jasmine Walker, Kianna Smith, and Olivia Nelson-Ododa are all rather unproven players, and it will be interesting to see what roles, if any, they assume on a talented Sun team.

With Jones’ departure, a massive scoring void has been filled. Val Light is intrigued by adding a veteran bucket getter.

“I haven’t paid that much attention to who is available, but I do like Skylar Diggins-Smith and Angel Mccoughtry,” she said. Diggins-Smith was 3rd in the league in scoring this past season and Mccoughtry is number sixteen all time in points scored.

Given how close the Sun were to the pinnacle of WNBA success, it was perplexing when the news first broke why the Sun would make such a lopsided move. It was then revealed that Jones had requested a trade, leaving the Sun no choice but to honor her request. She specifically requested to be traded to the Liberty. Jones thanked Connecticut in an Instagram post and reflected on her time with the team.

“I have done amazing things in my career, all while proudly wearing Connecticut across my chest. Now, like all things, our journey together must come to an end,” she wrote. “I would like to take this time to thank the Mohegan Tribe, the Sun front office, my teammates, and of course the incredible fans because without any of you I would never be the player and person that I am today.”

While her words are eloquent and touching, she does not provide a concrete reason for ending such a great run with the team. Patty Romanoff, a sun fanatic, believes it was a lifestyle decision, and does not blame her for leaving.

“As a young person (like Jones), NYC is pretty attractive,” she said. “It’s also easier to get endorsement deals in a big market with a bigger media outreach (than CT).”