Last week saw one of the legends of the WNBA, the sole remaining player from 1997’s inaugural season, announce that this would be her final year. Tributes and glowing assessments of Tina Thompson’s career rightfully flooded in, but because I’m an unsentimental soul my first thought was “does this make it more or less likely that she’ll be traded?” On reflection, it seems like the retirement announcement probably doesn’t make much difference – there was always a strong chance that this was her last season anyway, so any move for her would’ve been primarily about what she could offer in 2013. But it does seem like an appropriate time to look at whether Seattle might find a new home for Tina before the trade deadline on August 15th.
Before we look at where she might fit, a few elements that make the possibility worth examining:
a) The Seattle Storm aren’t winning a championship this year. Thompson herself made some noises in preseason about whether Seattle was where she still wanted to be. She signed on for two years, expecting to make championship runs alongside Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson. She ended up on a squad that suffered through all kinds of injury issues in 2012, and now is missing both Bird and Jackson for the entire 2013 season. While there was a hard-fought win over the ballyhooed Phoenix Mercury on Sunday night, this is a rebuilding year for the Storm without their two superstars. If they make the playoffs it’ll be a surprise to many, and developing their young players is really a bigger priority than wins. That makes a trade potentially appealing to both the Storm and Thompson herself. The franchise could get some kind of return for a player who’s about to retire, plus the karma boost of giving her a last shot at “one for the thumb”; Thompson gets to make that final run at a title with a team closer to the prize.
b) Thompson might not want to go. Despite those preseason comments, she’s starting in her 17th WNBA season, by all accounts Seattle is a nice place to live, and she seems to have a nice rapport with her teammates and the fans. The return on a trade for her also probably isn’t going to be huge for Seattle – a draft pick, likely second-round unless someone is incredibly desperate, or maybe a fringe player who isn’t fitting in somewhere else – so it seems unlikely they’ll be forcing her out the door unless she wants to leave.
c) But one last shot at a ring would have to be tempting. Thompson was a central part of the Los Angeles Sparks team that lost in three games in the Western Conference Finals in 2009, but she hasn’t been to the WNBA Finals since the Houston Comets’ streak of four titles from 1997 to 2000. Sitting on someone’s bench playing 5 minutes a night in garbage time probably wouldn’t appeal to her much, but if there’s a more significant role available off a thin bench or even starting due she’d surely be interested. It’s not like she’d have to be there for very long.
Of course, trades don’t happen very often in the WNBA, and meaningful ones are even more rare. With only 12 teams there aren’t many options to trade with, and there are even fewer when you’re only looking at teams with some kind of chance to win a championship this season. That crosses off Washington and Tulsa immediately, leaving just nine teams to consider. In increasing order of likelihood:
Distinctly unlikely: Indiana, New York, San Antonio
With all their early-season injuries, Indiana could almost work, and the 3/4 combo-forward who defends in the low-post that Thompson has become would fit in the Fever’s system. But they’ve got a settled core of players, and they’re the one theoretical option who’d have some issues fitting Thompson’s salary under the cap. So I can’t see it.