On the first day of free agency, Angel McCoughtry left the only team she's ever known, the Atlanta Dream, to sign with the Las Vegas Aces. Now, a day later, we're seeing another star depart their long-time club to move elsewhere in search of a championship.
Early on Tuesday morning, the Phoenix Mercury and Connecticut Sun agreed to a blockbuster deal that will send three-time All-Star and three-time Sixth Woman of the Year DeWanna Bonner to the Sun in exchange for three first-round picks. The Mercury will receive both of the Sun's first-round picks in this year's draft, and their first-rounder in 2021.
Bonner was an unrestricted free agent this winter, meaning this deal would have to officially be a sign-and-trade, but terms of the agreement were not released, as is almost always the case in the WNBA.
The rumor mill isn't quite the same in the WNBA as it is in other leagues, but even still, this move really came out of nowhere. Let's grade the trade.
Sun trade grade: A
- DeWanna Bonner
Last season, the Sun broke through in the playoffs and made it to the Finals for the first time since 2005. Unfortunately for them, they were unable to win their first championship, falling to the Washington Mystics in five games. That loss clearly left a bad taste in their mouth, because as the Bonner trade shows, they're going all-in to not only maintain their status as a contender, but finally get that trophy.
The Sun have been one of the best offensive teams in the league for a while now, but they've always done it by overwhelming teams with their depth of talent. When they really need a basket in the clutch, they didn't really have a go-to scorer. Jonquel Jones is their best player, but it's tough to always get your center the ball in a good position late in games, and while Courtney Williams can create her own shot any time she wants, she can be a pretty inconsistent jump shooter.
That won't be a problem now that they have Bonner. The veteran is a high-level scorer from all over the floor, has incredible range and has never been afraid of the moment. She'll help them in all sorts of areas, bringing length and versatility on defense, strong rebounding and championship experience. But her scoring ability is the main reason this trade is such a win for the Sun. They now have that one player you can give the ball to when you really need a basket, and trust that she'll make something happen.
They did have to give up a big haul of picks, and that always brings a bit of a risk. But two of those picks were late first-rounders this season, and the Sun weren't going to have any room in their rotation for rookies anyway. Next year's pick also figures to be quite late in the first round. Is it possible that sometime down the road, they'll feel the impact of moving out all of their recent picks? Sure, but this trade gives them a much better chance of winning a title in the next few seasons, and that's a risk worth taking.
Mercury trade grade: B+
- No. 7 overall pick in 2020
- No. 10 overall pick in 2020
- 2021 first-round pick
Over the past decade-plus, the Mercury have been one of the premier franchises in the WNBA. Dating back to 2007, when they won their first title, they've only missed the playoffs twice, have made the conference finals/semifinals 10 times and won three championships. They've done so with some truly elite talent leading the way in Diana Taurasi, Bonner and Brittney Griner.
But all good things must come to an end, and last season seemed like the end of the road for this Mercury group. They struggled mightily all season long, due in large part to injuries, and were bounced in the first round of the playoffs in a blowout loss to the Chicago Sky. Taurasi barely played and is now 37 years old, Griner voiced her complaints with the league and hinted at walking away -- though that would truly be a shock -- and Bonner was hitting unrestricted free agency.
If they had run things back, gotten good luck in terms of health and brought in some solid role players they might have had a chance to make another run, but that was always going to be a longshot considering how top-heavy the league appears to be this season. It turned out Bonner wanted to leave anyway, but the Mercury were at least able to get three first-round picks back for their trouble.
Along with their own pick, they now have three of the top-10 picks in this year's draft, and multiple picks in 2021. Perhaps they could look to use those picks to swing some sort of trade to keep themselves in playoff contention, but the more likely route is getting a jumpstart on a rebuild.
None of these picks are really high-level selections, but considering Bonner wanted out anyway, getting three extra cracks at the draft is a good bit of business for the Mercury. It's always tough to lose a franchise hero, but the Mercury weren't going to contend this season, and this sets them up much better for the long term.