I’m intending to write another installment of ‘Your WNBA Questions Answered’ soon, so send in your queries about anything relating to the league via email, twitter, comments at the end of this piece or anywhere else you can get ahold of me. The first edition was here, if you want some idea of what sort of issues I tackled last time around. Anything about the league or the women’s game is welcome.
Okay, so the first half of the WNBA season is over, the All-Star game is done and dusted, and there aren’t any games until Tuesday. Also, while contracts may have just become guaranteed, we still have three weeks to go until the trading deadline. Those who’ve followed the WNBA in previous seasons will know that this doesn’t exactly tend to herald a hive of activity around the league. The biggest move last year was the trade that sent Kara Braxton to Phoenix, helping them reach the Western Conference Finals only to get swept by Seattle. Which is probably exactly what they’d have achieved if they hadn’t traded for Kara Braxton. The year before, a Tamera Young/Armintie Price swap was the highlight. We have to go back to 2008 and Detroit’s move for Taj McWilliams-Franklin to find a deadline-week move that had a legitimate effect on the destination of the championship, but that trade at least illustrates that they can happen.
So I thought I’d utilise this brief pause in the season to take a look at what teams need, what they have to offer, and who might be most active in calling around for an extra piece over the next few weeks. There isn’t a single team in the league without any holes, so you never know what might happen. Eastern Conference teams today, Western Conference tomorrow, tackling the teams in order of the current standings (just as a break from my typical alphabetical order). Feel free to comment in the space below the article if you’ve got any better ideas – some of the WNBA’s GMs could use all the help they can get.
The most obvious place that the Fever might be looking for help is at point guard. With Briann January out for the season after her ACL tear, they’ve been using backups Erin Phillips and Shannon Bobbitt for the last few weeks. Phillips has gotten most of the minutes, and has been doing a pretty decent job. Her shooting’s been markedly better than January’s, and her turnovers are significantly lower, but her assists are far lower than January’s as well. Even taking just her games as the starting point guard, Phillips is only at 3.4 assists per game. She isn’t a natural point, and she isn’t as comfortable in the offense as January was. Katie Douglas, who was shooting the lights out early in the year, has dropped off noticeably since Phillips replaced January, and that’s not a coincidence. Douglas has to create more herself now, and there are fewer easy shots available for her. Still, Phillips makes up for a lot of that with her own shooting.
The fact is that Indy are unlikely to find an upgrade on Phillips on the open market. Point guards are at a premium in the WNBA, and there simply aren’t many available. They do have some pieces that they could move, if a trade presented itself. Shavonte Zellous is a quick shooting guard that might help some teams but has been in and out of the rotation for Indiana this year; Tangela Smith has started most games at power forward, but has been averaging under 20 minutes per game and playing mediocre basketball when she’s been out on the floor; and Phillips herself could be a useful piece for a lot of teams. They also still have their first round pick in next year’s draft, although it’s unlikely to be particularly high and it isn’t generally considered a great class, so that isn’t all that valuable.
Ticha Penicheiro of LA, Shalee Lehning of Atlanta, and conceivably even Leilani Mitchell of New York or Ivory Latta of Tulsa are all point guards who might be available for the right price, but in some cases you wonder if they’d be upgrades on what Indiana already have. In others, the teams might not be interested in what Indiana have to offer. Also, part of the problem with Phillips has been chemistry. Her teammates just aren’t used to her yet. Bring in someone new and you start that process all over again, halfway into the season, so it better be someone who’s worth it. And of course, all these trades are contingent on the players being willing to move. I’d be surprised if Smith or Penicheiro, for example, said they’d retire rather than switch teams, but in this league it’s certainly not beyond the realms of possibility.
While upgrading Phillips might be tricky, upgrading on Bobbitt might not be. She showed what she can do in the first half of the game against Chicago last week, using her speed and pesky defensive skills to create havoc, but head coach Lin Dunn seemed to be losing faith in her during several prior games. The ideal move for Indiana would be one that brought in a new point guard but didn’t give up Phillips in the process, allowing Erin to switch to the backup spot (or at least get more help), and maybe play some minutes at off-guard instead. Bobbitt would be the likely casualty in a move like that.
