Deal or no deal? 9 trade ideas for the start of WNBA free agency

Trades make for fun conversations. Compared to prior seasons, how much activity will we see on the trade front under the new collective bargaining agreement? This 2021 WNBA free agency period will serve as another data point. We saw a total of 17 trades in the 2020 league year according to Across The Timeline, all but one occurring during the offseason. 

Today, we’ll walk through nine potential frameworks for the start of WNBA free agency. Some will have some real appeal for both sides. Others will have a natural launching point but fail to strike a better balance for various reasons. That’s part of the game. Note that these trade scenarios have been constructed independently of the others. All salary and contract information was obtained from the Her Hoop Stats salary database

Dallas trades up?

Atlanta (or Indiana) receives: No. 5 and 7 overall picks

Dallas receives: No. 3 overall pick (from Atlanta) or No. 4 overall pick (from Indiana) 

This might be more of an idea to consider closer to draft night. Facing a possible roster crunch, Dallas could push two chips in to move up and grab a second lottery pick. What these three teams really know about the other’s intentions could be key. For example, Atlanta trading down from No. 3 to No. 5 could run the risk of Indiana selecting the player they prefer. 

Verdict: Don’t rule it out? But save it for later. If anything, perhaps Indiana could try to make Dallas think they’ll select the player the Wings want most at No. 4. 

Atlanta and Dallas, again: Not just picks

Atlanta receives: i) No. 5 overall pick and Katie Lou Samuelson or Kayla Thornton or ii) Bella Alarie and No. 7 

Dallas receives: No. 3 overall pick 

Atlanta picks up another stopper or a 3-point shooter. Both players could log some minutes at the 4. The package for Alarie gives the Dream another frontcourt option to develop. Then with the No. 2 and No. 3 picks, Dallas may well end up with their Alarie replacement anyway. 

Verdict: Iffy at best. This stuff with Dallas and Atlanta might just sound interesting in theory. If Dallas really wants to move up to No. 3, can Atlanta get enough back in return to feel good about the whole thing? Those two teams might just need to have completely different draft boards for the three-through-seven range. 

Sun reinforcements

Dallas receives: Connecticut’s 2022 first-round pick

Connecticut receives: No. 7 overall pick and Katie Lou Samuelson or Kayla Thornton 

The Sun add some depth and get back in the 2021 first round. Thornton could slide in at either forward spot and you’d hope she’s able to make a respectable amount of her open 3-pointers. Samuelson helps you get more shooting on the floor. Dallas might not see something like this as enough of a return, but shopping this kind of deal around for a future pick could be the final move that spares them from having to waive a player or two a few months from now. 

Verdict: Too cute? With a torn Achilles for Alyssa Thomas, there has to be a line in the sand for Connecticut. On one side, you’re doing your best to build out a competitive roster for 2021. The other: the obvious downside of trading a future pick with one of your stars already on the shelf. With even one bad ankle sprain for a key member of the 2021 Sun, that outgoing pick could end up being higher than the one you’re getting from Dallas in this mock proposal. 

Re-Ndour?

Atlanta receives: Astou Ndour 

Dallas receives: Atlanta’s 2022 second-round pick 

Did Atlanta catch a few breaks with the offer sheets last offseason or what? Ndour and Tiffany Mitchell are on reported protected contracts. Neither player looks like a clear-cut starter for a playoff team right now. Yesterday’s report at The Next noted that Cheyenne Parker has been in talks with the Dream. That would be a far better outcome for Atlanta. Ndour is on a max contract for two more seasons and Dallas, the team that traded for her, gave her nine DNPs last season. New Wings head coach Vickie Johnson may have bigger plans for Ndour, but you’d have to approach this with the idea that a trade partner is doing Dallas a favor at this point. 

Verdict: Quite unlikely, but maybe circle back in a few months. If Atlanta doesn’t swing a big move in free agency, Ndour’s skill set might still be appealing in a vacuum, and Dallas might have to think about their cap number sooner than you’d think if they re-sign Allisha Gray and manage to do anything else in February. Atlanta would probably be better off passing on that max figure for Ndour in 2022, as they will need to re-sign some of their own players and could get out in free agency again. 

Brooklyn adds a big

Los Angeles receives: i) Kia Nurse or ii) Jocelyn Willoughby and Megan Walker 

New York receives: Maria Vadeeva 

Depending on how things shake out for the Sparks, they could end up with a starting frontcourt locked in for a few more years, setting a pretty low ceiling for Vadeeva’s playing time. The Next did report on Tuesday that Candace Parker and Chelsea Gray have been in talks with Chicago and Las Vegas, respectively. If the frontcourt is largely taken care of in some form, shopping Vadeeva could give L.A. a chance to add to their perimeter rotation to gear up for a championship run. 

Verdict: Worth talking through it as a group, then explore more deals like it if you lose restricted free agent Brittney Sykes. Nurse certainly could be an excellent fit as a 3-and-D player. The Sparks would also need to pay her next offseason, and they’d be subject to another team flying in with an offer sheet for the pending restricted free agent. 

