WNBA Today, 07/25/2011: Where Trade Winds Might Blow, Western Edition

Before we get to the Western Conference half of the trade possibilities feature, first let’s round up the signing news from around the league. Chicago filled their empty spot by signing Eshaya Murphy to a seven-day contract (which makes my reminder that they still held her rights a couple of days ago look surprisingly prescient). After four seasons in the WNBA spread across six different cities, Murphy’s yet to shoot over 38% in any of them. So don’t expect her to set the World on fire. She will at least give them another option on the wing though, which is better than nothing. And nothing is about what they were getting from Angie Bjorklund.

No news yet out of New York on their 11th roster spot, but there was more movement in Washington today. DeMya Walker was officially acquired, but slipped into the release was the news that Karima Christmas wasn’t the only player who’d been waived – Ta’Shia Phillips is gone too. Taken by Atlanta with the 8th pick in this year’s draft, presumably on instructions from Washington who acquired her as part of the Lindsey Harding trade later the same day, it’s shocking to see the Mystics quit on Phillips so quickly. She hasn’t looked great in the brief glimpses we’ve seen of her on WNBA floors by any means, but this is a 6-6 center. And the team is terrible. These are the kids you should be building with, not discarding at the first opportunity in favour of journeymen like Walker whose careers are nearly over. It’s a bizarre move from Washington.

How do you decide that Phillips is worth the #8 pick, work with her for barely a couple of months, and then throw her away when your season’s already heading down the toilet? It took someone like Jessica Davenport at least three years to become a truly useful big in this league, and Phillips could end up being similar. Washington were one of the teams in a position to wait for her because they’re awful – so why not bring someone along who’ll be part of you future? I don’t get it. Meanwhile, they not only decided they wanted Walker, they actually claimed her off waivers. So they get to pay her wildly overpriced contract for the rest of the year. Bonkers.

I’d be surprised if Phillips clears waivers. In fact, she may well go to Tulsa, who as the worst team in the league get first shot at anyone who’s released and already picked up Christmas. 6-6 centers with first-round talent don’t grow on trees, even if they are raw and at least a year or two away from being truly WNBA calibre. If Tulsa pass, expect someone else to give her a try pretty quickly.

With an extra player heading out, the Mystics now have an open roster spot, even if Alana Beard is coming back. At least they do if you believe WNBA.com’s Transactions page – nowhere else has mentioned Kerri Gardin being released. Assuming there is a space available, I’m not even going to guess what this team might do next after claiming Walker and waiving two rookies. I only hope that my mention of Marion Jones yesterday didn’t give them any ideas.

———-

On to the trade winds column. The Eastern Conference piece was published yesterday so today it’s time for the West. As before, the order is based on the current standings.

 

Minnesota

Ah, the franchise that has been thrown into more lopsided trades by fans of other teams than everyone else put together. Because everyone wants their players. By this point we all know that the Lynx have a surfeit of talent. The likes of Candice Wiggins and Monica Wright would be starting for several other WNBA teams, and everyone else on their bench could easily be getting more minutes elsewhere. The problem with all the trades that everyone likes to throw out is that they have to be worthwhile for the Lynx as well. When their season is going so well, heading for the postseason for the first time since the stone age, they won’t be giving anyone away just to find their underutilised backups some more playing time. They won’t even want to mess with their chemistry by trading away someone like Charde Houston or Alexis Hornbuckle unless they’re getting something worthwhile back – despite both averaging under 10 minutes per game and with several ‘Did Not Play – Coach’s Decision’s next to their names. Their roster might have other teams salivating at the prospect of stealing someone away, but it’s not going to be easy.

So what could Minnesota want? They already have two first-round draft picks in 2012, their own and Washington’s from the Nicky Anosike deal, so they won’t be particularly interested in adding more. This is such a young team, with so few roster spots likely to open up, that they’re going to have trouble making use of the picks they’ve already got. It’s plausible they might be interested in more depth at center, where a veteran backup to Taj McWilliams-Franklin could be worthwhile just in case Taj breaks down. At the same time, they already have rookie Amber Harris, and Jessica Adair has looked serviceable this year as well, so it’s not a desperate need. They might not turn their nose up at a true backup to Lindsay Whalen at point guard either. Hornbuckle is a mediocre combo-guard who can survive a few minutes at the point, and Candice Wiggins can do a job there as well, but neither is exactly a natural. Again though, it’s not something they’ll feel an urge to go out and search for.

