Los Angeles Sparks trade Kalani Brown to Atlanta Dream in exchange for Brittney Sykes, Marie Gulich

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With teams officially able to sign free agents to contracts on Monday, the WNBA's offseason is finally off and running. With dozens of players hitting the market, this winter is expected to be one of the busiest we've ever seen. But as it turned out, the first big move was not a signing. 

Late on Monday morning, the Los Angeles Sparks agreed to trade Kalani Brown to the Atlanta Dream in exchange for Brittney Sykes and Marie Gulich. While the deal came out of nowhere, as most trades in the WNBA do, it's not hard to see how it can help both teams. 

"We're excited to add two more talented players to our roster in Brittney Sykes and Marie Gülich," Sparks Managing Partner and Governor Eric Holoman said. "Brittney is an athletic young guard who puts pressure on the defense, gets to the free-throw line and takes pride on the defensive end. Marie gives our frontcourt additional rim protection and rebounding."

Meanwhile, Dream President and GM Chris Sienko added, "For us, this was a question of giving to get, and we need the size and skill that Kalani brings to the Dream."

Now that the deal is complete, let's take a closer look at how it will impact both teams. 

Sparks trade grade: B+

Los Angeles receives:

  • Brittney Sykes
  • Marie Gulich

When the Sparks took Kalani Brown with the No. 7 overall pick in last year's draft, it looked like a selection that was a precursor to another move. The Sparks already had a ton of frontcourt depth, and there was really no reason for them to add Brown, besides the fact that she was the best player left on the board. 

At the time, it looked like the Sparks might be jumping into the Liz Cambage sweepstakes with the pick, but instead the Aces were able to swing a trade for the All-WNBA center. So the Sparks kept Brown for the season, but it was tough for her as a rookie to establish much of a role on a team that already had Maria Vadeeva, Chiney Ogwumike, Nneka Ogwumike and Candace Parker. 

Now, the Sparks have indeed traded the center, and in doing so got a much-needed boost to their backcourt. As noted, the Sparks had tremendous frontcourt talent last season, but their roster imbalance left them quite thin in the backcourt, and that was a real problem. It was little surprise that Chelsea Gray finished fourth in minutes played last season at nearly 33 per game; the Sparks simply didn't have many other guards to play. 

The one concern with Sykes is that she's not going to boost their shooting or spacing at all -- 25.9 percent on 3.2 3-point attempts last season -- but otherwise this is a nice pick-up for the Sparks. Sykes is one of the most athletic players in the league, and her effort and commitment on the defensive end will help her fit in perfectly on a Sparks team that finished third in the league in defensive rating last season. 

On the offensive end she's a real threat driving to the basket, and will add a decent amount of playmaking. But perhaps most importantly, she'll just bring some energy and athleticism to a veteran Sparks team that seemed disinterested at times last season. 

As for Gulich, she'll help maintain the Sparks' frontcourt depth, but it's hard to see her playing much of a role considering the players in front of her. There's no question the main motivation here for the Sparks was to acquire Sykes. 

Dream trade grade: B+

Atlanta receives:

  • Kalani Brown

After falling just one game short of a trip to the WNBA Finals in 2018, the Dream were an absolute disaster last season. Angel McCoughtry's absence due to a knee injury certainly didn't help, but even still they were by far the most disappointing team in the league. At one point they lost 12 games in a row, and finished with the worst record at 8-26. 

Unfortunately for them, the WNBA's lottery system works on a two-year aggregate for determining odds, so they weren't even able to get the top pick for all their trouble. Instead, they'll select fourth in a few months at the 2020 WNBA Draft. But by trading for Brown, they've found a way to add some top-tier talent to their team regardless of how the draft turns out.

Brown was a dominant force at Baylor, and the fact that she fell all the way to No. 7 in the draft was not a reflection of her talent; many teams at the top of the draft just didn't need a big. At 6-foot-7, she's one of the biggest players in the league, and has a really refined offensive skillset around the basket. 

Overall she didn't have a great offensive rookie season, but she showed her ability to finish around the basket, shooting 58.6 percent in the restricted area. Only 21 players were more efficient than her around the rim, and 13 of them were All-Stars. As she gets more comfortable in the league, and plays more regular minutes, her output on that end should only increase. And that's great news for the Dream considering they only made 51.5 percent of their attempts in the restricted area last season, which was dead-last in the league.

Elsewhere, her presence inside should be a big boost to a Dream team that finished eighth in defensive rating last season, and 11th in rebounding percentage. She's the tallest player on the squad, and last season was averaging 3.5 rebounds and nearly a block per game despite playing just 13 minutes a night. 

While they did lose Sykes in the process, they had to give up something to get Brown, and the second-year center has a chance to be a centerpiece of this team moving forward. 

NBA Writer

Jack Maloney lives and writes in Milwaukee, where, like the Bucks, he is trying to own the future. Full Bio

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