The Dallas Wings’s 2020 free agency adventure has been such an odd, complicated ride that even this article was affected. I originally planned to write it soon after the trade but went into a holding pattern over the last couple of weeks. Like the rest of the league, I watched, waited, and wondered what the team would do next.
But free agency seems to have slowed enough that we can take a step back and ask this important question: what have the Dallas Wings been doing?
The end of the Diggins-Smith Era
Answering that should begin with the Skylar Diggins-Smith trade. The former Wings star didn’t play last year after giving birth. Earlier in this offseason, she went on record with the Associated Press’s Doug Feinberg with a request to be traded out of Dallas. Of course, all of the Skylar drama came a year after Liz Cambage forced her way out of Dallas in 2019. While there’s probably a deeper story embedded in those two trade demands, let’s try to focus solely on the on-court ramifications of the deal and the team’s subsequent moves.
In the trade, Dallas sent SDS to Phoenix in exchange for the fifth and seventh picks in the upcoming draft, as well as a 2021 first round pick. That gives Dallas four picks in the first round of this year’s draft, which…well, we’ll get there.
What the roster looks like now
According to a trusted source who writes for this website, Dallas has four players whose contracts are protected, meaning their deals would count against the salary cap even if they are cut. Those players are: Astou Ndour, Moriah Jefferson, Tayler Hill, and Kayla Thornton.
Everyone else can be let go before the first game of 2020 without consequence. So, it’s not that they can’t sort things out by the start of the regular season, but it’s still hard to get a read on exactly what they’ll be doing between now and then.
Here’s the current Dallas Wings roster:
That’s 15 players right now. In addition to the four players above with protected deals, there are some definite locks to make this roster. Arike Ogunbowale and Allisha Gray are definitely making the team. I can’t imagine the Wings traded for Marina Mabrey and Katie Lou Samuelson just to cut them.
But the rest of the roster comes with question marks. Advanced stats hate what Kaela Davis did last year as she ranked dead last in player impact plus-minus in 2019. But she’s still fairly young and has room to improve. Megan Gustafson just signed an extension and Dallas would cause an irreparable rift with the state of Iowa if they moved on from the Hawkeyes legend.
You’d think at least one of Isabelle Harrison or Imani McGee-Stafford are on the final roster because you need centers. Kristine Anigwe was a first round pick last year and the Wings traded for her during the season. It will be a battle to make this roster come training camp.
ALL OF THE DRAFT PICKS
I’m not going to make predictions about which players eventually do make this roster yet. We need to see what the team does with the WNBA Draft before we can really know what they need to do with the current roster.
In that upcoming draft, Dallas — as of now — picks second, fifth, seventh, and ninth. I anticipate that they will make some deal(s) to trade one or more of those picks because they simply cannot keep all of the picks.
With the second pick, Dallas is likely choosing between Baylor’s Lauren Cox, who can play the four or the five, and Oregon’s Satou Sabally, who’d play the three or four. That choice right there has the chance to clear up the roster. Adding Cox makes it easier to cut one of the team’s bigs, while drafting the smaller Sabally means you need to keep another center.
Dallas is also in need of a point guard. Moriah Jefferson didn’t play last season. While she’s looked very good with the Aces/Stars, I’d imagine Dallas wants to add at least one more player who can play the one. Depth at the point helps the Wings not have to play Ogunbowale at the point.
Dallas could target a point guard at five, or seven, or nine. Though if Texas A&M guard Chennedy Carter forgoes her senior year and declares for the draft, Dallas would be smart to use their glut of picks and players to try and move up a spot to four to take Carter there. The Dream could also use a point guard, so there’s no guarantee that a deal could happen. But it’d be an intriguing move for a team that would benefit from Carter’s star power, especially when you factor in that she played college ball in Texas.
There are also a lot of options available should that scenario not happen. If Dallas keeps and makes all four of the picks, they could grab Baylor’s Te’a Cooper or Miami’s Beatrice Mompremier. Cooper is more of a combo guard than a true point guard, but she has helped Baylor lead Division I in team assists this season. Mompremier is another big, which Dallas would have a lot of in that scenario. But she has showed a lot of athleticism at the U.
There’s also the possibility that Dallas uses these picks in a bigger deal for a big name player. But at this point the only big name player on the market — barring some kind of unexpected trade demand — seems to be New York’s Tina Charles, who doesn’t really fit with the timeline in Dallas.
Lots left to do
Obviously, something has to give. 15 players and four first rounders would leave Dallas with 19 players, which means you have to winnow that roster down by seven. Morgan Bertsch and Karlie Samuelson on training camp contracts would be the easy answers in terms of who doesn’t make the final roster. But beyond that…well, we’ll see.
Still, even with all of these variables, I like what Dallas is doing. They have three players who were first round selections last year in Ogunbowale, Anigwe, and Samuleson. Taking chances on Anigwe and Katie Lou — both hyped players heading into their rookie years who couldn’t carve out roles on playoff teams — is a low-risk, high-reward idea. Adding Mabrey and her shooting ability is another move that could pay off. If they’re able to add some of the top talent in this year’s draft class, they’ll continue to build something special for the future.
I’ve written before about how the WNBA offering playoff spots to two-thirds of the league and then having single-elimination rounds leads to teams often choosing the present over the future because they see chances to sneak into the title picture. Dallas is going against that, moving on from veteran players and adding youth.
The Wings are taking the long view on things. While right now we’re scratching our heads a little about how they’ll make the numbers work, their eventual plan of building a championship core by monopolizing on young talent and letting that talent grow in Dallas is a good one.