What the Lynx might give up is open to question. Obviously the starting five aren’t going anywhere. Neither is Harris, this year’s #4 overall pick, unless someone very unlikely like Liz Cambage is on offer. I also seriously doubt that Wiggins is going anywhere, despite the fact that her rookie contract runs out at the end of this season. That means she’s going to become considerably more expensive after this year, but the Lynx can afford her. She’s too good, and too versatile if anyone on the starting perimeter should get hurt, to be allowed to leave. After that I could conceive of them giving up anyone else, given the right offer. Wright remains very unlikely to go in my eyes, because the Lynx know how good she is and she’s still on her rookie contract for another two years. While I think they’d listen to offers, I can’t come up with anything useful enough to the Lynx that another team would be willing to offer. You’re not going to get someone vital to another team like Sancho Lyttle or Epiphanny Prince, and you’re not going to give her up for Shalee Lehning and one of Atlanta’s backup bigs. So I don’t see the deal.

There’s unlikely to be much interest in Hornbuckle or Adair, which leaves us with Charde Houston. She’s in the same contract situation as Wiggins, with her rookie deal ending after this year, and she’s barely playing for the Lynx. She’s an injection of offense who doesn’t really fit on this squad any more with all their other scorers and one of the best team defenses in the league. All of which makes her sound eminently tradeable. But everyone tells me that she’s a key part of the chemistry on this squad. That the whole team likes her and would be sorry to see her go. Plus she leads that victory dance they do after every home win, and there have actually been a lot of wins to dance about this year. So it’d have to be a meaningful deal to prise her away, even if the Lynx don’t expect to pay her when she becomes a restricted free agent after this season.

Phoenix, Connecticut, Chicago and a few other teams could probably use Houston, but what can they offer? Early in the season, it felt like Charde would be more use to the Mercury and Nakia Sanford a better fit in Minnesota, but I don’t see the Lynx helping out their closest Western Conference rivals for a deal like that. The return isn’t anywhere near enough considering the potential it would have to bite them in the ass come playoff time. A Connecticut deal might work for the Sun, but they don’t have anything to give up that Minnesota would want. Chicago looks like the same story. Atlanta don’t particularly need another gunner without a conscience, although her three-point range might help them. Marynell Meadors tends to prefer big post players though, and that certainly isn’t Houston. Once again, it’s hard to find a fit.

So Minnesota may well have one of the most active phone lines around the league as the trade deadline approaches, but it’ll be teams calling them a hell of a lot more than Roger Griffith and Cheryl Reeve calling out. I think they’d need to be blown away by an offer to break up the first playoff-bound team they’ve had in years, so it probably won’t happen. Bet they’re still the most frequent partners in message-board fantasy trades over the next three weeks though.

 

Phoenix

Over the years, Anne Meyers has not been scared to pull the trigger on dangerous-looking moves. There was the Braxton trade at the deadline last year, which could’ve cost them the 7th pick in the draft for nothing (re-signing Braxton tempered the loss of the pick that eventually became Kayla Pedersen). She made the trades for Temeka Johnson and Nicole Ohlde the year before. Even the brinksmanship that eventually landed them Candice Dupree when Cappie Pondexter demanded a route to New York took cojones. So the Mercury might not be a bad place to look if you were searching for a deadline-beating trade. Exactly what that trade might be, however, is rather more difficult to discern than last year.

Despite their protestations of being deeper than in previous years, the Mercury don’t have a lot to give up. Assuming none of their key players are going anywhere in a blockbuster deal, we’re down to the likes of guards Marie Ferdinand-Harris, Alexis Gray-Lawson and Ketia Swanier, or the two barely-used bigs Nakia Sanford and Olayinka Sanni. They might also be talked into giving up Temeka Johnson if the offer was good enough or another point guard was coming back the other way, but that seems unlikely. Those aren’t exactly deluxe pieces. Phoenix also have salary cap issues. Unless it’s Ferdinand-Harris or Sanford being traded away – both of whom were significantly overpaid by the Mercury in the offseason – Phoenix can’t take back any veteran deals. Which complicates matters even further.