Ultimately, I expect the Fever to stand pat. They’ve been working Phillips into their system for a while now, and there aren’t enough selling teams around the league to present obvious choices for upgrades. Washington and Tulsa are the only ones without realistic playoff ambitions, and I doubt that Indy would be willing to give much up to bring back Kelly Miller. Tulsa would probably want a strong offer for Latta at this stage, and she’s been out lately with a staph infection in her shoulder anyway. That makes a trade even more unlikely. I expect Phillips to still be the starter in Indiana going into the playoffs. Although if Dunn’s grown completely frustrated by Bobbitt at that point, it might be Douglas playing the backup minutes.
The Sun made a small move already in the last few days, bringing in rookie post Jessica Breland for the aging DeMya Walker, who’d fallen almost entirely out of their rotation. That should give them a little extra depth in the paint, where Tina Charles and Asjha Jones play most of the minutes anyway. Head coach Mike Thibault is probably happy with his options down low after that, although there’s always the chance that Breland won’t work out. They only gave her a seven-day contract initially, just in case. In that eventuality, it’d probably be another veteran that he’d pick up off the scrap heap to fill in, like a Chasity Melvin or Crystal Kelly. It seems unlikely that he’d use any trade chips to fill in a 4th or 5th post spot.
After a hot start and then a lull in performance, Connecticut have looked pretty good lately, so it’s hard to see what they’d trade for. They have Renee Montgomery and Kara Lawson to man the point guard spot, so it’s unlikely they’d look for more depth there. As already mentioned, the post minutes are largely covered. That leaves us with the wing, where I’m sure Thibault wouldn’t sniff at an upgrade, but it’s difficult to imagine where he’d find it. Tan White has had a crappy season so far off the bench, but Kalana Greene has looked solid, as has Danielle McCray since being promoted into the starting lineup. With Montgomery increasingly dominating the point guard minutes, they’ve also been able to find more time for Lawson at the two, which increases the perimeter depth.
As for what the Sun might give up, it would probably have to be one or more of the aforementioned wings. The only other pieces that seem feasible would be next year’s first-round pick, or giving up on the development of Kelsey Griffin. After trading away the pick that ultimately became Amber Harris (and could easily have been Maya Moore if the ping-pong balls fell differently) to get Griffin, I doubt that Thibault is going to admit a mistake this quickly without something pretty special being on offer. And I doubt anyone’s going to offer anything like that up for Kelsey, who’s been anonymous this year after a mediocre rookie season. Therefore, the wing players who might be an upgrade for Connecticut and could theoretically be available – Candice Wiggins or Monica Wright from Minnesota, maybe Noelle Quinn from LA or Marissa Coleman from Washington – are probably out of their price range. Someone like Roneeka Hodges from San Antonio or Shavonte Zellous from Indiana would seem too similar to what they already have.
So it looks unlikely that we’ll see a trade of any real consequence from the Sun, because it’s hard to find a fit. One wild card possibility though – Charde Houston from Minnesota. Charde’s minutes have plummeted in Minnesota, and with her rookie deal coming to an end after this season her time with the Lynx may be nearing an end one way or another. I expect Minnesota to be loath to upset their chemistry at this point, but I’m sure they’d still be willing to listen to offers. Houston can be an electric scorer at times, and although she’s often an annoying ballstopper for her own team and plays dismal defense, Thibault might think he could work around that. With the amount of zone they’ve been playing this year, they might be able to hide her on defense more easily than the Lynx. She’d probably be a greater spark off the bench than Griffin has been this year, anyway. Plus, of course, Houston went to the University of Connecticut, and the Sun do like to collect players from their local institution. The problem would be what they could tempt Minnesota with. They haven’t got much that the Lynx would want, and Minnesota already have two first-round picks in the 2012 draft. So even with Charde, it’s tough to find a match.
A piece of actual news here to start – the Liberty waived Felicia Chester, presumably just before the deadline for contracts to become guaranteed. Told you that more news might slide out over the weekend. So at present they have an open roster spot, which will almost certainly be filled by some kind of post player. After giving up on Breland – which will look even worse if she works out in Connecticut – and taking barely two weeks to realise that Chester wasn’t worth keeping, New York are currently down to three post players. Considering how long she played for current Liberty head coach John Whisenant in Sacramento, the most obvious option seemed like DeMya Walker, recently released by Connecticut. However, recent Walker tweets suggest that she’s heading to Washington. Anyway, whether it’s a free agent pickup or trade, the most likely incoming piece to New York in the next few weeks is a post player. Maybe even a couple of them.
