By Geoff Magliocchetti
The trading of Sugar Rodgers for the return of Tanisha Wright seems questionable at best, but a crucial long-term benefit could lay within for the New York Liberty.
In New York Liberty circles, it’s hard to look at any developments without at least a quantum of hope.
Their time in James Dolan-supervised purgatory is over. In its place is a sense of hope, as new owner Joseph Tsai made an apparent commitment to keeping the team in the New York area. Free agency was spoken in hushed tones, but Brittany Boyd, Amanda Zahui B., and Rebecca Allen were all retained. That trio made their contributions to the WNBA’s best Eastern Conference record over the 2016-18 seasons. Face of the franchise Tina Charles was given the core designation to top things off.
Also in tow is the draft’s second overall pick, as Asia Durr fell to the Liberty after underclassman fever struck Las Vegas through Jackie Young. Developing more attention might’ve been their second-round choice Han Xu, a Chinese center whose comrades will visit the Liberty’s new part-time home in Brooklyn on May 9 in an exhibition. Simply put, it’s hard not to be excited over recent New York developments.
That optimism, however, is what made last week’s developments so puzzling.
When all was said and done, four teams got involved in a trade that went down less than 24 hours after the draft’s final selection. The most crucial component, however, involved an essential swap of Sugar Rodgers for Tanisha Wright. Rodgers and the Liberty’s second round pick 2020 goes to Vegas (the pick was later dealt to Atlanta for Nia Coffey), while Wright comes back to New York.
Essentially, the Liberty are swapping Rodgers for Wright. It’s a move that’s as confusing as it is frustrating for the Liberty’s vocal fanbase. After all, Rodgers was becoming part of the New York basketball culture, one of the faces and talents of the next generation. 2017 was her forte, a year that featured an All-Star Game invite and Sixth Woman of the Year Trophy. It’s not like there was recency bias behind her surge in popularity. Her name dots the New York record book, as she stands fourth in three-pointers (hitting a team record 86 in 2016) and ninth in total points (1,497). At 29, the Georgetown product still might have plenty left in her tank, with her best perhaps having yet to emerge.
The same can’t be said about Wright, who might be nearing the end of her professional run. In fact, she’s already setting up for her post-court life, spending the offseason as an assistant coach with Charlotte University. If last season is any indication, she could be headed there full-time sooner rather than later.
In a single season in Minnesota, Wright put up her worst numbers since her developmental years in Seattle (4.3 points, 2.0 assists). As recently as 2017, while Rodgers was an All-Star, Wright was sitting out to rest. Even when she partook in a New York tour during the 2015-16 seasons, her seasons weren’t too much to write home about, her decline from her glory years in Seattle already starting.
So are there any positives to glean from the trade? Not only are there positives that Wright brings, but the 35-year-old can create a long-term legacy in her second New York term.
With Tsai bringing the city stability, the Liberty have turned to a wave of youth to usher them into the future. On the active roster, Wright is one of just three players with at least five years of WNBA experience, the others being Charles and Bria Hartley. There’s only so much Charles can handle, and if any load can be taken off of her, better are the chances that the Liberty can return to their contending form.
What Wright brings is, in a word, mentorship.
Guard’s the word for the Liberty’s future. Durr and Nurse seemed to bond almost immediately on draft night, taking photos together for the gathered media. While Charles can do a lot, her experience in the guard spot is limited at best. Wright provides experience and plenty of it, her WNBA accomplishments making her a valuable teacher to the youngsters.
In terms of available mentors, it’s hard to find a better one, frankly, than Wright. She’s a seven-time All-Defensive team nominee. Only 12 players in league history have tallied more assists. If there’s anyone who knows this game, it’s Wright.
Her journey could potentially mirror that of Liberty coach Katie Smith. At the end of her illustrious playing career, Smith spent a single season, 2013, with the Liberty before hitting the bench. In her lone season as a player, Smith served as a mentor to a young team, helping names like Kelsey Bone, Leilani Mitchell, and Alex Montgomery hone their professional craft. Now, she is another name that can help Durr and Nurse on their professional journeys and can help guide Wright through this exciting new process and role.
The Liberty have made their mark through youth. Through Wright, the final pieces to their professional puzzles could finally be discovered.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffMags5490