The Mercury do still have their 2012 first-round pick to throw into a deal if they found something particularly appetising, and Meyers has certainly been willing to give those picks up in the past. There’s very little point in adding defense to this team, because head coach Corey Gaines doesn’t really play anyone for their defense. It’s what made the Sanford deal such an odd match in the offseason. That leaves you looking for someone who’d fit into their high-octane system. I’ve been saying for years that Charde Houston was born to play for the Mercury, but as mentioned in the Minnesota section, I can’t see the Lynx helping out their closest rivals. If that deal was going to happen it probably would’ve already occurred quite some time ago. Beyond that, maybe yet another quick-shooting guard? Preferably one that’s a little more efficient than Ferdinand-Harris. Someone might have interest in Sanford, even at her expensive price, if they fancy an extra veteran post for the stretch run. Shavonte Zellous from Indiana, or Roneeka Hodges from San Antonio could be workable. With the bizarre moves they’ve been making lately, you might even get Matee Ajavon from Washington, although if they agreed to a straight swap for Sanford it might be time to send the straight jacket for Trudi Lacey.

However, these are all minor, tinkering moves. It’s unlikely we’ll see a trade as big (figuratively and literally) as the Braxton switch last year, partly because they’re 10-5 already and going well, and partly because no one like that seems available. I think they believe they can win the Western Conference as currently constituted, so why make a big change? They might even be right.

 

San Antonio

The needs here are blindingly obvious for all to see – rebounding and post offense. They’re the worst team in the league on the boards if we don’t count Tulsa, and their interior offense is restricted to the occasional post move or putback from Danielle Adams and Sophia Young. However, players with legitimate post offense tend to be very hard to find, so they’d probably have slightly more chance of finding someone to help with the rebounding. They already have a couple of players with size in Ruth Riley and Jayne Appel, but their limited ability and performance in other aspects of the game restricts their minutes on the floor. It would need to be a rebounder who actually broke into the rotation to play decent minutes to make a move worthwhile.

They’ve got some tradeable pieces. Roneeka Hodges has a history of being able to shoot from outside, and everyone always wants shooters. With the acquisition of Scholanda Robinson and Jia Perkins, Hodges has been left out in the cold a little as the season has gone on, so San Antonio would probably move her if someone showed an interest. They might be willing to give up on Jayne Appel as well, after two injury-plagued seasons. Whether anyone would be interested in giving them anything meaningful for her is another matter. Finally, it seems a long-shot, but the Silver Stars might be willing to move Tully Bevilaqua, who’s been their starting point guard all season but is constantly replaced by rookie Danielle Robinson as games progress. In theory Tully’s the steady hand that opens games before the others take over, but San Antonio don’t particularly need her any more. Not with Becky Hammon and Robinson around. If someone else felt that they needed Tully for the stretch run and made a decent offer, she could be available.

Via trades and the draft this year, head coach/GM Dan Hughes made over his guard corps from a slow, aging bunch to a new, speedy group of exciting talents. The next step is the post. Sophia Young is obviously the building block down there, but unless you still have faith in Appel’s development she looks short on help. Rookie Porsha Phillips so far seems like a less-talented Young clone who can back Sophia up, rather than someone who could play alongside her in future years. But this team started out so well that they might have designs on a playoff run this year, rather than building for the future, which leads to a different kind of target for trades. Whichever big heads out of Atlanta, should Yelena Leuchanka ever show up, could be helpful. The Dream might be interested in Hodges to boost their perimeter shooting. Even a small deal for one of Phoenix’s bench bigs might help, although you wonder if Hughes would bother to use someone like Nakia Sanford any more than he already uses Riley and Appel. It’s probably not worth it.

Assuming there aren’t any blockbuster moves on the horizon in San Antonio – and they’ve been playing well enough to make that unlikely – the only big piece they have left to sell is their 2012 first-rounder. But it’s hard to come up with anyone that would be available and warrant that outlay. They’d be overpaying for Tiffany Jackson from Tulsa, for example, and it still seems unlikely that someone like Tina Thompson will be dumped in an LA fire-sale. She barely rebounds for the Sparks anyway, so it would be a risk for San Antonio. Ultimately, the Silver Stars will probably take their chances with what they’ve got, although I could see Hodges going somewhere in a minor deal. Barring injuries, their rotation is probably set for the rest of the year – they’ll just go ahead and play without worrying about rebounding.

 

Seattle

This one seems pretty straightforward. Who the hell are they going to trade? They already gave up next year’s first-round pick in the deal to get Katie Smith, so that’s out. With Lauren Jackson injured, they’ve been down to a seven-player rotation for weeks, and it’s very difficult to see who they could give up. This group – plus Jackson, obviously – won a championship in Brian Agler’s system last year, and he’d be loath to give up any of them. Even Ashley Robinson has somehow played her way into being untradeable, because Seattle wouldn’t know where to turn without her. Who saw that one coming?