As with so many other teams, it’s hard to see what the Liberty might give up to receive anything of consequence in return. Nicole Powell has played pretty dubious basketball for much of the season, but she has a long-standing relationship with Whisenant dating back to their Monarchs days. The chances are that she’s valued more highly by him than anyone who might be vaguely interested in trading for her. She’s even started to hit a few shots lately. After that we’re down to the ubiquitous first-round draft pick, or maybe Leilani Mitchell if they got a really good offer. Mitchell’s been starting at point guard for most of the season, but compared to last year she’s been a significantly less important and less effective piece of the Liberty squad. Another team might think that removed from Whisenant’s system she could return to last year’s form, although they better have someone who draws as much attention as Cappie Pondexter did last year – Mitchell’s 49% shooting from three-point range didn’t happen in a vacuum. The problem would be how New York would cope without her. Assuming they got a post player back rather than another guard who’d fill her spot, they’d be scrambling a little to cover at the point. Either Cappie would have to swing back there – which didn’t go too well when she opened the season as the starting point guard – or far more responsibility would fall on rookie Sydney Colson. The kid hasn’t looked ready for that in her few brief appearances so far. So it would need to be a heck of an offer to prise Mitchell away.
It’s also hard to see who the Liberty might be able to pick up in a trade. Either of the bigs languishing on Phoenix’s bench – Nakia Sanford or Olayinka Sanni – might help, but New York would either be wildly overpaying (Mitchell or first-rounder) or offering junk that Phoenix probably wouldn’t want. Maybe Sidney Spencer would be of use to the Mercury, considering her central skill is outside shooting, but I doubt it. If Yelena Leuchanka ever deigns to show up and play in Atlanta, they’ll have to cut or trade one of their bigs, so there could be something workable there. It’d probably be Sandora Irvin, who’s at least fairly big and fairly long, despite essentially being a bust ever since she entered the league. She might come cheap. After that I’m really running short on suggestions.
The shocking move could come if LA decided to dump one or two of their vets. Tina Thompson and Ticha Penicheiro have both found themselves spending a lot of time on the bench lately, and New York might be interested in either if they were available (and willing to come). Thompson’s looked slow and old lately, but her veteran savvy could help and a new challenge for a new team might reinvigorate her. Might even earn them some press as well, which they could certainly use with all those empty seats out in New Jersey. She’d have to be willing to go to work in Whiz’s defense though, which would be very different from the style she’s been playing in LA. Ticha is obviously another player with a long-standing relationship with Whiz from their time in Sacramento. Point guard might not be the Liberty’s most obvious position of need, but it would allow Mitchell and Penicheiro to share the role, and Cappie to go back to being a pure two. And it never hurts to add one of the game’s greatest passers to the roster. Who knows what LA might want for either of them. They’ve got a mish-mash of talent on their roster at various spots, and could use help in a variety of areas. Next year’s first-rounder might be enough for either, if LA decide to call it quits on the 2011 season. However, with Candace Parker returning soon they might not be willing to do that just yet.
Well the needs here are pretty obvious. They’ve been jumping between Cathrine Kraayeveld and Tamera Young at the small forward spot all season, because neither has been good enough to hold down the position. I’ve also been harping all season on the Sky’s need for a player who’ll attack the rim consistently, instead of settling for outside jump shots. So something useful on the wing seems like the primary requirement. As a secondary choice, someone who could actually hit more of those outside jump shots than they’ve managed so far would be useful too. Hard to see much getting done, though.
Unless they’re getting back a very, very good player, this team simply can’t give up their 2012 first-round pick. There’s too much chance of them being caught by Atlanta for their playoff spot, and ending up back in the lottery. Even in a weak draft, you don’t give up the pick that might be #1 – or at least top-three – without it being clearly worthwhile. So if we take that pick out of the equation, what could they give up? There might still be someone out there interested in Michelle Snow, but I doubt she’d be worth more in trade than she is to Chicago as their starting power forward. That leaves them with Young and/or Kraayeveld, plus maybe Erin Thorn or Dominique Canty. The latter was meant to be the backup to rookie point guard Courtney Vandersloot, but then got hurt. She’s supposed to be back soon, and might prove her fitness in time to be traded. Thorn has a track record of being able to fill it up from outside (despite pretty crappy numbers this year), and has looked like a capable backup point guard in Canty’s absence. One or the other is probably expendable, and might be of use elsewhere.
