After much speculation, the Skylar Diggins-Smith trade finally happened as Winsidr’s Rachel Galligan told the world.
— Rachel Galligan (@RachGall) February 12, 2020
Dallas traded Skylar Diggins-Smith to Phoenix for the 5th and 7th picks in the 2020 draft and Phoenix’s 2021 first-round pick. Then, Dallas traded Phoenix’s 2021 first to Chicago for Astou Ndour.
The trade was actually two sign-and-trades. First and most importantly, Diggins-Smith signed a reported four-year supermax contract with Dallas (#GettheEntireBag) then got moved for three first-round picks. The Wings cored Skylar to retain her exclusive negotiating rights, but the plan was always to get her approval on a trade and move her before the season starts in May.
The path of the picks involved in this trade is interesting. Phoenix earned the 5th pick in the 2020 draft with an underwhelming, injury-riddled 2019 season. They acquired the 7th pick from Connecticut along with the 11th pick and CT’s 2021 first rounder for DeWanna Bonner. Connecticut acquired the 7th pick from Seattle for Morgan Tuck and the 11th overall pick.
Connecticut’s return for Tuck didn’t make sense for a contender, until they used it to get Bonner. Similarly, the draft picks that Phoenix got for Bonner didn’t help the team contend in the twlight of Diana Taurasi’s career. Until they turned them into Skylar Diggins-Smith.
The Wings then got Astou Ndour from Chicago for Phoenix’s 2021 first. Ndour had signed a three-year offer sheet with Atlanta, which Chicago matched within 30 minutes likely with this trade in the works. The offer sheet was for her maximum salary, starting at $185k in 2020. Ndour had to agree to the trade.
Phoenix is back in the title race
The Mercury are back in contending mode after almost 24 hours of being an also-ran! Phoenix had this trade in the works long before DeWanna Bonner departed and used her trade to make this deal possible. With Skylar Diggins-Smith in the fold, the Mercury should have a “Big Three” with Skylar, Brittney Griner and Diana Taurasi that can theoretically compete with any in the league.
It is also slightly concerning that we have heard nothing about Brittney Griner’s free agency. The Mercury designated her as a core player earlier in the offseason, so she can’t play elsewhere in the W. But you don’t typically core a player that wants to stay (contrast Skylar and Elena Delle Donne who didn’t get cored). Also, Diana Taurasi just missed essentially an entire season with a back injury. She’s playing for Team USA and looks good, but it’s another slight source of concern.
Assuming everyone is back and healthy those three put the Mercury in the title conversation. However with the stacked rosters in LA, Vegas, and Connecticut and consistently great teams in Washington and Seattle (this season is going to be crazy folks), the Mercury will need to fill out their roster with a lot more talent to be a favorite. Around them, Phoenix has five players under contract: the newly signed Bria Hartley, Briann January, Sophie Cunningham, Brianna Turner, and Alanna Smith. The latter three make up a promising and, more importantly, inexpensive rotation.
Hartley on a likely large contract (don’t know the exact salary yet) and January at $119.5k in 2020 is an untenable situation. Hartley can play the two. But she’s best at the point which makes January redundant. Additionally, January’s contract protection makes it hard to bring in contributors at positions of need. I expect Phoenix to try to trade her.
The Mercury have also extended reserved qualifying offers to Yvonne Turner, Angel Robinson, Sonja Petrovic, and Marta Xargay. Phoenix could create $250k in space by renouncing all of them, if they continue their pursuit of Tina Charles. But without moving January, the signing of Hartley makes Charles in Phoenix unlikely. With or without Charles, keeping those four at least serviceable players on minimum contracts would be a boon for the Mercury.
Dallas moves on
Over the past two seasons, the Wings saw arguably the two most talented players in franchise history force their way out of town in Liz Cambage and Skylar. That’s tough stuff for the Wings. But no crying over spilt milk, the Skylar Diggins-Smith drama is over for Dallas. They can move on to the Arike Ogunbowale era and they have to make moves to maximize her next three years on the rookie scale contract.
Astou Ndour brings another versatile big who can play well off of Arike and Moriah Jefferson. She’s a shooting threat from the mid-range and three. Ndour provided effective minutes at both power forward and center for Chicago. After getting her three-year max, it’s clear that Dallas is invested in her as a big piece. She will likely start next to Azura Stevens and form a strong, complimentary frontcourt duo.
The Wings do have six players that primarily play center right now, but at most only one of them is on a protected contract (Ndour). Imani McGee-Stafford, Isabelle Harrison, Kristine Anigwe, and Megan Gustafson will have to duke it out for likely two roster spots. I’d put my money on Harrison and Gustafson. Although, Harrison’s larger contract could be on the trade or chopping block with all the money going to Ndour.
Dallas also received ALL of the draft picks in the deal. They now own a third of the first round picks in the 2020 draft (2, 5, 7, and 9). While they will probably try to trade at least one pick, they should be able to get some nice players with the 2nd and 5th picks. The roster crunch will come. They have 18 potential players including their 12 under contract, 2 training camp deals, and 4 first rounders. They need to be down to 12 by the start of the season, so they’ll lose someone they like. But let’s be real, this team needs change and they will get it.
Chicago gets lemons and makes lemonade
The Sky were probably losing Astou Ndour for nothing. They retained her restricted rights. But the attention that RFA Kahleah Copper and Ndour got on the market quickly made it clear that Chicago would have to pick between the two of them and Stefanine Dolson. It appears they have decided to keep Copper at (almost) any cost and try to bring Dolson back. So they got a future draft pick at no real cost to them, well done.
But now things get interesting. Courtney Vandersloot and Allie Quigley are coming back on what should be a supermax. James Wade has said that he will match any offer for Copper and is working on a contract with her. Let’s just say all three get the max ($215k for the Vanderquigs and $185k for Copper). With Maria Conde under contract at $57k, the 8th overall pick at $65,250, and no Jamierra Faulker who may be hurt, the Sky can offer about $160k to Dolson. That may be enough to bring her back but they would have to roll with 11 players and keep enough space to re-sign their core going forward .
Everything is fluid for Chicago. However, they don’t have any players that they could cut without effecting their group from 2019. Maria Conde could be cut, but she’s so cheap that it’s worth it to keep her around. Copper may not get the max but she will get close to it. It will be a tough decision on bringing back Dolson. Also, other teams like Phoenix improved substantially and could leapfrog Chicago.
The Sky standing pat seemed sufficient a couple of weeks ago. But even with Copper, Diamond DeShields, Gabby Williams, and Katie Lou Samuelson making expected improvement, can this group compete for a title? If the answer is no, there isn’t much room to find players that can get them there.