Once you go past that top seven, there isn’t much left. No one’s giving up anything for Ewelina Kobryn, and Krystal Thomas just passed serenely through waivers before the Storm re-signed her to a seven-day deal. That leaves only Aussie wing Belinda Snell, who hasn’t played much for Seattle this year after starting the season with an injury. It’s conceivable that someone might be interested in Snell for depth on the wing, but not that Seattle would get anything much of use in return. So that looks unlikely as well.

Which, if this section is going to last more than a few lines, leaves us looking at big moves involving their core. Sue Bird and LJ obviously aren’t going anywhere, but is it possible that one of the other key players could be moved for a good enough offer? Maybe. Very unlikely, but maybe. Would you give up, say, Camille Little if it got two of those bench pieces from Minnesota in return? I’d be shocked if the Lynx went for that, but if you’re Seattle you’d have to consider it. Could Tanisha Wright get you a guard and a big from someone? Like, say, Matee Ajavon and Victoria Dunlap from Washington? That one I’d expect Seattle to turn down, but any 2-for-1 deal looks tempting for the Storm because they’re so thin. Don’t jump on me Storm fans, I’m not expecting anything like this to actually happen, but you have to admit it might be worth listening. This squad’s not getting any younger, and LJ’s going to miss at least half of next season whether she’s healthy or not.

So I doubt we’ll see any movement from Seattle. They don’t have the pieces to make a small move, and they’re still too involved in trying to defend their title to blow things up with a big trade. If Jackson makes it back before the playoffs, who knows what they might manage in the postseason with this current bunch. That prospect alone will likely dissuade Agler from making any drastic changes.

 

Los Angeles

Moving on from a team who have practically nothing they’d be willing to trade, we run directly into a team that would probably listen to offers for 10 of their 11 roster-members. I think we can safely say that Candace Parker isn’t going anywhere – after that I wouldn’t be surprised by anything.

The Sparks have been a mess lately. After a brief fillip when Jen Gillom was fired, the inconsistencies and inadequacies all seem to have returned with a vengeance under Jellybean Bryant. They now have all 11 players averaging at least 13 minutes per game, and it’s because they never know who’s going to show up and perform on any given night. Therefore the rotation changes on a game-by-game basis, and in recent contests the young bench has ended up playing more than the veteran starters. The positive angle on that is that nearly everyone seems replaceable by players already on the roster. Apart from Kristi Toliver, whose shooting ability and overall development have probably made her part of the Sparks’ core, the rest could all conceivably be moved. And that includes aging stars like Tina Thompson, DeLisha Milton-Jones and Ticha Penicheiro.

Whether LA will make a move or not depends on a) what kind of offers are out there, and b) how highly they rate their chances of salvaging this season. They’re only 1.5 games outside the playoffs right now, and Candace Parker is expected to return in a couple of weeks. We saw last season with Atlanta that once you make the playoffs, even in 4th, anything can happen. If they still think a run is possible, LA will probably cling on to the vets, even if they continue losing minutes to the younger players on the roster. If they decide to throw in the towel, there could be a fire sale. Any trade would depend on the player agreeing to move teams rather than walk away from the league, but Thompson and Penicheiro have contracts that run out at the end of this season. A month or two in a new city would surely be a small price to pay for one final run at a title, wherever it may be.

There are all kinds of potential options if the Sparks decide to become sellers. Ticha could be useful to Indiana, New York or several other teams. Assuming someone sees a little life in the legend’s legs, Thompson could help out any number of teams as a stretch four, as long as there are other people around to take up the defensive and rebounding slack. Maybe if she was made to feel welcome she might even get back to doing a little of both herself. DMJ has a history of only wanting to play in certain cities, and threatening to sit out if she doesn’t get her way. She’s also looked like there was more left in her tank than her fellow Sparks veterans’ this season. So I’d be surprised to see them move her.

While trading away any of their youngsters seems less likely, it would hardly be a huge shock given the mess this roster is in. Rookie center Jantel Lavender has finally shown signs of life lately, but was rotting on the bench for much of the season; Noelle Quinn has had a very quiet offensive season, fading into the background with the further emergence of Toliver; and even Natasha Lacy might intrigue some teams as a sparkplug guard. I doubt LaToya Pringle would draw any offers, while young Aussie Jenna O’Hea and recently signed Ebony Hoffman are probably seen as part of LA’s future, but even in their cases I wouldn’t sign a long-term lease.