But who’s giving up a decent small forward and/or a player who can get to the rim? They’re not easy to find, and teams don’t tend to give them up cheaply. There’s that bunch of wings in Connecticut, or Zellous from Indiana again, but it’s doubtful that those teams would see much value in what Chicago have to offer. For real upgrades, we’re back to Minnesota again, where the likes of Wiggins, Wright and even Houston could all help Chicago. I can’t imagine why Minnesota would want to give up either of the first two for anything the Sky could send in return, however, and Houston doesn’t look like the best fit in Chicago. Maybe she could play the three, and be an upgrade on Young or Kraayeveld, but again you wonder what Minnesota could see as a worthwhile pickup from the Sky. For Wiggins or Wright, Chicago might give up their first-rounder (which the Lynx don’t need), but Houston isn’t worth that. These columns are much easier with the NBA and its 30 teams. There aren’t enough choices.
So I’d expect that Chicago will end up having to make do with what they’ve got. They’ll probably end up trying to fill that small forward hole in next year’s draft, using that pick that I advise they don’t give up. We’ll have to wait and see whether they manage to cling on to their playoff position and avoid the lottery, or if they’re counting ping-pong balls yet again. I know the fans would love to finally taste postseason basketball, but they might be better off with one more high selection. It’s a pretty sizeable hole that they’re trying to fill.
Here’s a team that don’t even have a 2012 first-round pick any more, so at least the refrain changes a little. They sent that pick to Washington in the Lindsey Harding deal, so for any remotely significant move they’ll have to use their current roster. Considering they’re still just 6-9 even after their recent winning streak, you could understand the Dream making an effort to shake things up.
Although they’ve had different issues at different times, the main problem for Atlanta this year has been offense. On a per possession basis, they’re the second-worst scoring team in the league, and we all know that Tulsa barely even count. However, without some kind of unlikely blockbuster move – like trading Angel McCoughtry – it’s going to be hard to create a big change. Harding’s in place as the point guard, and Angel’s not going anywhere as the primary perimeter option. Armintie Price has been one of their few positive stories this year, providing quickness and aggression on the perimeter. Iziane Castro Marques, replaced by Price in the starting lineup lately, might be moveable despite her weak performances so far this year. She’s still quick, and her unorthodox offensive style might benefit from another fresh start. But head coach Marynell Meadors loves her, and she’s become something of a package deal with fellow Brazilian Erika de Souza. I doubt that Atlanta would want to take the risk of upsetting their starting center for the benefit of whatever they could get for Izi – and I doubt even more strongly that they’d send Erika with her.
Backup point guard Shalee Lehning could easily be of value elsewhere. While her limited offensive game led to the Dream acquiring Harding to replace her, Lehning has shown she can start in this league in previous years, and her shooting has even been markedly better when she’s appeared this season. She’s a vocal leader for this squad, however, so it would need to be something worthwhile for Meadors to make the move. They won’t be handing her over for scraps. Any one of their backup bigs could be expendable as well, given the right deal. With Sancho Lyttle reportedly about to return from injury, and the potential prospect of Belorussian center Yelena Leuchanka arriving at some point, any of Sandora Irvin, Alison Bales and Courtney Paris could be moved. If there’s something worth moving them for.
The Dream don’t have much outside shooting. It’s been a failing of their squad for years, even last season when they made the WNBA Finals. They were far and away the worst three-point shooting team in the league last season, and so far they’ve somehow managed to be significantly worse this year. 24% from beyond the arc is embarrassing. They tried signing Kelly Mazzante to improve matters, but Mazz was never likely to be the answer. The player would have to be able both to shoot and play well enough in other areas to actually earn playing time. There’s no point in an 11th woman who can fire away if she’s never going to see the floor. So maybe Thorn from Chicago, Quinn from LA, or even a minor pickup like Roneeka Hodges from San Antonio could be useful. That’s likely the sort of market they’d be shopping in, because I can’t imagine that they’ve got enough to steal Wiggins or Wright from Minnesota without giving up someone they wouldn’t want to lose. Practically every team could use a heady point guard like Lehning, and nearly everyone could use another rotation big, so there might be a deal to be made somewhere.