Phoenix rewinds to 2019

Minnesota receives: Bria Hartley and the No. 6 overall pick 

Phoenix receives: Odyssey Sims and Mikiah Herbert Harrigan 

This was the toughest proposal to finalize. Minnesota is getting the best player of the bunch in Hartley along with a chance to pick yet again at that magical No. 6 spot. Phoenix would get to officially welcome Sims, who signed an offer sheet with them two years ago before the Sparks matched it and shipped her to the Lynx. Herbert Harrigan could be seen as Phoenix’s first-round pick this year—a rangy forward that can block some shots and drill open 3-pointers.  

Verdict: Both teams explore other options. Phoenix would also be getting some salary relief here. That could be helpful, but it’s not as if they signed Hartley last year without looking ahead to their next two offseasons. With some talented guards and wings in this free agent class, Minnesota may be able to sign somebody outright. The Herbert Harrigan piece of this is interesting. Could Phoenix find a young player with both some upside for the future and the very specific skill set they need right now rather than hoping they get a chance to draft one of their top targets at No. 6? 

Phoenix goes all in

New York receives: Phoenix’s 2022 first-round pick and the No. 6 overall pick

Phoenix receives: Kia Nurse and one (or two?) of Kylee Shook, Jocelyn Willoughby or Megan Walker 

Picking up right where we left off with the previous proposal, Phoenix makes a splash on the wing. Nurse is one of the league’s fastest players filling the lanes in transition, complements their stars in the halfcourt, and is a solid defensive option to throw at opposing scorers. (Willoughby had to be thrown in there ironically if nothing more.) New York, a tad crowded on the perimeter, could use those picks or fold them into future deals. 

Verdict: Centered on an interesting concept but might fall apart when thinking beyond 2021. Nurse’s pending free agency, also mentioned in another proposal, may dampen the mood for Phoenix. Unless Diana Taurasi were to retire after this season, something the Mercury might not know for a long while yet and won’t exactly be rooting for, Phoenix would likely struggle to re-sign Nurse and keep the core together.  

Storming the bench

Dallas receives: Seattle’s 2022 first-round pick and the No. 11 overall pick

Seattle receives: Kayla Thornton and Katie Lou Samuelson 

Seattle adds some much-needed depth, especially if they end up losing restricted free agent Sami Whitcomb this offseason. Likely needing to carry just 11 players rather than 12, the ability of these two players to line up at either forward position would be very helpful. The No. 11 pick might not be all that interesting to Dallas, but depending on the timing here, they could use it in another deal. For example, some teams they’re trying to work with might be more interested in picks than some of their players. 

Verdict: Officially interesting. Dallas might have a case to argue this return looks a little light. But their position would be weakened if they re-sign Allisha Gray and/or intend to add another wing player early in the first round of the draft this year. Seattle’s trade options would be pretty limited if they run it back this offseason. Samuelson is under contract for two more seasons, and Thornton is a pending free agent set to make just under $90,000 in 2021. 

The Ox in the room

Version 1

Dallas receives: Myisha Hines-Allen

See Also

Washington receives: the No. 2, 5 and 7 overall picks 

Version 2

Dallas receives: Myisha Hines-Allen

Washington receives: Tyasha Harris and the No. 2 and 7 overall picks 

Version 3

New York receives: Myisha Hines-Allen

Washington receives: the No. 1 overall pick 

Hines-Allen is such an interesting player coming off a breakout 2020 campaign. The problem? Trading her, even for a big haul, wouldn’t erase any of Washington’s financial concerns. Yes, the Mystics do need to pay Hines-Allen and Ariel Atkins next offseason after navigating the current one with six notable free agents. But now as the Mystics think about prolonging their championship window, wouldn’t it be awfully risky to trade a promising young player? What if the Mystics tried out this Tina Charles experiment for a season and Hines-Allen ended up outplaying her? 

Shifting to the proposals, a collection of picks would be an interesting way to replenish the bench and maybe even strike gold with a prospect other teams undervalued in this class. Harris would be an interesting fit for Washington to play next to Natasha Cloud if Dallas sees Marina Mabrey as the starter and/or likes a point guard in the first round. 

Verdict: Never picks up much steam. New York can’t pass on the ultimate upside of No. 1. On top of that, who’s to say they couldn’t make a strong run at Hines-Allen as a restricted free agent next offseason? The Dallas packages are interesting. How enthused would the Wings be with the idea of a Satou Sabally-Hines-Allen frontcourt? Washington would be right to come with a high asking price. They also want to win right now. Seeing this unleashed version of Hines-Allen with Elena Delle Donne for years to come is too enticing to ignore. 

Written by Ben Dull (@Ben_Dull on Twitter). Read more of his work at Floor Game and subscribe to the Floor Game podcast, part of the Winsidr podcast network.

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