So with all these potential trading chips, what would LA want back? The most obvious target if they sold off the veterans would be to get younger. That means first-round draft picks, or existing players who’ve shown some WNBA-level talent but could form a new core around Parker for the future. So maybe you bring Porsha Phillips or Jayne Appel back from San Antonio along with a pick; Shavonte Zellous or Jeanette Pohlen from Indiana; or simply a first-round selection from anyone who’s willing to give one up. If you’re going to quit on 2012, it’s time to renew the squad as quickly as possible, because the vets aren’t worth anything once they retire. You never know – trade away the old guard and maybe the kids’ll start winning more games anyway.

 

Tulsa

And finally, the team with nothing left to trade. Well that’s a little harsh, but the pickings are slim with this squad. The recent pickups of Abi Olajuwon and Karima Christmas show that they’re finally building with youth, which is the right direction to go in, but after all the moves Nolan Richardson made during his time in charge there are very few players left here who anyone would want. That makes it tough to find trades.

I’m assuming that rookies Liz Cambage and Kayla Pedersen are off-limits. It can be entertaining wondering what teams might still offer for the 19-year old center, but I believe Tulsa still see her as a centerpiece for their future. Plus any trade they’d make for her now will probably still be there in the offseason. No need to panic now.

No one’s giving up much for this team’s reserves. The likes of Swoopes and Lennox are too old and no one else wanted them when they were free agents. I also find it hard to believe that anyone would be interested in Andrea ‘Chucker’ Riley, journeyman post Jen Lacy, or the 19% shooting of Amber Holt. A second-round pick is the absolute maximum you’d get for any of them, and that’s not worth the trouble.

That leaves us with two players who might have some value, in theory at least. Before she contracted a staph infection in her shoulder, Ivory Latta was playing decent basketball as the starting point guard. She’s by no means a pure point, and she may have found her natural level as a volume shooter on a bad team, but someone might be interested. She’d be an upgrade on Bobbitt in Indiana, for example, and might even spark Seattle off the Storm’s bench, if they had anything to trade. On the other hand, Tulsa don’t have many players who’ve performed well for them, so they probably won’t want to give up one of the rare few. It’d need to be another first-round selection – and a potentially fairly high one – to take Latta away from them.

The other option is Tiffany Jackson, whose numbers this year have at least started to suggest that there might be a decent rebounding forward under there somewhere. Unfortunately, most of the GMs at least watch the occasional game. Jackson is still something of a loose cannon, and her best performances still occurred in New York in 2008. You never want to give up much in return for someone who hasn’t visibly improved since her second season in the WNBA – three years ago. So I doubt they get a first-round pick from anyone for Jackson, which means they might as well keep her. Someone has to stick around to fight for the couple of wins they still need this season to avoid finishing with the worst record in WNBA history.

It looks like Tulsa are going to have to build through the draft and free agency, because the trading chips have dwindled to nothing. Latta and Jackson are probably good enough that they’d be signed by other teams if they were free agents, but not good enough to bring back anything meaningful in trade. Given that, you keep picking up the best players available on the waiver wire, you hope for luck in the lottery, and you try to develop. Good luck.

 

In other news…

Teresa Edwards is getting more help in Tulsa, and it’s actually someone who wasn’t born, raised or educated in Oklahoma. Former NBA player and D-League assistant Tracy Murray is joining up as a second assistant coach. Apparently he has an existing relationship with Edwards, which is why such an unlikely name is joining the fray with the Shock. Former NBA players have a chequered history in the WNBA, ranging from the ridiculously successful Bill Laimbeer to the simply ridiculous Muggsy Bogues. For now, it’s just nice to see the Shock owners shelling out for some backup for Edwards. We’ll wait and see what they do about their coaching situation in the offseason.

Players of the Week were named today as Angel McCoughtry in the East and Seimone Augustus in the West. Both were worthy winners in a week that didn’t feature many games thanks to the All-Star break. Angel won it purely for her two performances for the Dream, by the way – she didn’t get extra credit for that highlight reel alley-oop to herself off the glass in Saturday’s showpiece event.

 

Tomorrow’s Games (yes they’re finally back):

San Antonio @ Washington, 7pm ET

Atlanta @ Tulsa, 8pm ET

Los Angeles @ Minnesota, 8pm ET

Connecticut @ Chicago, 8pm ET

Seattle @ Phoenix, 10pm ET

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One comment on “WNBA Today, 07/25/2011: Where Trade Winds Might Blow, Western Edition

  1. […] WNBAlien rietumu konferences potenciālo maiņu apskats. [wnbalien] […]

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