Looking at slightly different positions, someone like Tangela Smith – who’s been known to knock down a few threes in her time – could fit as well. Indiana might have interest in Lehning, but after bringing in Smith as their new starting power forward in the offseason they might not want to give up on her so soon. She probably wouldn’t be too happy about it either. They’d need another big back as well, unless Tamika Catchings was going to move to the four full-time, which seems unlikely. There could even be something workable with New York and Nicole Powell if Whisenant was willing to give her up, but the way Powell’s been shooting this year she might not help much. Playing largely the same position as McCoughtry would limit her usefulness to Atlanta as well.
So the Dream seem like a team that could make a move if they thought it was necessary. They have some expendable pieces, including one or two that other teams would actually have a use for. But after that horrible start, the Dream won three in a row heading into the All-Star break, and have Lyttle supposedly returning next week. They might feel that their momentum is already turning around, and not want to rock the boat at this stage. We’ll find out in the next few weeks.
As one of two teams in the league who should be sellers heading into the deadline – assuming they aren’t clinging on to any silly notions of making the playoffs – you’d think there’d be all kinds of possibilities here. But there are so few veterans left on this team, that it’s hard to see who they’d move. They’ve got a young roster, with two first-round picks to come next year – although not their own, so there’s no value in tanking – and little to give up for future pieces. Or little that anyone’s going to be interested in, anyway.
Crystal Langhorne is the foundation piece – after that I’d listen to offers for anybody. Matee Ajavon has had probably the best season of her career, so maybe someone in need of a scoring guard would be interested in her. Kelly Miller has played heavy minutes as the starting point guard, and shown some signs of life after two miserable years with Atlanta and Minnesota, so someone desperate for a veteran point might take her. Marissa Coleman is probably tradeable, after hitting some shots lately, but I doubt her value is high right now. It’s probably best to keep her and continue to hope she develops as part of the core. But for the right offer, I’d let her walk. Even starting center Nicky Anosike, only acquired in the offseason from Minnesota, is perfectly tradeable if someone was in desperate need of a center. She’s had an awful season though, so I doubt they’d be selling high.
The problem is what are they going to get back, and is it worth the trouble. Head coach Trudi Lacey hasn’t been keen on playing most of her kids through much of the season, leaving them languishing on the bench. When they’ve come in for brief appearances, often it’s justified her choices. Plus you have to keep a few veteran voices around, just to teach the young ‘uns how to play, and keep the team vaguely competitive in the meantime. If someone offered a first-round pick for any of those vets, especially a pick that was likely to be remotely high, I’d be sorely tempted. The Mystics already have Seattle’s and Atlanta’s 2012 first-rounders (from the Katie Smith and Lindsey Harding deals respectively), but one more wouldn’t hurt. It’s a rebuilding process, and draft picks speed things up – even if you trade them again later on. I’m not sure who’d be desperate enough to make an offer like that, though. Maybe Indiana get desperate enough to be interested in Miller? Maybe Ajavon appeals to someone like Chicago? New York for Anosike? I don’t know, they all seem like long-shots, but vaguely plausible. Bet Lacey’s keeping her cell phone well-charged and right by her hand 24-hours a day until the deadline. Anything could be possible with this bunch.
In other news…
As mentioned above, just in case you skipped it, New York waived Felicia Chester. Also slipping out in late news, Seattle re-signed Krystal Thomas to a seven-day contract, as I mentioned was a strong possibility a couple of days ago. So Chicago and New York remain the teams with ‘open’ roster spots, even though you’re not actually supposed to drop below 11. Washington waived both Karima Christmas and Kerri Gardin in recent days, but Gardin was an emergency hardship contract and Christmas’s spot appears to be going to DeMya Walker. That puts them back at 11. Gardin’s release suggests that maybe, just possibly, with a little bit of luck, Alana Beard might be ready to get back out on a basketball court sometime soon. Not that I’d be overly surprised if, say, they re-signed Joy Cheek next week to another hardship contract. Sheesh, I wouldn’t be surprised if they picked up Marion Jones at this point. Poor Mystics fans.
Still nothing until Tuesday
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