The Minnesota Lynx signed-and-traded Alexis Hornbuckle to the Phoenix Mercury for a 2013 second-round draft pick.
The first signing of the true free agency period turned out to also be a trade. Exactly why it turned out to be a trade, your guess is as good as mine. There’s no way that Alexis Hornbuckle was going to be playing for the Minnesota Lynx in 2012. They had only three free agents left, all restricted, and Hornbuckle played the fewest minutes of the three last year. They’ve also got six draft picks, including the #3 overall selection, and the only open roster spots are going to be created by the departure of those free agents. Hornbuckle was gone.
She was especially gone at the inflated contract number Phoenix threw at her. With Temeka Johnson traded away, Marie Ferdinand-Harris an unrestricted free agent (and not particularly good), and Penny Taylor’s status for next season up in the air thanks to the Olympics, Phoenix needed help on the perimeter. That’s not in question. But holy mackerel did they decide to overpay a backup guard who barely played last season and shoots 36% for her WNBA career. This isn’t exactly the kind of player that Merc fans had in mind when they saw their team clearing cap space for 2012 free agents, even with the caveat that you usually have to overpay for restricted free agents.
On top of that, Phoenix also gave up a second-round pick in next year’s draft to make sure that they got her, rather than just signing her to an offer sheet that the Lynx never would’ve matched. Maybe it was Hornbuckle who demanded that it be a sign-and-trade, desperate not to be stuck deep on the Lynx bench again, because otherwise it’s hard to imagine why the Mercury made the trade. If Lynx GM Roger Griffith convinced them that he’d match their contract offer, he probably should’ve tried to sell them London Bridge as part of the deal.
But anyway, now that they’ve got her, how useful will Hornbuckle be to the Mercury? She’s a solid defensive guard, who mostly plays on the wing but can fill in as a ballhandler if you really, really need her to. Phoenix will desperately be hoping that she isn’t playing the point come the start of the 2012 season, because that’ll mean that they’ve struck out on all their other point guard targets. It’ll also mean that Diana Taurasi will essentially be running the offense if they want to get anything done.
Mercury head coach Corey Gaines is officially the GM now as well, so presumably he was central to making the decision to sign Hornbuckle, but I wonder how much he’ll actually use her. Unless they strengthen the roster he’ll essentially be forced to, but Gaines has never particularly liked players whose primary skill is defense. Hornbuckle can knock down the occasional shot – and at least she won’t shoot everything that moves like Ferdinand-Harris last year – but mostly Buck’s a defender. And the Mercury don’t really care about defense. In an ideal world, this is a positive sign that they’re starting to care about the defensive end, bringing in a player who’ll energise the team when they don’t have the ball. In the actual world we all live in, it could end up a horrible fit if the skills that Hornbuckle possesses simply aren’t much use to a Gaines-run franchise.
Phoenix: C Wildly overpaid backup guard, but at least she should help their perimeter D – assuming Gaines plays her.
Minnesota: B+ A second-round pick isn’t much, but I still think they’d have let her walk for nothing. So it’s a bonus.
Hornbuckle: A- After a brief and painful stint in Tulsa, then being buried on the Lynx bench, she still got paid and found her way to a team that needs perimeter help. She’ll even be encouraged to shoot. The only hesitation is the question of whether she’ll fit in on an all-offense ball club.