In the first blockbuster trade of 2023, the New York Liberty have reportedly acquired 2021 MVP Jonquel Jones in a three-team deal with the Connecticut Sun and the Dallas Wings. On Sunday afternoon, Winsidr’s Rachel Galligan broke that the deal was close, before The Next’s Howard Megdal reported the players on the move.
Before we go any further, here are the proposed details:
To New York: Jonquel Jones and Kayla Thornton
To Dallas: Crystal Dangerfield and Natasha Howard
To Connecticut: Bec Allen, Ty Harris, and #6 pick in 2023 draft (via New York)
Let’s bounce around to all three cities for a quick rundown of how this changes things ahead of free agency. The bulk of this article talks about how this affects New York, of course, with JJ being the largest piece on the move.
New York Liberty
In: Jonquel Jones, Kayla Thornton
Out: Bec Allen, Crystal Dangerfield, Natasha Howard, #6 pick in 2023 Draft
Jonquel Jones is obviously the headliner in this deal, and grabbing a recent MVP is a win-now move for an improving Liberty roster. Sabrina Ionescu and the outgoing Howard have been a dangerous pick-and-roll combo for the past couple of years, and Jones will immediately look to fill that vacancy in the lineup. Last season, Howard ranked fifth in the WNBA as a roller, behind just A’ja Wilson, Alyssa Thomas, Emma Meesseman, and Breanna Stewart. (Jones ranked 10th in the category, behind Thomas and Brionna Jones on the Sun).
Where JJ truly excels, though, is in her versatility. At 6’6”, she’s among the league’s best rim protectors, but is capable of grabbing any rebound and immediately pushing the ball in transition. She can pull up from anywhere, so she’s just as dangerous a pick-and-pop threat as she is a downhill one. With both her wingspan and ability to put the ball on the floor, she’s a tough closeout for any defender.
Jones’ 2022 stats were a slight regression from the year before, as the Sun balanced her usage rate with Thomas’ return to the lineup, but she still put up averages of 14.6 points per game (PPG) (17th in WNBA), 8.6 rebounds per game (RPG) (fourth), and 1.15 blocks per game (seventh), while being named an WNBA All-Defensive Team for the third time.
New York also acquired Kayla Thornton, a hardworking forward that excelled as a leader in the Dallas locker room. Per our Wings’ beat writer, Jasmine Harper, Thornton “was the gift that kept on giving for Dallas. Alongside her grit and defensive prowess, she was the glue [for the 2022 Wings]. Her best season in Dallas, by stats, was the 2019 season where she averaged 10.4 PPG and 5.3 RPG. Yet, Thornton’s 2022 performance was one of her best, showing that she’s an all-around player from rebounding to transition buckets and strong off-the-ball performances. Her ability to switch positions at the three and four allowed her reputation to grow as not only a defender but scorer. From driving through the lane to a clutch three, Thornton has you covered.”
Whenever you’re gaining an MVP-caliber player, you need to surrender some heavy talent in return. In this deal, New York parted with several key contributors, highlighted by two-time All-Star Howard. Although soft-spoken, Tash really came into her own as a defensive leader for Sandy Brondello in 2022. Allen, though dealing with unfortunate injuries throughout 2022, used her “go-go gadget arms” to give opponents fits in the passing lanes whenever she was on the floor. And Crystal Dangerfield, picked up midway through the season, brought strong and consistent point guard play to stem the bleeding after the team’s 1-7 start. New York also ships out the #6 pick in this year’s draft, but they’ll still have a rookie on the roster, with Nyara Sabally, last year’s lottery pick, set to make her debut.
Also important to note: this trade frees up some more cap space for New York, in case they’ve got another major move in mind. Per Her Hoop Stats, the outgoing contracts of Howard ($227,900) and Allen ($136,850) send more money out the door than they bring in with Jones ($211,150) and Thornton ($109,716). That surplus of $43,884 does not account for Dangerfield, who was extended a qualifying offer by the Liberty last week.
In: Crystal Dangerfield, Natasha Howard
Out: Ty Harris, Kayla Thornton
In this deal, the Wings say goodbye to both Thornton and guard Ty Harris. Thornton is a hard worker that always seems to be in the right place. While she’s not as big of an offensive threat, her hustle always seems to have her in opportune places. Harris, a 2020 first rounder out of South Carolina, has shown glimpses of lead guard potential. She can score and facilitate, but she needs consistent minutes.
By bringing in Howard, who averaged 15.1 PPG and 7.3 RPG last year, they’ve acquired a switchable defensive anchor that also has the ability to run the floor. She’s able to shoot or slip with ease, keeping defenders on their toes, especially if they need to keep one hand up on Arike Ogunbowale at all times. Last season, Dallas played at the second slowest pace. If they now opt not to re-sign unrestricted free agent Teaira McCowan (even after offering her a qualifying offer last week), new head coach Latricia Trammell can ramp up the tempo. Crystal Dangerfield, the 2020 rookie of the year, is an interesting fit on a Dallas roster with a solid guard rotation. Perhaps some room opens up soon though, as Allisha Gray might be on the move soon, per Khristina Williams.
In: Bec Allen, Ty Harris, #6 pick in 2023 Draft
Out: Jonquel Jones
Though they lost JJ, the pieces Connecticut has brought in still have the potential to keep this roster competitive in 2023. Allen and AT in the same lineup is something that will keep opposing coaches up at night. In her career, Allen has averaged 1.35 steals and blocks per game; AT’s put up 1.78. The pair are two of just 111 players to play at least 100 games and post that average, per Across the Timeline, so pairing them is exciting.
Jasmine Thomas, who missed a majority of 2022 with an ACL injury, is still under contract, but has hinted at retirement following this season. In bringing in Harris, Connecticut gives itself a potential point guard of the future.
Again, I asked Jasmine for her insight here: “Harris is an underrated point guard in this league. She has maximized her minutes with her consistency and poise, which should not be undervalued as it’s the strongest part of her game. Her three-point shooting, at 33.1 percent in her career, gives her a bit of an edge as you can’t anticipate her to pass first or pull up for a quick trigger shot. Harris’ playing time in Dallas has staggered because of her surrounding counterparts, but she has always been a bright spot when the Wings are in need of scoring. Harris also controls the ball in a manner that’s not reckless or timid. She plays with a nice balance of basketball IQ and instinct.”As reported by ESPN’s Alexa Philippou, the Sun will now core Brionna Jones. In doing so, they’ve retained their big unrestricted free agent, while adding some quality depth to their roster. Losing JJ is a tough pill to swallow, and her on-court production is not easily replaced, but the number six pick, along with the complementary pieces that fit nicely into this (and any) roster, will help Connecticut turn the page. The vision of GM Darius Taylor and Stephanie White, Connecticut’s new head coach, will come into focus in the coming weeks.